Mungiki: US Says Kenya ‘Harasses’ Sect

The Kenya government has come under criticism from the US State Department for its treatment of members of the banned Mungiki sect in a new worldwide survey that says that East Africans enjoy greater religious freedom than much of the world’s population.

Religious freedom, tolerance, and intolerance

Note: While there are some areas for legitimate concern with regard to religious freedom, the U.S. government – with its track record of double standards where human rights issues are concerned – has shown itself to be unfit when it comes to addressing these concerns.

One huge problem the U.S. Government has, is its unqualified support for destructive cults such as the so-called “church” of Scientology, and quasi-political/religious gangs such as Mungiki

The report also criticises the Tanzanian government, saying it “did little to respond to growing tensions between the Muslim and Christian communities.”

It notes the widespread opposition provoked by the Suppression of Terrorism Bill in Kenya, especially among the Muslim community, without mentioning the equally widespread allegations that the Bill and similar legislations in Uganda and Kenya are being executed under pressure from the US government.

In its assessments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the State Department finds that all three governments impose few restrictions on religious expression. And tolerance is said to be the norm among East Africans of different faiths.

Conditions in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda can thus be seen as markedly better than in many countries where, the US says, “the right of religious freedom is restricted or prohibited.” At the same time, the State Department points out that there are tensions between Muslims and Christians in Kenya and Tanzania.

But its stand on Kenya’s Mungiki sect, which it describes as “a small, controversial, cultural and political movement based in part on Kikuyu ethnic traditions,” appears not to take cognisance of the many violent incidents the members of the sect have been implicated in. While noting that the Mungiki “do not adhere to any single religion and members are free to choose their own religion,” the report, which covers the period June 2002-June 2003, says the Mungiki have been “frequently harassed and periodically arrested and detained.” But it is not state that such treatment qualifies as religious persecution.

The Mungiki sect was formed in 1985 and has an estimated 2.7 million followers spread throughout the country, with over 6,000 cells headed by leaders who advocate abandoning Western culture in favour of a return to “traditional” institutions.

Until its proscription in March last year along with 17 other organisations after its members were implicated in violence in Nairobi’s Kariobangi estate – in which 28 people were killed in retaliation for the murder of three members of the group.

The anti-terrorism initiatives have sparked resentment among Muslims in both countries, says the 2003 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

In the case of Kenya, the report notes, “Muslim leaders in particular argue that the Suppression of Terrorism Bill is specifically targeted at members of their community and have called for a rejection of the Bill.”

Since the Bill was prepared, the Muslim community, under the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims (Supkem) has called on the government to do away with it, claiming that if it becomes law, they will be discriminated against.

Kenya’s Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kiraitu Murungi has, however, stuck to his guns, saying that the Bill will not be withdrawn.

However, some Christian groups in Kenya, particularly the Anglican Church have supported the Bill as long as those of its sections perceived as likely to curtail religious and individual freedoms are removed.

Tanzania’s Prevention of Terrorism Act has triggered similar objections. “Muslim clerics and some local media have been highly critical of the power it gives to police to determine who is a terrorist, fearing the Muslim community will be the primary target,” the report says.

Some Muslims in Kenya and Tanzania also complain of systematic discrimination on the part of their respective national authorities, the report points out. Kenyan Muslims “continued to perceive themselves to be treated as second-class citizens in a predominantly Christian country,” the study says.

In Tanzania, while Christian-Muslim relations are found to be “generally stable,” the report also notes that “there is broad Muslim resentment of certain advantages that Christians are perceived to enjoy in employment and educational opportunities.”

“The fundamentalist Muslims accused the government of being a Christian institution and Muslims in power of being interested only in safeguarding their positions,” the report says. It also cites “increasingly confrontational proselytising” on the part of fundamentalist Muslims in Zanzibar, Morogoro and Dar es Salaam.

Uganda experiences few religion-related problems, according to the report. It says that “government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.” But the Uganda section of the report does cite “isolated cases of tension between Muslims and Evangelical Christians over the issue of slaughtering animals for public sale.”

The State Department also says that local authorities in Uganda banned some churches suspected of being cults. Included in the study are estimates of the religious make-up of each of the three East African countries.

Protestants and Roman Catholics are said to account for about two-thirds of Kenya’s population, with Muslims comprising between 10 and 20 per cent. “Each group claims to have a larger number of adherents than is plausible,” the report says.

Uganda’s religious composition is roughly similar to Kenya’s, according to the State Department’s findings. Christians make up 66 per cent of the population and Muslims 16 per cent, while about 18 per cent of Ugandans practice a variety of other religions, the report says.

Estimates in the report for Tanzania are attributed to religious leaders and sociologists. The proportion of Muslims and Christians is described as roughly equal, with each community accounting for between 30 and 40 per cent of Tanzania’s population.

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The East African, Kenya
Dec. 22, 2003
Kevin Kelley And Juma Kwayera

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday December 24, 2003.
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