At a rally in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park on a Sunday afternoon last month, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, parliamentarian, assistant minister for housing and one of the country’s foremost Pentecostal preachers, was passing around a paper bag for contributions from the crowd. Some tens of thousands of Kenyans had gathered to campaign against a proposed new constitution, which Ms Wanjiru and other preachers urged them to reject in a referendum to be held on August 4th. Two provisions, one allowing for Muslim courts to settle marriage and land disputes, the other to allow abortion where the life of the mother is in danger, were a direct threat to Christianity, they said. On the stage, people were being slain by the spirit; sometimes just a fingertip was enough to throw believers back across the boards.
Then someone tossed two grenades into the crowd, killing six people and wounding many others. Almost immediately, there were accusations that government security agents had attacked the rally. That is evidence, for some, that the government is rattled by the vibrant opposition of the “new churches”, mainly Pentecostal, to a new constitution that most members of the government support. Whatever the truth, there is no doubt that, as elsewhere, Kenya’s politicians have underestimated the drawing power of a fresh generation of Protestant churches, most of which were set up in the 1980s.
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