The Quest for Religious Freedom in Kenya (1887-1963)
The freedom to choose one’s religion is one of the basic freedoms that every person needs to enjoy. It is also one of the fundamental rights that the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed on 10 December 1948. In Africa, since religion and culture are hard to separate, denial of religious freedom is tantamount to denying all other rights that the UN declared. This includes the right to life; the right to liberty and security; the right to education; equality before the law; freedom of movement and religion; freedom of association; and freedom to marry and have a family, among others (Gitari 1996:18). The article attempts to survey the nature of missionary and colonial suppression of African religious discourses of the Kikuyu of Kenya during the colonial period (1887-1963). In other words, how were the Kikuyu religious discourses undermined by the missionary activity that ran concurrently with the expansion of European hegemony in Kikuyuland, and how did it supplement the colonial policy? How did the Africans attempt to reclaim their religious freedom? To achieve its stated goal, the article not only cites some cases where suppressions of Kikuyu traditionalism and religion by both the missionaries and the British administrators are evident, but it also attempts to show the African reaction to this course of events. On a positive note, it also cites some cases of the philanthropic ministry of the European missionaries, especially how they responded to a series of natural disasters that had hit the Kikuyu Nation. By and large, the article rests on the premise that, even though no culture is perfect, Gospel supersedes culture. Genuine propagation of Christianity will not need to discard the culture of the people being evangelized because not only is this suppressive but, more importantly, it poses the danger of Christianity appearing as “a religion that operates in a vacuum”.