It is official that the authorities in Kenya have suspended the newly registered free thought society, the Atheists in Kenya (AIK). In a short letter dated April 29 2016, which was addressed to the Secretary of AIK and signed by the Deputy Registrar of Societies, Mukulu Kariuku, the Office of the country’s Attorney General has, after receiving concerns relating to the society’s ‘advocacy and public pronouncements’ decided to suspend the registration of AIK. I have followed closely the activities of this atheist group and find it difficult to understand what warranted this decision.
The letter says that AIK has been suspended because their said advocacy and public pronouncements were ‘prejudicial and incompatible with the peace, stability and good order of the Republic of Kenya’. The letter did not mention any specific advocacy program or public declaration of the AIK that undermined public stability in Kenya.
It is unfortunate that the authorities in this country have, as speculated, bowed to the pressure from religious and theistic organisations and decided to withdraw the licence of this foremost freethinking group. By suspending the AIK, the office of the country’s attorney general has indeed confirmed that there is official discrimination against atheists in Kenya because there is clearly no basis for this suspension apart from religious fanaticism, fear, prejudice and intolerance. There is nothing that AIK or its leaders and members have done that is against the constitution of Kenya or is incompatible with public peace, stability and good order in the country as stated in the letter.
Since the organization came into existence, it has been working and campaigning to fulfill it legitimate mandate of promoting free thought in Kenya. The organization has engaged in advocacy programs and made pronouncements in furtherance of this goal and mission.
Personally I am wondering which advocacy program or public pronouncements of the AIK were prejudicial and against public peace in Kenya. Is it the group’s opposition to observing a public holiday during the visit of the Pope? Is it the group’s proposition to ban religious indoctrination in schools? What has the AIK done that is incompatible to good order in Kenya? Is it their campaign against praying in public hospitals and buses? Did the authorities in Kenya examine the merits of their arguments and proposals?
In actual fact, they said campaigns and declarations of the AIK are not really the issue because I am aware that religious groups in Kenya have been furious over the registration of a group that ‘denies the existence of God’ and have been threatening the authorities and calling for the deregistration of the AIK. Evangelical groups in Kenya have embarked on a campaign of intimidation and harassment of the Attorney General since the AIK was issued with a licence.
For instance, the Vice Chair of the Kenya National Congress of Pentecostal Churches (KNCPC), Stephen Ndichu stated in reaction to the registration of the AIK: “We ask the AG to quit office with immediate effect. We cannot have a legal advisor to the government who misleads the state on matters of religions. Freedom of worship is a constitutional obligation of every Kenyan, it should not be misrepresented for the interests of few individuals in the country”.
Now I ask: how is the legal recognition of AIK misleading in matters of religion or freedom of worship? Just look at that phrase ‘freedom of worship’. So Ndichu’s understanding of freedom of worship precludes atheism, right?
Licencing an atheist group in Kenya actually leads the people aright because it shows that the state is not biased for or against any religious or non religious group. Particularly it provides Kenyans the creedal options in the marketplace of religious belief and unbelief. So, how is this important public service against the constitution of Kenya?
Meanwhile, a muslim leader in Kenya said regarding the registration of the AIK:”We are a people of faith. We are now opening up to ideas that promote immorality through erosion of our values anchored on religion”. Now in which way is atheism immoral or encouraging immorality? How is atheism eroding religious values and what are these values? Dogma? Blind faith? Is the attorney general of Kenya saying that peace, stability and good order in Kenya is defined by dogma and blind belief? The registration of the AIK has been equated to licencing ‘devil’s worship, sexual perversions, drug abuse or any other outlawed indulges’. In actual fact, a closer look at the controversy reveals that it is the advocacy and pronouncements of the Christian and Muslim groups, not those of the AIK, that may be considered (if we must) as prejudicial and incompatible with public peace, stability and good order in Kenya because they are informed by ignorance and fanatical hatred. The attorney general of Kenya has simply done the bidding of the religious establishment in the country, not his constitutional duty by suspending the AIK based on prejudicial narratives that demonize atheism and associate lack of belief in god with immorality and public disorder.
Kenya needs free thought groups to help in tackling religious extremism and superstitions. The authorities in the country need to recognize freethinking organisations, not suspend them, so that they can freely work and campaign to awaken Kenyans from their dogmatic slumber.
By Leo Igwe