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Kenya: Christians live under the imminent threat of violence from Muslim militants

Persecution of Christians in Kenya: despite the fact that Kenya is 80% Christian (including over 600,000 Orthodox Christians), the Christians are subjected to periodic persecution there, due to the close proximity of the Somali Islamic militant group al-Shabaab. This article demonstrates yet again how difficult and precarious life is for Christians in the areas where al-Shabaab operates.

For further information, the wonderful website Orthodox Christian Initiative for Africa offers regular news on the Orthodox Church in Kenya and all over the continent.

For previous coverage of the persecution of Christians in Kenya, see here.

“Islamic Attacks Against Kenyan Christians,” by Linda Burkle, International Christian Concern, October 19, 2020:

Fifteen years ago, along with a handful of pastors, I traveled to Kenya to participate and speak at a regional church leaders’ conference. Hundreds of pastors and lay leaders traveled by car, motorbike, and foot to attend the conference, with a desire to be taught, equipped, and refreshed.  Some had churches that spanned large geographic areas, with congregants living in rural and remote areas without roads, only accessible by foot. In response, we provided bicycles for several pastors to assist them in visiting their church members.  As we spoke with them, they shared their burden of living under imminent threat of violence from Muslim militants. This was a particular concern for those in remote areas with lack of protection who were most vulnerable to this kind of violence.  Within days after we left the country, we learned that there had indeed been several such attacks in the area.

Unfortunately, the conditions have only worsened with the rise of groups that cross the border and attack Christians in neighboring areas of Kenya. Much like the Middle East, a variety of Islamic extremist groups perpetrate terrorism and destruction in throughout Africa.   While Africa is currently comprised of 55 nation-states, borders are relatively porous and often tribal, ethnic, and religious allegiances are stronger than nationalism.  This condition has been exploited by groups such as Boko Haram, AQIM, and Al-Shabaab (“the Youth”), all of which are formally affiliated with Al Qaeda and identified as Sunni Islamists. In particular, Al-Shabaab, a Somali-based terror group has proven to be a major threat to Kenyan Christians living in areas bordering Somalia.  Given the poverty and high unemployment among youth in Kenya, many are recruited by Al-Shabaab with the promise of good jobs.  They are converted into Islam, taken to Somalia or Uganda where they are radicalized and trained as militants and come back to Kenya….

One pastor who lived and worked in the area shared some insight into the situation in an interview, saying, “In that region in Kenya the tribes are 98% Muslim. They felt that their brothers in Somalia were being killed by the Kenyan government, and these people started revenge-killing people who are not Muslim.” He continued, “The militants are Somali in Kenya.  They speak the same language as the people in Somalia.  And now they can attack Christians easily.” The pastor went on to say that it seems there is an attempt to “cleanse” the region of non-Muslims. Those who cannot recite certain passages of the Quran are killed. The police also fear these militants and are unable to contain them. In the interview, the pastor cited one incident, during which eight police officers were killed from a landmine while on patrol. “And it’s the people living there—in the mosque and in their relatives’ homes. They don’t give the security officers information about these criminals.”

William Stark, Regional Manager at International Christian Concern (ICC), agrees, noting that attacks “tend to be clustered near Kenya’s border with Somalia.” He explains further, “This is because the radical groups perpetrating the attacks launch their operations out of Somalia and can hide within the Somali-majority populations living within this border region. … Persecution of Christians living and working in the Kenya-Somalia border region needs to be given greater awareness. Because Kenya is a Christian-majority nation, many people would find it hard to believe that Christian persecution exists there.”

Kenya has a total population of 52,215,000, with an estimated 42,820,000 Christians. In spite of this, Open Doors ranks Kenya 44th on its 2020 World Watch List, a list ranking the countries with the most Christian persecution; Somalia is ranked third highest….

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