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  • Religion and Politics in Kenya: essays in honor of a meddlesome priest
  • Myles Osborne
Ben Knighton (ed.), Religion and Politics in Kenya: essays in honor of a meddlesome priest. New York NY: Palgrave Macmillan (hb £55–978 0 23061 487 1). 2009, 320 pp.

John Mbiti's oft-quoted observation that 'Africans are notoriously religious' might serve as a useful entry point to any discussion of Ben Knighton's new edited volume. This timely work addresses the intersection between religion and politics in modern Kenya. At the heart of the book is the now-retired Archbishop David Gitari, the 'meddlesome priest' and notable thorn in the side of President Moi. Each essay in this volume touches on Gitari to some degree, but more broadly provides evidence of the fundamentally complex and 'most ambiguous' relationship between religion and politics (p. 1). Indeed, as Knighton notes in his introduction, the two are 'inevitable bedfellows', and are difficult–if not impossible–to separate (p. 11). This theme is made especially clear both in Knighton's introduction and John Lonsdale's lengthy chapter, both of which provide historical context for the later chapters. Lonsdale ruminates on this topic by highlighting five major questions of 'complexity [End Page 672] and ambiguity' in Kenya, in a rich and wide-ranging essay which touches on subjects from state power to the text of the Qu'ran.

One broad theme taken up in several chapters is the connection between church and state during the past thirty years. On one hand, Galia Sabar demonstrates how Anglican leaders such as Gitari challenged the Moi regime 'using the pulpit' during the 1980s and early 1990s. With powerful sermons–often critical of the government–they had a great impact in bringing about the return of multi-partyism in 1992. Yet since that point, as Paul Gifford argues, churches of all denominations have been 'co-opted' by the political elite. Citing a long list of corruptions in which politicians and ministers have been jointly implicated, Gifford argues that 'Christianity is [now] one more element in the neopatrimonial structures' of the political system (p. 207). For Gifford, this explains why these churches have lost much of their moral authority.

The authors of other chapters are concerned with how religious leaders can help Kenya out of its current predicament. While Paddy Benson is less critical than Gifford of the role of the church, he does locate churches today in Kenya's 'ethnic stew' (p. 108). As Benson notes, many churches have become associated with certain ethnic groups; nevertheless, he argues, the Word has the potential to lead Kenyans out of this 'stew': 'King Jesus has one people and … no discrimination according to tribe or clan can be tolerated among Christians' (p. 114). Julius Gathogo, after producing a short summary of Gitari's life, reaches a similar conclusion: that 'Gitari's model' of bold leadership is the best example available to Kenya at the current moment. Jacqueline Klopp is also concerned with Kenya's present; her focus is on the National Council of Churches for Kenya (NCCK). Klopp sees a crucial role for the NCCK and other religious groups in 'reconciliation and the politics of transformation' in Kenya (p. 196). Addressing the previous twenty years of ethnic clashes in Kenya, Klopp shows how the NCCK took on a central role during the 1990s, functioning as a critic of the government while providing food and shelter for thousands. Yet in recent years, the NCCK has failed to live up to its proud legacy; Klopp suggests that the organization can recapture its position as a moral leader in Kenya's civil society, but only if it can return to its successful roots under Gitari.

The final two chapters in this volume stand a little apart from the others. John Chesworth is the only author (with the exception of Lonsdale) to address Islam in any significant way. Chesworth traces the interaction between the Christian church and Islam in recent years. He analyses how 'factional differences' among Christians brought down the once-united Christian/Muslim front which was involved in the constitutional review process, and considers the polarizing debate over Kadhi's courts. In his own chapter, Knighton...


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