SHADES OF SCIENCE: Kenya’s Superstitious Dilemma
Kenya is not a unique country in Africa. We all share in the colonial histories that the European civilization embedded on our orientation, thereby changing reality through industrialization. Kenya, like many other nations in the world, had resisted subjugation by its colonizers, the British. However, the colonialists’ need for emancipating us from the traditional dark past resulted to establishment of protectorates, concentration camps and ultimately, a settler population. They brought the constitution, introduced a social contract and made morality a key debate in any leadership. Even now, Kenya still uses its colonial constitution, which was planned in Lanchester House (Britain) decades before independence.
The most significant clause is that of “anti-witchcraftcy” as put boldly by our past colonizers in 1926. This was due to the primitive reorganization of communities as incited by the traditional priests, being charmed to use their machetes, pangas and pocket knives against advanced machines like guns. The result was only death, death and more death of these Kenyans, a tripartite of sorrow. Yes! The clause brought sanity to the state, as the traditional spiritualists were often arrested, detained or even tortured to death. The only bolt point is in issues of politics, when such measures are used to make good look ugly. The Mau Mau (the indigenous political movement for Kenyan independence. –ed.) agenda was as much pro-religious and against science as it was that of driving out the colonial oppressors. In any way, lack of civilization and the duration of orientation is all that looks oppressive. Elsewhere, people talk of assimilation, maybe in the colonial West Africa, where countries and ultimately the world, united in a culture that is supra to the individual, less superstition but responsible. Perhaps this could have been the best way to debate religion, unlike the practice of direct rule. The struggle still continues.
The Kenya government has often been at the forefront to arrest and put on trial all those reported as witches, cultic or religiously malicious. The irony is clear that the same politicians who covet government offices also often consult with the so called “dark forces”, through their village witchdoctors or “future-makers”. To an extent, they obstruct the constitutional right of having a secular state through the overt politicization of the anti-witch agenda. This has often left the public into taking justice through the majority judgment, which is quick and maybe fair at situations. It is often lynching of the witches, torching their houses and putting identification scars on those who sustain their generations. This is reputable of Kisii district, an area which borders Tanzania but in the Nyanza province of Kenya. To them, superstition overrides scientific reality; they must protect themselves from dark forces through elimination of those responsible. Ironically, most of the families in this area have confidence on herbal medicine as opposed to scientifically refined and approved medicine. A point to note is the Mwarubaini (Neam Tree), believed to be able to cure over forty diseases, included those of bewitching.
Humanism in Kenya takes a diverse stand; it is not platonic, as in two worlds, of potential and practice. The problem is literacy level and the incapacity of over 60% of our citizens to interpret the constitution. Issues like abortion are handled as delicate, yet the majority find the act to be significantly required. Homosexuality has recently been exposed in Mombasa through support of Kenya Community Abroad in Britain (KCA/U.K.). The issue is not as delicate to the government, as our constitution, if well interpreted, allows for these types of marriages. The problem, according to many, is the capacity of the local communities to accept diversity. The problem belies the public, who are so superstitious on how God might react, especially with the recent surge of earthquakes and the Haiti situation being seen as a country who was striken by God. There is need for more scientific debates, there is need for more public forums on these issues and there is need for the media to be reformed, into assisting in grooming the literacy orientation of our public. The media has much stake to hold, but as at now, they are not a problem any longer. The Nation Media Group had its Mombasa offices burnt down in 1996 after publishing a column on the God debate. Today, they publish multiple forums and the intellectual protection is supportive of it. The government must protect such institutes and implement its constitution, which in one point, has a clause on the “Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Expression, etc.” many of which remain relevant in the mission and business of humanist organizations, such as HEUK. One notable example of the need for scientific education is the 2009 national debate of a goat with an alleged “human” head, found in Kitengela, about 100km from Nairobi. Science held that the mother of the kid must have been feeding on polyethylene or a diet that genetically modified its fetal development. The church claimed it to be an act of bestiality, which a man must have had a sexual incident with the goat, and so the creature was born as a devil’s advocate. These kinds of remarks show how scientifically illiterate we are, how religiously indoctrinated most communities remain, chained within the smaller reality of not being able to think. That is where authors like Richard Dawkins come in, to curse out this stupidity that pulls down our development as a people.
The science and religion debate needs to be intensified through humanist outreach. Kenya has recently recorded fifteen humanist organizations, operating nationally but ethnically (which is not right) for fear of victimization. Others are issue specific, like the gays and lesbian rights. All in all, cohesion is the way forward.
Ms. Winnie Nyokabi is the President of Jahwar Amber Fund – Humanist Fund On Campus, an AAI affiliate. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Peace and Music at the University of Nairobi.