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In Kenya, the growing hold of evangelical churches on the presidency

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The scene takes place on September 25 in the grounds of the State House, the Kenyan presidential residence, in Nairobi. William Ruto, who takes up residence there three weeks after the validation of his victory by the Supreme Court, has invited around forty evangelical pastors. Between worship and lunch, the new head of state asks his guests for a favor: “Pray around the building. » The monks comply. At their head, the televangelist Mark Kariuki, an intimate of the president, who declares that he wants “purify the place” and “pray until all the forces of evil are driven out”. In the audience, Rachel Ruto, herself a pastor, applauds. “This is not the last time we invite you, she says to the Pentecostal dignitaries. You will come back every month. » Since then, the first lady preaches every Monday in front of State House employees, and thanksgivings are held once a month.

This display of faith makes Kenya cringe. Githieya Kimari, columnist for the major daily The Standard split froma Tribune vigorously to recall that the East African country “is a secular nation” and “religion must be separated from the affairs of the state”. Observers are all the more worried that William Ruto made Pentecostal churches a key political ally during his campaign, and that the question now arises of their weight and influence within the administration.

Conquest strategy

The new president does not hide it: he is an enthusiastic Christian. Vice-president for nine years, from 2013 to 2022, he embraced the current born again (“new birth”), going so far as to build a private altar within the very official residence of the number two of the government. During the campaign, he had made a specialty of systematically beginning his speeches with a sermon, and on the evening of his victory, August 15, he had hastened to declare that he had to ” his election to God.

Because William Ruto had made his proximity to the evangelicals one of the pillars of his strategy of conquest. Between January and June 2018, he had donated 600,000 dollars (578,000 euros) to these churches, both in cash and in kind – including cars. A sum which then represented twelve times his salary as vice-president over the period…

Read also: Kenya: William Ruto sworn in as president of a deeply divided country

Although suspect, this generosity paid off: no less than two thousand Rift Valley pastors eventually publicly endorsed his candidacy for the presidency. During the campaign, the “hustler in chief” (“Chief Resourceful”), as he calls himself, attends many religious conventions and his speeches are widely broadcast on congregational TV channels and YouTube pages.

“They played a leading role in rallying the Christian electorate”, which represents 80% of the population, notes Damaris Parsitau, professor of religious studies at Egerton University, Kenya. First mentor of William Ruto and president from 1978 to 2002, Daniel arap Moi was one of the first to politically capitalize on the religious fervor of his fellow citizens. “As soon as he was publicly attacked, he went to churches to address the faithful. He gave them a lot of money.”recalls the researcher.

“If politics is dirty”

But William Ruto goes even further. On May 5, ahead of the poll, an agreement was signed between the Kenya Kwanza coalition of the vice president and the Association of Pentecostal and Evangelical Clergy of Kenya (APECK). The text has sixteen proposals that are supposed to promote the interests of the Church and the Kingdom of God in our nation “. Some of them are explicit: self-regulation of churches, allocation of land for congregations, appointment of clergy to government positions, tax exemption…

If the televangelist Mark Kariuki does not wish to comment on the content of this pact, he readily admits, in an interview with World, closely monitor its implementation “. The separation of Church and State matters little. ” The Church has a say in politics (…) Some say politics is dirty. If so, the Church must help clean it up,” says the leader of the Deliverance Church, which has more than two hundred congregations in Kenya.

Read also: In eastern DRC, the very calculated deployment of Kenyan soldiers

The collusion is worrying, not only because evangelical churches are notoriously places where large sums of cash pass, but also because it could allow religious to influence legislative decisions. ” As a feminist, I am alarmed by the efforts that the Pentecostals will deploy against abortion or the LGBT community in Kenya “says Damaris Parsitau.

According to the researcher, secularism as a whole is in danger, including the judicial system. ” The current president of the Supreme Court visits the same church as the first lady on Sundays “, she specifies. The first judge of the country, Martha Koome, is indeed the one who validated the victory of William Ruto, on September 5. The latter had then launched in front of the televisions of the country: “ This judgment is not due to our strength or power as a court, but only because of the faithful God whom we serve. »

Read also Is the African Catholic Church threatened by the expansion of evangelicals?

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