Last October, Islamist al-Shabaab militants slaughtered twelve Christians at a guesthouse in Mandera, north-east Kenya, only a few weeks after killing six believers in another attack in the same county, situated on Kenya’s border with Somalia.“The fear among Christians here is now visible and can be easily felt,” said a senior Christian leader.
Since the deployment of Kenyan troops to aid the African Union force in Somalia in 2011, the Somalia-based al-Shabaab has engaged in a series of brutal terror attacks in Kenya, including the infamous assault at a university in Garissa in 2015. In that incident, gunmen separated the Christian students and tutors from their Muslim colleagues and beheaded or shot those who could not recite passages from the Quran, killing a total of 148 people. Regular attacks have continued and churches in vulnerable areas have been warned by security forces to extinguish their lights at night to prevent militants identifying people staying in church compounds. Al-Shabaab is aiming to establish an Islamic state within Somalia and in parts of neighbouring countries where there are significant numbers of Muslim ethnic Somalis.
Kenya is 80% Christian and generally Muslims and Christians live peaceably. However, a rise in militant Islam has led to increased harassment and persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority areas, such as the north-east and the coastal strip. Christians can also face legal discrimination as Muslims are permitted by Kenya’s constitution to have certain civil cases decided in Islamic (Kadhi) courts. In January 2016, the Kenyan government announced plans to require religious societies, including churches, to compile annual memberships, declare all ministry and charity activities, and require anyone preaching to obtain a certificate of “good conduct” from the police, as well as provide evidence of theological training. Thankfully, the proposed regulations were quickly withdrawn following lobbying from a cross-section of religious leaders.