Kenyan Atheists’ Bid For Recognition

Atheists in Kenya are becoming more public and visible while thriving in a predominantly Christian nation. Atheists in Kenya Society are leading the revolution as the group slowly enters political ideologies and human rights matters.

In an interview with Religion News Service, Harrison Mumia said they are trying to rebrand atheists to help Kenyans "see that we are not a weird group." "We want to show that we can sympathize with situations and also offer interventions," Mumia added.

According to their website, Atheists in Kenya Society "is the first non-religious society registered in Kenya." They are also members of Humanists International, a non-governmental organization that advocates for secularism and human rights.

Facing years of strong opposition from religious leaders, Atheists in Kenya Society's formal government registration took place years after their founding. In February 2016, the group was finally granted a registration certificate under Kenya's Societies Act of 1968.

In January this year, Ida Odinga, the wife of the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, retracted from her initial stance against uneducated pastors and religious leaders. "I sincerely apologize for the discomforts caused as I meant no harm to anyone," Odinga said.

The former first lady condemned the poorly trained clerics running "illegal" churches in Kenya. "The training only makes the service of preaching better," she added.

Mumia's group quickly capitalized on Odinga's rhetoric and began intensifying their call for social reforms related to religion. "The government should shut down churches that fall short of the threshold to operate," Mumia insisted.

In an overwhelmingly Christian country, with 85% of the population identifying as Christians, Atheists' numbers are estimated to be only around 755,000. But the number of people who are denouncing Christianity is increasing. Mumia said his group is receiving many new applications. "Kenya is changing. This should be the next earthquake," he added.

Loreen Maseno, a senior lecturer at Maseno University, attributes the spread of atheists in Kenya to the younger generations. She said young Kenyans are gaining more access to information and are becoming more aware of the alternative to traditional religions.

Atheists in Kenya Society also showed Kenyans that compassion is not absent, despite the absence of belief. In 2020, the group successfully paid for a high school student's school fees.

"We wanted to demonstrate an atheist is human and feels for the underprivileged," Mumia said.

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