Monday, November 10, 2014

Kanyari and GoK: Siamese Twins

I have the right to believe that Victor Kanyari is a prophet and a faith-healer, even if none has been healed when Victor Kanyari has interceded. I have the right to worship with Victor Kanyari's congregation, even if he demands money from me and my own. My right to believe cannot be restricted by anyone. How will you stop me from believing? There isn't a statutory switch in my brain or an intellectual switch in my mind that could be thrown so that I stopped believing. Secondly, the only reasonable restriction to whether or not I can worship with Victor Kanyari's congregation is if the church at which he preaches is unregistered or has failed to comply with the provisions of the Societies' Act.

I wonder what those calling for "more regulation of churches" mean. The statutory and regulatory environment is not as unsettled as we would imagine or we have been led to believe. The Societies' Act is robust; it follows the same pattern of registration and oversight as the Companies Act. In relation to "churches" the problem is not the law but is enforcement. Victor Kanyari may very well be a crook; his crookedness is not as a result of an inadequate law but the non-enforcement of the law that exists. The non-enforcement of the law, as is frequently the case in Kenya, is a political decision, and the nation's political leadership has had a hand in ensuring that the Victor Kanyaris of Kenya operate with impunity.

It is a spectacle that reveals the deep schisms in Kenya. The gap between the rich and the poor is not imaginary. There are shops in Kenya where the cost of a pair of shoes is equivalent a year's salary of some of its staff, sometimes even two years' salary. Faith-based organisations offer their members hope that a brighter future lies ahead. That brighter future is frequently described in financial and monetary terms. It is explained in the language of investment, promoted with assiduous zeal by banks, pension plans, mutual funds and, yes, the Government of Kenya. It is a language that has permeated many faith-based organisations' operational mantras and it has captured the imaginations of many Kenyans who are poor and who aspire to great wealth and power.

Victor Kanyari is an indictment of public policy, statutory and regulatory frameworks, and social values and mores. Victor Kanyari bluntly reminds the government that in all its iterations, it has failed the peoples of Kenya; it has only benefitted an elite few. Even the so-called middle classes, those with white-collar jobs or are "self-employed" investors, engage in more than one income-generating activity simply to keep their heads above water and stave off financial disaster. Meanwhile, especially in the public sector, there are many who may have had moderate success in the private sector who have leveraged conflicts of interest in their favour and become fabulously wealthy. Victor Kanyari and the other prosperity-gospel churches have merely copied what the State has permitted to permeate among its very own ranks.

It is fashionable these days to give away free gifts for minor tokens. Kenyans are encouraged to participate in essentially get-rich-quick schemes by the biggest companies, with the tacit approval of the government. They stand chances of winning cars, houses, and million-shilling cash prizes. The virtues of thrift and hard work are not promoted as assiduously. More and more Kenyans today believe that there are free lunches and that wealth and power are easy to obtain; all you need is luck and the right connections to the right people. These are the Kenyans who "plant seeds" and expect miracles but end up enriching unscrupulous false prophets who go on to amass political influence which they then leverage to mock the law and act with impunity.

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