Pastor Victor Kanyari is a name that will be instantly familiar to many Kenyans. He rocketed to national infamy when he was caught on camera relieving thousands of faithful of their hard-earned money under the pretext of interceding with the Almighty on their behalf. The scam asked gullible people of faith to “plant seed” by contributing about $3 to his “ministry” in return for which they could expect miraculous answers to their prayers. Pastor Kanyari was caught on camera recording fake call-in radio shows and performing equally fake “miracle cures” at his church in downtown Nairobi. Despite all this, he is still a free man and no charges have been filed against him. According to a prosecutor with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the video recordings did not constitute evidence of wrong doing and other witnesses were unwilling to testify against the Pastor.
The Prosperity Gospel articulated and exploited by the likes of Kanyara, and many other millionaire preachermen and preacherwomen in Kenya and across the globe, emphasizes a radical Christian religious doctrine that financial blessing is the will of God, and that faith, positive speech, and donations will increase one's material wealth (and restore physical health). Rising out of the US in the 1950s, it has spread across the globe with startling speed, spawning thousands of extremely wealthy pastors, if not exactly wealthy congregations.
However, the Christians were not the first to come up with this scam. In Kenya, our politicians have long perfected a version of it. What they promise is something called development in return for which we must seed their pockets with our taxes.
I have written before about this religion of development, Kenya’s very own National Prosperity Gospel which requires that citizens focus of the outward manifestation of development, not the substance of it. For example, at independence, an in common with other African nations, we focused on prestigious, highly visible “development projects” at the expense of much more modest interventions that would have generated greater benefits for the people. So we built highways and hospitals in the cities where the elite resided and all but ignored the rural areas where most Kenyans eked out a living.
Today, the Gospel is evident in the fact that we continue to invest in railroads and laptops we don't need, in fire engines and ambulances we don't or can’t use, and in expensive kit for police we have failed to reform. Today our "seed" will pay for laptops but not teachers, for ambulances but not doctors and nurses.
Sadly, ours is a desperate, gullible country with blind faith in the words and actions of development priests and charlatans. And when the promised benefits inevitably fail to materialize, it is the citizens, the believers, who are to blame for a deficit of faith. Those who dare raise a complaint are accused of a debilitating negativity that sabotages the economy. We are urged to embrace positivity. “Have more faith! Send more seed! The miracles will come,” we are exhorted.
Planting this seed requires us to provide our political priests with big salaries, cars and mansions, as well as opportunities to “eat”. When they prosper, the National Prosperity Gospel teaches, we have a vicarious share. However, more is required. We must also turn a blind eye to their thieving ways. Not ask uncomfortable question why, like Kanyari, no one is ever held to account when the promises of safety and prosperity turn out to be mirages.
During his recent visit, President Kenyatta requested Pope Francis to pray for his efforts to fight corruption. Which would have been fine if his administration were actually trying to root out the vice. He has recently announced the formation of an Asset recovery unit in the Attorney-General’s office but says nothing about recovering the over $1 billion in assets belonging to members of the Moi kleptocracy identified by the Kroll report over a decade ago. Instead, he last year personally OK-ed the release of 1.4 billion shillings to shell companies associated with the AngloLeasing scandal. He said it was necessary to do this in order to secure the Eurobond, whose proceeds his government cannot account for today. But no one saw fit to remind the Holy Father of this. Keep the faith, are urged.
There is similar rhetoric on security and terrorism, where the government is unable to articulate the specifics of what lessons it has learnt from previous terrorist attacks and cannot be bothered to counter statements by senior police officers that it has in fact learnt nothing. Persistent and credible allegations that KDF officers across the border are engaging in illegal smuggling activities that benefit Al Shabaab are similarly given short shrift. Just have faith we are told. Blessed is he who does not see, yet believes.
Yet blind faith in government, or indeed anything or anyone, is a particularly dangerous pursuit. Kenyans must reject the National Prosperity Gospel. Development and riches will not come from having faith the likes of Kanyari and his ilk in government, but through critically and honestly evaluating and then addressing the reasons for our poverty. And demanding proof for the things we are asked to believe.