Islamist groups threaten future of church in East Africa

December 3, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

Kenyan churches have been targeted in grenade attacks by IslamistsKenya & Tanzania, November 30, 2012: The Church in Kenya and Tanzania is under mounting threat from radical Islamist groups that are carrying out attacks with growing frequency and ferocity in a bid to wipe out Christianity from Africa’s east coast.

This year has seen a barrage of deadly attacks on churches and the targeting of Christian leaders in both countries, which have previously enjoyed peaceful relations between people of different religions.

The general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) said: Christians have been killed, injured or maimed for life. The violence appears well planned, pre-meditated and systematic.

Political and church leaders have expressed concerns that the campaign will degenerate into a religious war, with references being made to Nigeria, where militant Islamist group Boko Haram has been wreaking havoc against Christians in its fight to establish an Islamic state.

A Barnabas Fund contact in Tanzania said: Tanzania is no longer that peaceful country as it was known… the Muslims are openly waging war against Christianity. If it was not for the constant prayers and the forgiveness of Christians, the situation would have been worse.

Al-Shabaab in Kenya

In Kenya, militant Islamist group al-Shabaab from neighbouring Somalia is believed to be behind the attacks. These have intensified over the past year since Kenya sent troops into Somalia to fight al-Shabaab, whom it accused of being behind a spate of kidnappings and cross-border attacks.

An intelligence report quoted by Kenyan newspaper The Star in July identified seven Kenyan al-Shabaab commanders who were responsible for attacks on churches. It said: In the recent past they have been targeting churches, businesses owned by upcountry people and security personnel with the intention of causing religious tension between Muslims and Christians who have coexisted together for many years.

Following the capture in late September of parts of Kismayu port in Somalia by African Union (AU) forces, of which Kenyan troops have become part, there were warnings of retaliatory al-Shabaab attacks. Kismayu is a strategic base and was the militants’ last major stronghold; they used it to bring in weapons and earn revenue.

Just two days later, a nine-year-old boy was killed in the bombing of a Sunday School class in Nairobi.

In another suspected al-Shabaab attack, a pastor was killed and around ten people injured when an explosive device was hurled into the Utawala Interdenominational Church building in Garissa during a Sunday service earlier this month.

The Garissa Pastors Fellowship said that more than 20 Christians in the city have been killed in recent Islamic terrorist attacks. Among these were the victims of a coordinated attack ontwo churches in Garissa in July.

A Barnabas Fund contact in Kenya told us that no arrests had been made in connection with various church attacks. He said that the police also failed to take action in May when two pastors, Jackson Kioko and Benjamin Juma, were lynched to death in Nyali in broad daylight. But four months later, when a controversial Muslim cleric was shot dead in the same town, a seven-man commission was appointed to investigate the circumstances of his death.

Uamsho in Tanzania

In Tanzania, UAMSHO (“Awakening”), an Islamic separatist group, which wants independence for Zanzibar, has been orchestrating the violence. Last month, at least three churches in Dar es Salaam were burned down and others attacked. Earlier in the year, UAMSHO attacked churches and other Christian property in violent riots in Zanzibar.

Churches elsewhere, namely in Arusha, Kigoma and Mwanza, have also been targeted and a Barnabas Fund contact in Tanzania said that the Islamists are planning to kill Christian leaders who are reaching out to and converting Muslims. One leading evangelist in Zanzibar has been reported missing and a number of evangelists have been taken to court over their outreach activities.

Our contact said: Their main objective is to wipe out Christianity and force this country to be an Islamic country… The same thing is planned for Kenya and Uganda.

UAMSHO has tapped into cultural and political tensions to harness support. Zanzibari Islamists used to back Tanzania’s main opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF), but turned to UAMSHO when the CUF formed a unity government with the ruling Revolutionary Party (CCM) in 2010. CUF deputy leader Ismail Jussa said: By the time we woke up, we found ourselves engulfed by this religious group.

The security forces in Kenya and Tanzania cannot allow Islamist militancy in their respective countries to develop into a full-blown Boko Haram-style insurgency. Earlier this month, a Nigerian army chief estimated that the group has killed 3,000 people, many of them Christians, since its battle for an Islamic state in Nigeria was launched in 2009. Christian sources estimate that more than 10,000 Christians have been killed in religiously-motivated violence over the last decade.

The Islamist groups operating in Kenya and Tanzania certainly share similar goals to Boko Haram and, if they are enabled to achieve them, the future of the Church on the East African coast is under grave threat.

– barnabas edit

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