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2021 WORLD WATCH LIST #49

KENYA

Country rank

49

Persecution score

62.40

Last year’s rank

44

Region

Africa

Persecution Type

Islamic oppression (Very strong), Ethno-religious hostility (Medium), Organized corruption and crime (Medium)

Persecution Level

Very High

Population

53,492,000

Christians

43,991,000 (82.2%) Data source: Johnson T M and Zurlo G A, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed February 2020).

Main Religion

Christianity

Government

Presidential Republic

Leader

President Uhuru Kenyatta

In cooperation with local partners and churches, Open Doors supports the persecuted church in Kenya through:
• Cross cultural evangelism, discipleship, and leadership training
• Socio-economic development

ABOUT KENYA

What does persecution look like in Kenya?

In Kenya, Christianity is the majority religion, but that hasn’t stopped the spread of persecution. Particularly, Christians with a Muslim background in the northeast and coastal regions live under constant threat of attack—even from their closest relatives. Our research revealed that Christians were attacked and forced to flee their villages, and Islamic extremist group al-Shabab has infiltrated the local population to monitor the activities of Christians in those areas.  

However, organized crime is also a serious problem. Corrupt officials often fail to take measures against persecutors—increasing the potential for further incidents against Christians. 

For believers in Kenya, daily life is filled with pressure—especially in their private and social lives. And in some regions like the northeast, where al-Shabab is a constant threat, church and community life are very difficult and can also include the threat of violence.  

How women experience persecution

In the Muslim-majority regions of Kenya, Christian women and girls face multiple forms of persecution. Although gender equality is entrenched in Kenya’s constitution, cultural practices in some tribes (such as funeral rites, early marriage and polygamy) leave Christian women at greater risk of persecution if they oppose these practices.  

In the northern regions, Christian women and girls face more instances of verbal abuse and social rejection. In addition, female Christians report they must be careful not to be waylaid and raped by members of the Muslim community. Female Christian teachers in Muslim-dominated areas complain of constant sexual harassment from male Muslim students and other Muslim men in society.  

However, Christian women also face the risk of death if found by al-Shabab. Women and girls who convert to Christianity from a Muslim background risk being denied custody of their children and of being forced into marriage or divorce. However, this happens less if the woman’s level of income and education is high enough. 

In extreme circumstances, northern Kenyan women have been kidnapped by al-Shabab fighters and forced to be sex slaves or wives. These women are reportedly given contraceptives so that they can be gang-raped repeatedly without becoming pregnant. Only those who convert to Islam and marry commanders are allowed to have children. 

How men experience persecution

Christian boys and men in the north-eastern region, in particular, face the greatest danger of physical assault and execution at the hands of extremist Muslims and al-Shabab. In past attacks on Christians in villages, only men were killed. In addition, men and boys who oppose negative cultural practices in some tribes (such as funeral rites, genital mutilation, early marriages and polygamy) also suffer varying levels of persecution. Their families are not accepted in the community because they are considered “cursed” or “not real men” (if they opt for hospital circumcision). 

What has changed this year?

The situation for Christians in Kenya has remained dire over the last three years. While Kenya moved down five spots from the 2020 World Watch List, violence actually increased significantly—reflecting an overall increase in persecution across the list versus an improved situation for Kenyan Christians.     

Who is most vulnerable to persecution?

Christians living in and around the northeastern part of the country must live with the fear that they can be targeted at any time. Hotspots for attacks by al-Shabab include Mombasa, Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Lamu and Tana River. In these areas, many local informants assist in organizing attacks on churches and Christians. As a result, many believers have chosen to relocate from these areas to the center of the country. 

How can I help Christians in Kenya

What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Kenya?

Open Doors has been present, working in Kenya through local partners and churches since the early 2000s. We offer support to churches in the volatile Islam-dominated northeastern border and coastal regions. Much of our work has been in the area of equipping the church—and more recently, our work has focused on COVID-19 relief. Christians are increasingly facing persecution, and it is our mission to see the local church prepared to disciple new believers, train leaders and help them remain strong. Open Doors also assists in cross-cultural evangelism, economic empowerment, and leadership and trauma care training.  

Your gift today will show our persecuted brothers and sisters in Kenya, and other countries in the World Watch List they are loved and remembered by you.

Pray

-Please pray for the Lord’s continued grace for new believers in Kenya. Pray that through trials and persecution they would see the Lord’s faithfulness in protection and provision. Pray that the Lord, through His Spirit, would grant them joy, peace and courage in their suffering.  

-Pray for Christians in the northeast who face threats of deadly attacks from al-Shabab. Ask God to protect them, to shelter them from violence and to give them a peace that only comes from Him.  

-Pray that the Church in Kenya would be equipped to disciple believers, to train godly leaders and to effectively share the gospel with their neighbors—strengthening and expanding the worldwide Church for the glory of Christ.  

A PRAYER FOR KENYA 

Lord, we ask you to lift up our brothers and sisters living in Kenya. Guide them to find great joy in following You, no matter the circumstances. Please provide for them contentment, strength and the resources they need to be obedient and alive to your mission. We also ask that You would give them boldness, even in the face of opposition, to show the unconditional love of Your Son, Jesus, to their persecutors. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Photo credits: imb.org