Why the State has failed to rein in rogue churches

Attorney-General Justin Muturi when he appeared before the Senate Committee on the Shakahola deaths

Attorney-General Justin Muturi when he appeared before the Senate Committee on the Shakahola deaths at County Hall in Nairobi on May 10, 2023. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

A weak 55-year-old law governing the registration and regulation of religious institutions, a toothless Registrar of Societies and democratic space for worship are making it difficult for the State to reign in rogue churches.

Attorney-General Justin Muturi told the ad hoc committee of the Senate investigating the deaths in Shakahola, Kilifi County, that the Societies Act, which regulates the registration of societies in the country, is now outdated.

Mr Muturi absolved the government and Registrar of Societies for the proliferation of questionable religious institutions saying the law needs to be reviewed.

“That piece of legislation is so old having been enacted in 1968, you will appreciate that things have changed since then and there is need to review it,” Mr Muturi told senators. He said that the current Act limits the capacity of the Registrar to punish the associations that violate the law. In the event an association fails to file returns, Mr Muturi said the fine is only Sh10, 000, which majority of religious associations pay with ease.

“Coming down on churches requires more than the registrar, because the interaction is very limited as after registration, the next time registrar meets with the churches is when they are filling returns. So if nobody complains in between about the church, then the registrar cannot do anything,” Mr Muturi said.

Committee chairman Danson Mungatana challenged the government to take stern action against churches that are going against what they were registered to do. “What stops you from taking drastic actions on non-compliance churches? Do you think it is time we go the Rwanda way on dealing with churches?” asked Mr Mungatana.

Mr Muturi responded that the democratic space enjoyed in Kenya cannot allow the State to act in the same way.

“Kenya is not like Rwanda, we all know that in Rwanda it is a one-man show and the President can even close all the churches but you cannot try that here in Kenya because the flurry of lawsuits my office will receive I will not even be able to defend,” Mr Muturi said.

Nominated Senator Hamida Ali faulted the State for waiting for 13 years to take action against Pastor Paul Mackenzie’s Goodness International Ministries.

“Why wait until this Shakahola deaths”? she asked.

Mr Muturi defended the Registrar of Societies saying the office is not devolved and is also understaffed, making it difficult to monitor the activities of the churches as demanded by MPs.