Updated March 2015
Population: 45 million
Religion: Christian 82.6%; Muslim 8.3%; Ethnoreligionist* 7.2%; Other 1.9%
History and society
The ethnic diversity of this East African nation makes for a rich and vibrant culture but it is also the root of recurring unrest.
Kenya gained independence from Great Britain in 1963 and for 15 years the country enjoyed relatively strong economic growth under the leadership of the charismatic Jomo Kenyatta. On Kenyatta’s death in 1978, Daniel arap Moi came to power. The country’s economy soon stagnated and its social problems deepened.
The Kenya African National Union (Kanu) ruled for 40 years, long after multi-party politics were restored in the early 1990s. In fact, Kanu held sway until 2002 when Mwai Kibaki won a landslide victory at the general election.
Disputed elections in 2007 fuelled growing discontent which erupted into inter-ethnic violence and led to the formation of a coalition Government. Elections in 2013 passed off peacefully, however, and brought to power Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s independence leader.
Rampant corruption remains a huge issue in Kenya, as are crime and poverty exacerbated by flooding and drought. Competition for declining pasturelands has fuelled ethnic tensions.
The Kenyan military entered Somalia in late-2011 to fight Al Shabaab Islamist militants, which it accused of the kidnap and killing of tourists and aid workers on Kenyan soil. Since 2013 Al Shabaab has launched increasingly brutal retaliatory attacks in Kenya.
Religious context and persecution
Kenya has long been a hub for Christian mission, theological education and church ministry. Almost half the population identify themselves as evangelical.
The north-west and coastal areas have been Muslim for centuries. But tensions between Christians and Muslims are rising and outbreaks of violence are increasingly common.
Today, despite theirs being a predominantly Christian nation, believers in Kenya are now being targeted with violence linked to the Al Shabaab insurgency.
Grenade attacks on Christian targets in 2012 were followed by more brutal tactics from early-2014 onwards.
In March 2014, gunmen killed at least seven Christians during a service at the Joy in Jesus Church in Likoni, in coastal Mombasa County. The previous month, assistant pastor Lawrence Kazungu Kadenge had been killed in the Majengo area of Mombasa, for sharing his faith near a mosque.
In June 2014, Al Shabaab extremists raided the mainly Christian coastal town of Mpeketoni, killing more than 57 people. And, in December 2014, 36 non-Muslims were shot dead at a labourers’ camp in Kormey, north-east Kenya. Ten days earlier, in the same region, up to 28 people were pulled off a bus heading out of Mandera and shot in the head. In all of these massacres, most of those killed were Christian and were singled out for their faith.
One other group who find themselves a particular target for persecution are Somali Christian immigrants. Many have been harassed, attacked or even killed as ‘apostates’ by other members of Kenya’s large Somali immigrant community.
Sources: BBC; International Christian Concern; Operation World; Release International; The World Factbook.
* Ethnoreligionist: followers of local, tribal, animistic or shamanistic religions, with members restricted to one ethnic group
Updated March 2015