Why Kenyans Are Prone to Falling for Charlatans in the Church

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Kenyans – like millions of people across the world – are seriously susceptible to religious abuse.

The local media has once again been abuzz with a litany of shocking stories about manipulation, abuse and fraud by pastors. The latest one, a fake “resurrection” made headlines around the world. A video of Pastor Alph Lukau “raising” a man from the dead went viral and even sparked the #ResurrectionChallenge.

Why do Kenyans and in extension Africans fall for these religious snakeskin oil salesmen (and women)?

Pastor Alph Lukau stands next to the coffin and places his hand on the stomach of the man he is claiming to resurrect.

One possible reason is that faith continues to play a very significant role in Africa. In the last household survey over 84% of Kenyans indicated that they are Christians. And a 2010 Pew Report found that 74% of Kenyans said that religion played an important role in their daily decisions, values and shaping of their morals.

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In addition, churches and religious leaders enjoy higher levels of public trust in African society than either the government or private sector. This is unlike many other modern democracies in the 21st century.

Some suggest that this susceptibility to religious belief is due to the moral and political failures of the state and politicians. Religious leaders and institutions gain trust in situations where the population faces high levels of economic and social vulnerability, as is the daily reality for many South Africans. Religious groups are often the only sources of basic care and hope in many communities.

We believe that Africans allow charlatan pastors to win their trust, take their money and get them to engage in frightening, and even comical, quasi-religious acts because of a combination of two factors. Many Africans have high levels of trust in religious leaders. At the same time there’s a great deal of economic need. In situations like this people look to “supernatural” means to solve basic problems

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