Electioneering season set in at the start of the year when the Jubilee Alliance Party of Kenya was launched. In 2012-13, the campaign was characterised by ‘prayer rallies’ at which a cross section of ‘religious leaders’ prayed for the fate of the current President and Deputy President who were embroiled in crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court. Kenyans describe themselves as a very if not deeply religious people.
Since then, however, according to the ICC, witnesses have vanished, been intimidated, murdered or been flipped and the cases have proved themselves a drudge for the international court. In the meantime, prayer gatherings, some of them a mixture of traditional and Christians rituals resembling the dark arts have continued periodically in a largely successful effort to tighten the embrace between our political leaders and their travails, with the Church, a version of religion and the Almighty generally. Indeed, their enthusiasm has led to warnings from the ICC that have been rubbished with dismissive self righteousness by none other than the President himself.
Between 2005 and 2007, it was rallies where loose and reckless talk; where vitriol and hatred were vomited out by leaders who occupy the highest offices in the land today that laid the ground for the bloodletting that followed. Encumbered by a ‘tyranny of peace’ championed by civil society, the international community, private sector and fear of the ICC – the 2013 poll campaign was one designed to prey on the basest superstitions and bigotry of their tribally marshaled voting blocs. The prayer rallies were a cynical and highly effective tool in this respect. They’ve been resurrected.
These ceremonies are disturbing in a way that even some mainstream church leaders have started to caution that if politicians want prayers then let them pray in church and not mix them with politics in sessions where prayers last 20 minutes and the toxic politics for two hours. Political scientists and observers warn that they merely increase political instability and volatility as we head into elections. They remind us of 2007 when Kenya almost committed suicide. However, to many they are reassuring in a superstitious sort of way, especially during this time of economic, social and political upheaval and uncertainty.
The bizarre politico-religious prayer rituals reminded me of a tale that one could reflect on in Kenya’s fluid context.
There was an esteemed German scholar Johan Faust around the 13th century. He had mastered not only theology, but also, as the story is written, “the sciences of medicine, mathematics, astrology, sorcery, prophesy, and necromancy”.
Successful but bored and depressed he tried to commit suicide and failed. He called on ‘other powers’ to grant him fame, fortune, pleasure and success beyond measure. The devil sent one of the most powerful demons in his realm - Mephistopheles – to Faust.
The demon told the good Doctor that his master the Devil had heard his cry and was wiling to grant him all he wanted for a set period of time. There are assorted versions of the story so the number of years vary but the deal was clear: in exchange for fame, fortune and a rendering of all the most corrupted pleasures unrestrained after say, 24 years, Mephistopheles would return to claim the body and soul of Faust for Lucifer and essentially curse him to eternal damnation. The agreement was drawn up in Faustus’ own blood.
There are various versions of the tale. In one, Faust calls on Mephistopheles to help him seduce the innocent and beautiful young girl Gretchen. Her life is destroyed after he has used her. However, Faustus’ life was completely transformed. He lived a life of fame, every luxury and comfort. Bored even by this he became consumed by every excess and perversion of the day. “Everything was within his grasp: elegant clothing, fine wines, sumptuous food, beautiful women – even Helen of Troy and the concubines from the Turkish Sultan's harem. He became the most famous astrologer in the land, for his horoscopes never failed. No longer limited by earthly constraints, he travelled from the depths of hell to the most distant stars. He amazed his students and fellow scholars with his knowledge of heaven and earth.”
When the duration of his contract with the devil had expired, Mephistopheles returned and Faust, his life irrevocably corrupted, was carried off to Lucifer. In other versions he was stricken by all manner of maladies, including syphilis and other debilitating illnesses, as his life spiralled to a horrific end. In some versions at the last minute God takes pity on him and rescues him from his fate.
John Githongo is active in the anti-corruption field regionally and internationally. Email: [email protected]