On 21 October 1994, the Kenya Gazette Notice 6783 notified the public that President Daniel Arap Moi has appointed a “Committee of Social Workers, Law Enforcement Officers, and Spiritual Leaders” to investigate “allegations of the existence of devil worship cults” in Kenya that were linked to “drug abuse” and “other anti-social activities.” Per the Notice, the Committee was to prepare a report to be submitted in three months. It was submitted in mid-1995.
On 1 March 1995, Gazette Notice 991 elevated the Committee to a Commission of Inquiry. The Terms of Reference for the Commission included:
- to inquire into allegations of the existence of the cult of devil worship in Kenya
- to establish the extent to which the cult of devil worship may have affected learning institutions in Kenya and other elements of the Kenyan society
- to establish the reported linkage of the cult of devil worship to drug abuse and other anti-social activities
- to report on measures necessary to deal with the aforesaid menace
In its Executive Summary, the Commission wrote,
From all the evidence presented, the Commission is of the opinion that the cult of devil worship exists in Kenya. The target groups appeared to be the youth and the economically disadvantaged members of the society.
The Report’s evidence and findings sound like notes from 70s and 80s horror films. Devil worship was associated with human mutilation, human sacrifice, rock music, homosexuality, and drug abuse. It led to participants having “strange powers” and resisting authority.
This particular Report is difficult to find. I have a faded, incomplete PDF. It is rarely mentioned in Kenyan political discussions. It is easy to dismiss it as a historical oddity.
The most compelling document of Kenyan radicalism I have ever encountered is the UKENYA Manifesto, published by exiled Kenyans in Britain in 1987. The authors are anonymous, but it’s likely they included students who had traveled to study in Britain from the 1960s through the 80s, and professionals and activists who had fled Jomo Kenyatta’s and Moi’s repressive regimes, all those named dissidents by Moi’s state. The manifesto grounds itself in the Marxist anti-imperialism that flourished in Kenya’s intellectual and artistic circles from the late 1960s well into the late 1980s.
For over twenty years we Kenyans have seen our hard won independence mortgaged to foreign interests by the KANU regime of Kenyatta and Moi under the cynical ‘philosophies’ of Harambee and Nyayoism. Even our main ports and airports have been turned into U.S. military facilities (for both conventional and nuclear weapons) to serve Western strategic interests, thereby seriously compromising our sovereignty and threatening the security not only of Kenya but of the whole region.
And clearly states,
Today Kenya is the classical neo-colonial state. We are being ruled by a comprador class – a parasite- which is a subordinate ally of international capital. It is an overseer of imperialist interests in our country.
These surrogates, mbwa wakali of the West, are paid to suffocate the growth of national enterprises.
. . .
This class is truly anti-national, anti-Kenya, anti-progressive and it is clearly the enemy of us Kenyans. We must unite against this class. We patriotic Kenyans -workers, peasants, students, professionals, soldiers and all the other patriotic elements must unite against it and its imperialist masters.
By 1994, when the Report on Devil Worship was commissioned, this language of structural critique and class solidarity had been evacuated from Kenya’s education system. It was incomprehensible within the now-dominant state and social languages of patriotism and spirituality. It lived in exile, carried by all the Kenyans fortunate enough to have escaped Moi’s regime.
From 2019, it seems silly to look at two relatively obscure documents. They are not well known, even in Kenya’s activist and progressive circles. They are barely referenced in mainstream political discussions. My obsession with them might be nothing more than an academic exercise.
Yet, even a cursory glance at mainstream Kenyan discussions reveals that the Report on Devil Worship became the dominant frame through which to understand state and society.
Kenya’s mainstream discussions are filled with “dark forces” and “vices,” with “sex pests” and “unnatural events,” with calls for nationwide repentance and national prayer days. We are called to be “prayer warriors” and to believe that our collective spiritual work will “heal” the deep spiritual wounds.
At times, it seems the language of class-based critique is still present. Those with platforms will rail against “the political class” and “the elite,” and even call for a “revolution.” But this framing of the oppressed against the oppressors is far more organically grounded in the Report on Devil Worship than it is on solid anti-imperial, Marxist grounds. These are “prayer warriors” calling for a “spiritual change” because the “political class” and “elites” are leading Kenya into darkness.
You can hear the morality of the Report when people complain about “bad leaders” and call for “good governance.” In “bad leaders,” you hear the traces of the Report’s warnings against “charismatic cult leaders.” Though it might sound like standard issue NGO-speak, a Kenyan calling for “good governance” is so often echoing the Report’s call for more religious education to guide Kenya’s young people, to teach them to submit to state authority.
But perhaps the Report’s strongest influence is in the Kenyan faith in the state.
Whereas the UKENYA Manifesto demands that the neo-colonial state be dismantled and rebuilt, including “The dismantling of the present military and armed police system used for the maintenance of neo-colonial structures, for the defence of the propertied few, and against the majority of the people,” Kenyans raised in the shadow of the Report insist that Kenya has “very good policies” and “the problem” is “implementation.” The dominant language privileges “reform.” If we fight the right spiritual battles, colonial-era institutions will no longer be “dark forces.”
In the Kenya created by the Report, bad people do bad things that hurt the nation. In contrast, good people do good things that help the nation. The political work, then, is to get the good people into the right positions so they can do good things: good governance. Good leadership. We complain about “rot” in this or that institution—the police, the judiciary, the legislature, the executive—with a faith that the institution itself can be saved by eliminating the rot. Fire a few people. Pray some more. Conquer dark forces. We know that fighting dark forces is difficult, but we also know that good wins over bad, and all we need to do is have faith—in deities and institutions and our collective good intentions.
It is much more difficult to imagine dismantling oppressive structures and systems. It is almost impossible to critique capitalism. It feels impossible to imagine solidarities in a system created to anoint messiahs and leaders who will lead us to a promised elsewhere. And, certainly, this politics that fights against darkness and demons can neither imagine nor practice solidarity with sex workers and queer and trans Kenyans. They are, after all, evidence of the devil at work.
It might be that the Report on Devil Worship was more symptom than break, less the force that destroyed Marxist and anti-imperial structural critiques, and more evidence that such destruction had taken place. Whatever the case, any attempts to rethink Kenya and to imagine more radical presents and futures will have to contend with its legacy.