Christian-Muslim Dialogue in Kenya and Uganda

Sent On: 
Wed, 2019-01-23
Newsletter Number: 

Between January 3 and January 20th I was in Uganda and Kenya. The main purpose for my visit was to visit my son Filip who was working at the University of Mbarara on the development of MRI equipment. Uganda needs to import MRI equipment at 3 million US dollars per machine, but most hospitals don’t have the funds to buy such machines. Thus engineers and doctors are working on developing lower cost MRI equipment that might be produced for a cost of perhaps 50.000 to 100.000 US$. Filip is part of a team of experts from Delft Technical University, Penn State University (US), and Ugandan universities and institutions. They are making good progress and may be able to have a new equipment on the market in perhaps five years time.


Our work in Egypt is all focused on Muslim-Christian relations and thus I looked for this and found Uganda and Kenya to be extremely interesting countries in this regard. Kenya and Uganda are truly multi-ethnic states. In Kenya 68 languages are spoken and in Uganda 43 languages are spoken. Prior to the British colonization there were tribes and some tribal kingdoms which each had their own language. No central government existed at that time. The British Empire established in 1895 the East Africa Protectorate that later became the Kenya Colony that achieved its independence in 1964. The Buganda kingdom became a British protectorate in 1894, while other kingdoms followed in 1896. These later formed Uganda in 1962.


Key to the development of Kenya and Uganda was the establishment of the Uganda railway in 1895. The railway reached Kisumu in 1901 and a few years later it reached Kampala. The British brought in some 32,000 workers from British India. Many stayed. Indian traders and small businessmen then came who saw opportunities in the opening up of the interior of Kenya and Uganda. This is the beginning of a large Indian community in both countries. Christian missionaries came in and churches were established. Muslim traders came from Mombassa and this resulted in Muslim missionary work. There are hardly any animist believers anymore. Thus, changes in both countries have been huge! Christianity is, with 84.8% of the population, the predominant religion. Muslims make up around 10-11% of the population. Around 5% of the population adheres to Baha'ism, Buddhism, Hinduism and traditional religions. In Uganda around 85% is Christian with 14% adhering to Islam and 1% other religions.



           Kenya's first church                                                     Kenyan mosque                          


Both countries are dotted with churches, mosques and religious shrines. The variety of different churches and mosques is huge. One of course finds mainstream churches such as Catholic, Presbyterian, and various kinds of Evangelical churches, but also Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons and African inland churches. The Coptic Orthodox Church has also done its missionary work here, which has resulted in several African Coptic Orthodox Churches. The variation among Muslims is just as large. Thus, one finds here Sunni, Shi’a and also Ahmadiya mosques along with Baha’is.


I have not noticed any tensions between adherents of different religions. But of course discussions erupted following the January 15 terrorist attack on the Dusit D2 hotel in Nairobi, which left 21 people and 5 attackers dead. The attack was claimed by al-Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia which had carried out earlier attacks in Kenya in response to its involvement in the Somali civil war.  The Kenyan response was dignified. Efforts were first made to rescue as many civilians as possible. Floors of the hotel were cleared one by one. When the news broke media refrained from accusing any party, or calling it a terrorist attack. That was only done after more information came to light. Muslim leaders were fast in denouncing the attack as un-Islamic. No accusations by non-Muslims were against Muslims in general.


African churches decided to establish in 1959 the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA) when it became clear that Africa had become a continent where both Christianity and Islam had made large number of converts and thus had become a continent in which both religions are immediate neighbors. PROCMURA’s mission statement reads that the organization is about “Faithful Christian witness to the Gospel in an interfaith environment of Christians and Muslims that respects the spirit of good neighborliness and Christian constructive engagement with Muslims for peace and peaceful coexistence.”


Different universities have programs for comparative religion. Thus, diversity is taken seriously and these programs have been very successful.


Religious statements are everywhere


The interest of these various institutions in interfaith relations in Egypt is substantial. We are currently signing up many new subscribers from Kenya to our newsletter. University professors asked if we could accept quality papers from Kenyan students for our database and of course we welcome this. We also have plans for a new summer school in 2019 and hope that also Kenyan and Ugandan students will be able to participate.


Cairo, January 23, 2019

Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report