Prayers over state action? Is the Dark Age back?

Sunday November 05 2023

L-R: Kenya’s First Lady Rachel Ruto, President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and his wife Dorcas praying at the Moi International Sports Center Kasarani in Nairobi, Kenya, on September 13, 2022. PHOTO | NMG


In mediaeval Europe, the church was a powerful institution. It had great influence on the tyrannical and exploitative monarchies. It levied taxes from the citizenry and state. The poor majority who had little, if any, education paid for prayers so that their sins could be forgiven. The church became extremely wealthy. However, despite the prayers they had paid for dearly, they remained mired in poverty. They sought alternative salvation in alcohol dens and brothels.

The gradual spread of democratic ideas and concomitant industrialisation began to change society. People began to go to school. The idea that man could change his condition through sheer effort of the intellect informed government and personal affairs.

By the turn of the 19th century, a new society, confident in its ability to change its condition by application of its intellect, had emerged from the superstitions and despotism of the Middle Ages. Science revolutionised the way people communicated, travelled and lived. That society could remake the future was the overriding psychological and ideological sense.

Read: TEE NGUGI: ‘Prayernomics’ will not grow GDP by any percentage

It has become alarming, therefore, that a new-age evangelism has begun taking people back, conceptually, to the dark ages. This new dogma is teaching that society’s problems stem from their estrangement from God. According to this new gospel, poverty or illness can be overcome by reconnecting with God. You can be freed, they preach, from the evil spirit of poverty and disease.

You only have to believe and tithe generously. Some even demand a minimum tithe amount. So we are back to paying for prayers in order to be cured of poverty and disease. The high priests go by vain-glorious epithets – bishop, apostle, prophet.


Some even claim they are the Messiah. They live in fabled wealth. I have been blessed, they proclaim in hypocritical piety, and you, too, will be if you keep tithing without cessation.

This new gospel has in the past two decades taken a dangerous hold in poor Third World countries. And in these countries, the most poverty stricken areas are in the grips of this mania. The poor flock to these churches and pay with hard-earned money for blessings that will free them from the afflictions of poverty and disease.

Read: ULIMWENGU: They tell us to go to hell, we ask how to get there

Other than the merciless fleecing of the poor, this new gospel has grave implications for our nascent democracy and the foundational rational of our nationhood. We have begun to remove the responsibility for our development from government.

We pray for our children to get jobs, not demand that government stop thievery and create conditions to attract investment. We pray for good health, not demand that government stop mismanagement of our health system.

We pray for better prices for our crops, not ask government to build roads to make it cheaper to get to markets. Instead of demanding redesigning of bad roads, we pray for an end to road accidents. At the oddity dubbed National Prayer Breakfast, we pray for end of corruption, tribalism and famine.