An article by the Star highlights the recently released 2019 Census data in which it is reported that Kenya has 755,750 atheists. Unless different questionnaires were administered to different people during the 2019 census, I do not remember being asked whether or not I am an atheist, despite being one. The closest question on the census questionnaire on religion wanted to know which faith I belonged in. The enumerator was ready to pick Christianity for me when I asked her if there was an option for “None”. She said yes, and then I told her to tick that for me.
In Kenya there are three main religions, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. There are other fringe religions like Scientology and African traditional religions that have very few followers. Now, someone not belonging to any of these, or any of the other 4,300 religions that can be found elsewhere in the world, does not make one an atheist.
In the recent years there has been a surge of spiritualists – not the kind that believe in communicating with the dead, but a class of people who don’t like to subscribe to any religion, but live spiritual lives. This group can be divided into two – atheists who acknowledge that there is some spiritual aspect of a human being (Sam Harris is one of them) and theists who believe that God ought to be worshiped only by heart and not through any organized formalities or doctrines. It is now easy to see that a spiritual person who believes that God ought to be worshipped only by heart could easily answer the question of religious affiliation as None.
What that means is that of the 755,750 Kenyans who answered the religious question as none, several of them are theists. It is hard to know the number.
On the flip side, there are atheists who identify with certain religions. I for example can easily identify with Seventh Day Adventism if pressed to pick a religion that I would subscribe to. However, identifying with a particular religion will not make me a believer in a deity. I probably just love associating with SDAs, socializing with them, and engaging them through their Lesson Bible Study guides. This is because atheism on its very basic, is lack of belief that a deity actually exists, and there are many preachers and prophets who are atheist. Preachers and prophets who woodwink gullible humans into believing in miracles through magic tricks are very likely atheists. This is because it is close to impossible to believe in an afterlife punishment in a place like hell and go ahead to perform those magic tricks to reap millions of dollars from poor people.
Thirdly, there are Kenyans who are atheists who identify themselves as agnostics, or who are afraid to come out of the closet, and these could be the majority. In a society like ours where family and friends do not want to associate with non-believers, think that atheists are devil worshipers, evil people, immoral, or just bad citizens, it is very hard for many atheists to come out as atheists, just as it is very hard for homosexuals to come out publicly that they are homosexuals.
Given the foregoing, it is very difficult to know exactly the number of atheists in Kenya from the 2019 census data. If the country wanted to know the correct estimate of atheists in the country, the best way to collect this data was to put in a question that asks people about their belief in deity – where one had to state if he or she believes in the existence of a deity. In absence of that, we can only speculate on the number of atheists in Kenya, and my speculation puts it to 2 million Kenyans, or more.