News / Africa

Mombasa Church Stands Firm Despite Sectarian Unrest

An armed policeman carrying a pistol and tear gas patrols while firemen attempt to put out a fire in the Salvation Army Church after it was set on fire by rioting youths, following Friday Muslim prayers in Mombasa, Kenya, Oct. 4, 2013.
An armed policeman carrying a pistol and tear gas patrols while firemen attempt to put out a fire in the Salvation Army Church after it was set on fire by rioting youths, following Friday Muslim prayers in Mombasa, Kenya, Oct. 4, 2013.
A government crackdown on Muslim militants may be having unintended consequences for some Christian churches in Kenya.  For the past two years a Salvation Army Church has been the target of attacks by young Muslim men, angry at what they consider a harsh police crackdown on potential militants. 

The Salvation Army church has stood in Majengo neighborhood of Mombasa since late 1920’s. In recent years the church has been attacked by Muslim youths who have fought with police to protest the deaths of clerics and young men in the government's crack down on al-Shabab militants.

Damage is still visible from an attack last October, when attackers threw gasoline bombs at the church, burning down its training hall and a store.

Six months later, security concerns mean at least two police officers are assigned to protect more than 100 worshipers every Sunday.

Despite the threats, fifty-one-year-old Mary Ivusa still comes to the church, but worries about possible new attacks.

“Fear, fear is too much in our lives because as mothers we come with little children who cannot run, they are still very young, so its fear which is in our lives. And that’s what has made us fearful when there is no enough security,” she said.

In April, two gunmen stormed a church in Mombasa's Likoni neighborhood and opened fire, killing four worshippers and injuring 15 others.

Ivusa, a mother of three, said that attack made many people too afraid to come to church.

“For me I have never missed, but they are so many women who don’t come because they are afraid. They don’t know what will happen next, especially when you see that one which happened in Likoni, it has brought more fear so many mothers have not come,” she said.

Since that attack the government has provided security for churches, especially in coastal towns.

John Muliro, a retired church elder, said church officials had to sacrifice some things to avoid confrontation with youths who might be disturbed by their presence.

“We might say we have changed, like we usually have what we call outdoor meeting whereby we go out to evangelize and sing as we march on the road, we don’t do that. But otherwise we are able to move on and do our best,” he said.

Regional security analysts said some Muslim youths directed their anger at churches because of the disappearances and killings of Muslim clerics and youths accused of having links to terror group al-Shabab in Somalia.

Local human rights organizations accuse the Kenyan police of using heavy-handed tactics against the Muslim community, including forced disappearances and murder.  Police deny the accusations and say they are defending the nation from attack.

Sergent Major Alfred Charles Mugo, an elder at the Salvation Army Church in Mombasa, said Christianity has not wronged the Muslim youths and they should use the right channel to express their grievances.

 “There is rule of law in this country. We are not living as animals in this nation, we have a law if someone has wronged you just go and exercise the law take them to court. You cannot just wake up and start attacking other people as if they are the one who have wronged you,” he said.

For now, at the Salvation Army Church, members of the congregation hope it can stand firm despite the turbulence.

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