Kenya’s Slum Healers


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The slum of Kibera in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, is home to one million people but has just a few health clinics, run by charities. Religious healers like Pastor Joseph Mugosi say they are filling the gap. He says he can solve problems from relationships to sickness to exorcising demons, which many Kenyans believe in.

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While soma may accuse the preachers of being fraudsters, the lack of regulation has allowed the free market economy to thrive amid Kibera’s poverty. Pastor Mugosi, of the African Christian Church, commands up to 20 000 Kenyan shillings ($230) for his services.

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Pastor Daniel Anderson, from the Direction for Life Holiness Church, preaches to his congregation on a Sunday. However, on weekdays he turns to individual healing to earn extra money. He says he does not charge for individual sessions, but relies on donations from his patients.

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Pastor Anderson sits with a man who has come to him claiming to be possessed by demons. “You have to use the word of God,” he advises. “Only Jesus can destroy the evil powers within.”

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Approximately 80% of Kenya’s population is Christian. However, traditional beliefs and customs influence most of Kibera’s African churches, forming a quasi-Christian religion different from Western forms of Christianity.

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Singing and dancing often make up the bulk of Sunday church services in Kibera. Members of the congregation, such as this follower in the Roho Israel Church, go into trance-like states as they feel themselves becoming possessed by the Holy Spirit.

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Kibera residents go to healers for a wide range of reasons that include family disputes, theft, unemployment and curses, as well as possession by the devil. Here Yusuf Otieno, at the Heart of Israel Church, treats a woman who believes she is the victim of a curse.

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Mr Otieno considers himself something akin to a prophet. He says he began to heal in Kibera at the age of 15 when God came to him in his dreams and told him to be like Samson. His dress and dreadlocks have been cultivated to emulate the biblical figure whose long air was said to give him superhuman strength.

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Priests often have multiple robes, each in a different colour and denoting a different saint. The vestments selected tend to depend on the occasion and ailment presented. Vitalis Ochieng says he is wearing green to signify his gift for being able to heal pregnant women those with stomach problems.

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Along with his team, Charles Okeyu, known as Father Alious, runs one of Kibera’s most successful healing operations with up to 100 patients a day. “Father Alious has worked here for more than 18 years and now has made so much out of his business that he even drives a BMW to work,” Kibera resident Vincent Tonda says.

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Some doubt the validity of religious healing, but such methods are only likely to grow more popular in Kibera as more and more Kenyans flood into the cities from rural areas in search of work and end up in abject poverty.

(Photos and words by Tobin Jones for BBC Africa)
© BBC News – Used without permission

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