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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Church Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in Kenya

Written by: on January 17, 2013

Kenya is undergoing election and the first party primaries under a new constitution are being held this week. Different people have sought for nomination leadership positions as governor, senator and members of parliament. One category of leaders who want to vie for these positions is religious leaders. A debate has ensued whether religious leaders can understand politics and whether they can manage the political and economic affairs of the state. One such leader is the incumbent member of parliament of the largest constituency in Nairobi. She is a Bishop and claims she is a doctor only to be disqualified from the gubernatorial race because she did not even complete high school. As I read the book by Weber, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” I had discussion with people in the office if the leaders they would nominate have the spirit of Capitalism. They seemed to agree that they would lean on a capitalist (one who will create wealth) rather that a socialist (one who will distribute wealth).

I reflected on the words of Weber that ‘religious affiliation is not a cause of economic condition but to an extent appears to be the result of them’. Kenya was a barter trade economy until the turn of the twentieth century. Money was introduced by Indian traders and a two shilling coin was and is still referred to as ‘rupia’ a corruption of the Indian rupee. The church also played a great role in the development of trade. The mission school required that the students pay fees and so parents were introduced to the money economy. The colonialists demanded taxes from the natives. They made local people learn ways of exchanging goods and services for money. Many of those who were taught on how to earn money worked in churches and mission hospitals. The church to a large extend facilitated the development of capitalism.

Just as Weber gives a historical overview of the development of the Protestant Ethics, I see the same pattern from the history of the development of the church and its impact to early followers. Weber notes that ‘capitalist entrepreneurs came from clergymen’s families’ in the same way many of the wealthy family dynasties in Kenya have their family line linked to church leadership. One of the most prominent family in the country is the family of ‘Awori’, a former vice president. The patriarch of the family was a leading clergy man who planted churches in western Kenya and established schools for the native children so that the local population would learn to read and write. All his children have held positions of leadership in the church and in society. They have interests in the banking, real estate and education sectors of the economy. Another prominent family is that of the first president of Kenya, Kenyatta. He was an orphan brought up in a Scottish mission and his family is now the wealthiest in the country. I point these out because as the party primaries election are going on in the country; many people are turning to the church to endorse people who will take up elective posts. It is no wonder that the leading contenders of the presidential race have very strong links to the church leadership. The church’s approval of a candidate gives a great measure of success. This is due to the fact that leaders who are affiliated with the church seems to perform well especially if they have acquired wealth.

Just as Weber noted that capitalism grew from people who took risks, the Kenyans are seeking a leader who shows these characteristics especially in business. It is common to hear that it is CEOs not politicians that the country needs as leaders. It will be interesting to see how the church will ‘dictate the activities of the merchant’ in the new dispensation as the country embarks of governance with a new constitution that seem to have been adopted by and large from the USA constitution. What will be the role of the church? Can the title of Weber’s book ‘A Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ be used in reference to Kenya?

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Joy Mindo

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