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National Assembly Kenya
Number of Bahá'ís
 -  Outside source 308,000 
 -  Bahá'í to visit Richard St. Barbe Baker 

The Bahá’í Faith in Kenya begins with three individuals. First Richard St. Barbe Baker took a constructive engagement with the indigenous religion of Kenyans to a United Kingdom conference on religions where in sympathy with his efforts he was presented with the Bahá’í Faith and became a convert.[1] The second was Enoch Olinga who traveled to Kenya when he served in the British Royal Army Educational Corps. The third came twenty one years after the first and marks the arrival of the Bahá’í Faith in Kenya. In 1945 Mrs. Marguerite Preston (née Wellby) arrived in Kenya. She had been a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom from 1939 through 1945 when she married a Kenyan tea grower and moved to Kenya where the couple had three children in two years and she was the only Bahá’í in the nation.[2]

Before becoming Bahá’ís[edit]

Following the events of World War I, where Richard St. Barbe Baker had served in France, St. Barbe went to Cambridge University and earned a degree in Forestry at Caius College. He then went to Kenya in 1920 to serve under the Colonial Office as Assistant Conservator of Forests.[1] There he saw the wide scale deforestation going on.[3] He developed a plan for re-forestation where food crops were planted between rows of young native trees. Because of lack of funds St. Barbe consulted with the Kenyans themselves, approaching the Kikuyu Chiefs and Elders, and together they arranged for three thousand tribal warriors to come to his camp and with the assistance of the Chiefs fifty were selected to be the first Men of the Trees. They promised before Ngai, the High God, that they would protect the native forest, plant ten native trees each year, and take care of trees everywhere. Immediately then leaving Kenya St. Barbe offered a paper at a Congress of Living Religions in the Commonwealth about the Bantu religion following which he was introduced to the Bahá’í Faith because of "his genuine interest in another's religion struck a sympathetic chord with the Bahá’í principles."[1] On going to Palestine for pilgrimage he engaged leaders of religions in the Men of the Trees initiative including Shoghi Effendi, the Chancellor of the Hebrew University, the Grand Mufti of the Supreme Muslim Council, Orthodox and Catholic patriarchs.

Uganda's Enoch Olinga in 1941 joined the British Royal Army Educational Corps and served in Nairobi, capital of Kenya. On return to Uganda he married and encountered the Bahá’í Faith in 1951.[1] He would later become a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh pioneering to Cameroon, then serving on National Spiritual Assemblies and being named the youngest Hand of the Cause. For his role in waves of Knights and the pace of the expansion of the religion in Sub-Saharan Africa he was named "Father of Victories" by Shoghi Effendi.

To Kenya and the growth of the community[edit]

After Mrs. Marguerite Preston's arrival in Kenya in 1945 the next phase of the Bahá’í Faith in Kenya was as part of the wide scale growth in the religion across Sub-Saharan Africa[4] there was an intensive series of plans and goals of pioneers across Sub-Saharan Africa. In 1950-1 the Bahá’ís in the United Kingdom pioneered to Tanganyika, Uganda, Kenya.[5] For example in the 1951 Ted Cardell left on 7 October as pioneer for Nairobi after the untimely death of Mrs. Preston's husband.[6] Though Mrs. Preston herself and her eldest child were killed in a plain flight in 1952, Ursula Samandari, also a former member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom, was elected to the nine-member Local Spiritual Assembly of Nairobi in 1953. Later Samandari was elected to the regional National Spiritual Assembly of North East Africa (1961-70) before moving to Cameroon where she later died.[7]

In 10 years, in early 1963, there were 118 Local Assemblies, 346 groups, and 131 isolated Bahá’ís.[8] Locations for Assemblies included Nairobi, Kilifi, with smaller groups in locations like Bungoma, Busia, Eldoret, Embu, Kakamega, Kericho, Kisii, Kisumu, Kitale, Machakos, Malindi, Mombasa, Nyeri, Thika, Voi, Webuye, and Wundanyi. By the end of 1963 more Local Assemblies were formed for a total of 134. From 1959 to 1963 there were some twelve hundred converts, straining administrative oversight, for a total of 4 thousand.[9] The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Kenya was first elected in 1964.[10]

In 1973 the National Spiritual Assembly of Kenya produced a songbook - "Tuimbe Pamoja, Baadhi ya Nyimbo za Baha'i".[11] In 1977 Kenya hosted an international teaching conference.[12] During the Decade for Women, 1976-86, with the continuing growth of the Kenyan community, as the population applied the teachings there was an effect on the social position of women - "a key factor in the involvement and participation of women," "more women serving on both appointed and elected Bahá’í institutions".[13]

In 1982, there was a satellite conference in Nairobi between Hand of the Cause William Sears and Kenyans including youth.[1] In 1986 the Association for Bahá’í Studies for East, Central, and South Africa held its 4th Bahá’í Studies Symposium in Nairobi.[14]


Through the 1960s to the 1990s many well known Bahá’ís lived in Kenya and many reported linking their spiritual lives with Kenya as it was when it started with St. Barbe and the Prestons.

From 1966 to 1969 well known poet Roger White lived in Nairobi as a secretary for William and Margarite Sears and other Hands of the Cause in Africa,[15] and also dealt with a racist theatre troupe.[16]

Attorney Helen Elsie Austin lived in Africa as a US Foreign Service Officer from 1960-1970, serving as a Cultural attaché with the United States Information Agency first in Lagos, Nigeria and later in Nairobi where she was also a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly.[17][18]

In 1986 North American indigenous Bahá’í Lee Brown gave a talk which was recorded and transcribed - it includes his description of being in Kenya sometime before and linked Native American, especially Hopi, prophecies with the religion of the Kukuyu/(Kikuyu?) tribe of Kenya.[19]

Artist Geraldine Robarts of the United Kingdom fled the Blitz to South Africa where she grew to adulthood and became a Bahá’í. Robarts and family fled Apartheid to Uganda where she was a lecturer in the Makerere University but then fled Idi Amin, and then came to Kenya in 1972. She taught and was head of the department of Painting at Kenyatta University.[20] Starting as early as Uganda she worked with groups of artists to have their art appear in museums and developed a project for groups of women to show case their art as well as provide a mechanism for rural development work.[21][22][23]

Modern community involvements and character[edit]

In the 1990s the Bahá’ís in Kenya participated in a nation-wide community health project including vacinations, maintaining latrines and developing clean water sources.[24]

There is an estimate of 308,000 Bahá’ís in 2005.[25] or about 1% of the population.[26][27]

East African regional conference[edit]

Regional conferences were called for by the Universal House of Justice 20 October 2008 to celebrate recent achievements in grassroots community-building and to plan their next steps in organizing in their home areas. Just two weeks later twin conferences were held - one in South Africa and the other in Kenya. One regional conference was hosted by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Kenya in Nakuru in November 2008 and attracted over 1000 Bahá’ís: in addition to over 500 Kenyans, there were 200 from Uganda, 100 from Tanzania, 42 from Ethiopia, four from Mozambique, and three from southern Sudan.[28]

See also[edit]

Bahaimedia has files related to: Kenya


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Universal House of Justice (1986), "In Memorium", The Bahá’í World of the Bahá’í Era 136-140 (1979-1983) (Bahá’í World Centre) XVIII: Table of Contents and pp.619, 632, 802-4, ISBN 0853982341, 
  2. Effendi, Shoghi (1981). The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha'i Community. London, UK: Baha'i Publishing Trust. pp. p. 231. ISBN 9780900125430.. 
  3. "Ancient Coral Reef Tells The History Of Kenya's Soil Erosion", Science Daily, 2007-04-13, 
  4. "Overview Of World Religions". General Essay on the Religions of Sub-Saharan Africa. Division of Religion and Philosophy, University of Cumbria. Retrieved 2008-04-16. ]
  5. U.K. Bahá’í Heritage Site. "The Bahá’í Faith in the United Kingdom - A Brief History". Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  6. Hainsworth, Philip (May 2001), "It All Began 50 Years Ago…", Journal of the Bahá’í Community of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 
  7. "A love for all peoples", Bahá’í World News Service (Buea, Cameroon), 2003-07-17, 
  8. The Bahá’í Faith: 1844-1963: Information Statistical and Comparative, Including the Achievements of the Ten Year International Bahá’í Teaching & Consolidation Plan 1953-1963, Compiled by Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land, pages 25 and 95
  9. Rabbani, Ruhiyyih (Ed.) (1992). The Ministry of the Custodians 1957-1963. Bahá’í World Centre. pp. pp. 181, 188, 305. ISBN 0-85398-350-X. 
  10. National Spiritual Assemblies Statistics,, retrieved 2008-11-27  from Effendi, Shoghi (1971). Messages to the Bahá’í World, 1950-1957. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0877430365. 
  11. MacEoin, Denis; William Collins. "Music (Listings)". The Babi and Baha'i Religions: An Annotated Bibliography. Greenwood Press's ongoing series of Bibliographies and Indexes in Religious Studies. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  12. *Marks, Geoffry W., (Ed.) (1996). Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986: The Third Epoch of the Formative Age. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois, US. ISBN 0-87743-239-2. 
  13. (1985-07-15) "Activities in the Bahá’í World Community to Improve the Status of Women during the United Nations Decade for Women". Report presented to the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace, Nairobi, Kenya: Bahá’í International Community. BIC Document #85-0715. Retrieved on 2008-04-06. 
  14. (1998-04-10) "Report on Scholarship, 1997". Scholarship Institute, Yerrinbool, Australia: Association for Bahá’í Studies — Australia. Retrieved on 2008-04-06. 
  15. Weinberg, Rob (1997), Roger White: An Obituary, Writer and editor, "poet laureate" of the Bahá’í community, 7, 
  16. Price, Ron (2002). The Emergence of a Bahá’í Conscriousness in World Literature, The Poetry of Roger White. Bahá’í Academics Resource Library. pp. pp. 67-74. 
  17. "Selected profiles of African-American Baha'is". National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  18. "Standing up for justice and truth", Bahá’í World News Service, 2004-12-05, 
  19. Brown, Lee (1986). "North American Indian Prophecies". Continental Indigenous Council, Tanana Valley Fairgrounds, Fairbanks, Alaska: Bahá’í Academic Library Online. 
  20. "A "world-class" artist who straddles two worlds: painting and development", OneCountry 11 (1), April-June 1999, 
  21. Robarts, Geraldine. "Background(1)". Professional Website. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  22. Robarts, Geraldine. "Background(2)". Professional Website. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  23. "Adapted from a brochure provided by Rehema, LTD (NGO)", OneCountry 11 (1), April-June 1999, 
  24. Community health workers in Kenya stir broad changes Volume 7, Issue 4 March - January 1996
  25. Year 2000 Estimated Baha'i statistics from: David Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia, 2000; Total population statistics, mid-2000 from Population Reference Bureau [1]
  26. "WCC > Member churches > Regions > Africa > Kenya". World Council of Churches. World Council of Churches. 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  27. "Background Note: Kenya". The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affair. 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  28. Bahá’í International Community (2008-11-11), "Big turnout for regional Baha’i conferences", Bahá’í International News Service, 

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