When the famous Chinese philosopher, Confucius said that only the wisest and stupidest men never change –he may not have had anyone living today in his mind, but his words are alive in this era.

The world has a lot of skeptics but Covid-19 and vaccine cynics are latest victims who seem to derail the effort put to keep Covid-19 at bay.

In Mwingi Central, Kitui County, Endui location is largely known for having members of the Kabonokia Sect.

These occupants have a deeply entrenched faith in religion that they do not believe in modern medicine.

The sect is headquartered in Irunduni village, Tharaka-Nithi County and its followers have now set up camp in some parts of Embu and Meru counties.

Their leader, Gitonga M’Mpunguru died on September 15 last year and his cause of death is still a mystery.

While there are undertones from many Kenyans who do not believe in vaccines because of widespread misinformation and personal choices –a whole community not taking up vaccines is a recipe for disaster.

It (the Kabonokia sect) started in the 1940s as a religious resistance movement against European colonisation by a section of the Agikuyu.

These groups of individuals, according to Reverend Fredrick Musyima of AIC Mwingi, resisted anything to do with the “white man.”

They never constructed churches nor did they use modern medicine or seek medical attention from hospitals.

The founders of this religion told their congregation to shun away from all forms of colonialism –including the white man’s religion.

Even now when the virus is devastating the global economy, they have continued with their lives as was in the pre-pandemic era.

In February this year, Nation reported that some Kabonokia faithfuls from Tharaka Nithi had dropped out of school because wearing masks had become mandatory.

While they have accepted education which is a form of civilisation, they remained adamant on health.

Their offspring have since sold their right to education on grounds that masks are ‘uncultured’ in their culture.

“The girls told teachers that they could not wear face masks because it’s sinful and that the illness (Covid-19) targets sinners,” reported the Nation –as told by the Assistant Chief.

The World Health Organisation advises that people should wear masks to suppress transmission and save more lives from Covid-19
“Depending on the type, masks can be used for either protection of healthy persons or to prevent onward transmission,” says the WHO.

The Nation reached out to a local religious leader who does not believe in the Kabonokia but lives near the sect members and he said he was certain that the Kabonokia will not take the Covid-19 jab.

“I don’t think they will take the vaccine,” Reverend Fredrick Musyima said.

“You see, the founders told them that whatever the Europeans touted as medicine was not any better than the herbs. And they believed it as the religious truth.”

“Given that they believe in any form of medicine totally, they are highly unlikely to bend their belief to take the medicine.

They were told that medicine was faeces of a lizard. They’ve believed it to-date,” he said.

While their beliefs were founded many years ago, it was all about searching for freedom.

Even when the country was granted independence in 1963, they never changed their ways.

Who knows where they fall in the two categories that Confucius said regarding people who may never change.

Before the colonial era, most African communities used traditional herbs as medicine and a majority of them embraced change when modern medicine came.

The Kabonokia however stood their ground and even as Covid-19 is ravaging the world, vaccines, to them, is not something they will consider any time soon.

Dr Willis Akhwale, vaccine taskforce chair warns that ignorance may put everyone who does not believe in the vaccine in great danger.

“The pandemic is still evolving and we do not know when it will end. We have seen that Covid-19 is killing people.

Anyone who is not ready to take a preventive measure will soon feel sorry for themselves,” he said.

“That is such an unfortunate position because not having any form of protection means that we could be increasing the chances of death,” he added.

Rev Musyima urges all people regardless of their faith that vaccines are safe and should not be doubted.

“It is the herbs that have been modified into drugs. They should just change their notion of civilisation,” Rev Musyima pleads. “Medicine is not wrong.

It is a product of what God gave us. Please accept modern medicine –including the vaccine.”

“See Luke, the author of the Book of Acts in the holy book, which they, as a sect of Christians subscribe to, was a doctor.

Also, since it is the same we as Christians believe in, I think they (the Kabonokia) are suffering from lack of accurate information.

If they can listen to other Christians like us, then they’ll surely change.”

Chief Samuel Maithya of Endui location in Mwingi Central says the Kabonokia are common for resisting anything modern.

“It is not new, we just hope that they will at least change their minds and take the vaccine,” he said.

Several decades later, after the colonialist left the republic, these groups are still opposed to anything attributed to civilisation.

History of resistance

A majority of these sects are known for their colourful yet secretive life. All else is believed to be “satanic”.

Even when the Nation reached out for a comment from their members, their mouths remained tight-lipped.

They live in makeshift structures. Because “they are just passers-by on the earth”.

In life –and in death –they defy anything bordering civilisation.

Even on their deathbeds, they do not accept medicine –nor postmortem examination. In death, their loved ones are buried almost immediately – in strict adherence to the Kabonokia doctrines.

Their deceased leader, M’Mpunguru, for example, had asked his followers to strictly follow such doctrines when he died.

In the Kenyan context, this sect forms part of the larger anti-vaxxers. But the history of Kabonokia and resistance is not an isolated case in the world.

From real fears sparked by side effects to conspiracy theories and fake studies, hostility and resistance to vaccines date back to the 18th century when the very first jabs were taken.

From the smallpox vaccine, the first jab ever that was characterized by fears and cageyness, to now the COVID-19 jab.

Reports from the media show that the sect members strongly opposed door-to-door campaigns on polio vaccination.

They do not take their children for routine immunisation. Rev. Musyima warns that their deep-rooted misinformation is likely to affect the slowing down of COVID-19 if they completely fail to take the jab.


This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored. For more information on ARN, please visit the ARN site.

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