When the State of Emergency was declared in 1952, the churches backed the colonial Government, taking advantage of the situation to increase their numbers, especially in central Kenya, where the Kikuyu Christians had borne the brunt of attacks by the Mau Mau fighters, who branded them loyalists.
With the missions becoming recruiting grounds for loyalists, they also used to serve as the centres of rehabilitating the Mau Mau. The programme included “cleansing” those who had taken the Mau Mau oath.
While the Kikuyu, Meru and Embu had earlier rejected some teachings of the missionaries and opted for independent churches and schools, the Government banned independent schools in the wake of the outbreak of the Mau Mau war in 1952. The schools and religious movements were seen as seedbeds of sedition and rebellion and kept under close watch. These included Dini ya Msambwa in Western Province, Nomia Church in Nyanza Province and Dini ya Kaggia in Central Province.
Jomo Kenyatta was one of the supporters of independent schools, having been a principal of Githunguri Teachers College, an independent institution started, among others, by his brother-in-law Peter Mbiyu Koinange.
Independent schools were established to cater for the increasing number of young Kikuyu who missed opportunities in such mission schools as Alliance and Mang’u. By 1939, there were 63 Kikuyu independent schools, with an enrolment of about 13,000 pupils.
It was in this year that the two main independent schools organisations, the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association (KISA) and the Kikuyu Karing’a Education Association (KKEA), came together to establish a teacher training college, the Kenya African Teachers College. The Githunguri Independent School was the biggest, providing education from elementary through primary to secondary and college.
By 1947, the school had an enrolment of over 1,000 pupils, with Koinange, the first Kenyan to hold an MA degree, as the principal, Kenyatta the administrator, and other Kenyan luminaries, like James Gichuru, as teachers.
Githunguri turned out to be the centre of self-determination by Africans away from the mission schools and with little influence from the colonial government. For the first time, the budding African elite had shown that it could open up education for the majority.
But the Emergency and Kenyatta’s arrest led to the closure of all the independent schools. The buildings in Githunguri were burnt down and the site became a temporary holding ground for political agitators. It was later given to the administration, with the foundations used to put up a district officer’s building.
It was expected that these developments would influence the relationship between Kenyatta, who was jailed for leading Mau Mau, and the mainstream churches. But, as we shall see, the Kenyatta government’s attitude to the Church was as moderate and benign as it was to the Mau Mau loyalists – some of whom formed the bedrock of his administration.
Church and colonialism
In the pioneering days, the relationship between the Church and State was cordial as the flag seemed to follow the cross. But colonialism had started becoming oppressive in Kenya after World War I and this had upset the relationship between the Church and the State.
With the economy in limbo and settlers facing hardships in the new areas, they started pressing for a policy of forced labour to obtain it abundantly and cheaply. This was followed by a strong missionary protest by such missionaries as Arthur Barlow of the CMS in a letter in London.
In 1919, when the policy of forced labour was promulgated by Governor Northey, the Alliance of Protestant Missions criticised it as being cruel to the Africans. In a rejoinder, the secretary of the Conference of British Missionary Societies, Dr J. H. Oldham, protested to the British government about the “subservient nature” of Africans in Kenya.
As a result of his protest, the Devonshire White Paper was issued in 1923, declaring that the interests of Africans must be considered paramount.
The Alliance also protested against plans to devalue the rupee in order to reduce African wages, and against the arbitrary higher taxes imposed on Africans.
The missionaries did not always protest, they often collaborated with the government. For instance on education, they realised that they depended on government aid for their schools and did not want to jeopardise this privilege.
But with the emergence of Mau Mau, the missionaries failed to condemn the holding of tens of thousands of Kikuyus in Central Province, the seizure of land and wanton killings. They also took advantage of the herding of women and children in camps to increase their membership and failed to regard Mau Mau as a nationalist movement. By attacking Mau Mau, the Church identified itself with the status quo against the weak and oppressed people.
But from the examples we have seen, it is clear that they did not simply accept the views of the colonial authorities or settlers. While they were anxious to protect the Africans from injustice, sometimes they did not know how to do it. They were already part of the colonial enterprise, and tried to play it safe, being between the colonial administrators and the Africans. The missionary was often caught in the crossfire of the struggle between African nationalists and the colonial government.
Africanisation of Churches
Shortly before independence, there was an upsurge of promotions within the mainstream churches, with Africans becoming bishops, and in essence assuming leadership of the churches.
These changes coincided with the reforms that were taking place in the political arena where discussions about a new constitution for Kenya had started in earnest. Beginning 1944, when Eliud Mathu was nominated as the first African to the Legco, the Africans had been represented since 1934 by white missionaries, the most notable one being the Rev Canon Leakey and the Rev L. J. Beecher, who were outspoken about African interests.
Beecher’s colleague, H. R. Montgomery, a former Chief Native Commissioner — who had succeeded the Rev Canon George Burns in 1938 — said nothing about African interests. He is recorded to have spoken only five times in 1943 and mentioned Africans only once that year.
Beecher improved the quality of representation for Africans and impressed the likes of Gichuru, the Kenya African Union president, who was initially critical of the choice.
Thus, the entry of Mathu, an Alliance alumnus, saw the exit of missionaries as the people’s representative at the political front and kick-started a new push for more Africans in the Legco.
But the Mau Mau uprising of 1952 caused the church to take sides, with its leadership strongly opposed to the violence, and the oathing, and supporting the government. Most church leaders, chiefs and teachers became easy targets.
Mau Mau pushed the African demands for more representation to the forefront and the Anglican and Catholic churches started promoting locals to leadership positions.
In 1957, Pope Pius XII consecrated Maurice Otunga as Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Kisumu, the first African Catholic Bishop in Kenya.
But Catholic dioceses, unlike other churches, were not autonomous entities since the Pope was the sole authority. Unlike others, the Catholic churches were slow in Africanising their dioceses, thus ignoring the rush caused by the arrival of independence. Despite Otunga’s elevation, by 1968 there were still nine white bishops against only two Africans. By 1973 Kenya still had seven white bishops and six African. In 1971, Maurice Otunga succeeded John McCarthy as the Archbishop of Nairobi. In 1972, he was made a Cardinal, the highest honour within the Catholic Church.
In the Anglican Church, Festo Olang’ and Obadiah Kariuki were consecrated in 1955 at the Namirembe Cathedral, Kampala, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Dr Geoffrey Fisher, as the first African Assistant Bishops in Kenya.
Kariuki spoke openly against the Mau Mau and even got a chance in 1958 to visit Kenyatta in prison.
In his Kenyatta biography, Jeremy Murray Brown captures the moment vividly and better than the colonial records:
“Kenyatta took Kariuki to his cell and they talked alone about the state of their country…he asked if he could keep the Bible, it was what he wanted most of all and he planned to read it right through from beginning to end. Kariuki then went to one of the larger rooms to meet the other prisoners….(Bildad) Kaggia at once (verbally) attacked him for this…there is no God, he said, Christ is only for Europeans. Kenyatta tried to quiet them. One by one they all trooped out of the block, leaving only Kenyatta and General China to receive Kariuki’s farewell prayers.”
In 1960, the churches appeared to follow the political developments that had taken place following the Lancaster House Conference, which lifted the ban on political parties countrywide and saw the formation of Kanu and Kadu. It was in the same year that Pope Paul VI elevated Otunga to be the titular Archbishop of Bomarzo and Co-adjutor Archbishop of Nairobi.
For his part, Olang’ was in 1960 appointed Bishop of Maseno, which covered Nyanza and Western provinces. He was enthroned in 1961 by Archbishop Beecher at St Stephen’s Church, Kisumu, which later became his pro-Cathedral.
But the most notable development between the Church and politicians was in December, 1960, when senior African clergymen called for a rally near Kenyatta’s Ng’enda home in Kiambu.
The rally was of significance for it was the first time since the State of Emergency had been declared that Presbyterian leaders were to make a political stand. In attendance were 4,000 people and leading the clergy was a young man, the Rev John Gatu.
It was his speech that highlighted the changes that were taking place even among the Christians. He said:
“Christians will always support Africans who are fighting for Uhuru logically and peacefully…and the first thing to do is for Christians to join Kanu.”
The significance of the meeting was not lost on the audience. Kanu leaders wanted to bridge the divide between the loyalists and the radicals. If the Kikuyu Christians, previously counted among the loyalists, joined Kanu they would hold sway against the Mau Mau radicals who also identified with the party.
The man behind this scheme was Gichuru, the Kanu president who was holding fort for Kenyatta.
“If we had been united, Jomo Kenyatta would have been released long time ago,” Gichuru told the audience. The feeling in the government was that the Mau Mau was largely a Kikuyu civil war, and that Kenyatta’s release would rekindle the enmity between loyalists (read Christians) and the rest.
Actually, Kanu’s nemesis, Kadu, did not take the Ng’enda meeting lightly. Agriculture Assistant Minister Taita Toweett said it was wrong for the Church to rally its followers towards a political party.
“This, surely, is going to wreck Christianity in Africa. Are we to associate Christianity with either Kanu or Kadu? My simple advice to the clergy is that they should not take sides openly in politics. I shall be a miserable man if Christianity degenerate into party politics,” said Toweett.
But the bigger picture planned by Gichuru to get loyalists into Kanu by all means was shaping up.
What Gichuru did not know was that the church was also undergoing transformation. In January, 1961, a month after the Ng’enda meeting, the Anglican Church confirmed Kariuki as the Bishop of the new Diocese of Fort Hall. The Diocese was renamed Mt Kenya after independence.
Another political figure who wanted the Church to support them openly was Tom Mboya, a man who considered the Church as “very weak” in its position on the colonial questions.
Mboya had sharpened this feeling at Mang’u High School when missionaries discouraged his political questions, forcing him to abandon his plans to join a seminary.
He would later say that, though he still considered himself a Catholic, “my disagreements are not with the faith, but the Church has been very weak in its position on the colonial question; it has tended to defend the status quo”.
These positions taken by Mboya and Gichuru, the two most influential politicians before Kenyatta was released, helped to shape the political progress of Africanising the mainstream church leadership in Kenya.
While Olang’ presided over all of western Kenya, Kariuki was to take charge of Central. It was Olang’, who despite opposition from some political heavyweights, including Attorney-General Charles Njonjo, would rise to become the head of the Anglican Church in Kenya after Archbishop Beecher retired in 1970.
The changes in the Methodist Church began in 1955 when the Methodist Missionary Society was turned into the Methodist Church in Kenya. However, it continued to serve as part of the overseas district of the British Conference, until 1967 when it became autonomous, following the signing of the Deed of Foundation in January at City Hall, thereby inaugurating the new Conference. The first Presiding Bishop, Ronald Mng’ong’o, was appointed, with Lawi Imathiu as the Conference’s Secretary.
But the churches were also facing pressure from independent religious organisations that were springing up in the country.
In Western, especially among the Luos, the populist Legio Maria sect emerged as a renegade breakaway from the Catholic Church prior to independence.
While the group combined traditional religion, “conservative Catholicism, and some charismatic manifestations of the Holy Spirit”, it spread quickly to become Africa’s largest secessionist sect from the Roman Catholic Church.
The secessionist sect’s founder, Simeo Ondeto, claimed to be Jesus Christ reincarnate and viewed his struggle against Catholicism as part and parcel of the overall struggle against colonialism.
His public overtures to Kanu endeared him to the ruling elite, though he was mostly seen as a religious renegade rather than an extension of post-independent protest.
One religious scholar recently wrote:
“While it may have preached an anti-establishment message, Legio was not a violent religious movement. There was no call to armed conflict. Simeo Ondeto did not lead his followers to overthrow the British colonial government, nor did he oppose the new regime after independence. According to the logic of their own unique religious discourse, Legios credit the Messiah’s presence to be the source of Kenya’s relative stability, peace and prosperity in an otherwise unstable and poor region of Africa. He is in Kenya, that is why in Kenya there is a lot of peace. Furthermore, Legios often articulate a position in support of peaceful cooperation, saying that Legios call all who do good their brothers and sisters.”
Besides the Legios, some mainstream churches started exhibiting a degree of autonomy ahead of the colonial exit. The Presbyterian Church of East Africa, one of the pioneer missions in Kenya, was the first and it became autonomous in 1956. However, it did not have African leadership until1961, when Charles Muhoro was elected the first African Moderator and the Rev John Gatu became the first General-Secretary in 1964.
But there was slow progress in some of the churches, especially the Africa Inland Mission, which, though it started by changing its name to African Inland Church in 1943 allowed its missionaries to continue to be decision makers.
It was only in 1971 that the Rev Wellington Mulwa was elected the Director of the Africa Inland Mission and handed the responsibility for mission work in Kenya. Shortly after, a new constitution was drawn, giving the Church autonomy and jurisdiction over the mission work. The Africa Inland Mission retained Kijabe as its property. To survive, they decided to become aloof to politics and that was why in 1966 they proposed to withdraw from the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK). They disliked the umbrella organisation’s radical ecumenical approach. The leaders of the Africa Inland Church are reported to have been approached to take a similar position but they refused. Thus, the Africa Inland Mission did not quit until a few years later.
The small missions, the Salvation Army, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Church of God, the East African Yearly Meeting of Friends (the Quarkers), the Pentecostal Churches, and the Baptist Churches followed a similar pattern by turning to indigenous leadership.
How this localisation of churches influenced the Kenyatta regime is of interest.
Post-independent church-state relations
Once independence was achieved, the Christian churches were again called upon, this time to aid the Government in nation-building. Kenyatta started reaching out to the churches to help him fill the void of hopelessness in the economy.
Kenya’s independence came against the backdrop of the Sessional Paper on Unemployment, which warned that unless the economy kept pace with the political and social developments, there was a “real danger of producing a large number of frustrated and embittered persons, posing social problems far bigger than any experienced to date”.
Even as political pressure and grandstanding continued, the Sessional Paper made it clear that the national economy was set on the cash crop economy in the European agriculture areas and warned that if any tampering happened here, government revenue would collapse.
But Kenyatta had agreed to redistribute the settler farms by taking loans from the World Bank and the bilateral donors.
That was why a week to Kenya’s independence in December, 1963, Kenyatta reached out to the leader of the Anglican Church. In a letter, he urged him to help promote unity and further economic and social development.
In the letter to Archbishop Beecher dated December 6, 1963, Kenyatta praised the Archbishop’s central role in the struggle for Kenya’s independence and invited the Church to play a major part in building the new nation. It was a strategy to make the church comfortable with the Kenyatta Government, having played little part in decolonising the nation and having participated in quelling the Mau Mau struggle.
In a speech in western Kenya in August 1964, Kenyatta continued his praise of churches, saying: “The Churches and missions have done a great deal to help our progress and our independent government will welcome their continued help and cooperation in the years to come… I hope that over the years the churches will also play their full part in bringing us together in a true and everlasting unity.”
Kenyatta managed to start using national churches, especially the mainstream, to unify the population and reinforce the legitimacy of the new regime, a trend that was maintained through his reign. It was a strategy readily taken up by leaders in other newly independent African states. Because of their failures in the colonial times and as a result of the swift Africanisation, the churches were slow to criticise the Kenyatta Government and cooperated with the State in matters of development.
Quickly, the churches started building vocational training institutes and village polytechnics to help rehabilitate the thousands of youths without formal education.
They also started specialised schools for the blind, the deaf, and for the physically handicapped. Besides, they ran hospitals and clinics in the rural areas. But this cooperation did not last for long before weaknesses in the Kenyatta system started to emerge.
Church and Kenyatta era politics
The first salvo was from radical publications that had been sponsored by the NCCK. The organisation broke its silence by supporting three major publications, Target with a Kiswahili version titled Lengo, Beyond and Rock.
But these publications mainly looked at social ills without being too radical about politics.
Target, through the leadership of the Rev Henry Okullu, was much more political than the rest. Founded in 1957 at the end of the Mau Mau war, it was bound to become a popular publication. Started as a joint venture of NCCK and the Christian Council of Tanzania, it was registered as the limited liability East African Venture Company to run independently.
Such detachment gave the magazine authority to tackle various issues.
When Kenyatta fell out with his Vice-President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, leading to the registration of KPU, the Church generally kept off the political drama. Target published several articles with the title: “Politics: Who cares?”
While the articles explained the role of the churches in the country, they invited opinion from church leaders on the new role that the religious organisations ought to play in politics.
By 1967, Target editor John Schofield accused the Kenyatta Government of treating the churches as a “private club” where members come on Sunday. Scholfied wrote another article in his May 1967 edition:
“Politics is a dirty game, only if the players are dirty themselves. Our Christian duty will be fulfilled by entering politics…we don’t have to take God into politics, he is there already and wants us to meet him there.”
From the KPU saga the churches emerged as an alternative voice. Target continued to publish a series of anonymous articles calling for a viable opposition. In one article, the author told the Kenyatta Government:
“The KPU record as an opposition may leave much to be desired, but at least it maintains the principle of an opposition. The members have a vital role to play, and the importance of the role is independent of the abilities and performance of the members of the opposition. If the opposition in the National Assembly capitulates and Kenya becomes a one-party state, how will criticism of the government and its administration make itself heard?Many citizens, however, would say that there is no need of organised opposition in Parliament or out of it. It is a luxury developing countries can do without for it delays vital decisions and dissipates talents. But what if self-criticism is not forthcoming? And what if it is rejected as disloyal and disruptive? If it has no legal outlet, it will gather and ferment until it erupts with violence. The Church is aware of it. Is the Government?”
In 1968 a radical clergyman, the Rev Henry Okullu, took on the Kenyatta Government in a radio broadcast at just the time when Schofield was dismissed from Target after he criticised Kanu’s spending of government money to build a headquarter in Nairobi.
But his exit was a bonus for alternative voices in the Church since it promoted Okullu as the new voice of the opposition in the mainstream churches.
The year 1969 was turbulent. Tom Mboya was assassinated in July. An emerging strong contender for Kenya’s presidency at a time when Kenyatta’s health was fragile, Mboya’s death widened the rift between the Kikuyu and the Luo at a time when most KPU leaders were under surveillance and attack.
The Church reacted strongly to the death of Mboya. Okullu wrote a stinging editorial titled “Killing our Unity”, and a cheeky caption: “Taking the oath” – a clear reminder that the oathings taking place in Kiambu after Mboya’s murder would hurt the nation-state.
Prof Galia Sabar says that this act by Okullu changed the Church:
“He accused the churches, including the Anglican Church, of neglecting and abandoning their members at a time of terror and fear. And he had the courage to point out that the failure to act more forcibly derived from their fear of confrontation with the ruling Kikuyu elite, both in the Church and in the State. After the article was published, many Anglican clergy, including Kikuyu, called upon their believers to refrain from all loyalty oaths except to God.
But, in all these, the Church did not name any names, allowing the Kenyatta Administration to get away with claims of human rights abuse, murder and other social evils. Apart from coating the criticism with biblical anecdotes, only occasionally did Target ruthlessly take on the Government. But it did manage to emerge as a new watch-dog. These inconsistencies were actually a reflection of differences within the various churches – some of the conflicts being as a result of the history of the church as a pro-State institution.
Thus, the Church would, during Kenyatta’s time, remain silent even when the land crisis arose and corruption claims were raised over the handling of the post-independence resettlement programmes. For instance, several churches inherited property that had been taken over from independent churches during the Mau Mau war and the State of Emergency and continued to run them as their own.
While the Church managed to speak through Target, the paper also became a barometer of the problems that bedevilled the Church and society. But its reach was also limited; together with its sister Kiswahili paper, Lengo, it had a circulation of 20,000 copies, reaching about 100,000 people. The response from politicians and other people showed that Target was reaching the intended populace.
The Church’s place in education came under scrutiny during the early days of the Kenyatta regime when the Ominde Commission’s education report of 1964 redefined the role of churches in primary education and emphasised the teaching of Christian education in schools.
It said: “With regard to primary schools, we consider the present direct local administration satisfactory. We also think that the time has come to relieve churches of their remaining responsibilities for the management of maintained schools. A maintained school is one for which the public authority assumes full financial responsibility for maintenance and we believe that, as a matter of principle, any primary school which is thus maintained should also be managed by the public authority which is financially responsible for it.”
Kenyatta’s approach to the administration of schools previously under the churches saw parents left with few responsibilities in the education of their children and was highly subsidised. The churches were given little, or just minimal role in the administration of schools. The Ominde Commission removed the churches authority in the planning of schools and said:
“The powers of the Central Government must be those of planning authority, that is, they must enable the Government to determine the nature, the extent and the location of educational development.”
Kenyatta viewed education as a vital service that should not be left to the Church and other voluntary bodies and, saw it within the realms of African Socialism.
In 1967, the Government became the employer of all teachers in all government-aided and maintained schools, regardless of the church that sponsored them.
That way, the Government had actually nationalised the schools by paying teachers’ salaries, bringing to an end the era of mission schools. The Education Act of 1968 and the Development Plan 1970-74 not only took over the African schools, but also the “mission schools” managed by churches and religious organisations.
But the Government allowed the churches to have a say in the spiritual wellbeing of the students. The Ominde Report emphasised this point:
“… it does not appear to us appropriate that churches should share in the administrative management of maintained schools, the circumstances we have now described appear to us to be such that the assistance of the appropriate church can appropriately be drawn in to help with religious content of school life, in particular, with religious instruction.”
But churches found it hard to discharge this duty within school. So the Government gave that task to the Ministry of Education without any reference to the religious organisations. It was not until 1987 that the Catholic Church, through the Nairobi Archdiocese, issued a circular, saying it was the “wish of the Diocese to register any new schools and institutions on church plots as ‘private’ so as to avoid future complications and confusion, especially as to who is the community or body sponsoring the school.”
One of the drawbacks of such nationalisation was that the churches ceded the running of such schools. Thus little or no development took place as government funds only went to salaries. Religion scholar L. M. Njoroge in his book, A Century of Catholic Endeavour (Paulines Publications 1999) wrote:
“The modest contributions from overseas, assiduously saved and carefully spent began to dry up. Many religious brothers and sisters had worked without pay, save for a living allowance. With the new arrangement after the Education Act, instructors were paid full salaries. In many schools, a major financial crisis ensued.”
The churches took these changes calmly. They had met the Ominde Commission and indicated their commitment to work alongside the Government. By failing to protest such take-over, the churches left the Government to run the schools on its own ideas on education.
The Church told the commission that it would concentrate on religious education and teacher training, build specialised schools for the physically handicapped and expand its duties to building rural vocational centres and providing adult literacy classes.
The Ominde Report also left a myriad of unanswered questions on what school sponsorship entailed. While the report listed six rights and duties of sponsoring organisations, it was met with widespread criticism since some institutions, like the Catholic Church did not want to hand over their schools to the Government. Others thought that the parallel sponsorship programme meant that the colonial school structure would remain.
The Anglican Church also felt slighted that its role in education was limited and that the Government had assumed overall responsibility for education. But, as it turned out, and minus a proper structure, church schools became harambee schools, with a slight change of name.
The Church used Kenyatta’s Harambee motto to exploit this loophole in the Ominde report and continued to build more schools, funding teachers and providing bursaries.
The overall impact was that the churches sustained education. But, they contributed, too, to the confusion that ensued, with churches claiming schools, on the one hand, and the Government on the other.
Prof Sabar, who studied the churches in Kenya, mentions this confusion in the Kenyatta era, saying:
“Since all these sponsoring agencies, including the churches, the NCCK and other NGOs , listed these schools under their own name, it is difficult to determine exactly how many Anglican harambee schools there were at any given time.”
In the political arena and, as we saw above, with the assassination of Mboya, the Kikuyu tried to consolidate their power by oathing.
The PCEA, led by Gatu, came out to denounce the oathing. In 1975 following the assassination of J.M. Kariuki, the popular PCEA Gathaithi Choir came up with songs whose messages were scathing attacks on the establishment. The choir was sponsored to sing populist songs that tackled graft. One of the popular songs was titled Mai ni Maruru (The water has turned bitter).
The Church also commissioned the publication of a document titled Complaints of the Wananchi – a Confidential Report to the President.
Done in 1970, the report was based on written and oral complaints that the Anglican Church had received and was the first indicator that the Church was now willing to take on the Kenyatta government. After Mboya’s death in 1969 and the detention of KPU members without trial, the Church changed tack.
Previously, the Church had published another document titled Who Controls Industry, which, though coated with diplomat-speak, was a scathing attack on the Kenyatta regime’s elite take-over of industries.
“We are facing major accusations and crises. The Kenyan state and politicians cannot ignore their own public when they speak of corruption, nepotism, injustice and greediness (sic)…we, as the church, part and parcel of this nation…must speak out loud.”
The document looked at the emerging scandal on land, settlement, business, corruption, salaries and education. Under these categories, the Church pointed out the shortcomings and preferred solutions. The Church condemned the uneven distribution of land and challenged the Kenyatta Government to live up to the Kanu manifesto’s promise to distribute land equally.
On settlements, it challenged the Government to build a viable infrastructure and extend health, education and water services to these new settlements if it was to realise the dream of a thriving African farming community.
Finally, it attacked the nepotism, tribalism and corruption in the Government and urged it to enforce the promotion procedures and put in place a professional Civil Service.
While this was a meditative role, at best, it was not radical enough to force change. This soft approach to radical issues stemmed from the fact that the Church was also a beneficiary of this confusion, especially on land.
One radical voice on land, who was also a beneficiary of the confusion, was J.M. Kariuki. With his assassination in 1975, Kenya lost a man who professed socialist economic policies with demand for more development money for the settlements.
The Church refrained from issuing any official statement, just like in the Mboya case. It sent a delegation to the Government to discuss national peace.
Kenyatta’s response to these challenges was to build ethnic organisations and strengthen them to handle criticism. One such organ wasthe Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (Gema), a quasi-political organisation that masqueraded as a welfare society.
During the 1974 General Election, candidates were pressured to refrain from attacking Kenyatta’s policies. The Church took a low profile and even Target, its publication, refrained from directly attacking the system or the continued abuse of human rights. Two years later, the Change-the-Constitution movement, led by Gema leaders who wanted the leadership to stay within Kenyatta’s ethnic community, emerged. Only Okullu, Provost of All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi, and from 1975, Bishop of Maseno South, started criticising the single party regime.
But, overall, the Church remained cautious and reserved about taking on the Kenyatta Government. The 1974 entry of Okullu and David Gitari added significant voices to the Church. The two, fearless and willing to take risks, worked to establish a printing press, Uzima Press, to become the new outreach avenue. Its first publication was a compilation of Okullu’s sermons into a book titled Church and Politics in Kenya.
The church chose a little known university clergyman, Joseph Gitari, to give six live radio talks after JM’s death on the sanctity of life, using the story of Cain and Abel to drive his point home. The meaning of that allegory was that brothers had turned against a brother. While he called for a thorough investigation into the murder, the Church had chosen the young clergyman rather than a senior bishop because it wanted to play safe.
While Okullu and Gitari were radicals, by church standards, they remained the lone voices and did not represent a change in the Church’s diminishing role in taking on Kenyatta. Thus, they could hardly match the likes of Desmond Tutu or Allan Boesak of South Africa.
When Olang’ was elevated to archbishop in the same year that JM died, Okullu and Gitari also got promotions. Okullu was removed as Provost of the All Saints Cathedral to become Bishop of Maseno, while after his sermon on JM, Gitari was elected Bishop of Mt Kenya East.
But was this because of their radical views or was the Church changing tack?
Overrall, the Church did not seem to realise the power that it had to tackle the ills of the Kenyatta Government. But it also managed to force some issues into the national agenda, especially after the death of Mboya and the continued oathings in Central.
The Church managed to navigate the Kenyatta system with lots of care and would shy away from taking him head-on on human rights issues and good governance.
Also, Kenyatta maintained personal ties with the top Church leadership and the churches feared being labelled colonial bodies. Historian John Lonsadale calls this “critical solidarity”.
To its benefit, and by avoiding conflict with the Government, the Church managed to grow and tackle some of the social and economic problems which it could.