Gatu: I prayed and read Bible with retired President Daniel arap Moi every morning for five years
By Paul Wafula
| December 20th 2016
Retired moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA), recalls how he first met retired President Daniel arap Moi in 1969. At the time of the meeting, Moi was the Vice President of Kenya.
Rev John Gatu writes in his autobiography, Fan into Flame: "Our meeting occurred during one of the most trying moments for the Church and the nation of Kenya."
It was during that time that an oath of unity, also known as the chai oath, was being administered to the people of Mt Kenya region. This was after the fallout between Oginga Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta.
"The Church went into a serious crisis over the oath," Gatu writes in the chapter describing his relationship with the presidents of Kenya.
He adds that when there was little or no help from President Kenyatta, Rev John Mpaayi, a member of AIC, suggested that the clergy, under the umbrella of National Council of Churches of Kenya, should go and speak with Mr Moi, the vice president, about it.
"When we took our concerns to Moi, he looked equally lost. We later learnt that his inability to help was due to the fact that he, too, was in a dilemma. After all, the oath was sanctioned by the highest office in the land, the presidency," he says.
Gatu and Moi met again years later. In another meeting when Moi was invited for the 70th PCEA celebrations, Gatu discovered that Moi had trained to become a pastor in the Africa Inland Mission before he was 'hijacked' into politics to replace the then nominated member for Rift Valley, John Ole Tameno.
"My interactions with Moi were to become useful in 1976, when the PCEA decided to buy some property in Kilimani," he writes. The land had 24 apartments on it, and was selling for Sh3.2 million. But there was a problem.
According to the agent, only Sh2 million would be captured in the sale agreement as the purchase price while Sh1.2 million would pass "under the table" to reduce the tax payable to the government.
"As church leaders, this under the table mode of payment was not acceptable. However, we convinced the agent not to sell the property to anyone else until we got back to him with our final decision. We then requested for a copy of the title deed which made it possible for us to carry out a search at the land registry," Gatu says.
As it later turned out, the property was built in 1949 and actually belonged to Moi.
"We conferred and decided that I would use my good relationship with the vice president to negotiate the price directly and resolve the issue of under the table payment."
Zachary Onyonka, a Cabinet minister at the time, had also outbid the church by offering Sh4.2 million on behalf of a co-operative society in Kisii.
Gatu booked an appointment with Moi and explained their predicament.
"I told him of the church's interest in his property and explained that the church was ready to pay the entire Sh3.2 million asking price but was uncomfortable with the unofficial Sh1.2 million shillings payment. I then hastily informed him that I was sure he did not know anything about the additional deal."
Moi denied knowledge of such a proposal and told him he would talk to the agent about it. He asked Gatu to return at noon for his final decision and when he did, he told him he had castigated the agent for setting such a condition.
"He decided that the church could buy the property, even though someone else had offered a higher price."
Gatu's relationship with Moi, he writes, grew into a cordial friendship. However, this changed when Moi ascended to the presidency.
"Our friendship was caught up in the Kenyatta succession which I had not involved myself with. At this time, I was extremely vocal on the moratorium debate and my opposition to dependency on the West by the church was no secret."
He says a senior government official who was reputed to be a great proponent of the white man's cause in Kenya was irritated by his stand.
"I was informed that he may have been the source of a rumour about me, stating that I was one of those opposed to Moi's ascension to the presidency, and furthermore, that I was in a group that allegedly wanted to get Mwai Kibaki (who had served as Finance Minister in Kenyatta's government for many years) to succeed Kenyatta."
The relationship was so strained that in 1979, Moi turned down an invitation of the 9th PCEA General Assembly, in which Gatu was the moderator.
It was not until Charles Njonjo was appointed as the Minister of Justice that Gatu was advised to clear his name. Njonjo organised a meeting at State House where he met Moi.
"My friendship with President Moi grew. We read the Bible and prayed together regularly in his State House office at around seven o'clock in the morning, before he embarked on his daily schedule." The morning prayer sessions went on for more than five years.
Gatu says that Moi did not always take their advice. Many times, he says, Moi discarded their suggestions, even though he had originally agreed with them.
"This characteristic of the President bothered me."
Gatu describes Mwai Kibaki, Kenya's third President, as an "exemplary statesman". He says Kibaki was married to the daughter of an ordained PCEA minister from Tumutumu. He says the closest he related with Kibaki was during his term in the Saitoti Commission (the Kanu Review Commission).
"During his term as President of Kenya, I met him on very few occasions and found him to be an exemplary statesman. He was not quick to react to issues, something that made his detractors call him a fence sitter, but I liked him because he did not interfere with other people's affairs," Gatu writes.
"Because of his way of doing things, he gave the country a very important lesson in freedom, after the 2007/2008 violence and mayhem."
Rev Gatu says he has known Uhuru Kenyatta from his childhood due to his relationship with his father, founding President Jomo Kenyatta.
"I met him as an adult, when he served as Minister for Local Government in President Moi's Cabinet in the 1990s. Leaders of the PCEA and I had sought audience with him in relation to the allocation of land for PCEA, Karen," he wrote.
"He promised to give financial support for the construction of the church. The church leadership will, no doubt, take him up on this when the time comes," he says.
Gatu adds that he asked Uhuru not to run for President when he paid him a pastoral visit in 2002. At the time, President Moi had proposed Uhuru to be the presidential candidate for the then ruling party Kanu.
"I paid Uhuru a pastoral visit during which I suggested to him that his vying for the President at the time might be premature. It was clear to me, however, that he was under some considerable pressure to vie," he writes.
But it is Jomo Kenyatta, whom he has dedicated most of his writing to. In one of his visits to Kenyatta's official residence at Kizingo, Kenyatta had 13 goats slaughtered for them.
"We had a great feast. Kenyatta was a generous man. He was extremely gracious in his speech. He reminded us of his roots in the Church of Scotland and, perhaps to assure me, he told me not to fear what people wrote in the newspapers but to carry on the work of the Gospel," he writes.
By 1979, those close to Mzee saw signs that he was getting frail. Vicious succession battles between politicians raged beneath the surface, and eventually erupted bringing to light what came to be known as the "Change the Constitution Group", which was composed mainly of politicians opposed to Moi ascending to the presidency.
"The debate continued until the Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, issued a warning, reminding people that discussing or alluding to the death of the President was tantamount to treason, an offence punishable by death under Kenyan law."
It was at this period of uncertainty that Gatu says he met Geoffrey Kariithi, the chief secretary to Kenyatta's Cabinet.
During this conversation, the issue of Kenyatta's demise came up.
Mr Kariithi asked me, "Since Mzee Kenyatta lays claim to a Presbyterian background, what are the church's plans, should we wake up one morning to find Mzee gone?"
He says his answer was that since there was no precedent in such a matter, the Government would have to lead in making the arrangements for his burial.
Kariithi agreed but reminded him that the function of interring Mzee's remains was essentially religious, and one that the church could not delegate to the State. It was suggested that Mzee's body should lie in state at St Andrew's Church. On further deliberation, the idea was abandoned because the church was too small for such an event.
As soon as he left Kariithi's office, his mind went to work. "When I got to my office, I instructed Naomi Gatere, my secretary, to write three letters," Gatu said.
One of the letters went to the Church in Scotland, requesting a copy of the order of service for Winston Churchill's funeral, then to the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, requesting a copy of the order of service for President Dwight Eisenhower's funeral, and finally to Monrovia, requesting the order of service for President William Tubman's funeral.
"Around the same time, I started writing a poem as part of the eulogy, and asked Naomi to cut a stencil of my work," he adds.
After the three orders of service arrived, Gatu sketched a draft order of service for Kenyatta's funeral.
"All these documents were kept under lock and key in my office and apart from myself and Naomi, no one else knew of their existence."
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