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AIPCA leaders mired in squabbles despite President’s efforts to broker peace

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Kenya: At a meeting early this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta sat with senior leaders of the Africa Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) to try and broker a peace deal.

Attending the meeting with President Kenyatta was embattled Archbishop Amos Kabuthu, AIPCA National Chairman Paul Watoro Gichu and Bertha Nyambura Mwangi (National Chairlady AIPCA Women Council), who is wife to former Archbishop, the late Samson Gaitho.

Also in attendance were Head of Civil Service Joseph Kinyua and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Kimemia.

Because of its long history with Kikuyu nationalism, the AIPCA always paid particular attention to wise counsel from political figureheads such as founding President Jomo Kenyatta, former President Mwai Kibaki, senior politicians such as the late Njenga Karume and John Michuki, as well as Uhuru. This happened despite the fact that none of the above was ever a member of the church.

Soft landing

Sources say Uhuru felt dejected after miserably failing to procure a ceasefire between Mr Gichu, a soft spoken businessman in the steel making sector, and the Archbishop, described by one of the 24 bishops in the church as “steely and ruthless.”

Uhuru was apparently disillusioned and closed the meeting by asking Ms Gaitho and not the Archbishop to offer closing prayers. A few months later, on Sunday May 18, committed AIPCA faithful preparing for or leaving the usual Sunday Mass were greeted by an unfamiliar sight in one of the weekly newspapers.

In an inside page, the familiar degrading warning notice appeared with a prominent mug shot of the leader of the church’s laity and a disclaimer by Rev Kabuthu that the Gichu had been excommunicated and barred from transacting any church business “either at the diocese or national level.”

Sunday went on without much activity and many outside the AIPCA wondered whom the man in the notice was. By Monday, things had degenerated into a crisis and over 200 parishioners were demonstrating outside the church’s headquarters at Bahati Cathedral against the Archbishop in support of Gichu.

Rt Rev Bishop Stanley Muthomi, the administrative secretary of the AIPCA Central Board then told the demonstrators that the chairman had not been excommunicated after all, and the next day bought newspaper’s space to denounce the Archbishop’s notice.

Gichu remained confident that the crisis would be resolved and sounded conciliatory when The Standard on Sunday called him on Tuesday. He had been vice chair after the church Constitution was amended in 2010, creating the post of spiritual leader and that of the head of the laity (chairman) as a soft landing for the retiring Gaitho.

Shortly before the late Archbishop Gaitho retired completely from church service, elections of the church’s laity were held and in July 2012, Gichu assumed the position of church chairman, maintaining a steady relationship with Gaitho’s successor Archbishop Evanson Ndung’u, who died last year.

Some of the church bishops describe the businessman as an articulate, generous lay leader who is only a victim of the ambitions of the new Archbishop, who is seeking to consolidate the two top positions through amending the Constitution.

Excommunication

“If the welfare of the church demands that I resign, I will,” said Gichu: “But I cannot be forced out because I was duly elected and swore to protect the Constitution of the AIPCA.” One of the allies of the Archbishop says the 2010 Constitution created two centres of power and is squarely to blame for the squabbling. It was engineered by the late Gaitho as a soft landing for his retirement.

The present archbishop is facing a legal challenge from a parishioner at AIPCA Kangemi church challenging his academic credentials to head the church. In one case, the applicant has demanded that the AIPCA Central Board produces papers to show that the Archbishop was qualified to lead the church.

That application necessitated an affidavit to be sworn by the Central Board’s chairman in which Gichu admitted that the said papers were not filed.

Insiders in the AIPCA Bishops’ Synod claim that is what sowed the rivalry between the two top leaders despite the fact that the Central Board approved the affidavit.

“The Archbishop hit back by announcing the excommunication of the chairman, although the Central Board never discussed such an agenda in its last meeting of April 28, 2014,” said a Bishop who claims he has not taken sides in the crisis.

There are also two other cases by the archbishop’s side, including one in which Senior Principal Magistrate MC Chepseba granted orders stopping the chairman, excommunicated former Eldoret Bishop Julius ole Kamwaro together with Paul Ndichu, Eustace Mbayu, Moses Kinuthia, Simon Peter Mwangi, Ephantus Wachiuri, Amos Karanja and Moses Kinuthia, from ordaining new priests and clerical or administrative activities in Nakuru, Eldoret, Gatanga, Naivasha-Narok or any AIPCA church in Kenya until a case against them is heard and determined.

Self-opinionated man

Rev Kabuthu has also moved to stem powers wielded by the steel businessman in the church’s top organ by suspending his powers as signatory of the church’s main account, which was jointly heard by the two together with bishops Stanley Mwangi (secretary general) and Timothy Gachoya (treasurer). One Bishop claims the crisis has gone too far and one of the two leaders might have to leave, although ruling out any excommunication.

This Bishop blames Kabuthu for the crisis, saying he is obsessed with raw power, is too crafty and combative for a church leader and lacks confidence because of low education and an inferiority complex. Curiously, that is the same accusation that the archbishop’s allies make against the chairman.

They say he lacks the requisite Form Four academic qualification and accuse him of working behind the scene to frustrate the spiritual leader.

A church insider says respected intellectuals in the church tried to prevail upon Rev Kabuthu not to vie for this election but being a ‘self-opinionated man” he overruled them and won the elections but only with the support of certain influential political quarters.

The Archbishop has kept a studious silence over the matter, but his allies say he will be unrelenting in reaffirming his position in the church known for its leadership wrangles.

On Wednesday and Thursday he was meeting church top leaders in Mukaro (Nyeri) and Mukaro South (Othaya) diocese.

This Bishop blames Gichu for overtly interfering in spiritual work that is constitutionally the ambit of the Archbishop. He also accuses the chairman of sponsoring irregular ordinations, humiliating the Archbishop and propping rivals.

One of the archbishop’s allies said they were confident of winning any confrontations in the church organs.

In the 12-person Central Executive Board that scheduled a meeting last Friday, he claimed Rev Kabuthu had seven allies against five for the chairman.

 

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