|ACK Archbishop David Gitari addresses Kenyans during Karura Forest prayers at Uhuru Park in 1999. Gitari with former Premier Raila Odinga at the Kisumu airport in 2000. Gitari performs his clerical duties in 2002. [PHOTOS: FILE/STANDARD]|
By FRANCIS NGIGE and MUNENE KAMAU
KENYA: Passing away just 14 days after celebrating his 76th birthday, the Anglican Church of Kenya’s retired Archbishop David Gitari can be said to have gone through the evangelical cycle: From a young priest to a firebrand preacher who shook the government of the day, to eventually head the church and engage in vibrant civil rights activism.
Gitari was a crusader for the oppressed in the society and always managed to rub the government the wrong way in his advocacy efforts for good leadership and constitutional change.
With the culture of land grabbing gaining root in the 1990s, Gitari was at the forefront speaking against the vice and, in the process, stepping on the toes of powerful people.
During his active time at the pulpit, Gitari preached against the infamous mlolongo (queue voting) system used during the 1988 elections. It was during those elections that candidates with shorter queues of voters were brazenly declared winners much to the chagrin of the electorate.
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He was joined in the criticism of this mode of elections by the then Maseno Bishop Henry Okullu, and Bishop Alexander Muge of Eldoret. The trio appeared to form a brigade against social injustice and the death of Muge in a suspicious road accident in 1990 spurred Gitari and Okullu to a new level in their battle.
The men of the cloth kept Kanu on its toes at a time when no Kenyan dared open their mouth or point an accusing finger at the government. They became State enemies for their persistent condemnation of political assassinations and undemocratic practices.
Gitari’s preaching bases were Mutira, Kerugoya and the Embu, where hundreds of voiceless Kenyans would congregate to receive spiritual nourishment.
Let the bishop speak
Both Okullu and Muge died without the opposition having realised its dreams of dislodging Kanu, but Gitari lived to see it all.
Gitari was the son of an evangelist from Ukambani by the name Samuel Mukuba, who travelled all the way to Ngiriambu village and started his pastoral work there. It was there that the preacher met the love of his life, Jesse Wanjiku (deceased), who was to become the mother of the fiery cleric.
Gitari came into the limelight when he openly criticised the queue voting system. At the time, he and other officials of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, while attending a conference at Kenyatta University, issued a scathing statement on the Kanu elections in Kirinyaga district, where a candidate with a shorter queue was declared the winner.
The then Kanu Secretary-General Moses Mudavadi (deceased), led an onslaught against Gitari by condemning him at public rallies and at every possible opportunity.
While preaching at Kathiga Church in Kirinyaga, the Provincial Administration attempted to eject him from the venue, but then President Moi overruled his lieutenants and declared, “Let the bishop speak.”
Gitari later wrote his first book, Let the Bishop Speak, that contains most of his controversial sermons at the time. From then on, Gitari become the darling of the media while Kenyans were completely silenced despite the many socio-economic evils that prevailed.
Among the first people to mourn the death of Gitari was former long serving Gichugu MP Martha Karua who eulogised him as “a great son of Kenya who fought many battles”.
“My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Archbishop Gitari and to the ACK church. He was a great son of Kenya,” Karua, a former presidential candidate, said.