At its prime, the National Council of Churches of Kenya was the at the core of progressive political reforms and every major national discourse.
Riding on solid and undivided support of dozens of member churches, NCCK fought and scored major victories culminating in the epochal 2010 constitutional moment.
Nine years later, the umbrella organisation is reeling under fresh threats to unity. The recruitment of the new General Secretary to succeed Rev Peter Karanja has split the organisation right in the middle.
Earlier this month, Chris Kinyanjui, Clerk to Murang’a County Assembly was elected General Secretary in a stormy meeting that stretched well into the night but which has triggered rebellion among members. It was a narrow win of 40 against 36 votes.
It was perhaps the first recruitment of an NCCK General Secretary that spilled over into a vote. And now eight churches are protesting that the due process was not followed and that it may have been rigged.
“The recruitment process was porous and there were many unanswered questions that lead to the conclusion that the process was entirely faulty and and the feeble rule of the minority took precedent over prescribed laws and procedure,” a petition seen by the Sunday Standard reads.
Copied to all heads of NCCK member churches and over 10 partners, the petition lists 19 points that raise credibility questions over the process, concluding with threat of court action and reiteration that the petition was written ‘with great sadness.’
The issues raised include manner in which the search committee went about its work, conduct of executive committee, the criteria for assessment of the applicants, the marking of written interviews, due diligence of candidates among others.
“The search committee was imposed on the executive committee even as a section of delegates opposed it... the question is whether recruitment of the designate GS was premeditated and informed by selection of the church committee,” they said.
The protest is led by Friends Church in Kenya, Africa Interior Church, Church of God in EA, Episcopal Church of Africa, Salvation Army, Kenya West Territory, Kenya United Independent Churches, Lyahuka Church and the Salvation Army, Kenya East Territory.
Henry Mukwanja signed the protest for Friends Church, Archbishop Joram Olwamba for AIC, Most Rt. Rev Byrum Makokha for CGEA, Most Rev Joshua Koyo for ECA, Com. Stephen Chepkurui for Salvation Army, Archbishop Manoah Khaguli for KUIC and Archbishop Peter Nyabera for Lyahuka Church.
But it is how the outgoing GS Canon Peter Karanja has decided to handle the petition that has given indication to the storm ahead. In a letter dated July 29, 2019 and addressed to the protesting churches, Karanja turns tables on fellow men of cloth.
Karanja tells the team that the recruitment followed due process. He then agrees to convene a special executive committee meeting to review the matter but on condition that the grumbling members foot the bill.
“Since there is no budgetary allocation to cover the costs of such a meeting in the 2019 budget and considering that the council is financially constrained, this is to ask the churches whose heads have signed the protest letter to facilitate the proposed meeting,” he says.
He then gives the costs as “about Sh2,500,000,” which was to be paid by Friday “failure to which this matter will be presumed closed.”
Among other issues raised is inclusion of Canon Dr Rosemary Mbogo, the provincial secretary of the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) in the search committee. They claimed she had not been formally nominated by her church.
Also raised is the issue of appointment of an interim chair of the search committee, the process of presentation of the search committee’s report to the executive committee - the latter described by the rebelling churches as “equivalent of a dung beetle busy at its dung rolling”.
“Why did not the acting chair, who actually witnessed the process present the report himself? The said acting chair was not invited to make mere remarks, yet he were physically present.”
The are also claims that some some members were not allowed to vote on account of not having paid the annual subscription fees yet the year had not ended. They also picked issues with Kinyanjui, saying he was currently not exercising priestly duties.
A separate communication by Archbishop Koyo to Archbishop Timothy Ndambuki who chairs NCCK, argues that member churches had a deadline up to December to pay subscriptions.
He notes, “A precedence had been created where those churches who have been in arrears paid only that year’s subscription were allowed to vote. Why was this procedure not followed?”
But to Karanja, all that is water under the bridge as the law was followed: “The NCCK constitutional process in the recruitment of the GS was duly followed and concluded with a democratic vote. We take note that some of the signatories to this protest were present during the executive committee where matters being canvassed were resolved,” he says.
On Wednesday, lawyer for the protesting churches wrote to Karanja protesting at his choice of words, rebuffing the cash demands and denying claims of democratic exercise. “The condition you have imposed of asking our clients to underwrite the cost of the meeting confirm that there is no intention to have the meeting at all,” the lawyer said.