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Bring it on: Karanja’s bitter dose for rebel churches

By Nzau Musau | Aug 18th 2019 | 5 min read
Rev Canon Peter Karanja. [File, Standard]

The transition turmoil engulfing the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) has taken a new twist with General Secretary Rev Canon Peter Karanja acceding to rebelling churches’ demands but with a catch to it.

In a double-edged move, Karanja has agreed to convene an extra-ordinary meeting in Limuru on Thursday but also proposed far-reaching amendments to NCCK by-laws which must be thrashed out on the same day.

Eight churches are leading the rebellion against the June 18, 2019 appointment of Chris Kinyanjui Kamau as the General Secretary-designate to succeed Karanja. They are opposed to the process through which Kamau was identified and appointed.

In their protest, they had demanded an extra ordinary committee meeting to address the issues. Initially, Karanja dismissed them, asking them to foot the Sh2.5 million cost of the meeting but has now had a change of mind.

“In the interest of fellowship, unity and brotherly accountability, we have found it necessary to hold this meeting… in view of the Council’s financial constraints, travel reimbursement will be made on the basis of the rates of public service vehicles,” Karanja says in his latest letter dated August 7.

But it is the proposals he makes on the Council’s by-laws that is threatening to overshadow Kamau’s appointment. Those who have seen the proposals say they will be the elephant in the Limuru conference hall.

Fashioned to address stalemates as the budding one, Karanja proposes to amend by-law 17 to provide for a General Secretary to hold onto their seats past their official terms in extra-ordinary circumstances:

“Where the term of the GS expires before the process of appointment of the next GS is completed or the GS Designate is unable to assume office, the incumbent GS shall hold office until a new GS assumes office.”

In the amendments, the Deputy GS cannot apply to become the GS unless they resign two and a half years (30 months) to the expiry of the term of the GS. And just in case the term of the GS were to fall vacant for any reason other than expiry of a term, the deputy is still locked out of the race:

“The Deputy GS shall act as the transition officer and shall not be eligible to apply for the vacant position of the GS.”

In the current scenario, if the current stalemate persists and the amendments are endorsed, Karanja would act until a new GS assumes office. His current deputy, Dr Nelson Makanda, would have zero chance of either acting or being appointed in the substantive position.

Veto powers

In another amendment, Karanja proposes that where an executive committee like Thursday’s one rejects the decision of the committee which appointed Kamau, “all candidates who applied for and were evaluated for the position of GS or the Deputy GS shall not be eligible” to reapply.

In the scenario stipulated above, both Kamau and Dr Makanda would be out but Karanja would be in, not acting, but holding office until a new GS takes over.

Also expected to generate a lot of heat is the proposal to grant veto powers to the NCCK’s four founding member churches -- Anglican Church of Kenya (formerly Church Missionary Society), Presbyterian Church of East Africa (formerly Church of Scotland Mission), Methodist Church (formerly United Methodist Mission) and Africa Inland Church (formerly Africa Inland Mission).

“Founder members of Council represented by the heads of churches which founded the Council in 1913 will be the chief promoters of the founding mission of NCCK,” the amendment proposal states.

Besides the four, NCCK has 25 other member churches, one member is on probation, 12 others are “associate members” and five are ‘fraternal members”. Of the seven churches who have stoked the current rebellion, none is a founder member of the Council.

According to the proposals, the four founding church heads will collectively have the rights to approve four “reserved matters”, one of which is the basis of the current controversy; the appointment of the GS and the Deputy GS.

The other three matters are election and appointment of Council members, amendment to the constitution in relation to vision, mission, values and objectives of the Council and the admission of new members.

If the amendments are passed, NCCK’s current chairman Archbishop Timothy Ndambuki of Africa Brotherhood Church (ABC) would have no role in approving Karanja’s successor as his church would lack the veto powers.

Another amendment proposal seeks to streamline the process through which extra ordinary meetings such as the Thursday one are held. At least one third of fully paid up member churches must sign a petition and undertake to pay the costs of the meeting as initially ordered by Karanja.

“The petitioners shall undertake to remit and make good the cost of the said extra ordinary executive committee meeting not later than seven days from the date of their petition,” the proposal reads.

Finally on the proposals, Karanja is of the idea that an arbitration committee of the council to resolve disputes within the organisation be formed.

According to the agenda of Thursday’s meeting sent to members of executive committee, NCCK will also discuss the fight against corruption, Building Bridges Initiative, Punguza Mizigo, population census and boundaries reviews. “The meeting is called to address, among other issues protest letters which have been sent to yourselves, all donors and partners of NCCK, published in social media with numerous commentaries, wild allegations and untruths and lastly mainstream media in the Sunday Standard,” Karanja’sinvitation letter reads.

Yesterday, a number of church leaders told Sunday Standard they will be attending the meeting. Others claimed they had not yet seen the invitation letters.

The seven churches who have triggered all this say Kamau’s appointment was not done through the right process while Karanja says it was fair.

Credibility questions

In a letter copied to all heads of NCCK member churches and over 10 partners, their petition lists 19 points that raised credibility questions over the process of recruiting Karanja’ssuccessor.

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.

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