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Uhuru efforts to unite AIPCA factions slowly bearing fruit

By Ndungu Gachane | Apr 17th 2022 | 6 min read
President Uhuru Kenyatta with AIPCA Archbishop Dr. Julius Njoroge, National Presiding Archbishop Samson Muthuri and Archbishop Fredrick Wang'ombe when he received prayers during the AIPCA National Holy Oil Consecration Ceremony 2022 at AIPCA Gakarara in Kandara, Murang'a County on April 14, 2022. [PSCU, Standard]

Whenever the African Independent Pentecostal Church is mentioned, the fight for independence comes to mind.

The church also rekindles memories of establishment of schools and the name of the founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

It is also credited with successfully agitating for independent schools after the missionary schools failed to offer ‘meaningful’ education to Africans in order to pursue professional courses.

The converts who attended the missionary institutions such as the Church Missionary Society (CMS) questioned the Christian teachings and developed the urge to spearhead the Biblical teachings while observing and preserving their culture.

The CMS had arrived in Kenya in 1898 and started a mission and a school in Bura in 1895 and another in Thogoto, Kiambu, where Jomo Kenyatta sought education among the first African students.

The fallout saw the establishment of independent schools from 1930 and four years later, the locals established the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association (KISA) and the more militant Kikuyu Karing’a Education Association (KKEA) soon thereafter to support the African independent schools.

With the help of Bishop Daniel Alexander of the South Africa branch of the African Orthodox Church (AOC), the first archbishop of AIPCA Benjamin Kahihia was ordained when Mundati Gatabaki, together with Kikuyu Central Association official, Beuttah, approached the bishop to train the original AIPCA church ministers.

The institutions established by the independent schools could later mold the likes of Mzee Kenyatta, Mbiyu Koinange, James Gichuru and Achieng Oneko.

Mzee Kenyatta and his brother in-law taught at Githunguri Teachers College, an independent school in 1940s before they plunged into Kenya African Union (KAU) politics.

The church is respected since it is synonymous with the associations that agitated for Kenya’s freedom and that is why Mzee Kenyatta supported it.

It is Mzee Kenyatta who ordered for the opening and registration of the churches which had been closed by the colonialists during the State of Emergency in 1952.

Fought for Independence

AIPCA Central board chair Paul Watoro Gichu says one can’t separate the independent church with the first president since like him, the church fought for Independence.

“We pursued the same mission with Mzee Kenyatta who was a beneficiary of our educational institutions that is where strong ties with the First Family started,” said Gichu.

Although the church had its doors opened, the wrangles within the church leaders and the government’s hand blocked it from recapturing their schools.

Mzee John Ngumi says the internal wrangles could have been sponsored by the State as a major reason for not returning the institutions.

“If you analyse carefully why the fight erupted you won’t get an answer. That is why we think this could have been a plot by the same government that opened our churches but also plotted to bring the confusion in the church.”

Ngumi remembered how the church sent delegations to the first president to convince him to hand over the learning institutions.

“In 1968, the church mobilised school children from Central Kenya and visited Mzee Kenyatta at his Gatundu home to convince him to give us back our schools, but there always a justification from within the church that the  government used not to agree to our demands.”

Kamau Ngoru who was part of the delegation said they used to find the young Uhuru sitting next to his father whenever they visited Gatundu, and he stayed even as they discussed matters related to the church.

“This could have informed his urge to seek unity in the church when he grew up and coincidentally was elected president at a time when the church was still groping in the dark on unity,” said Ngoru.

But as fate would have it, when Uhuru was elected president, he took from where his father left off and the church renewed their efforts to pressurise the government to return their learning institutions, estimated to be 400.

Uhuru is a Catholic but has been attached to the AIPCA. Apart from directing the State to return land  and learning institutions owned by the church, he started by attempting to foster unity and peace in the church.

Uniting the three warring factions has been daunting task.

The three archbishops who have been presiding over masses in regions where they come from are Julius Njoroge, Fredrick Wangombe and Samson Muthuri.

The leadership row took a bitter route in 2017 after retired Archbishop Amos Kabuthu declined to hand the leadership mantle to Njoroge, who had been elected by the bishops.

Instead, Kabuthu used the alternative succession plan in the church’s constitution and handed the shepherd stick to Wang’ombe over the claims that the board that had overseen the election of Njoroge was illegally on office.

The intention to unite the warring factions was so dear to Uhuru that in 2018, he selected a mediation team which included government officials like the State House comptroller and Interior PS Karanja Kibicho to spearhead the unity talks.

Spiritual leaders

Njoroge has been operating from the Thika Cathedral Diocese while Wang’ombe operates from the church’s headquarters in Bahati, Nairobi.

In August 2018, the mediation team came up with a plan that would have led to the establishment of a national archbishop while the church would be split into three archdioceses.

Under the programme, Njoroge would have been the national archbishop while the two spiritual leaders would be archbishops.

“This would have ensured that all three are factored in the leadership and the day to day running of the church but one of them incited elders who poured cold water on the proposal,” a member of the mediation committee who did not wish to be named, said.

The directive by the president on November 13, 2018 that the education ministry restores ownership of church schools was a show of government’s commitment to fostering peace and unity in AIPCA.

And although Archbishop Njoroge says the directive has not been implemented, he is optimistic that it will come to pass.

“Everything is a process and starts with a single step, it may take long but it will finally come to be,” Archbishop Njoroge said.

While praising the President for his efforts to spearhead reconciliation and unity in the church, Njoroge said the commitment is proof that he has the wisdom of his late father who was keen on having a peaceful nation.

“He has not been after anything than peace and unity and that is why he has been persistent that we come together. I’m happy that the process that he begun is about to achieve its aim,” said the Archbishop.

Archbishop Muthuri blamed the church constitution for the loopholes that he said cause confusion leading to conflicts.

“We shall relook and evaluate the church by-laws to mitigate emergence of factions in future,” he said, hinting at a possible amendment of the conflicting clauses.

Uhuru, who joined the three spiritual leaders and the congregants at Gakarara AIPCA Kandara, Muranga for a special service, said the journey to unite the three has not been easy.

“I thank the three Archbishops for forgiving each other and coming together to unite the church and I urge Kenyans to embrace peace and unity,” said Uhuru.

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