For the past week, most of the talk on the Kenyan cyber-sphere has been on Freemasonry.
There have been debates about whether Freemasonry is a cult with others asking why the society is allowed to have a presence in the country.
The debate was triggered by an interview lawyer Ambrose Rachier gave to NTV, admitting that he is a Freemason and revealing some details about the so-called secret society.
That interview led to a partner in Rachier's law firm issuing a statement clarifying that he is not associated with the society. Gor Mahia Football Club, where Rachier is the long-serving chair, also issued a statement dissociating itself from the society.
While some younger Kenyans may think this is a new discussion, the debate on Freemasonry in Kenya is not new, only that this time it is not as fiery.
About twenty-three years ago, the Freemason leadership gave a greenlight to its members to come out and help it shed the secret society tag that it had after it had been labelled a society of devil worshippers.
In October 1994, the government had instituted a commission of inquiry into the status of devil worship in Kenya, and Freemasonry was almost declared as such.
The Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Cult of Devil Worship in Kenya was presented to former President Daniel arap Moi in July 1995, and was released to the public four years later.
It had nothing good to say about Freemasons as well as Theosophical Society, the Church of the Latter Day Saints, the New Age Movement, the then budding matatu culture and music, Lucifer Golfing Society and Transcendental Meditation practices.
Upon its release, a newspaper article said the people interviewed “were categorical in their assertion that Freemasons were involved in devil worship.”
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But the report was done in by the composition of commissioners. They were mainly church leaders led by Archbishop Nicodemus Kirima.
Although they allegedly went round interviewing people, including the Freemasons, they were criticised for being prejudiced because of their beliefs and practices.
“They seemed to use every trick to convince the commission that they were not in fact devil worshippers,” the report said of alleged devil worshippers, while claiming that the practice existed in Kenya “both in learning institutions and the society.”
A witness reportedly told the inquiry that Freemasons frequented their temples to seek help from their master Satan to protect their wealth and positions as they were influential and wealthy people.
The commissioners said their experiential tour of the Masonic Lodge along Nairobi's Nyerere Road left them more inclined to believe it was a devil worship enterprise. They said the symbols and signs — compass, pentagram, Star of David among others — rhymed with those associated with devil worship.
“In view of conflicting information regarding the activities of the Freemasonry, and given the secrecy of the society both to its members and the general public, the commission strongly recommends that the government institutes further investigations on its activities,” the report said.
Freemasons and all the organisations named in the report dismissed it saying the commission was grossly misguided.
Walter Ookok, a Freemason official said they were disappointed at the turn of events despite explaining themselves and taking the commissioners through their hall.
He nevertheless admitted they have rituals, customs and tools but said they were deployed only as allegorical guides to pass teachings. He also said Freemasons were free to come out and confess their membership. “We are surprised and disappointed,” Ookok was quoted as saying.
Jehovah Witness leadership said the mainstream church — whose members were in the commission — was jealous of them. They claimed the big churches were worried that they were losing members.
A Nairobi-based German school which put emphasis on arts- poetry, painting, drama and sculpture- complained that the report was unfair. Rudolf Steiner School had been described as one of the gateways to occult practices.
“The Theosophical Society is composed of students, belonging to any religion in the world or to none, who are united by their approval of the society’s objects, by their wish to remove religious antagonisms, and to draw together men of goodwill whatsoever their religious opinion, and by their desire to study religious truths and to share the results of their studies with others,” an advert by Theosophical Society said.
The Lucifer Golfing Society through lawyer G K Waruhiu said the commission had fallen for his tongue-in-cheek invitation for them to probe the society, and thereby exposed their “stunning naivete and simplicity.”
“To the hapless commission, this is a sign of devil worship. What a trash! But if the members want to display further gullibility, they may start looking for golfers who call themselves Blue Domers because they say their prayers on the golf course on Sunday mornings under God’s blue sky,” the lawyer said.
Reverend Timothy Njoya dismissed the report as a total waste of money and time. Raila Odinga, then MP for Lang’ata, complained that the report was sat on for years when it was funded by the public for public benefit and consumption.
The commission's methodology was obviously underwhelming. From the premises of witness accounts, substantive conclusions were drawn. And because the accounts were detailed, they were presumed compelling by the committee.
But it was their simplistic inferences on ownership of sleek cars, displays of opulence and philanthropy that galvanised critics.
“The people who made the allegations were from all the provinces of Kenya, and they could not, therefore have colluded to make the same allegations,” the report said.
President Moi had commissioned the inquiry on October 14, 1994 to investigate the veracity of the claims that devil worship was rife in Kenya. The report was presented on July 12, 1995 but the president did not release it saying it contained sensitive information.
Besides Kirima, other members of the commission were then Moderator of PCEA Bernard Muindi, Bishop Horace Etemesi of Anglican Church, Rev Dr Jones Kaleli on Africa Inland Church (AIC), Rev Boniface Odoyo of Pentecostal Church and lawyer Fred Ojiambo.