A meeting organised by the Akorino at Kasarani today has revealed the battle for the soul of the church in the run-up to 2022 elections.
It has emerged that the meeting has become a subject of conflict between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto's schedules. Initially, Ruto had scheduled a meeting with the Akorino leaders but the programme was changed after the president requested to meet the same group.
Caught in the middle of the competing interests, the sect put off the DP’s meeting, which had been timed to coincide with Kenyatta’s trip to the Coast. Abraham Macharia, the Akorino secretary general yesterday confirmed that indeed the meeting with the DP has been called off and the religious group will be "praying for the president" at Kasarani today.
“The Deputy President's meeting has been rescheduled to some other day this year. He had requested to meet us. Today, we will have 500 of our clergy pray for the [resident in our Akorino National Prayer Service,” Macharia said.
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Yesterday, Ruto's spokesman Emmanuel Tallam confirmed that the DP will not attend the Kasarani meeting, and will instead be at a function at Ziwani AIC. “The DP will join faithful at Ziwani church,” Tallam told The Sunday Standard on phone.
The events have exposed the important role the church plays in the country’s politics.
In recent days, the DP has been meeting church leaders and having rallied the church in 2010 to oppose the passing of the Constitution, it is not lost on the proponents of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) that he could employ a similar strategy to place hurdles in the BBI path.
In 2010, Ruto rallied churches, among them Evangelicals and Anglicans, to oppose a referendum that was backed by former President Mwai Kibaki and ODM chief Raila Odinga. Once again, the DP has found himself at the centre of the anti-BBI campaign, with his church manoeuvres attracting the attention of his political opponents.
In June, he met leaders of the East Africa Pentecostal Church from Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Nairobi and Isiolo counties in his Karen office and residence. On the same day, he hosted a group of Muslim women leaders.
On September 2, he met about 300 pastors from Meru under the Meru Ministers Forum. Recent weeks have also seen the DP host church and political leaders from Naivasha at Karen. He has met others in his Harambee House office.
Political scientist Amukowa Anangwe yesterday said the church, as a well-organised institution, will always be a target of politicians. “Politicians are versatile individuals because they look for votes from institutions that are viable and the church has been very instrumental in shaping the national agenda since it has a better outreach than political parties,” Anangwe said.
“Parties in Kenya are not as organised and geographically spread as churches. Any intelligent politician who knows how to look for votes will always target religious organisations."
Parties versus churches
Ruto’s opponents, aware of the influence of the church in the politics of the day, have questioned his activities. “We have seen him giving out money every time. What is the source of that money since we all know his salary?” asked Raila while in Mombasa last week to ramp up support for BBI.
The DP has in the past told off politicians in regard to his church activities. His current tiff with the president mirrors another one last year when Kenyatta stormed the Akorino group’s meeting at Kasarani and gave the DP’s political allies a tongue lashing for allegedly politicking at the expense of development.
Religious leaders, politicians and analysts yesterday gave caution on the church's dalliance with politicians.
"In the past, the church used to speak against bad politics at the pulpit. Not anymore. Today they vote for personalities, they engage with politicians not to grow them spiritually but to get their money," said retired cleric Timothy Njoya.
"Our political parties are dead. If they were alive, we could be seeing Jubilee, and ODM organising a conference to tell us about BBI. Instead Uhuru, Ruto and Raila are going to church to sell their agenda as individuals, not government or parties. Reading the Bible or quoting from it or donning a bishop's attire does not make you a Christian."
Bishop David Oginde of Christ is The Answer Ministries said churches will always be a target for politicians but warned them against manipulation. “The church is the conscience of society. The world over, there will always be a battle for control of the soul of the church.
Rev Canon Peter Karanja, the former secretary general of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), said church leaders should not be "political youth wingers".
“The bishop must be careful so that he does not becomes a youth winger and lose credibility with his flock,” Karanja said.
Alfred Keter, the Nandi Hills MP, said it was difficult to know which church some politicians belong in since they are seen in different churches every weekend.
“I have seen there are many politicians loitering around churches. Every Sunday you are in a different church; Jeshi la Wokovu, the other week you are with the Muslims, the other one you are with the Hindus. We have different doctrines... If you are a Catholic, remain a Catholic that is your faith,” Keter said.
Ngunjiri Wambugu, the Nyeri Town MP, said the church played an important role in the 2010 ‘No’ campaign. “Ruto and anyone who understands politics knows it wasn’t him who got the 30 per cent ‘No’ vote. It was the church. They rallied their members against the Constitution because they had fundamental issues with some sections of it. This was their vote. Ruto just took advantage of it.
Catholic Bishop Alfred Rotich said the Catholic Church cannot allow politicians to use it for political games.
"We have rules as guided by the Canon Law and our liturgy. It is unethical to allow politicians to use our pulpits to advance their selfish interests. Politicians make promises during elections but once elected they pursue their own goals. They forget about people," he said.
"We must not allow politicians to sell their goods in church. Allowing them to crisscross the country sowing hatred is bad. Let us not see politicians as sources of cash. Together, let us promote transparency and accountability for the common good of society."
[Jacob Ng'etich, Wilfred Ayaga and Protus Onyango]