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Tussle over the Akorino underlines their unstated political significance

By Wainaina Ndung’u | Sep 25th 2020 | 4 min read

Worshippers with President Uhuru Kenyatta (C) during the Annual National Akorino prayers at the Kasarani sports complex, Nairobi, on September 20, 2020. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto were last weekend caught up in a tussle for the top podium appearance at the annual Akorino national prayers.

With the President in the middle of a Coastal tour, at some point it appeared as if he would miss the date and the deputy would have his time, but that was not to happen.

Ultimately, Uhuru sent Health CS Mutahi Kagwe to represent him at the event held at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, while the DP dropped out at the last minute, saying he had another church function.

But the Treasurer of the Akorino umbrella - General Conference of Akorino General Assembly (Gecaga) - Bishop Zakary Wandaro they are politically non-aligned.

"The annual convention affords us an opportunity to pray for the nation and the current leadership which we support as advised by the Bible," said Wandaro.

Since the annual ritual started five years ago, Uhuru has been to the convention twice, Ruto once and former minister Mwangi Kiunjuri and Kagwe have represented the President once each.

It will be recalled that it was during a similar date last year that the President scoffed at Ruto’s political allies telling them to expect war at their doorsteps.

Last year, the President was attending the fete alongside his deputy and Ruto’s most fierce Mt Kenya allies such as Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro and Kikuyu’s Kimani Ichungwa as well as Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko.

There were also allies of Uhuru such as Murang’a woman rep Sabina Chege.

Then, Uhuru took on the Ruto’s Tanga Tanga brigade, saying they had been insulting him while touring the country.

“I want to tell them that I am not anyone’s lad and to promise them that we shall deal with them when the right time comes,” he said in Kikuyu.

In the last five years, the Uhuruto duo has turned up for the annual event and one of the promises the two kept is facilitating the group to establish a Bible school and convention centre.

Sources within the General Conference of Akorino General Assembly intimate that Uhuru offered the group eight acres for the school in Naivasha a year after Ruto offered another six acres in Utawala, Nairobi.

The donations underline the background pull and push between the two Jubilee principals for the Akorinos' support.

"The President may be attempting to woo the Akorino as part of his succession plan to leave the Gikuyu Embu and Meru (Gema) under one roof but there are those who believe he is too late,” said Bishop Samuel Njiriri, who chairs the Federation of Evangelical and Indigenous Christian Churches of Kenya (FEICCK). 

“To many Christian leaders, Ruto belonged to the church and was one of them.”

By the estimation of many, the Akorino are a small fraction of Kenya Christians and only in 2017 did they get one of their members into Parliament through Eric Njiru, popularly known as "Karemba", representing Runyenjees constituency in Embu County.

That is not to say their political influence has been limited.

"Their spirituality made them appear apolitical even after participating in the struggle for independence through prayer and prophecy unlike nationalist churches who participated in the independence struggle spiritually (praying) and physically by administering oath and taking up arms," said the Venerable John Gichimu, the  Programme Coordinator at the Organisation of African Instituted Churches.

At the fete last year, Uhuru did give hints on why he took the Akorinos seriously, saying since 1922 they had kept the country alive through prayers and upright living. Large congregations of Akorino live in the President's home county of Kiambu and in Murang’a, Nyandarua, Embu and Kirinyaga.

According to Philomena Njeri’s 1984 study “The Akorino churches: A study of history and basic beliefs of the Holy Ghost Church of East Africa,” the Akorino Churches have been in existence since 1926.

Their beliefs and practices were developed from both the Bible and the Kikuyu religious heritage.

Njeri found that the Akorino churches were products of the conflicts and tension created by the economic, political, social, religious and cultural pressures of 1830-1930.

Significant numbers of Akorino also live in the Rift Valley, especially in the Kikuyu diaspora countries of Nakuru, Laikipia and Uasin Gishu.

Gecaga treasurer Zakary Wandaro said their 2018 returns data put at 500,000 the number of Akorino adherents in Kenya under 2,000 registered church formations.

"The annual convention has representatives of all those churches including some from Nyanza and Western Kenya. It is surely a national platform which any politician craves to grace," said Wandaro, who is a bishop at the Africa Holy Ghost Christian Church in Kikuyu.

Despite the President sending a chief guest at the weekend meeting, some of the Gecaga sources said their congregation is now more inclined towards Ruto.

“The feeling is that Ruto gravitates more towards the church and the Akorino as a faith have reaped more from him,” said a council member.

It also transpires that the Gecaga top leadership was on August 25 in a big group of church leaders who visited the Ruto at his Karen residence.

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