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Ondiek to Khamala: A tale of mixed fortunes for church leaders in politics

ODM party leader Raila Odinga hands over the ODM nomination certificate to Lurambi Mp Bishop Titus Khamala during  Azimio la Umoja rally in Kakamega. [Benjamin Sakwa,  Standard]

Bishop Titus Khamala is known more for his clowning tricks akin to those of gospel artist Christopher Nyangwara Mosioma, popularly known as Embarambamba.

The one-term Lurambi MP has risen to prominence partly owing to the dramatic antics of rolling on dusty, and even muddy, ground as he pushes his political agenda, including rallying support for Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, when he was eyeing the presidency. Bishop Khamala has since shifted allegiance to Raila Odinga, the presidential nominee for Azimio La Umoja-One Kenya, after Musalia teamed up with Deputy President William Ruto.

Bishop Khamala of the Cornerstone Ministries, who first unsuccessfully vied for the Lurambi seat in 2007, hopes to retain his seat and last long on the political scene just like his “namesake” did on the soccer scene.

“Opponents mock me as ‘yule mtu wa kujiangusha matopeni (the man who rolls in mud), but that is just my speech delivery style. As a man of God, I only tell my people the truth and I know best how to communicate depending on the type of audience,” says the Bishop.    

Indeed, drama by the men and women of the cloth on the political arena did not start the other day. Long before the Lurambi MP surfaced onto the scene, Kinangop’s MP, Mary Wanjiru, electrified the National Assembly between 1992 and 1997 with fervent prayers for her parliamentary colleagues.

Clad in clear white dress and headgear, “Prophetess Wanjiru” as she was largely referred to because of her pious poise, ordinarily walked to the chambers and mumbled a short prayer before taking her seat. In some instances, the MP spiced her contribution with prayers to her “sinful” colleagues. She prayed for the country, the citizens and at some point even “assured” the nation that her prayers could cure one from  HIV/Aids.

Political cultism

And for her drama, which included invoking God’s name at the slightest opportunity and occasionally breaking into a feat of prayers in the middle of parliamentary session, Mathioya MP and Cabinet minister, Joseph Kamotho, repeatedly claimed she was “one big mistake of political cultism” in Central Kenya. Wanjiru rode into Parliament on the wave of Kenneth Matiba’s Ford-Asili party, unlike Kamotho, then Secretary General of Kanu, who was floored in the multi-party polls but was rescued by President Daniel arap Moi who handed to him a direct nomination ticket to Parliament.

The “Prophetess” served only for one term and her efforts to return to Parliament have not yielded fruits to this day. Similarly after five years in Parliament, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru of Jesus Is Alive Ministries (JIAM) – like her Kinangop namesake – was shown the red card.

Elected in 2007 as Nairobi’s Starehe MP, and appointed Housing assistant minister under President Mwai Kibaki’s Grand Coalition Government with Raila, attempts by the Bishop – she of “the glory is here” fame – to seek an elective post have come to naught. In 2013, she unsuccessfully sought to vie for Governor for Nairobi on ODM’s ticket, settling instead for Senator’s slot which she altogether lost. Coincidentally, she has just missed out United Democratic Alliance’s (UDA) ticket to vie for Governor. She has again settled for the senatorial seat, with hopes of finally obtaining the elusive political glory.  

Sheikh Mohamed Dor, who served in the 10th Parliament alongside Bishop Wanjiru as Nominated MP, has equally not been lucky. The Islamic preacher, who secured his place in Parliament following an agreement between Raila and the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK), has not managed to get into elective politics.  

In fact, in 2012, Dor became the first high profile political and religious leader to be charged for crimes associated with the separatist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC). The CIPK Secretary General is alleged to have called for the disobedience of Kenya laws.

By the end of his parliamentary term, the MP had differed with Raila and joined the United Party of Kenya which he launched in 2012. The cleric who vied for Mombasa’s Mvita seat, never made it back to Parliament. 

Another man of the cloth, who remains bitten by the political bug is the towering former Kisumu West town MP, Reverend Ken Nyagudi. Elected in April 2004, following the death of area MP Joab Omino, the evangelist was kicked out by voters after only three years. In the last elections, he unsuccessfully vied the Kisumu Central seat against Ken Obura, where both lost to political rookie, Fred Ouda.  

However, in the neighbouring Siaya County, Archbishop Stephen Ondiek Oluoch is among the few lucky prelates who served for more than one term in Parliament. The Legio Maria cleric’s first attempt at a parliamentary seat was in 1979, but he was robbed of victory by the incumbent and Tourism Minister, Mathews Ogutu.

Although the courts overturned Ogutu’s win in his petition, the Archbishop was also found guilty of an electoral offence and therefore barred from the repeat poll. It is at this point that the man of God made a move that would hound the rest of his political life by introducing his brother-in-law, 28-year-old James Orengo, to participate in the by-election on his behalf.

While Orengo went on to vanquish the Cabinet minister at the poll, the experience shaped him into a solid politician to the chagrin of his sister’s husband. Ondiek only managed to capture the seat in 1988 and serve for two consecutive terms, after Orengo abandoned the seat owing to charges over alleged mileage claims and fled the country to Tanzania. Orengo reclaimed his seat in 1992 following the return of multi-party politics, only for Ondiek to make a comeback in 2002 when Orengo opted to vie for presidency on a Social Democratic Party (SDP) ticket.

Former Public Service Minister, Reverend Moses Akaranga, is the other clergyman who has registered good and successive poll victories. A pastor at the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG), Akaranga literally gave Swahili meaning to his name by unceremoniously kicking out Vice President Musalia Mudavadi from the Sabatia parliamentary seat in 2002.

Government excesses

In 2013, Musalia and the man of God patched up their differences enabling Akaranga to win in the polls and serve as the first Governor of Vihiga County. The Reverend is hoping to recapture the gubernatorial seat in August on a Musalia-friendly party.

A Nairobi Baptist Church pastor between 1979 and 1993, Reverend Mutava Musyimi, has equally enjoyed a good ride in politics. Musyimi recalls being plunged to the political limelight by the pulpit, “as spoke openly against the excesses of the governments of the day”. The Reverend later joined the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) and served as the Secretary General until 2007, when successfully vied as Gachoka MP on President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) beating Joseph Nyagah.

Musyimi successfully defended his seat in 2013 under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA).