Lessons from Past ACK Archbishops
By Rev Canon Francis Omondi, Pastor Kyama Mugambi and Mr. Omore C. Osendo.
The curtains are closing on the seven-year tenure of the fifth Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), His Grace The Most Rev (Dr.) Eliud Wabukala. Archbishop Wabukala was elected and thereafter enthroned on 7th July 2009.
He retired on account of attaining the age limit for serving in the office. The office of the ACK Archbishop is amongst the most respected and influential religious leaders in the country where he exercises spiritual leadership over the close to 6 million members and is the official spokesperson of the church on national and international issues.
There are six candidates from whom the electors will have to pick the 6th Archbishop: Bishop (Dr). Moses Masamba Nthuka of Mbeere Diocese, Bishop James Kenneth Ochiel of Southern Nyanza Diocese, Bishop Joel Waweru of Nairobi Diocese, Bishop Lawrence Kavutsa Dena of Malindi Diocese, Bishop Jackson Nasoore Ole Sapit of Kericho Diocese and Bishop Julius N. Wanyoike of Thika Diocese.
L-R : Sapit, Wanyoike, Dena, (the dean of the province Bishop Wasonga) Ochiel, Masamba and Waweru.
The next Archbishop has five predecessors to learn from. Archbishops Festo Olang, Manasses Kuria, David Gitari, Benjamin Nzimbi and Eliud Wabukala have all served during critical transitions and seasons of the country and have been called upon on different occasions to speak prophetically to the socio-economic and political situations the country has faced. This is coupled with providing leadership to the Anglican community locally and representation in the global Anglican community gives the Primate a full plate from their first day in office.
The first African Archbishop, Rev. Festo Olang, was enthroned in 1970. Archbishop Olang, a man of many firsts in the African Anglican Communion, a protégé of Edward Carey Francis and alumni of Alliance High School hosted the inaugural Anglican Consultative Council in Limuru in 1971. The ACC is more like a global Anglicanism Annual General Meeting. In 1977 he hosted the first conference of African Anglican Bishops that formed into the Conference of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) and was elected the first Chairman in 1977.
However one act that Archbishop Festo Olang did whose effects reverberate to date was the creation of the Dioceses of Maseno North and Maseno South. Until 1971, the only Dioceses were Fort Hall, Mombasa, Nakuru, Nairobi and Maseno. Naturally with the growth of the church comes the creation of new dioceses to make administration better. The Diocese of Maseno owned or managed the Maseno School, the Maseno Hospital and the St. Phillips Bible College, all established by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) which was the missionary order or wing of the Anglican Church. The division of Maseno Diocese brought about a dispute over which diocese “owned” the three institutions as Maseno town sat right at the border of the two dioceses.
The colonial ethnic boundary separating the North Kavirondo (Luhyias) and the Central Kavirondo (Luos) that is at Maseno, is said to have informed the boundary of the Dioceses. In May 2015, the Governor of Vihiga County claimed that Maseno belongs to Vihiga and not Kisumu County, and that they are losing revenue because of this. This has resulted in a border dispute that got the attention of the Speaker following a petition by Luanda MP, Hon. Chris Omulele. During a visit by the National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee to Maseno from May 13th – 15th 2016 to begin resolving the border dispute, elders pointed to the creation of the two Anglican Dioceses as one of the main contributors to the dispute claiming that congregations within the respective dioceses that had pockets of the minority ethnic communities were managed by the Bishop of that community in the bordering diocese.
Archbishop Olang retired on his birthday after he convened a Synod meeting for two days after his birthday and he was duly informed that he would be ineligible to preside over it. However the process of electing Archbishop Olang’s successor was deemed as controversial and widely regarded to have been influenced by the then powerful Attorney General Charles Njonjo. In their respective autobiographies, Bishop Okullu and Archbishops Gitari and Kuria give their own account of this transition process pointing to political interference and ethno-political posturing, which has also been witnessed in subsequent elections. Bishop Okullu and Bishop Nzano were the candidates during this election.
Archbishop Manasses Kuria was elected and enthroned as the second Archbishop of the Anglican Church in 1980 having served as Bishop of the Diocese of Nakuru from 1976. He served until 1994, 14 of President Moi’s 24 years in office including the one-party state period of 1982 –1990. President Moi’s first six years (1978 – 1984) were perceived by the church as being promising. Moi was faithful in his church attendance that was televised weekly throughout his 24-year presidency. He also ascended to power with the promise to release political prisoners, fight tribalism and corruption, all espoused in the nyayo philosophy of peace, love and unity. However, after the 1982 coup, Moi recoiled and became more hardline politically to deal with growing dissent.
From 1985, vocal Anglican bishops like David Gitari, Henry Okullu and Alexander Kipsang Muge together with Nakuru Catholic Bishop Ndingi Mwana-A-Nzeki and the Presbyterian cleric Timothy Njoya mounted a strong campaign against electoral malpractice and human rights abuses. They strongly condemned the change in the electoral system in 1988 from secret ballot to queue voting (mlolongo). Archbishop Kuria actively lent his voice especially when opposition leaders were arrested and detained in 1990. Like the condemnation of civil society and pro-democracy activists today as foreign agents or traitors, the Anglican Church and specifically Archbishop Manasses Kuria and Bishop Okullu were discussed in Parliament in June 1991, with Kuria being described as “a Provincial Administrator” and that the government should “get rid of these characters who are out to breach the peace”.
Archbishop David Gitari was enthroned in January 1997 and retired in September 2002, serving the full term of Kenya’s 8th Parliament. As a young Bishop of Mt. Kenya East from 1975, Bishop Gitari preached stinging sermons after the assassination of politician J.M. Kariuki ,in 1989 against queue voting and in 1990 following the assassination of the Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Robert Ouko. Archbishop Gitari’s first year as Archbishop found him in a rather turbulent political period. In the run up to the December 1997 general election, the civil society and the opposition MPs ganged up to press for constitutional reforms that included credible elections and the powers of the presidency. The MPs disrupted the Budget speech in June. In July, church leaders joined the pro-reform group to hold an unlicensed rally that police swiftly disrupted. Protesters seeking refuge at the All Saints Cathedral church were pursued right inside, beaten into a pulp and tear gas canisters were thrown into the church.
Archbishop Gitari organized a cleansing ceremony the following week that attracted international attention and global condemnation of what took place there. He preached a famous sermon from Daniel Chapter 5 where he concluded that if the President does not fulfill the wish for a new constitution and respect for human rights, God will write on the State House wall. President Moi ceded and the 1997 general elections saw a rare political agreement between the government and the opposition Members of Parliament, who ,through the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) , were able to settle on minimum reforms including the inclusion of more electoral commissioners nominated by opposition parliamentary parties and a revision of the law to give the commission more operational independence.
When the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), Archbishop Gitari testified in their Nyeri sitting where he brought up the cases of the murder of JM Kariuki and Dr. Robert Ouko.
Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi was enthroned as the 4th Archbishop of the ACK on September 2002 and served until June 2009. In his enthronement speech, he paid tribute to Retired Archbishop Gitari for his bold leadership, vowing to follow in his footsteps and adapting a famous poem, said: “Gitari ni hodari; Gitari ni daktari; Gitari ni jemedari; Gitari ni hatari” (Gitari is bold; Gitari is a doctor; Gitari is an army commander; Gitari is dangerous). Archbishop Nzimbi started serving at the end of KANU’s reign and throughout President Kibaki’s first term into the 2007 post-election violence period.
Naturally the church and the civil society took time to readjust to the new political dispensation led by President Kibaki, often being accused of being slow to point out the ills of a regime that improved the economy and Kenya’s international standing but deepened the ethnic, class and demographic divisions further. The lull in the advocacy role of the church allowed Nzimbi to shift the focus of the church towards expanding missions, promoting evangelisms and engaging society for social transformation; issues he had a passion in since his consecration as the first Bishop of Machakos Diocese in 1985 and the first Bishop of Kitui Diocese in 1995. This saw him oppose the inclusion of abortion related or implied clauses and the proposal to embed Kadhi courts in the draft Constitution during the 2005 referendum.
Additionally, Archbishop Nzimbi opposed the acceptance of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions by the Episcopal Church in North America and Canada. In August 2007, Archbishop Nzimbi consecrated two rebel American priests as Bishops under the jurisdiction of the ACK but with oversight over 30 congregations in the US. The priests were opposed to the Episcopal Church’s tolerance of homosexuality. Archbishop Nzimbi became a leading figure in the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and attended the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in 2008 where the Jerusalem Declaration was signed “to declare the tenets of orthodoxy that underpin their identity as Anglicans”. Notably, declaration 8 stated that: “We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married”.
The 2005 Constitutional Referendum that split the ruling coalition down the middle, the disputed 2007/8 general election and post election violence that followed was a blot in the country and the church was taken to task for its role in being partisan or not speaking boldly as the country spiraled into ethnic division. Archbishop Nzimbi was instrumental in the mediation process between Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki, urging them to open dialogue between themselves and give hope to the people. As the then Chairman of the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya, Archbishop Nzimbi commented that “although religious leaders have been pulled so much by their tribal feelings, they have been working hard together before, during, and after the election asking people to choose peace and prevent chaos.”. In October 2008 during the debate on whether to create a special tribunal to try the perpetrators of the violence or whether to provide amnesty to them as part of a healing process, Archbishop Nzimbi supported the full implementation of the Waki Report, rejecting calls for amnesty for perpetrators of crimes.
Archbishop Wabukala’s enthronement as the 5th Archbishop of ACK in July 2009 took place when the country was picking up the pieces from the 2007/8 post-election violence. The Constitution Review Process was underway alongside other key reform process including the review of the electoral system and the inquiry into the violence leading to the submission of names of those deemed to hold the highest responsibility over the devastating violence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague at the end of 2010. Wabukala chaired the ACK’s Constitution Review Commission.
During his enthronement service, Archbishop Wabukala laid out the priorities of the church that he intends to focus on, in his charge. On advocacy and national reforms the Archbishop said that “we will not shy away from speaking out against social ills or pleading the case of the needy and downtrodden. Nevertheless, we will be faithful in praying for our society and its leaders, and where possible we will support and complement the efforts of government and other players in service delivery”. On healing and reconciliation, the Archbishop noted “the unity we should be pursuing should indeed be like that of the three persons of God. The way God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit relate to each other. Their relationship prospers perfectly because it is based on truth, justice and sacrificial love…however brethren, without the truth, unity is at best superficial. At worst it is merely window dressing that is a thin layer of apparent respectability covering situations that are actually toxic”.
In May 2010, Archbishop Wabukala speaking on behalf of the Anglican House of Bishops rejected the final revised draft of the Constitution that had been endorsed by Parliament and the Cabinet, citing the refusal for amendments to clauses they did not agree with including the inclusion of Kadhi courts and the permissive stance on abortion. The Archbishop however said congregants were free to participate in the campaigns against the Constitution but the leadership of the church will stay out of the campaigns. Interestingly, Retired Archbishop David Gitari fully supported the new constitution stating that “The draft constitution is democratic and guarantees justice, end of corruption and impunity therefore we cannot be neutral on this matter,” while Wabukala’s immediate predecessor, Retired Archbishop Nzimbi opposed the new constitution stating that “as a matter of conscience he could not support the abortion and Kadhi court clauses.”
Wabukala’s tenure as Archbishop (2009 – 2016) coincides with the promulgation of the new constitution in August 2010 that ushers in drastic changes in Kenya’s socio-economic, political and public policy profiles key among them being the introduction of devolution of power and resources, a robust bill of rights, fought for by Archbishops Kuria and Gitari and the ICC process.
Education was flagged as one of the priorities in his enthronement charge. The ACK’s involvement in the national curriculum review and convening its own conference on education in March 2016 underscored the importance Archbishop Wabukala places on the matter. However, the traction for an Anglican University seems to have slowed down. The ACK is the only mainstream church that does not have its own university. St. Paul’s University in Limuru is jointly owned and sponsored by the Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians.
Archbishop Wabukala’s membership in the National Anti-Corruption Campaign Steering Committee (NACCSC), serving, as Chairman in his second term will be judged lately with the high incidences of reporting of corruption scandals. Is this an indication of better access to information, successful whistleblowing or credible public education campaigns by NACCSC?
Archbishop Wabukala continued with Retired Archbishop Nzimbi’s consistent and committed stand and participation in GAFCON and was elected the Chair, a role he relinquished in the GAFCON Council in Nairobi April 18th – 22nd. He has particularly maintained a tough stand with regard to dealing with the American Episcopal Church and declined to attend the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in Lusaka (April 8th – 19th 2016 ) because of the presence of the Episcopal Church who had earlier in January 2016 been asked to keep off the organs of the Anglican Communion for three years. The Archbishops of Nigeria ,Rwanda and Egypt are amongst those who have declined to attend. However ,Kenya’s delegation attended and Bishop Joel Waweru, a contender for Archbishop, was elected into the Standing Committee of the ACC.
Whoever is elected will have to rich heritage of Archbishops to learn from. Examples to emulate or mistakes to avoid.
Rev Canon Francis Omondi is a clergy of the All Saints Cathedral Diocese of the Anglican Church of Kenya.
Kyama Mugambi is a Doctorate student at the African International University.
Omore Osendo is a Governance and Public Policy Expert based in Nairobi.