ODENY: Sapit, Muheria criticism of state echoes citizen’s hope for change

Sermons in the 90s initiated transformation when state had effectively silenced dissidents.

In Summary
  • May aluta continua against bad governance, insane tax regimes, corruption, nepotism and speaking truth to power through the Sapits and Muherias of today.
  • They may eventually pay the ultimate price like Muge but man must live for something or fall for anything.
Nyeri Catholic Archbishop Anthony Muheria and Anglican Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit
CHURCH VS STATE: Nyeri Catholic Archbishop Anthony Muheria and Anglican Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit
Image: FILE

A man dies in everyone who keeps silent in the season of oppression, celebrated Nigerian playwright, novelist and poet Wole Soyinka said.

The criticism against the Kenya Kwanza government by Anglican Bishop Jackson Ole Sapit last week rekindled memories of great men of God who spoke truth to power in years gone by.

In his recent outburst that dominated social media, Sapit accused President William Ruto’s regime of subjecting Kenyans to high taxes, urging the Kenya Kwanza administration to seek alternative sources of revenue and not burden Kenyans.

And Ruto himself is passionately religious and a religious crusade is likely to take place countrywide in Kenya where the Church is greatly respected.

Sapit is not alone. Nyeri Archbishop Antony Muheria in July boldly condemned President Ruto’s leadership style as “imposing and arrogant” as he urged him to climb down and listen to Kenyans. He urged the Kenya Kwanza administration to be humane and compassionate in dealing with Kenyans in the wake of opposition protests.

“Leadership needs to be humane, empathetic, and compassionate. Currently, the leader is rough, insulting, arrogant, and imposing. We are going into a very wrong leadership, which is why religious leaders want to talk,” he said.

“We sit, chat, talk to one another with true listening, and then we concede and find a compromise. Sometimes we may not agree, but we don’t let that build bad manners”

Sapit and Muheria have illustrious and courageous predecessors who spoke truth to power.

Prelates like Archbishop Manases Kuria, Dr Henry Okullu, Bishop Alexander Muge, Rev Timothy Njoya; a moderator in the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and Anglican bishop of Mt Kenya East diocese David Gitari found their voices in the pulpit and openly criticised the government on behalf of millions. They were the informal opposition checks on the Kanu regime in the 80s.

In the book Education by Ellen G White, her words fit the character of the aforementioned prelates. They were men who “called sin by its name, men whose conscience is as true to duty, as the needle is to pole; men who will stand for what is right, though the heavens fall.”

Pulpit power in the 80s and early 90s initiated transformation at a time when the state had effectively silenced voices that demanded political change.

At the forefront of church activism against President Daniel Moi’s regime were Okullu, Muge and Gitari, Njoya. This quartet was commonly referred to by politicians, as ‘a thorn in the flesh to Moi and his political ilk.’

Political sermons gave birth to a culture of defiance that marked the genesis of the ‘Second Liberation’.

When former President Daniel Torotich arap Moi came to power on August 22, 1987, after the demise of the first President Jomo Kenyatta, he was well received by the church. Why

Moi’s initial years at the helm of power were promising: he released political detainees, advocated for peace, love and unity, poverty alleviation and the integration of the various Kenyan communities with the Nyayo philosophy.

However, the attempted coup of August 1, 1982, by junior Kenya Air Force officers drawn mainly from the Luo and Agikuyu ethnic communities gave rise to different, ruthless Moi. In her book, Church, State, and Society in Kenya, Israeli Professor Galia Sabar, writes that the coup transformed Kenya’s political landscape.

Sabar observes that Moi embarked on a coercive, centralising process that curtailed free expression in Parliament and limited the autonomy and independence of the Judiciary. Critical voices were being raised over state malpractice such as ‘Kalenjinisation’ of the military and civil service; this was believed to be so because Moi had inherited a civil service and military predominantly composed of officials from the Agikuyu ethnic community.

Moi’s declaration on May 18, 1987, that only Kenyans with ID cards and Kanu Party membership cards would be the only ones allowed to vote, and that did not go down well with Gitari.

Bishop Gitari strongly condemned the directive, saying it violated Section 43 of the former constitution, which had clearly laid down qualifications and disqualifications for registration as a voter.

Gitari even delivered a sermon titled ‘Harassed and Helpless’, based on Matthew 9:35-38 to censure Moi. The prelate likened Kenyans to sheep being harassed by the regime like sheep without a shepherd because they were being denied an opportunity to exercise their democratic rights.

Later on June 21, 1987, Gitari delivered another powerful sermon that shocked the Moi regime. At St Peter’s church, Nyeri, the bishop called for the democratisation of Kenya in his sermon titled ‘The Truth is Always Triumphant.’

Gitari quoted Chapter 6 of the Book of Daniel, showing that despite mistreatment by conniving workmates who wanted to block Daniel from ascending to high office, Daniel, the Hebrew, prevailed.

Gitari summarised his political sermon by calling all leaders to stand by the truth, even if they faced stiff opposition.

Rev Njoya was another critical voice in the ice-breaking reform agenda during this period of political turmoil. Njoya was a fiery preacher against Moi’s one-party regime at St Andrew’s PCEA church, Nairobi, on January 1, 1990, when he compared Kenya’s one-party rule to the monolithic communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

The prelate preached that just as Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romanian empire fell, the Nyayo regime would also crumble eventually because Kenya had no option but to embrace multi-partyism.

Nyoja also condemned tribalism and patronage, saying that’s what derailed Kenya’s progress. He also headed protests, leading to his arrest several times. For his vocal convictions, Rev Njoya was even demoted by the Church leadership due to his unrelenting criticism of the state.

Bishop Henry Okullu had plenty of fire in the belly and the threats from the State would not reduce him to silence. He was a fierce critic of the government in the1990s. Okullu warned that the personalisation of power and centralisation of the presidency under a one-party system was dangerous. He warned that Moi’s personalisation of leadership lead to idolisation of the leader to the extent that people are made to believe their rights come from the generosity of that leader.

“I am infinitely suspicious of the one-party system of government being capable of safeguarding and promoting human rights because it is there to promote colonisation of the mind and to assist its leaders in staying in power for life,” Okullu said at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Kisumu

“The one-party government only encourages idolisation of leaders and the party and non-accountability to the people.

Okullu further denounced Moi’s personalisation of power by arguing that “power is sought and maintained, often by unjust means, for its own sake”

Bishop Manases Kuria and Muge also condemned the infamous Mlolongo voting system. Kuria termed it “unchristian, undemocratic and embarrassing”.

Muge called it totalitarian, while Okullu said it “produced some of the most blatant and cruel vote rigging.”

Fast forward to 2023, Nyeri Archbishop Anthony Muheria has repeatedly spoken against money obtained through corruption, calling it blood money.

“If we follow the divine way, our hands would tremble before stretching them out to receive bribe money, which is blood money. We must all do a lot of soul-searching and keep ourselves closer to God,” Muheria said.

In his address on September 28 last month, Sapit spoke for many Kenyans who have been decrying the high cost of living and high taxation through the Finance Act 2023.

Sapit and Muheria’s wise counsel comes at a time when the church had been condemned for succumbing to the whims of politricks by politicians during election campaigns.

It was on August 15, 2022, that Sapit divided the Kenyans’ opinions when he prayed ahead of the declaration of William Ruto as the President of Kenya at the Bomas of Kenya.

However, the new voices of Sapit and Muheria show the role of pulpit sermons in the struggle towards a corruption-free Kenya, democracy, good governance and fairness are still on course and the church as recorded in the Book of Matthew 6:14 remains the light of the world that cannot be hidden under the bushel.

As Okullu, Gitari, Muge, Njoya pricked the conscience of tyranny in days past and were rebuked as going astray into politics instead of preaching the gospel, they remained steadfast, knowing theirs was a calling above high office, fame, lucre and security — it was the call of conscience.

May aluta continua against bad governance, insane tax regimes, corruption, nepotism and speaking truth to power through the Sapits and Muherias of today. They may eventually pay the ultimate price like Muge but man must live for something or fall for anything.

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