Month: February 2021

Inequalities and not hustler nation euphoria is Kenya’s bane

By Canon Francis Omondi

Stifling the “hustler” vs “dynasty” debate will not save us from the imminent implosion resulting from Kenya’s obscene inequalities. While the debate is a welcome distraction from our frequent divisive tribal politics, leaders in government and society are frightened that it might lead to class wars. Our sustained subtle, yet brazen, war against the poor has made class conflict inevitable. If only we had listened to Hon. J. M. Kariuki, the assassinated former Member of Parliament for Nyandarua (1969-1975), and provided the poor with the means to develop themselves, perhaps the prospect of revolt would now be remote.  

Could this be the angry ghost of J.M. Kariuki coming back to haunt us? Listen to his voice still crying from the grave, as did his supporters at a rally in 1974: “We do not want a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars. Our people who died in the forests died with a handful of soil in their right hands, believing they had fallen in a noble struggle to regain our land . . . But we are being carried away by selfishness and greed. Unless something is done now, the land question will be answered by bloodshed” (quoted by Prof. Simiyu Wandibba in his book J.M. Kariuki). Fired by this speech, his followers set ablaze 700 acres of wheat on Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s farm in Rongai and slaughtered cattle with malice. Thus did J.M. invite his death. 

What Hon. William Ruto propounds in his hustler vs dynasty debate is a shrewd way of redefining Kenyan identity politics. Ruto is re-directing the political narrative from the “us” vs “them” of tribalism, to one characterised by the poor and desperate (hustlers) who have seen subsequent governments betray their hopes for a better life, pitted against “them”, Ruto’s rivals, the offspring of politicians born to unfair and unearned privilege. 

Hon. William Ruto’s hustler vs dynasty narrative is a shrewd way of redefining Kenyan identity politics in order to avoid playing the tribal card in his quest for the presidency.

Wycliffe Muga, the Star newspaper columnist, has eloquently described them as the “sons of a hereditary political elite who absorbed all the benefits that came with independence, leaving ‘the rest of us’ destitute and having no choice but to beg for the crumbs under their table.” By opting for an alternative approach, Ruto hopes to avoid playing the tribal card to attain the presidency. For, besides his own, he would need support from at least one other of the five big tribes who often reserve support for their own sons unless there is a brokered alliance. But even then, the underlying logic of Kenyan politics remains that of identity politics, which creates a binary narrative of “us” against “them”.  

Meanwhile, Ruto has not only radicalised the poor, but he has also hastened the country’s hour of reckoning, a judgement for the years of neglect of the poor, and this may ignite the tinder sooner we imagine.

In their article in The Elephant, Dauti Kahura and Akoko Akech observe that, “Ruto might have belatedly discovered the great socio-economic divide between the walala-hoi and the walala-hai in Kenya”. Ruto has galvanized the poor and their plight around the banner of the “hustler nation”, a nation aspiring to erase the tribal or geographical lines that have kept Kenyans apart. As a result the poor are restless as they compare their state with the ease of the lives of the affluent. But Ruto is not organising to awaken class-consciousness among the exploited.  ‘As Thandika Mkandawire, citing Karl Marx, observed, “The existence of class may portend class struggles, but it does not automatically trigger them. It is not enough that classes exist in themselves, they must also be for themselves”’, Kahura and Akech further reiterate.   

The problem kicks in immediately he points to the “dynasty”. In juxtaposing the hustlers and dynasty, the poor find a target of hate, an object of their wrath. This situation can easily slide into violence, the violence emerging only when the “us” see themselves as all good and the “them” as all evil. 

I worry this controversy had led us to that radicalisation stage, where the poor see themselves as good children of light fighting against evil forces of darkness. In our case, the so-called hustler nation believe they are against the deep-state, which cares less about them, but wants to give their dues the “dynasty”. This collusion between deep-state and dynasty is preventing them from reaching prosperity. So, acting in self-respect, they deflect their situation to those who they perceive as the cause of their wretchedness. Interestingly, the colonial state always feared the day when the masses would rise up and topple it. Unfortunately, Ruto is using the crisis of the underclass created by the colonial state and perpetuated by the political class for his own self-advancement and political expediency. 

By declaring himself the saviour of the hustlers from the dynasties, Ruto — who is devoid of any pro-democracy and pro-suffering citizens political credentials — is perceived to be antagonising the Kenyatta family’s political and financial interests. He has with precision stoked the anger of the poor against particular political elites he calls dynasties and the Odingas, the Kenyattas, the Mois and their associates have become the hustler nation’s enemy. So, one understands why President Uhuru Kenyatta considers Ruto’s dynasty vs hustler debate “a divisive and a major threat to the country’s security”, which Kenyatta fears may degenerate into class warfare.

Hon. Paul Koinange, Chairman of the Parliamentary Administration and Security Committee errs in his call to criminalise the hustler vs dynasty narrative. If this is hate speech, as Koinange wants it classified, then neglect of the poor by their government is a worse form of hate speech. The application of policies favouring tender-preneurs at the expense of the majority poor, landless and unemployed will incite Kenyans against each other faster than the hustler vs dynasty narrative. The failure to provide public services for the poor and the spiralling wealth of the political class must be confronted. 

We have been speeding down this slippery slope for years. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data ( the 2020 the  Economic Survey in Nairobi on April 28, 2020 you published it in the Elephant). released in December 2020, only 2.92 million Kenyans work in the formal sector, of which 1.34 million or 45.9 per cent earn less than KSh30,000. If we accept that the informal sector employs another 15 million Kenyans, an overwhelming majority —71 per cent — would be in micro-scale enterprises or in small-scale enterprises which make up 26 per cent. This implies that 97 per cent of our enterprises are micro or small, and these are easily wound up. The situation is exasperated by the opulence at the top. The UK-based New World Wealth survey (2014) conducted over 5 years, painted a grim picture of wealth distribution in Kenya. Of the country’s 43.1 million people then, 46 per cent lived below the poverty line, surviving on less than Sh172 ($2) a day. This report showed that nearly two-thirds of Kenya’s Sh4.3 trillion ($50 billion) economy is controlled by a tiny clique of 8,300 super-wealthy individuals, highlighting the huge inequality between the rich and the poor. Without a clear understanding of these disparities, it is difficult to evaluate the currents that are conducive to the widening of this gap not to mention those that would bridge it. Hon. Koinange should be bothered to address these inequalities the masses are awakening to than the hustler narrative. Our government must be intentional in levelling the playing field, or live in perpetual fear like the British colonials who feared mass revolt across imaginary ethnic lines.   

Our government must be intentional in levelling the playing field, or live in perpetual fear like the British colonials who feared mass revolt across imaginary ethnic lines.   

In Kenya past injustices yielded gross inequalities, for which Okello and Gitau, in Reading on inequality in Kenya: Sectoral Dynamics and Perceptions, illustrated how state power is still being used to perpetuate differences in the sharing of political and economic welfare. Okello further observed that: “In a country where for a long time economic and political power was/has been heavily partisan, where the state appropriated for itself the role of being the agency for development, and where politics is highly ethnicised, the hypothesis of unequal treatment has been so easy to build.”

This, not euphoria from the “hustler nation”, is the tinder that is about to explode. The horizontal manifestation of inequality stemming from failure of state institutions or policies that have continued to fester inequalities, is what should be a concern to the state. How can the government not see the risk such extreme economic disparities within the population pose for the nation’s stability? 

Canon Francis Omondi, is a priest of All Saints Cathedral Diocese Nairobi, and an adjunct lecturer at St. Paul’s University Limuru. Views expressed here are his own.

This article was first published in The Elephant as

Can Kenya stop Bloody Elections?

By Canon Francis Omondi

We, the people, and our leaders are in terrible jeopardy. An ominous cloud hangs over us as the 2022 elections approach. The retiring Chief Justice David Maraga was perceptive when he warned of drumbeats of political war. His words gave me an eerie feeling, a Luo in an election year. How can we bring these bloody elections to an end? 

The Kenyan election cycle has become synonymous with bloodletting, which has disproportionately affected the Luo. The general election conjures up memories of 1969. The first parliament was ending in December and Kenya was to conduct the first post-independent general elections. Following the 1966 fall-out at the Limuru Convention, a frightened government  sought to hold on to power at all costs. This would not be easy. The opposition Kenya People’s Union (KPU) formed in 1966 presented them with a frightening threat. To make sure they kept power, Jomo Kenyatta sanctioned the now infamous oath-taking to forge the uthamaki ideology to keep the presidency within the Gikuyu oligarchy and mobilise the Gikuyu folk around this narrative, thus, binding the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru communities (GEMA) in a spiritual and political stronghold under KANU in an imaginary nation of Uthamakistan

On July 5th they gunned Tom Mboya down in broad daylight. Although Mboya was a KANU leader, according to David Goldsworthy in Tom Mboya: The man Kenya Wanted to Forget, he had to be eliminated because he posed a threat to the presidency. Killed by a bullet coated in the blood of the oath. Since we have been conditioned to understand politics through the prism of tribe,  Mboya’s assassination snapped the already loose cord that tied the Luo to the Kikuyu community after the fall-out of Jomo Kenyatta and Odinga Oginga in 1966 and the mass state-led propaganda Kenyatta and his cabal undertook to paint the Luo community to the Kikuyu as a backward and violent community. The resulting protests, against President Kenyatta at Mboya’s requiem mass marked the beginning of animosities that are still felt today.

Although Kenya has remained silent about Mboya’s murder, the effects endure to this day. As Yvonne Owuor, winner of the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing, aptly observes, after Mboya’s death Kenya gained a third official language after English and Kiswahili: Silence. But I wonder what to expect when a train stops at a lakeside town in 2022. In 1969 — as in 2008 and 2017 the body bags from the lorries and the buses —  the train “offloaded men, women, and children. Displaced ghosts. In-between people. No one to blame. Most of the witnesses were dead. Others had vowed themselves to eternal silence. This was the same as death,” in the words of Yvonne.

After Mboya’s death, the events in Kisumu on 25 October 1969 exacerbated the despair among the Luo. Jomo Kenyatta had come to open Nyanza Provincial General Hospital which had been built with aid from Russia. Although Odinga was not invited, he arrived in force, for with Russia’s help he had started the project. In the ensuing commotion, the presidential escort and the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU), shot their way through the crowd, killing many and not stopping the shooting for 25 kilometres outside the town.  

If Mboya died, then everything that could die in Kenya did. Including school children standing in front of a hospital the head of the nation had come to open, Yvonne lamented. The events emptied central province of a people they now called cockroaches, nyamu cia ruguru (beasts from the west). Who spoke of this exile, or of the souls evicted from our world? 

The provincial security apparatus had warned people to stay away from Kisumu because of the protests following the brazen assassination of Tom Mboya, but as political scientist Akoko Akech asks, “And why did the presidential security shoot children, children in Awasi, some 50km away from the hospital?

The killings were framed as animosity between the Luo and Kikuyu communities, but they were not. It was a group in power using government machinery to crush a perceived enemy. The Luo were not fighting Kikuyu people in the outright violence that broke out as a large crowd menaced Kenyatta’s security. The security forces killed indiscriminately, hence the « Kisumu massacre ». While the official body count was 11, historians close to the event such as B.A. Ogot put the numbers at 100 people dead. The school pupils along the road at Awasi had come out to sing praises to their president whose security sent them to their graves in silence.  

The people were silenced, the records expunged, and the photographic and film evidence of the event destroyed, and we would not have seen the devastation were it not for the often-reproduced single monochromatic photograph of the chaotic scene by taken Mohammed Amin, and Satwant Matharoo’s film footage that was shown to the British audience by the WTN. Even the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) removed the oral eyewitness accounts and memoranda from its last report on the colonial and post-independence massacres. The now official record is an extract from the unofficial Report of the Commission on Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation.

In his book Exclusion and Embrace, Prof. Miroslav Volf captures the experience of the Luo people best when he avers, “We demonise and bestialise not because we do not know better, but because we refuse to know what is manifest and choose to know what serves our interests.” Hence, the proscription of KPU made Kenya a de facto single party state and established a pan-ethnic nationalism. The government accused KPU of being subversive, stirring up inter-ethnic strife, and accepting foreign money to promote anti-national activities, which included the building of the aptly named Russia Hospital that the president had come to open. Having demonised Nyanza Province, it was easy to exclude her from « national » development plans.  

Unless we confront this past murders like that of the election official, Chris Musando in 2017, will recur. Kenyan police have a long history of using excessive force against protesters, especially among the Luo in western Kenya. Of the over 1,100 people killed during the 2007 post-election violence, over 400 were shot by police in the Nyanza region. In 2013, according to Human Rights Watch, police killed at least five demonstrators in Kisumu who were protesting a Supreme Court decision that affirmed Uhuru Kenyatta’s election as president. And in June 2016 police killed at least five and wounded another 60 demonstrators in Kisumu, Homabay, and Siaya counties. The state acknowledging these crimes and making public apologies to the Luo will, in my view, end the continued violence against the community.

It is the duty of the current Kenyan state to reach out to the Luo community for the killings since 1969. If we can trace the records of  Nazi Germany atrocities during World War II, why can’t we do the same in Kenya? Why hasn’t any government felt the duty to at least apologise or acknowledge the trauma?

In December 1970, during a state visit to Poland which coincided with a commemoration of the Jewish victims of the Warsaw Ghetto, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt spontaneously dropped to his knees. Although he uttered no word during his Kneifall von Warschau, his Warsaw Genuflection, Brandt later wrote in his autobiography that upon “carrying the burden of the millions who were murdered, I did what people do when words fail them”. The Kenyan government should do to the Luo what Germany’s leaders did to the Jewish victims of the Nazis.

In 2011 German leaders again expressed deep remorse for the suffering their nation had inflicted on Poland and the rest of Europe during World War II. “I bow in mourning to the suffering of the victims,” German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said  at a ceremony in Warsaw. “I ask for forgiveness for Germany’s historical debt. I affirm our lasting responsibility,” the statesman said, calling the war a “painful legacy”. Where are the presidents of Kenya who have expressed such remorse?

Even if no one does, we remember. As long as it is remembered, the past is not just the past; it remains an aspect of the present. A remembered wound is an experienced wound. Toni Morrison was right when she says in Beloved that, “Deep wounds from the past can so much pain our present that, the future becomes a matter of keeping the past at bay”. Without apologies, the crimes are bound to recur and our wounds to remain uncovered.  

I am terrified by the state’s silence, the wishing away of the crimes and the failure to reach out to the Luo community. While President Steinmeier has called WW II a “German crime” that his nation will never forget, Kenya’s leaders are quiet and want Kisumu forgotten. How can the Luo people forgive crimes no one owns? How can the scar they bear be concealed ? I fear that without acknowledgment, ownership and apology, we cannot build any lasting bridges. 

Canon Francis Omondi, is a priest of All Saints Cathedral Diocese Nairobi, and an adjunct lecturer at St. Paul’s University Limuru. Views expressed here are his own.

The article was first published in The Elephant read it here:

Finding the Saviour

GOOD NEWS & CONVERSATIONS With Canon Francis Omondi 

Simeon finds  Jesus (Luke 2:29-38)

25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,

33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

Anna’s response to Jesus

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Epiphany Collect:

O God, Who by the leading of  a star manifested your son to the peoples of the earth: lead us, who know you now by faith, to your glory face to face: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

We will discuss a pertinent question of time, Where and how to find the Saviour? We draw lessons from the Gospel account of St. Luke 2:25-38, where we learn how  Simeon finds Jesus.

           Simeon, a devout and just man in Jerusalem, waited with fellow Jews for years, for the saviour to console of Israel. They embodied this consolation, the prophets of old spoke about, in the Messiah. Since the prophets’ word always came true, they waited.

         Scholars mention Simeon was among those embroiled in the argument regarding the accuracy of the Isaiah 7:14 text: Whereas the Hebrew Bible reads, “…a young woman shall bear a son…”, the  Greek translation, Septuagint read, “… a virgin shall conceive and bear a son…” Simeon sided with the Septuagint translation, But beyond this, the Holy Spirit impressed on him, he would not die before the fulfilment of this prophesy. He grew old and old, but kept waiting for the saviour to come. 

            On this day, a day like any other, the Holy Spirit nudged him to dash to the temple. For It was the day the prophets spoke about. Yet the temple was its usual self. Nothing unusual. Beggars lined up the walls from gate to gate, seeking alms. The poor and sick wanting for divine intervention. People milling in and out of the temple. Sinners in penitence offering sacrifices. The impure being cleansed. And Couples presenting sons. Also there were Merchants trading wares in the temple yard, while Gentiles observing from a distance. A day like any other. but Busy for priests.

        This was also the day Mary and Joseph came to present Jesus and perform their purification rites. Two turtle doves were sufficient for the law and affordable for them. With their son presented and Mary purified, they got ready, for the long journey back. The context forced them to be mum about their special child. At any rate, they had fulfilled righteousness. God wanted it that way. So, they sneaked, I mean slipped, out into obscurity unannounced and unnoticed to raise Jesus in strict observance of the Law, though he transcended the Law.

           But, while making out, down on the steps in the temple courts, old Simeon stopped them. Simeon begged to hold their baby. No sooner had he taken baby Jesus in his arms, than he belted the now sacred Nunc Dimittis: 

29 “ Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30  because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and a glory for your people Israel.”

     In this praise, Simeon calls the child Jesus “your salvation” (v.30). i. e. God’s salvation. It was A coincident of sorts, since Jesus’ Hebrew name, Yeshua, means, “salvation.” Simeon says, “my eyes have seen your salvation….” for he saw the child named “Salvation”. That was the moment Anna joined in, and praised God as well. She invited the messiah waiting people scattered  in the temple crowds to join in and rejoice. These waiting people also looked forward to the comfort of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be freed from the Roman oppression, they believed. The craving for the messiah caused angst in the people, demonstrated in the frequent revolts, which the Roman terror sifted through, eliminating all claimants.

           Meanwhile, the Messiah of Israel, whom they had waited for, was being celebrated at a side event within the temple precincts. It was an insignificant function, not in the temple order of events, and conducted by out-layers. In such obscurity, “the Consolation of Israel”,  appears. He is appearing when times were hard in Jerusalem. And it must have been the hardest of times to be a Jew. But for Simeon , Anna and the waiting people, it was an epiphany moment.  It is epiphany, when you suddenly  feel that you understand, or become conscious of something very important to you. They had discovered their saviour.  

           The good news  Luke is telling us that God returns in disguise as an infant. Fulfilling the word of the prophet Malachi, “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”

       Addressing Mary,  Simeon projected the kind ministry of the saviour would have. He said this child will lead to the fall and rise of many in Israel. The fall because his ministry will stumble many. He will bring down those who thought were up.  And How people respond to him and his message will determine their destiny. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries received his message, but the religious community could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus can be God’s Messiah. For them, Jesus became “a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall” (Luke 20:17-18).  

Jesus will disdain the oppressive human structures, whether religious, political or cultural. Structures that keep people down and excluded. The rise because, he will bring in, those relegated to the margins of the society. For he will without limit include those locked out. He wields the authority to invite whoever he  calls. 

          And Because of Jesus’ unorthodox approach, Simeon said,  many will speak against him. Jesus’ down-up, and out-center approach upset the established structures. Even though Jesus is God’s sign to his people, they will reject him. He will be “The stone the builders rejected …” Because he will expose the hidden agenda of world’s cartels, and lay bare their guise of religion. Best of all, Jesus will un-earthen human limitation of who God is …and what we have said about him, that he isn’t.  Those who stumble at Jesus, who reject him and oppose his message, will be exposed. For Jesus as the messiah will judge the world “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16).

              Remarkably, Simeon sees Jesus’ salvation as extending to all people, including the Gentiles. This is the same message the angel spoke to the shepherds on Christmas night: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (LK. 2:10).  The concept of the Messiah and Israel being “a light for the Gentiles” was first developed by the Prophet Isaiah: “ I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” ( Isaiah 49:6)

This has now found fulfilment in this child Simeon holds…

       In his statement, Simeon is setting the stage for the Magi’s visit. Which occurs soon  after this event in the Temple. For the Gentiles, though without Scriptures to guide, used horoscope and their stars reading skills to know about the new King, to locate where this king is ….and to believe that this is their King as well. This is what, we have in the Church tradition, we have called, the epiphany of the Gentiles. That is why this week we celebrate the Christian holiday commemorating the first manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi.

         Israel could not cage Jesus, the Gentiles made claim to the child king born to the Jews. And the Magi found something of theirs in him and something of him in them. For He was their king as well.

          I concur with Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright, who in his book, How God Became King, underscores:  the point of the gospels is not to proclaim Jesus is divine, as if he were some Greek god in human skin. He writes, “….in the events concerning Jesus of Nazareth, the God of Israel has become king of the universe.” (:38) Wright further  ponders,  “Suppose this isn’t a story about a man going about ‘proving that he’s God,’ but about God coming back in person to rescue his people?” (:93) “ 

The gospels offer us not so much a different kind of human, but a different kind of God: – a God who, having made humans in his own image, will most naturally express himself in and as, that image-bearing creature. A God who, having made Israel to share and bear the pain and horror of the world, will most naturally express himself, in and as, that pain-bearing, horror-facing creature.” (:104) Wright concludes:  Through Jesus God is doing what the Bible says God is always doing: judging, forgiving, healing, and transforming those God loves into a people who can recognize God, not Caesar, is King.  This God, and King  is among us human. Emanuel.

           The Christians’ central affirmation is that God became human. Not a generalized humanity — he became human under particular conditions of time and space. Thus affirming all cultural traditions.  “Cultural diversity was built into the Christian faith with that first monumental decision by the Council in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, “Argues Prof. Andrew Walls, “ which declared that the new Gentile Christians didn’t have to enter Jewish religious culture.” They didn’t have to receive circumcision and keep the law.

           This decision had enormous implication: For “up to that moment there was only one Christian lifestyle” and everybody knew it. Observes Walls,  the Lord himself had led the life of an observant Jew. The apostles continued that tradition. This was not to be with the new church.  The early church made the extraordinary decision not to continue the tribal model of the faith. Converts had to figure out what a Christian lifestyle looked like. They, guided by the Holy Spirit, had to develop the way of being Christian.

 If the church had made the opposite decision, we would not have needed much of the material in the Epistles. Walls explain this:  “St. Paul had to discuss with the Corinthians what to do “ if a pagan friend invites you to dinner and you’re not sure whether they had offered the meat in sacrifice the day before.” Such was not the apostles’ problem. They did not need to be eating with pagans. For observant Jews don’t table with pagans. 

           We also affirm that Christ is formed in people, following Paul’s words that he is in travail “until Christ be formed in you.”   Because, when people come to Christ, Christ transforms their lives taking a new social form. In seeking the saviour, we need to look beyond the feast of Epiphany celebrations, or the Clergy or church program. We may not find the saviour in ordinary Christians. Waiting hearts will find Jesus in simple lives and on the edge of society. 

The Times magazine of  December 27, 2008 ran a story by the famous British journalist Matthew Parris. It is an irony that an atheist, Matthew, confessed his belief that Africa needed God. “Missionaries, not aid money,” he said, “ would solve Africa’s biggest problem – the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset,”  Matthew was in Malawi after 45 years, to see the work of Pump Aid, an NGO helping rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep the village wells sealed and clean.  The Times Christmas Appeal had included this small British charity working Malawi. which Mr. Parris conceded inspired him, renewing his flagging faith in development charities:

“But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too,” he said “one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my worldview, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.”

He discerned the unique contribution of Christian evangelism as distinct from secular NGOs, governmental projects, and international aid efforts. Matthew observed: “In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” Until this visit, he applauded the practical work of mission churches in Africa as humanitarian…  and that Faith supported the missionary, but he now acknowledges “…that salvation is part of the package,” 

The fact he notes that “Faith does more than support the missionary; but  it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which He could  not help observing. This time in Malawi it was not the same. Matthew narrates: 

I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular, and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service. It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was influenced by a conception of man’s place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

But Parris warns: “Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. We must supplant an entire belief system.” He Concludes, “And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.”

Parris sees the saviour in the lives of the Christian aid workers. He sees the kingdom of God in the transforming work of the missionaries. Though, like Jesus, the Christian Work is spoken against, the evidence stands out. 

So, where  will our epiphany happen?

It is the Holy Spirit who revealed the saviour to Simeon, and  to praying and fasting Anna, and the waiting faithful Jews on the margin of their society. He too, will reveal him to us. Our epiphany will occur away from the center,  out on the edges. Paul showed that when Christ is formed in humankind, others will find the saviour in our lives. Our epiphany will occur in ordinary lives of those who live up to the injunction of our saviour. If we seek the manifestation of the saviour today… we must seek him among the poor. 

Jesus lives among the poor. He is with those who suffer hunger because they have not been at work. Jesus is with the sick who have no healthcare. He is with those violently oppressed and made poor by corrupt state policies. These poor are victims of direct and indirect state brutality. The devastating impact of COVID-19 has exposed the façade, and we can’t hide our violence on the poor. We have an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, as we have often shown in times of crisis. 

While they are waiting for Jesus to meet their needs, Jesus among them is waiting for us to act in his name. Helping the invisible poor will bring us face to face with the saviour.  

In the name of the father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 Canon Francis Omondi is a priest in the All Saints Cathedral Diocese Nairobi. He is an Adjunct lecture at St. Paul’s University, Limuru. 

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