Electing 6th Anglican Church of Kenya’s Archbishop: lessons from the past
By Rev. Canon Francis Omondi
The Anglicans in Kenya are about to elect their new archbishop replacing The Most Rev. Dr. Eliud Wabukala.
The task of the Provincial Electoral College may be the hardest one in the church right now, because many of the clergy and laity often have unrealistic or misguided, even dangerous, notions of what an Archbishop is, or should look or feel like.
The image forged by bold clerics in Archbishop David Gitari, Bishop Henry Okullu and Bishop Alexander Kipsang Muge together with Nakuru Catholic Archbishop Ndingi Mwana-A-Nzeki the Presbyterian cleric Rev. Dr. Timothy Njoya, in boldly confronting societal ills and human rights abuses remain the prism we view this position through.
L-R: Sapit, Wanyoike, Dena, dean of the province, Ochiel, Masamba, and Waweru
Who will be favoured of these six candidates for the 6th ACK’s Archbishop?
The Right Rev. Dr. Moses Masamba Nthuka, Bishop of Mbeere Diocese, The Right Rev. James Kenneth Ochiel, Bishop of Southern Nyanza, The Right Rev. Joel Waweru, Bishop of Nairobi Diocese, The Right Rev. Lawrence Kavutsa Dena, Bishop of Malindi Diocese, The Right Rev. Jackson Nasoore Ole Sapit, Bishop of Kericho Diocese and The Right Rev. Julius N. Wanyoike, Bishop of Thika Diocese.
When the wrong leader is chosen, everyone will live with (and often shrink from) the consequences for years to come.
We can avoid this by critically examining these candidates and sticking to high criterion for the May 20th, 2016 election.
Over the years our electors have not been immune to non-spiritual influences in their task.
The election of the 2nd archbishop was deemed as controversial and widely regarded to have been influenced by extraneous forces.
Bishop Henry Okullu of Maseno South had been widely regarded as the leading candidate to succeed Archbishop Festo Olang’, but the election of the largely unknown Archbishop Manasses Kuria came as a real surprise to independent observers.
Opening the lid on what transpired Bishop Okullu, in his autobiography “The Quest for Justice” inferred that: “the Luhya and Kikuyu ethnic sentiments enforced by political tribalism completely blocked his way such that a third person out of about 25 electors could not be found to sign his nomination form.”
He claimed that Bishop David Gitari then of Mt. Kenya East told him that; “since Archbishop Olang’ was from Western Kenya had been archbishop this time you from western Kenya are to be prepared to support an archbishop from Central province . ..”
Okullu questioned whether, “this time the election of the archbishop must be geographically decided ? ”
He was instead urged to support the assistant Bishop of Mombasa Crispus Nzano, by the retiring Archbishop Olang’ and Bishop James Mundia of Maseno North ostensibly to block Kikuyu from getting to be archbishop.
Bishop Nzano had been nominated alongside Bishop Manasses Kuria of Nakuru.
Bishop Okullu declined arguing that: “Crispus Nzano was a dear brother in the Lord, but I do not see in him such exemplary qualities, which would compel me to put him ahead of the more experienced Diocesan Bishop.”
In bid to set record straight Archbishop Gitari, in his own autobiography, “Troubled but not destroyed”, corrected Bishop Okullu when he told him to his face:
” Bishop James Mundia of maseno North and the Luhyas could not support his candidature because of the ongoing boundary row at Maseno between the Diocese of Maseno North and Maseno South. Predominantly Kikuyu dioceses would not support him because he had a deep prejudice against the Kikuyus …when he was the editor at ‘the Target’ which was highly anti-kikuyu…”
The Kenya media had given an erroneous impression that the then Attorney General Charles Njonjo had manipulated the election process leading to the defeat of Bishop Henry Okullu.
He indeed interfered with the election but in a different manner.
Just before the day of election the Attorney General telephoned Bishop Nzano and prevailed on him to withdraw his candidacy. To which the bishop obliged .
So James Hamilton the then Chancellor declared Manasses Kuria the 2nd archbishop of Kenya unopposed on the Election Day.
Archbishop Eliud Wabukala
Opinions are varied, but we cannot rule out the fact that similar influences of ‘invincible hands’, these very forces, have since influenced archbishops elections in Kenya.
How else can one explain the surprise election of The Most Rev. Eliud Wabukala as the 5th Archbishop of Kenya, at the expense of the one who was highly expected to be elected, Bishop Joseph Wasonga of Maseno West.
It’s amazing that despite Wabukala’s election undertones of tribalism and unfair consideration like Manasses Kuria’s before him, the church has a way of standing by their Shepherd and the shepherd by their flock.
Even though Archbishop Kuria was never a rights champion before, he stood to be counted when it mattered most. Kuria’s voice was loud when opposition leaders were arrested and detained in 1990. 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”.
Will this year’s election be different ?
Only if the electors resist pressures and base considerations thereby casting off the spell of the 1980 election.
The role of archbishops has always been central to the church, but this role is now itself a part of the struggle for the ACK’s faithful mission. So the college should elect one with a clear grasp of the challenges facing the country in which the church will carry out her mission.
And having carefully tended to that indispensable and non-negotiable priority, they should elect someone with good management sense, lively creativity, a backbone, and guileless love of people.
If any of these are missing, I’d encourage they keep on looking.
Rev Canon Francis Omondi is an Anglican clergy of All Saints Cathedral Diocese Nairobi.