Kenya: No Price Tag On Democracy

Dr. Timothy Njoya has been the Dr. E.H. Johnson Scholar-in-residence at Knox College, Toronto, Ontario, this past year.

Just being the bearer of this faith, which the civil society embraced, my life became the target of persecution, political thuggery, administrative violence and police lawlessness. To destroy this contagious faith the police and other government's agents twice beat up and cut my body till I bled to a coma. I saw my life slipping away through my fingers before my face. In the first attempt nine men entered my house and chopped by body with Pangas (long knives) and left me for dead. In the second attempt the whole world saw the image of more than forty policemen pounding my head with axe handles and abandoning me to die. In both cases I experienced both exodus and resurrection. In fact this was not the first time. The quote of the day of The Nation on March 16, 1987 referred to my testimony that "I have experienced a form of resurrection on earth."

The first time I rose up after three days and the second time after eight hours. By faith, I live daily and rise daily. This saves my life from shock, fear and post-traumatic syndrome. The government's killer machine, commonly known as Kenya Police, thought that if it succeeded to kill and silence the bearer of faith the political consciousness, context, forum and effects emanating from faith would die off. But every time I died, people's doubts and fears died. Each time I rose again, I rose up as a new story and a bundle of thanksgiving to God.

In a span of two decades my body sustained fractured bones, deep cuts on the hands, grievous injuries on the head, swellings all over and sprained joints, for no other reason than the fear of the government that faith was giving birth to new political force that proves wrong the autocratic belief that God gave Africans a special ethnic gene, resistant to democracy and prone to oppression. The state cursed the faith in God's accountability to God's creation as something aimed at inciting Kenya citizens to require accountability from their government.

In the process I survived a contrived car accident. Several times the police put me under arrest in which I spent three horrible nights in a police cell where beds were made of inmates' own urine. I have been under surveillance for more than twenty years. Five times the police disrupted congregations assembled to hear me intercede to God for their needs, ruthlessly wounding innocent people with impunity.

The Church succumbed to state pressure because its loyalty was to Divine Rights of Kings which prevented it from having any accountability for the suffering of its members. The Church was too devoted to Apostolic tradition to have any governance-preparedness. Its nebulous spirituality evaporated under the heat of political pressure. It stripped me of ordination, name and livelihood. Other civil organizations followed suit. Friends took away my rights of association by deserting me and refused to answer my phone calls. My right to privacy vanished and the Post Office started delivering my mail opened. The government felt haunted by my faith but found no crime with which to incriminate it. The attitude of the government was to stop me from inciting the civil society and making the people "disaffected with the President," a crime which required more than the legal instrument to stop. It was very ironic that the same nationalism that hated the missionaries for quoting the Bible in a self-serving manner had to resort to using the same Bible for attacking government critics. One of their critics wrote,

    Everyone must submit himself to the state authorities. For there is no authority except that which God has established. It is therefore in vain that Njoya should interfere with the political setup. In doing so he has closed the borders under cover of the pulpit. Has it ever occurred to Njoya that the same God who made him a clergy made our country and leaders what they are? As a matter of fact we Kenyans are so peaceful that I wonder why Njoya is dissatisfied. Can't he see what the NRM [Museveni's National Redemption Movement] and the likes are doing to our neighbourhood?

Romans 13:1 says that "Everyone must submit himself to the state authorities. For there is no authority except that which God has established," but does not say the authority must remain always theocratic, colonial, autocratic or dictatorial. If the apologists of the state were really genuine in their belief that every authority was established by God they should not have accepted colonial government because it was formed by people who refused to honour the precolonial governments. Why is this fuss about ordination of governments restricted to capitalist and pro-Western dictators? Can Christianity tell us why this ordination of government applies only to dictatorial ones? The Christian principles the government apologists talked about were neither Christian nor principles: they were self-serving machinations. They not only failed to respect the terms and conditions of their appointment, in Romans 13, to reward good-doers and punished evil-doers, but became the evil-doers. They invalidated the purpose of ordination. Therefore, those "Christian principles and teachings" that Christianity kept on reminding me about were neither Christian, nor principles, nor teachings. One does not take as "principles" inconsistencies of a missionary who said "Kenyatta won another saying 'Kenyatta is ordained and installed by God.'" In the same token, it would mean that God, always, ordains only winners. Too bad for losers. Faith has no winners and losers.

God's own government refuses to have blank cheque jurisdiction. God signed a constitution of self-limitation on the sky with Noah's rainbow and on the ground with the Roman cross. We cannot render to Caesar what Caesar says belongs to him or to God what belongs to God before, and unless, we have sat down and established what belongs to whom. Simple. It is not for God to come and brush my teeth and kiss me without consent. God is not a rapist. I too have something that Caesar and God must render to me. God renders protection and I pay taxes. Jesus did not, therefore, teach a doctrine of abdication, but mutual obligation and reciprocal accountability.

By accommodating to worldly structures some churches are organized like totalitarian states. God excepted the Church, by its own internal governance to teach the world how God governs. But the Church emulated the world. The Church omitted to set an example as good household manager, caretaker, watchperson, steward and sanctuary for those "weary and heavy laden," especially for those of its household. The Church should not claim to be a parent if it does not: "manage one's own household well, keeping one's children submissive and respectful in every way… Know how to manages one's own household… know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:4-5, 15).

Faith has never been a neutral, non-aligned and disinterested substance. It is a risky choice of alternative to the present position, traditions, beliefs and systems. "By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household" (Heb. 11:7 NRSV).

The Church, industry, business, and university obtained their lesson of how to treat their members from the monolithic government. This placed me in a world where there was nobody to plead my case. The Church disowned, forsook and isolated me. I was chased away like the mongoose that in a Kikuyu fable ate the garment (goatskin) of his father-in-law. In the monolithic Kenya there was no defense for anyone who wounded the vanity of political ego and the bigotry of religious conceit. I was completely surrounded and totally outnumbered. I was taken advantage of and pressured. Infiltrated. Bombarded. Inundated. Humiliated. Overrun. No options to surrender, recant, retreat, withdraw or escape. Nobody in the State House wanted a truce. The church made me a laughing stock by stripping my clerical title, gown and shirt. I was to be utterly debased and my dignity desecrated. I had to be isolated and cut off from my family. This sounds like fiction. But read The East African Standard news headline on May 17, 1991, "Njoya's father interrogated," in which the paper reported:

    Pressuring the Church or the family to dissociate itself from its members is a crude way of answering critics, the most inhuman violation of the rights of privacy as written in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the Organization of African Unity Charter and in the Kenya Constitution's Bill of Rights.

My father, who was 83 years old at that time, lost his appetite but he did not disown me. But many other pro-democracy people were not so lucky. "An employee of the Africa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Yusf Hasan, has been disowned by his father and other members of his immediate family for allegedly involving himself in anti-government activities. They allege that Mr. Hasan's activities were tarnishing the good name of the North Eastern Province and the whole country."

There wasn't any cease-fire. The warfare was designed to do more than kill dissidents. The government wished to obliterate more than twenty years of campaigning for democracy and human rights from history, erase my sermons from the memories of the people, annihilate the contagious germs of my ideas from the map of Kenya. Satan contracted the state to wage this war at public expense to extract every ounce of energy, potential, credibility, respect and humanity from my faith. This was aimed at leaving me unemployable, unmarketable, outcast, and useless: nothing worse than death. They wished me to be eradicated, extinct, nonbeing. Without faith, I would have become annihilated by State nihilism.

This was American MacCarthyism, in the Kenyan fashion: only that mine was faith and not communist ideology. It had become routine for all civic organizations — whether the University, Trade Union, Cooperative society, Sports Club of Church — to extend the curse to anybody at whom the cursed rungu (club) of the Baba Moi pointed. The only difference between the Church and other organizations was that the Baba Moi paid the churches back by going out of his way to be seen in churches making donations for Christian causes while the other organizations exterminated small pox, was a mockery compared with the obsession with which the Church mobilized the Youth, the Woman's Guild and Sunday School to erase my name out of their memories. I was feared like a ghost returning from the dead. I was willing, but not ready, to die. Yet I learned to live daily, die daily and rise again daily.

It took more than a decade for people to sympathize with the cause and their sympathy to bear fruit. The ordinary laity, in the whole country, perceived this at first as justified persecution but when it lasted too long, as a sign of faith. People empathized and transformed their empathies into prayer and prayer into determination. Treason or no treason, their empathy changed into faith and faith changed into will to meet the government face to face. The Presidential decrees, Provincial Administration, Chief's and Public Order Acts and other death instruments became irrelevant. The result was,

    Riot police in full combat gear yesterday dispersed worshippers who had gathered at Giagatika Shopping Centre in Nyeri for a crusade organized by the controversial moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, Tumutumu Parish…Scores of people were roughed up and some of them injured by the advancing policemen who confiscated cameras and note-books from the journalists.

In this matter, I am not the best judge of myself, but I am entitled to be heard by others before they make any judgment. My life's part in the drama was to be the leaven: to make exodus and resurrection possible in a consistent, logical and informed manner. It was a symbol, paradigm, eye-opener or ear-opener for the world to know that Kenya had strayed from governance to exile, from a humane place to an inhumane place, from life to death, and that it needed a direction from this exile, inhumane and death context. My life's part was to impact on the eyes and ears of the world that Kenya needed to redeem, invent and market itself as a need for salvation. I had done John the Baptist's advocacy and activism for a cause larger than myself to prepare the way for Exodus.

My life was faced with a more insidious and intense conflict than faced Kenyatta and other nationalists who were detained with him by the colonists. That time detainees were given books to read and nobody tried to poison or assassinate them while in prison. The prisoners were not denied visits by their ministers of religion or doctors. Nobody left prison claiming there was torture after the orders for detention were issued. The British tortured freedom fighters to obtain confessions but not to maim them. Of course there were the Hola massacres where detainees were beaten to death for refusing to work without having eaten anything, but that was given thorough investigation. In others words, the cruelty and inhumane treatment of the colonial times were lesser than after independence. During colonial times diseases were known and no dissident was pronounced dead due to mysterious diseases. Lawyers and pastors who offered their services and prayers for Nationalists were not victimized and persecuted.

The only consistent thing about the colonial times and after independence was the Church. Until recently, after the end of the Cold War, the Western Churches, especially the Presbyterian ones, supported the status quo. They worked as comrades in arms with dictators like Mobutu, Moi, Kaunda and Banda. The partnership between the Western mainstream and Kenyan mainstream Churches provided material and spiritual currency for cushioning dictatorship by maintaining the infrastructure of diseases, ignorance and poverty. The Churches, World Bank, World Vision, International Monetary Fund and the National Council of Churches played key roles as fire brigades and ambulances to diffuse the crisis inflicted on Kenyans by political pillage and looting. Only human rights groups, like the World Watch, Amnesty International and Robert Kennedy Human Rights Centre protested against torture, extrajudicial murders and other violations of human rights. When Ethel Kennedy and her daughter Kerry Cuomo publicly voiced concern about human rights, the President castigated them as "women" without rights to talk on men's political and moral issues. When Amnesty International voiced the same concern, the president evaded the issue by saying.

    We cannot afford to allow those who are envious of our stability to disrupt our development. Each and every Kenyan has an important part to play in safeguarding our peace and stability. We must therefore learn to protect our country from infiltration by outsiders who have their own selfish interests. We must keep our secrets and desist from passing on information about our own security to foreigners. The so-called Amnesty International can go to hell. If any of its representatives is found in the country he will be arrested. Who have appointed them supervisors? Anyone who commits a crime in Kenya is dealt with according to law.

In spite of lacking adequate international and national support my sermons remained faithfully biblical. They helped even their worst enemies to rethink their relations with a monistic and mystical style of leadership. Faith removed the society's fear about power. It showed the Church and people that the president is human and vulnerable, and can be moved by a sermon to spend a Labour Day defending himself. The demythologization effect was irreversible. The fact that faith alone provided the arena where all people from bottom to top could discuss power, a subject that hitherto was taboo to whisper about, was no mean achievement. Remember Professor Halpern's statement, that faith is "a change in what people believe, how people act, and how people relate to each other."

Western Christianity confused faith with beliefs as a result of which it focused on what people believe about God. It left to Leviathan, Uncle Tom, or Caesar the greater and more important perspectives of faith, how people act and how people relate to each other. Christianity which settled the dichotomy of divine and human relationship in the form of Trinity and Apostles' Creed, actually never settled the problem in the social dimension. It practised this worldliness in relation to the ghastly rich and otherworldliness in relation to the poor.

They needed a Gospel free and distinct from their Christian religion and capitalist way of life. Equally true, Christianity embarrassed the inhumane slave trade, colonialism and autocratic dictatorship and devised ways of saving souls without having to be accountable to human degradation. The Great Commission went along with the extermination of the Indians, Aboriginals and Hottentots to pave way for white settlements. Slavery and colonialism did not end because of Christian initiative. The automation of industry and mechanization of agriculture forced capitalism to off-load itself of direct ownership of slaves and colonies. Had the European Reformation made a theological breakthrough Christianity, and by extension its missionary enterprise, would have dropped the theology of the Divine Rights of Kings and Apostolic Succession. This would have provided Charles and John Wesley, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Vatican II, Billy Graham, and Hans King with a theology of human rights with which to critique their societies. Slavery, colonialism, holocaust and neocolonialism would have evolved into societies calling themselves democratic and Christian.

There is overwhelming media evidence that faith succeeded to do in Kenya what the end of slave trade, independence, revolutions and coups had failed to do in Africa. This happened because faith offered itself to be the target of insults, condemnations, controversies, and violence which kept at bay military and guerrilla warfare. The Presidential Labour Day speech and the chorus in Parliament are enough scientific evidence that faith built the confidence of the civil society to become stronger than that of the government and Christian religion. Without a society capable of listening to the Gospel would have disappeared and been forgotten. The sermon in our culture radiated such high moral authority, reasoning and consistence that government avoided attacking it by attacking the preacher. For about two decades sermons reigned supreme. In 1990, The Weekly Review confirmed this by saying:

    Noteworthy for their attempt to tackle Njoya substantively on the level of the issues and ideas that he raised and relatively free of the name-calling that has in the past often characterized reactions from politicians to clerical criticism… Aringo who dismissed Njoya's sermon as absolute madness and folly challenged the clergyman to explain whether he thought there was democracy in South Africa which reputedly has a multiparty system… Kanu had warned that it is "keenly looking at those organs in the media which provide forum for people with misleading view." Conspiracy cannot be ruled out in these cases as Kanu finds it interesting that out of thousands of churches and mosques and other places of worship in Kenya only those frequented by some members of the press belong to the dissident few.

The power and popularity of the sermon overwhelmed the government so much that it forced the government to stop its custom of using physical violence. Attempts to tackle the argument advanced by the sermon changed many adversaries into friends. For instance, the Senior Superintendent of Police assigned to arrest me got converted and confessed Jesus as his Lord and Saviour while recording my statement at the CID Headquarters. He was forced to quit his job. He went to work at the National Council of Churches holiday centre as security guard. In Nyeri, a policeman assigned to attend my church service at Gatiko, in order that after the service he could ambush my car with a government Land Rover and force me off the road, got converted as he listened to my sermon. He was a Muslim. I was branded "dissident," in order to look like a criminal or bandit and make me a target for police terrorism. I tempered the term dissident with God's word, that, "Yes! Let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body" (Gal. 6:17). I am a dissident whose only defense and offensive weapon is the clean water of the Ragati River by which I baptize babies."

Therefore, controversies and conflicts, introduced and directed by faith, reduced the chances of civil wars and coups by focusing the paranoia of the government on an issue. Even without acknowledging it, the government learned to talk rather than first react violently. I was more a teacher than a preacher. My sermons engaged the mind of Parliament, the Church and president to discuss the future of Kenya. Faith emerged as the context, forum, resource, process and movement for transforming the country from anti-governance to governance. The state and the Church were caught unaware, unprepared and politically illiterate.

The Church did not know what to do except defrock me and after reinstating me due to popular demand, start calling for dialogue. The Church's call for prayer and reconciliation was idolatrous, aimed at silencing those not worshipping the state. I was for dialogue if it was not aimed at blocking attempts to concretize God's word into tangible politics, social and economic direction. The Church wanted to use dialogue to destroy the space people had gained for questioning authority, especially that of monarchical presidentialism.

Without armaments of faith, people would not have realized that it was evil for any person to abdicate the stewardship of governance to another. If God does not allow humanity to leave the decision of whether they are saved or not to God, isn't it an insult to God to leave our lives at the disposal of governments that are not accountable to us? When the World Alliance of the Reformed Churches and World Council of Churches were suspending the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa from their membership for supporting Apartheid, they should have suspended all the Churches in Africa for being a part of colonialism and, after colonialism, part and parcel of ethnic nationalism as manifested by ethnic cleansing in Kenya. What are we talking about? Without what sermons did to awaken faith as a civic discourse, the murderous nationalism for which Churches had become retailer shops, and the government the wholesaler shop, had the potential of turning Kenya into a blood bath more sophisticated than that of the neighbouring countries. The observations that Karl Marx had made to call religion the opium of the people and Sigmund Freud had made to call religion an illusion were not applicable in Africa. Religion was neither opium nor illusion, but worse: sober, real and dangerous.

The sermons afforded governments and religious bodies opportunity to think what to do with their compromising self-images. They had no experience in talking about ideas, policies, issues and logic. Their experience was top-down authoritarianism of "do this or else." The sermons were giving birth to a new Kenya. They became the classroom for nurturing debate to which the government came armed in case it becomes defeated. But some in the government soon discovered that in the faith forum, there are no winners or losers. All participants gain. It was hard to persuade politicians that not every game is played with threat, stealing and lies. They introduced a one-party system hurrying a bill through Parliament one day, without discussion, to consolidate threats and lies. But now The Weekly Review saw the opportunity I was offering them and said, "The Njoya furor has afforded politicians an extended opportunity to restate the official position in defense of the one-party system." Having used violence and failed to consolidate power, and knowing that they were short of moral authority and reason capacity, the politicians even sought help from the Churches to see how they could eliminate debate.

So, it was thanks to all participants, even the police who soaked the debate in blood, and those the police injured or killed, that nobody strayed too far from the general direction toward which faith was leading the world.

Since the writing of this article, Dr. Njoya has returned to Kenya. In June he was part of a pro-democracy march where he "sustained a broken arm when anti-riot police moved in to stop the demo[nstration]…" (East African Standard, June 11, 1999.) There is growing dissatisfaction with the government of President Moi among the Kenyan people.