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Will Uhuru succeed where Jomo failed in reversing ownership of Church schools?



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When President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the Ministry of Education to restore ownership of all church-built schools, he did not know that he was opening a can of worms. Now, there is no turning back.

From a historical perspective, the government has played into the hands of African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) — perhaps the most wronged of all churches.

AIPCA is the only church in Kenya that was inspired by the liberation teachings of Marcus Garvey — the short stocky black American from Jamaica who started a giant liberation movement. His followers regarded him as the “Black Moses” and he influenced most of the pioneer African leaders, including Harry Thuku, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, and Julius Nyerere. They all aped Garvey who also influenced Martin Luther King.

It was through the support of Garvey’s archbishop William Alexander that AIPCA managed to get its own ordained priests — and grow to what it became: A religious and educational force in central Kenya. That was before it lost everything in 1953.

Even before President Kenyatta’s order, AIPCA has been pushing — in between its leadership wrangles — for the restoration of its 327 schools that had been grabbed by the colonial government and given to what were then the mainstream churches — Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican. They are now public schools under the ministry and in the records these churches appear as sponsors.

How the directive to restore ownership of these public schools to churches will be done without provoking AIPCA to renew its long-running battle to have its properties back remains to be seen. On some of its land stands some Harambee schools built by the communities in 1970s and 80s.

AIPCA also lost Githunguri Teachers College, where the late Jomo Kenyatta — and his brother-in-law Peter Mbiyu Koinange — were teachers in 1940s, before they plunged into Kenya African Union (KAU) politics.

President Kenyatta, perhaps, wants to undo a colonial wrong which his father ignored despite pestering by AIPCA leaders such as Waira Kamau and Peter Mundati Gatabaki — the man partly credited for starting AIPCA in Kenya.

Church and schools in Kenya are Siamese twins and AIPCA was closely linked to the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association (KISA) after its members broke away from Church Missionary Society (CMS) and Church of Scotland Mission (CSM) which trained pioneer politicians.

CMS had arrived in Kenya in 1898 and started a mission and a school in Bura in 1895 and another in Thogoto, Kiambu.

This is the school where the young Jomo Kenyatta escaped to, to seek education as one of the pioneer African students.

Other missions that arrived during the same period to start churches and schools included Roman Catholic Holy Ghost Fathers who set up a camp in St Austins, Nairobi, Consolata Fathers who had stations in Limuru, Mugoiri near Murang’a and Karima in Othaya.

For starters, it was these Karima missionaries who would comb the villages looking for students. And when they went to Mzee Githinji’s homestead, he allowed them to take the boy who was “of no use at the farm and in rearing goats.” The boy would turn out to be President Mwai Kibaki!

But failure by some of these church schools to train locals in helpful syllabus that could turn them into doctors and scientists led to a walkout — not only at the church, but also at the learning institutions. This fallout saw the establishment of independent schools from 1930 — and their invitation of Archbishop Alexander in 1935 as a guest of the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association.

Ever since the days of John Krapf and Johan Rebman in 1844 and 1846, respectively at Rabai, the education system promoted by missionaries was to only enable Africans to work as artisans, farm labourers and, if they rose higher, as “junior clerks.”

In all the places they went, whether Africa Inland Mission (AIM)-dominated Ukambani or the Gospel Missionary Society (GMS) Kiambu areas, the missionaries, in their pioneer days, turned their schools into semi-churches for winning converts with emphasis on Christianising Africans rather than equipping them with global secular knowledge.

The majority of the mission schools did not offer education beyond the third year (Standard Three!) to the chagrin of local leaders.

That was partly the genesis of the independence struggle — as the mission students turned against the missionaries. And like the colonial government, the missionaries did not emphasise literary education and in most places they only taught simple industrial skills.

This caused Africans to clamour for independent schools and better Western education. The 1927 departure of Mbiyu Koinange to a US college had excited many. Mr Koinange would later become the first Kenyan to get a Master’s degree, and upon his return, he pestered his father, Koinange wa Mbiyu, to rally locals to support the building of an independent college to train their own teachers for the independent schools.

This college would attract the likes of James Gichuru, Achieng Oneko, and Jomo Kenyatta as pioneer teachers.

AIPCA had spread like whirlwind but had no trained clergymen. That is how Mr Gatabaki, together with Kikuyu Central Association official, James Beuttah, approached Archbishop William Alexander to train the original AIPCA church ministers.

But Archbishop Alexander, as the Primate of the African Orthodox Church founded by Marcus Garvey in 1914 together with Universal Negro Improvement Mission, had other ideas. He wanted to use AIPCA as the local branch of Marcus Garvey’s church and movement.

In a way, despite the suspicion, AIPCA still apes Marcus Garvey’s church and even today, the archbishops’ attire and robes resemble those of Garvey’s AOC. It was in this group that the first three candidates were ordained, among them Benjamin Kahihia — who for many years was the AIPCA archbishop.

They then fell out over tithe and other contributions.

Away from Alexander, AIPCA established its own schools across central Kenya but in 1952, following the declaration of a state of emergency in Kenya, the colonial government closed down all these churches and schools and handed them to the District Education Boards (DEB).

The authorities viewed them as recruitment grounds for the Mau Mau movement and alleged that in these schools “subversive hymns” were being taught — to glorify Mau Mau movement.

What is on record is that the AIPCA church had openly urged its members to participate in armed struggle against the British and allowed followers to take oath. The first pioneers within the church were actually politicians linked to KCA among them Peter Gatabaki Mundati, Johanna Kunyiha, and Willy Jimmy Wambugu. Others were Waira Kamau (former MP for Juja), Taddeo Mwaura (former MP Kandara), and Wanyoike Thungu (a former Kenyatta bodyguard).

While the other churches supported the colonial government, AIPCA was the alternative voice and when its churches were closed, the schools and the land were given to mainstream churches.

For more than five decades, AIPCA has been demanding to have their schools back, but the beneficiaries, with the support of politicians, have always thwarted this attempt. It was only during the final years of the Moi regime that Cabinet minister Marsden Madoka announced that the government would return the schools to AIPCA.

But this was partly seen as a campaign move by the Moi regime which had been under siege by the church and activists who were demanding political reforms.

This did not get support in central Kenya with Democratic Party chairman Mwai Kibaki dismissing the move as “criminal” while then secretary-general of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), Mr Mutava Musyimi, regarded it as a “big blunder” with a “hidden agenda”.

But AIPCA has been persistent in its demands to have the schools they had built on their own land returned.

On the eve of Jamhuri Day of 1964, an AIPCA delegation went to Kenyatta’s Gatundu home with a petition. They wanted the church to be formally registered and they requested Kenyatta to hand back their sponsored independent schools that were taken over by the mainstream churches.

While Kenyatta agreed to the registration of the church, the factional wrangles that hit the church and the State takeover of schools saw the latter demand go unfulfilled.

The church was revived in 1963 and registered as AIPCA on February 13 1964 while its sister church, the National Independent Church of Africa, strong in Embu and Meru, was registered on February 7 1964.

The African Orthodox Church of Kenya, which was more or less a wing of Marcus Garvey, was registered in 1965.

Although AIPCA continued to use its political friends, like Kenyatta bodyguard Wanyoike Thungu and Cabinet Minister Mbiyu Koinange to stay relevant it never managed to get back its schools. To try and coax Jomo, they would organise trips of school parties to Gatundu home — the most memorable being the 1968 trip which saw thousands of schoolchildren under AIPCA from Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Laikipia visit Kenyatta — as part of the churches’ demand for their schools to be reverted to them.

There was a single triumph in 1969 when Kenyatta Mahiga High School in Nyeri was opened by Mbiyu Koinange.

It has been closed in 1953 on grounds that its founders were sympathetic to the Mau Mau. It is one of the few schools that are sponsored by the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa — AIPCA.

Whether AIPCA will finally get back its schools is a wait-and-see game. But President Uhuru Kenyatta’s order will no doubt arouse this issue.