In life, Archbishop David Gitari, the third primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, spoke truth to power.
Even on the pain of vilification by the Kanu dictatorship and an assassination attempt by its suspected goons, Gitari stayed the course.
Thus, in a life of 76 years from 1937 to 2013, he earned his place as one of the country’s moral giants, the embodiment of a by-gone era when pronouncements from the Church made the State quake in its boots.
In death, the Archbishop cannot seem to stop speaking. His new book, Troubled but not Destroyed: The Autobiography of Archbishop David Gitari, to be launched in Nairobi next Thursday, is vintage Gitari.
He is still railing at old Kanu, a goodly 12 years since it lost power, remains cutting in his evaluation of President Daniel arap Moi, has plenty of interesting information about the trenches of high-level church and retail Kirinyaga politics, has strong opinions about official corruption and has a clear view about everything from tribalism to funerals.
But best of all, he is forthright in speaking about personal relationships. Let’s face it: issues, at least many of them, are hard to understand. But people are easy to like and hate. That is why people are interested in people.
And where there is financial scandal, sexual impropriety, cloak and dagger shenanigans in the work place, etcetera, you know you are talking about God’s people, never mind it is written that they were created in His image.
Anything less than this is not giving us the full picture and any autobiography that shies away from these matters is less than honest.
It is also an annoying read. In the pages of the Nation in the recent past, Dr Joyce Nyairo has eruditely questioned the purpose of writing autobiographies that are effusive in self-praise but are in the final analysis a boring brochure of nothing that we don’t already know.
Her fury was doubtless provoked by the fact that quite a few Kenyan public figures, stung by this fairly recent autobiography-writing bug, have released treatises that demeaningly tell the reader: St Infallible lived here – in fact, still does.
Archbishop Gitari, whose life story of moral uprightness, commitment to the public good and willingness to suffer for a cause bigger than himself may well qualify him to lay such a claim, must be praised for avoiding this route.
He does not shy from laying bare the weaknesses of his colleagues in person and the church in general but even in these negative assessments, some of them scathing, there is an underlying thread of condemnation for the bad deeds of the person rather than the person himself.
This book tells us something which we know but which decency prohibits us from talking about loudly: that the best books are written by and about the dead.
Freed from worries about wrecking life-long friendships, unencumbered by accusations of maliciously trying to drag our heroes through mud and unconcerned with law suits, the dearly departed can tell us candidly about the foibles of their friends and colleagues.
This information is useful to the living. It has many lessons of dos and don’ts. And it comforts us to know that those high achievers of our adoration cry like us – and sometimes more than us.
It has been known to many now that Archbishop Gitari and his predecessor, Archbishop Manasses Kuria, were of the same church but not the same mind. Gitari was a critic of President Moi’s government almost from day one but Kuria was a loyalist until something happened.
In his new book, Gitari states categorically that Kuria only became Moi’s critic when Moi detained Charles Rubia whose son had married Kuria’s daughter. Anglican Church policy, claims Gitari, was changed by something as personal as that.
To prove Kuria’s loyalist status, Gitari has this disclosure to make: “At one time, (Archbishop Kuria) published a calendar with portraits of then President Daniel arap Moi and the Archbishop on the front page. The Archbishop wanted us to sell the calendar to Christians in all the dioceses across Kenya.
“I informed him that my diocese would not sell the calendar as it was the most dangerous calendar that the church in Kenya had published. I asked him, ‘suppose the government of Moi is overthrown? Won’t that calendar be used to prove that the Anglican Church collaborated with the regime of Moi in all its mistakes?’ Other Bishops followed suit in their rejection of the calendar.”
The book is littered with evidence that whereas there’s no doubt that people are called and strive to high purpose in religious life, the everyday scheme, back stab and chopping off at the knees that rules the secular workplace, reins here.
Those who read Archbishop Henry Okullu’s autobiography, A Quest For Justice, recall the bitterness with which he wrote about the Kikuyu tribal cabal that stopped him from succeeding Archbishop Festo Olang’ as the second Anglican primate of Kenya.
SIRED A SON
He fingered Gitari among that bad company, saying the then Bishop of Mt Kenya East had told him to his face that after Western Kenya, it was the turn of the Kikuyu to rule the church, a parochial sentiment that deeply hurt him, Okullu said.
In Troubled but not Destroyed, Gitari goes to great lengths to deny that this was the case and succeeds in giving a compelling account of the happenings that surrounded that election, complete with the machinations of Charles Njonjo, the then powerful Attorney-General of Kenya. But in the end, for Okullu and Gitari, it is “he said, he said”.
Kenyans in the ACK’s far-flung dioceses are quite familiar with conduct unbecoming of some of their shepherds. Gitari does not hesitate to give the absorbing account of Rt Rev Peter Mwang’ombe, Bishop of Mombasa, and Archbishop Kuria’s first major headache on assuming office.
Things were going fine for Mwang’ombe until suddenly a Church Army sister publicly announced that she had sinned with the Bishop 10 years earlier out of which a son came.
She said the sin had troubled her so much and for so long that the only remedy was to accept Jesus Christ as her personal saviour and confess publicly.
Bishop Mwang’ombe was asked by the Church to resign. Instead he went to court. The court again asked him to resign and hand over church property; instead he announced that he was moving to the Court of Appeal.
Finally, he caved in, even before his appeal could be heard. He went to his rural home in Voi. Later, a delegation of bishops, clergy and laity paid him and his wife a pastoral visit. Mwang’ombe fell on his knees and wept copiously. Peace and joy was restored.
Gitari acted as Archbishop of Kenya for two-and-a-half years after Manasses Kuria’s retirement. In this capacity, he went to the trouble-ridden diocese of Kajiado for an official function.
His account of what transpired might as well be a description of how the former Nairobi City councillors or currently the MCAs in Makueni County do business:
“I accepted an invitation to induct Simon Oriedo as the Vicar of St Faith Church, Ongata Rongai, in the diocese of Kajiado. Bernard Njoroge – who had been elected but not yet consecrated as bishop – organised young people to stop me from performing the ceremony. When I entered the church leading a long procession of clergy from Kajiado, Kirinyaga and Nairobi, there was a scuffle in the church and one priest was hit with a chair and bled profusely.
“Bernard lay prostrate on the holy table and I watched in shock as he asked me to beat him up. The police came in time to restore peace. I inducted Rev Simon Oriedo as the new parish priest, preached and administered Holy Communion. Meanwhile, Bernard was taken to Mater Hospital, where he told the dailies that I hit him with the Holy Staff, a claim that was totally false.”
Njoroge paid dearly for this; his election as bishop was revoked and fresh elections ordered.
On his enthronement as ACK primate in January 1997, Gitari became obsessed with a slew of reforms. These included bringing the church up to speed in information technology, dealing with questions such as polygamy in the church and ordination of women, baptism of children born to unmarried mothers and setting guidelines to be followed when people die.
The latest one was sparked by the events that transpired when he went to help bury his retired brother bishop, the Rt Rev James Mundia of Maseno. The funeral programme began at 10 a.m. and, incredibly, all 26 MPs who were present were invited to speak.
Next, the bishop’s widow, who was indisposed and had to be supported by two women on either side, spoke non-stop for three hours, mostly repetitively. After that, the Mothers Union took over and sang several songs.
As 6 p.m. was approaching, Gitari told the presiding bishop that he just had to leave – there was a plane to catch at Kisumu Airport.
Shell-shocked that “we could spend a whole day burying one person”, Gitari circulated a memo containing 14 points titled guidelines for funerals of Christians. Among the recommendations was that as far as possible the service should not take more than two hours.
This book would have made page turning enjoyable but it does not. It has serious flaws. Gitari has a good story to tell but the grammar and syntax, the choice of words and phrases and finally the facts in some cases do him a disservice of monumental proportions.
In this 346-page work, two people are badly missed – a good ghost writer and a first class editor. This edition must leave the shelves quickly and a second, thoroughly revised one, done.
Try figuring this out: on page 33, he makes this ghastly statement: “… the flamboyant and charismatic Member of Parliament for Nyandarua North, Josiah Mathenge Kariuki, had been assassinated and his body found in a thicket at Ngong Hills …” Now, JM Kariuki (Josiah Mwangi Kariuki) is one of independent Kenya’s most famous political figures and getting his name wrong is simply baffling.
Hezekiah Oyugi, the once-powerful Permanent Secretary for Internal Security, is referred to as Head of the Civil Service. As a matter of fact, he never was. Bishop Alexander Muge’s funeral is said – twice! – to have drawn a million people in Eldoret Stadium.
Impossible; Kenya’s biggest stadium, Safaricom Kasarani, can probably hold 200,000 people if they occupied every blade of grass, track and seat.
But the rendering is just as bad. The syntactical and grammatical errors are too numerous and too embarrassing to mention here, suffice to say that if the House of Bishops can be referred to as “house of the bishops” and that Gitari got married “in 31 December 1966”, then anything goes.
I cringe at the thought of this book falling into the hands of Mr Philip Ochieng, that master of the English language, and what he will do with his scalpel of a pen. It will simply be devastating. The bad news for the publishers is that as certain as the sun will rise from the east tomorrow, it will.
This is because Gitari has mentioned the Kenya Times during Ochieng’s tenure as editor and the old warhorse will want to know what the Archbishop has to say.
But this is the life story of a great Kenyan and it is value addition to our bookshelves. Gitari loves St Paul but his stirring quotation in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” in Kenya’s context reminds me more of the divisions that we have cultivated – and the church has been guilty of splitting us especially during elections.
SENSE OF SACRIFICE
Nevertheless, the Archbishop’s devotion to the public good and his sense of sacrifice cannot be in doubt. His legacy will stand for generations to come. For this reason, I will grant him the epitaph that he has selected for himself, again from St Paul: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. For because of Christ, then I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities.
“For when I am weak, then I am strong. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angel nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”