Kenya’s most persecuted cleric bares it all in memoirs

Rev Timothy Njoya is clobered by goons as police watched during a protest in June 1987. [File, Standard]

 “In the pulpit, Timothy has always been a portrait of a preacher who is intellectually honest, sincerely saved and a martyr. A Kenyan prophet who truly thinks heavenly and acts truly nationalist. These values explain his persecution by the state and his church. The former maimed him on many occasions while the latter defrocked him, reinstated him, and eventually retired him as a pastor after humiliating him in his profession.”

These are retired Chief Justice Willy Mutunga’s thoughts in his foreword of the book We the People: Thinking Heavenly Acting Kenyanly.

Fearless reverend

The Reverend Dr Timothy Njoya’s memoirs, to be launched today, are replete with the incidents that hoisted him above the rest of Kenyan pastors.

Vivid recollections of Rev Njoya’s run-ins with the Kanu regime concretise, in lucid narration, the triumph of spirit over adversity. Who can forget July 7, 1997 when policemen stormed All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi, beat up and tear-gassed Njoya and his congregation that had retreated to the cathedral after taking part in the Saba Saba protests to squeeze change out of the Kanu regime?

Such brushes with the law and politicians would become something of a leitmotif in the life of the fearless reverend.

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On June 10, 1987 a rather enthusiastic goon-for-hire by the name Patrick Shikanda Lokhotio thought the GSU was not doing a good job walloping Njoya and other people protesting against the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission for failing to enshrine the sovereignty of the Kenyan people in the constitution that was in the making.

The incident is captured in the pictorial section of the memoirs where the goons are seen bludgeoning a floored Reverend Njoya, who instinctively protects his head with a dark blue blazer. Such is the barbarity of the assault that a policeman is seen pleading with the attackers to stop it.

A similar incident was also recorded on May 23, 1997 when Dr Njoya was assaulted by anti-riot police as he led the National Executive Council, a constitutional change lobby, to Kamkunj Grounds to launch the agenda for a new constitution. The sight of a police officer hitting a man in a red cassock with a reinforced glass shield is all too memorable. That man is Rev Njoya.

For his crusade for Kenya’s constitutional rebirth, the fearless preacher would win Nobel Peace Prize- calibre international recognition. Pictures of him with UN Secretary General Koffi Annan and Palestine Liberation Orgaisation leader Yasser Arafat prove that Njoya’s was not a vainglorious crusade.

And his was not a rebellion against the excesses of the State alone. His disagreements with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) led to the inevitable defrockings which he would take in stride.

In them, it is clear that Njoya considered the other fiery ministers of the church as a lot that was not ready to go the whole hog.

“Even though Parliament had named us the ‘fiery quartet, consisting of Timothy Njoya, Henry Okullu, David Gitari and Bishop Alexander Muge,’ the others walked only the first mile with me abandoning me on the second mile. The moment I preached that Kenya should change from a market into a nation, the church which should have supported me, joined forces with the State to attack me,” he writes.

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According to Njoya, the bishops with whom he shared a common moral platform saw a dichotomy between morality on the one hand and politics and economics on the other. But to him, “politics and economics were moral functions.”

Such is Rev Njoya’s view of governments and the ruling elite which he accuses of treating citizens like a market to be exploited for private gain and the retention of status quo.

He writes: “Since I got saved, I stopped believing that any government had the goodwill, conscience, and magnanimity to act on the basis of immorality. All governments that act on self interest are driven by the instinct of self-preservation,” he writes.

Njoya’s troubled relations with the church did not begin in the 80’s as many are wont to think. In 1976, he formed the Presbyterian Pastoral Institute at Thogoto as “a forum for engaging Kenyan minds.”

The engagement did not go on for long. The church, Njoya writes, became jittery on hearing that he was teaching “seditious material to students whom he was training to become ministers and evangelists.”

He would be attacked by the state agents after which the Presbyterian Church refused to have the work permit of one of his expatriate lecturers, Dr William Murdock, renewed ostensibly because he had been seen in a night club drinking beer alone

But the worst was to come. The church fired Dr Njoya on June 12, 1979.

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“I remained jobless until April 11, 1980, when on appeal to the General Assembly, I was reinstated on condition that I should become a parish minister, to preach but not to teach.”

If the church thought they had punished the stubborn Njoya, they had read him wrong.

“That was like removing a shark from the swimming pool and throwing it back into the ocean,” he writes. “While the church pleased the government by transplanting me from teaching to preaching, this was God’s blessing in disguise that became my booster rocket.

I had been training evangelists and ministers to go to the people and do exactly what the church now consigned me to do as punishment.” All the same, it was a difficult time for Njoya. He was denied a house in Nairobi and had to commute daily from Thogoto to work at St Andrew’s church, Nairobi, where he was instructed to focus his ministry on Kibera, Kawangware and Kangemi slums. A big mistake, he recalls. Most probably he writes, Rev George Wanjau, the senior minister at St Andrew’s Church had never read anything about him to start a revolution.

Payback

As Njoya suffered ecclesiastical wrath, something of a payback time happened to his bosses. By 1984, he notes, every attempt to contain him had failed. “A doctor diagnosed Wanjau with fatigue and recommend that he takes a sabbatical”. He goes on: “My militancy caused Rev Russel’s and Sangsters’ blood pressure to shoot up. Their doctors recommended that they take early retirement.”

Things were moving at a dizzying speed: “The church’s Volvo came to me, as did the residence in the personage, located just behind State House.”

Rev Sangster was a Scot and Rev Sangster an American who had been instructed by Rev Wanjau to trim Njoya to size

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We the People is published by WorldAlive Publishers, 2017. It is available at all Textbook Centre outlets for Sh2,480. It will be launched today at Daystar University Auditorium at 3pm.

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