Reverend Alphonse Mwaro Baya is set to be sworn in as the new head of the Mombasa Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Diocese, finally putting to rest the tumult that had erupted after his election over a month ago.
This is after a Mombasa court on Friday struck out an application by three ACK pastors seeking to stop Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit, the head of the church in the country, from consecrating their colleague as the new bishop.
Mombasa Senior Resident Magistrate Martin Rabera on Friday dismissed the application by Reverends Emmanuel Wanje Nzaka, George Gonah Kuza and Tom Komora Dawa in which they sought to stop the consecration of Rev Mwaro.
The magistrate ruled that ACK congregants in Mombasa diocese will suffer more than the three pastors if the order of injunction stopping the consecration is granted.
“This is because they will be made to operate without a leader who is central to the church functions and it will incapacitate church operations,” said Mr Rabera.
The magistrate further said that the three reverends did not show how they will be inconvenienced if the injunctive orders sought are not granted.
He said the Constitution of the ACK provides a mode under which the position of a bishop can fall vacant, how it can be filled and the role of the holder of the position.
The court further noted that the church’s Constitution provides for a hierarchical disciplinary mechanism on how disputes are dealt with.
The fight for the bishopric in the oldest ACK diocese in the country served to exemplify the two twin evils swirling around the church and which have over the years caused incessant squabbles – tribalism and the issue of age of those being appointed as bishop.
Several members of the church spoke out when Lifestyle sought to get to the bottom of the many fights in the church.
A senior Anglican clergyman in Nairobi, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that the office of the bishop is hotly contested because it comes with a lot of perks.
“The starting salary for many bishops is around Sh120,000. Apart from this you get chauffeured in a state of the art vehicle. It is required of a bishop to visit all the churches within the diocese at least once every year and every time the bishop comes calling, the church must see him off with an envelope with some cash for ‘fuel’,” he said.
Apart from the issue of the lucrative nature of the position, there have been other factors affecting the elections in ACK, which have seen some in the church now calling for a review of some of the rules for a more efficient ministry.
According to the principal of the ACK Bishop Hannington Institute of Theology and Development Studies in Mombasa, Rev Martin Olando, most of the fissures seen around elections time can be traced to the issue of age and the ambitions of those in the church.
“According to the church’s Constitution, one must be at least 35 years to vie for the position of a bishop while the upper limit is 60 years. For the archbishop the age range is between 45 and 58,” he says.
“If you elect a bishop who is in his 30s and considering that the retirement age is set at 65, this person will be in that seat forever and this does not bode well with those who might also be eyeing the seat at some point in their lives,” he adds.
A way out of this conundrum, he proposes, would be to raise the age limit. “Raising the minimum age required for one to be a bishop would considerably reduce the tensions we witness during elections because even if one loses, he can be satisfied to wait for the next elections,” Rev Olando said.
Then there is the issue of tribalism or clannism in the church and which normally rears its ugly head at elections. Perhaps where this was most pronounced was during the election of the second African archbishop to succeed Festo Olang’.
Bishop Henry Okullu of Maseno South Diocese was tipped to clinch the seat but when the dust settled it was the largely unknown Manasses Kuria who carried the day, amid claims of tribalism playing a role. Rev Cannon Francis Omondi, who blogs at Waanglicana writes:
“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 region.”
There has been a narrative that it was the then powerful Attorney General Charles Njonjo who blocked Okullu’s path, a fact Rev Omondi disputes in his blog. Now the love-hate relationship between Okullu and Njonjo was an interesting one in that although they squabbled most of the time, when Njonjo wedded it was Okullu who conducted the affair terming it “the wedding of the decade”.
Ms Jane Gitau, a communications consultant and a staunch ACK member poses: “The ACK, in my view, is a church with structures, that it has strict adherence to. However, those systems now require a second look. It is no longer clear who qualifies to be a bishop or other senior leader. The constant cry is for “one of our own’ to lead. Who is this ‘one of our own?”
“If we are truly one in Christ, does a Christian who is female qualify to be a Bishop? Does one of our own mean a clergyman can be bishop serving any part of this country? Can Rev Onyango be elected to serve as Bishop in Malindi, Turkana or Murang’a? This has hardly happened, so ‘one of our own’ translates to a tribal, then clan affair,” she says.
As part of possible solutions another communications specialist Jesse Masai, also an Anglican, proposes: “The church might need to introduce term limits, if only to level the ground for everyone across the board.”
On his part, Rev Olando feels a radical shift in the church’s structures is urgently needed. “We can go the Nigeria way and have archdioceses headed by archbishops then we have the head of the church taking the position of Primate. This will be a good move,” he offers.
- Additional reporting by Philip Muyanga