If Jesus were Kenyan, ‘holy town’ of Kijabe would be his birthplace

Wednesday March 18 2020
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Timothy Kamau was the founder and producer of Kiswahili gospel show "Wimbo Niupendao", which aired on Voice of Kenya. PHOTO | COURTESY

By KAMAU NGOTHO

At 3 o’clock today, I’ll be tuned in to 96.7FM Bibilia Husema radio to listen to my favourite Kiswahili gospel show "Wimbo Niupendao", transmitting from Kijabe.

So will be my friend and neighbour on Lang’ata Road, veteran broadcaster Lenard Mambo Mbotela. For me, it is a habit going back to childhood.

When growing up, every Sunday at 3 o’clock, my mother and my three siblings would be in the sitting room listening to the same programme, then aired on the only broadcaster, Voice of Kenya (VoK).

The programme became so much a part of me that when I grew up and became a journalist, I sought out the founder and producer, Rev Timothy Kamau, and featured him in the newspaper I worked for at the time.

We became friends on discovering that we shared more than a name.

My maternal grandparents were contemporaries with his father at the Kijabe African Inland Church (AIC) mission.

Rev Kamau was also a journalist, having graduated at the top of his class in a broadcast and production in-house course with Radio Germany.

FAN BASE

On the occasions I visited him at his Kijabe home, I’d not leave before he played for me one of my favourite oldies from his show.

He kept as mementos the old discs and a gramophone turntable record player.

The last time we met he was 86, sickly and too frail to fiddle with the old machine.

Nevertheless, he led me in singing an old tune about the Israelites crossing River Jordan. It turned out to be a farewell.

The next time I’d be in Kijabe for his burial, his soul having crossed to the other side of spiritual Jordan.

It is during his funeral on January 9, 2010, that I came to know of another family that was just as hooked to "Wimbo Niupendao" show.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, then a Deputy Prime Minister, attended the burial.

He told the mourners that his father, President Jomo Kenyatta, so loved the programme that at 3 o’clock on Sunday he would interrupt whatever he was doing and order a radio to be brought to him to listen to "Wimbo Niupendao".

COURTESY VISIT

If present, young Uhuru and his siblings would be ordered to remain silent until the programme was over.

Mzee Kenyatta was such a fan that when he heard that a delegation from AIC was to pay him a courtesy call at his Gatundu home, he asked that Rev Kamau, then a junior pastor, be among them.

During lunch, the President asked the young pastor to sit next to him and sing him one of the songs he played on radio.

He was so impressed that he decreed that VoK radio add 15 more minutes to the half-hour allocated for the show.

Years later, when President Daniel arap Moi, another great fan of the gospel show, learnt his predecessor had given it a quarter-hour bonus, he ordered another 15 minutes and the programme would run for an hour.

At the liberalisation of the airwaves in the 1990s, on presidential orders, the AIC was among the first to be granted a permit to operate an FM radio station, hence the Bibilia Husema Radio in Kijabe.

At Rev Kamau’s burial, Uhuru Kenyatta told us that Mzee demanded that his children learn mother tongue and he would speak to them in no other language.

Kijabe is a small town of about seven thousand residents, located 50 kilometres from the capital city, off the Nairobi-Nakuru highway.

PIETY

Its reputation as the “holy town’’ has to do with its history.

At the turn of the last century, the land on which the town is built, and the surrounding 10,000 acres, was allocated to the African Inland Mission (AIM), now the African Inland Church, by the British colonialists.

At independence, the land was turned over to the Kiambu County Council but to this day remained under trusteeship of the AIC.

It follows that no trade permit can be issued or renewed within the area without consultation with the church.

No one is allowed to sell liquor or cigarettes in Kijabe, and the town has only one guest house owned by the church, where only singles or married couples are allowed to board.

In any case, almost the whole township is taken up by church institutions, including a mega church, Kijabe Mission Hospital, Biblia Husema Radio and Kijabe Press.

Others are Moffat Bible College, separate Kijabe High Schools for boys and girls, and the Rift Valley Academy.

Even the hard-to-discipline matatu touts on the Kijabe route toe the line.

PLACE OF WINDS

Inspectors from the church conduct random checks at the Kijabe PSV termini, and should a driver or tout be found intoxicated or smoking in public, the vehicle is blacklisted from operating on the route.

The church too has great influence on the community living around the town, many of whom are members of the AIC.

In Kijabe, villagers can point out homesteads where couples did not do a church wedding, something considered an aberration in the area.

For residents who cannot do without hooch, they have to walk about 10km to Gachiengo town on the Nakuru highway, then figure out how to stagger back home in the cover of darkness.

Smokers aren’t much lucky, having to scavenge for bootlegged cigarettes.

Kijabe is a corruption of the Maasai name Olenkijape, meaning a place of winds.

Scottish explorer Joseph Thompson was the first white man to reach the place in the 19th century, and named the hills on which the town is built Mount Margaret.

The local name of the mountain ought to be what the Maasai called it, Donyo Kejape (golden mountain).

MISSION HOSPITAL

When the American AIM missionaries wanted land to expand from their original base in Machakos, they chose Naivasha but were beaten to it by Lord Delamere, who grabbed what is today the Soysambu Farm. The missionaries were directed to Kijabe.

The AIM pioneer missionary at Kijabe, Charles Hulburt, was such a great friend of then US President Theodore Roosevelt that when he constructed what is today the Kijabe Mission Hospital in the early 1900s, he named it Theodore Roosevelt Hospital.

The US leader was so touched that he became the first reigning US President to step foot on Kenyan soil in 1909.

At Kijabe, President Roosevelt laid the foundation stone of what is today the Rift Valley Academy.

Postscript:

Last week, a friend living in the US telephoned to tell me that, as a tradition referred to as the Bible Belt, Americans will not entertain any political discussion during the festive season — not even the impeachment of Donald Trump.

So, Kenyans, why not shut our ears and mouths to everything else — BBI, King Kaka, Sonko and what have you — and just bond with our families and friends? Have a merry Christmas!

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