When the history of the struggle for social, political and economic emancipation in Kenya is finally written, Dr Timothy Njoya will certainly find a pride of place in that text. Dr Njoya is one of the few remaining clerics who came out forcefully during the dark days to face up to the repressive Kanu regime in the first 40 years after independence and subsequent wooly ones after 2002.
Dr Njoya was part of the triumvirate of Dr Henry Okullu, Bishop Alexander Muge and Dr David Gitari, who used the pulpit to raise consciousness on political oppression under the Kanu one-party state in the 1970s through to the early 1990s. They interpreted the scriptures liberally, unfailingly pointing out that the kingdom was here and now and that Kenyan citizens must enjoy that kingdom in the present; disabusing the fallacy that Christians must suffer in this life to gain rewards in the after-life.
The trio was in the league of the liberation group that comprised left-leaning politicians like the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, JM Kariuki, Bildad Kaggia, Jean-Marie Seroney; academic radicals such as Willy Mutunga, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Micere Mugo, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Koigi Wamwere, all of whom who suffered for their political convictions; and in later years, early 1990s, the Young Turks then — Raila Odinga, Paul Muite, Mukhisa Kituyi, Wamalwa Kijana, Kiraitu Murungi, James Orengo and Gitobu Imanyara, among others.
Times have since changed and things have gone full cycle. Some of those who fought oppressive and predatory practices and suffered for their convictions have become the very perpetrators. Worse, those who persecuted the masses dyed their skins and became liberators and sneaked their way to power and have continued to sit over others.
Dr Njoya has taken the rare courage to expose all these in the new book, We the People, a line clearly extracted from the preamble of the 2010 Constitution. The direct connotation is that power rest with the people and that it is the people of Kenya who have the right and, as he put it, divine entitlement to make decision about the way they are governed and lead their lives. The book is being launched this weekend.
It is not your ordinary memoir; the usual narratives that take a chronology order from birth to death; from poor extraction in the village to success in the city. Far from it; this is a critical treatise on issues, people and events that have defined his life and the life of the Kenya nation. It is a picture of struggle, betrayal by the State and the church, disempowerment of the people by the rulers and the continued exploitation of ethnic differences for political gains. It is also a catalogue of political assassinations, state-sponsored violence, organised torture and detentions of those who opposed Kanu dictatorship.
Dr Njoya’s thesis is that Kenya’s independence in 1963 was a fallacy; having been midwifed in Lancaster by a group of people picked by the colonial administration, not Kenyan masses, and forced to sign a Constitution they did not understand. Kenyans, argues Dr Njoya, were conned right from the beginning, a trend that continues to date. He argues that we have is a market and not a society; it is a place in which human beings are traded over by those in authority.
Whereas the political structure was framed in a manner that was intrinsically oppressive, other elements of western civilisation, education, economics and Christian religion were used, and continue to be used, to manipulate and control Africans. In particular, Dr Njoya is critical of the education system offered to Kenyan children since independence, whose focus is acquisition and memorisation of facts, which are regurgitated in exams; which exams are used to sieve those able to memorise most and graded highly and processed to proceed to higher levels. In essence, education is a factory rather than an institution for critical thinking, self-consciousness, innovation and creativity. Not surprisingly, the education system has created loyalists, system sympathisers and boot-lickers.
“The Kenyan system of education, as much as colonialism and slavery, was to blame for producing swimmers with the current. Moi could not single-handedly imagine building Nyayo House torture chambers without the assistance of his state engineers, architects, lawyers, surveyors, and city planners. Without political scientists and sociologists from the best high schools in Kenya, Moi’s dictatorship could not have survived in office for another decade after my October 5, 1986 sermon,” he writes.
The enduring message all through is that Dr Njoya is a not a conformist — be it at school in his youth, at the church where served for decades or the political scene where he has refused to go away even when age is catching up with him.
It lays bare the tribulations of being non-conformist. Dr Njoya was suspended from his duties as the pastor of PCEA St Andrews Church next to the University of Nairobi for controversial summons that angered then President Moi and his administration, who arm-twisted the Bishop and other church leaders to punish him. On occasions, he was banished to Tumutumu in Nyeri to pull him away from the city and the glare of the press cameras in the belief that that would diminish his stature, but it never worked.
Dr Njoya paid physically for his beliefs. One of the lingering memories of Dr Njoya is when he was beaten and left for dead near Parliament by paid assailants. Also, he was teargassed and beaten when he led a prayer service at All Saints Cathedral on Saba Day in 1997. But all these never killed the fighting spirit.
Although the return of multiparty democracy after agitation by the Opposition, independent-minded clerics, civil society activists and external pressure, Dr Njoya is convinced Kenya is not yet free. He terms the second liberation a mirage and dismisses those behind it, the Young Turks, and even the clergy as pretenders.
FOLLY OF THE SECOND LIBERATION
The folly of the second liberation, he argues, was manifest after the bungled 2007 elections that was followed by violence that nearly led the country to the precipice. In all its manifestation, the elections were an ethnic census, and given the deep ethnic divisions, it opened fissures for physical expression of latent anger. Hence he says:
“The theoretical ineptitude of the second liberationists foistered the intra-elite and intra-ethnic rivalry that inevitably led to the post-2007 election civil war between the Party of National Union (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM.”
Similarly, Dr Njoya is highly critical of the church, which he reckons is an appendage of the state and influenced by market forces, hence unable to credibly execute its mission of transforming human beings into heavenly creatures.
Even so, for Njoya, one of the most fulfilling achievements in his lifetime was the enactment of the 2010 Constitution, whose centre-piece was dispersal of power from the centre to the grassroots. Inter alia, the Constitution defrocked the Presidency of the imperial powers inherited from the colonial government through the Lancaster Constitution.
Arguably, Dr Njoya, a minister of the Presbyterian Church, stands out as one the most controversial and highly-opinionated clergy of our times. He cites the period between 1984 to 1991 as the most traumatic and revealing in his life. But he has no regrets. His solution to what he describes as Kenya’s tragedy is the re-awakening of the masses, the realisation that independence was false, instruments of government, including education are weapons of subjugation and the realisation that what we operate is a market not society.
However, Dr Njoya comes out as a self-centred personality who does not recognise sacrifices others have made for the betterment of this country. He dismisses clerics like Okullu, Gitari and Muge as not fully convicted of their political liberation pursuits. Similarly, he casts aspersions on the politicians, academicians and civil society activists who sacrificed so much during the second liberation. This is not a fair assessment of history.
When he constantly uses the motif of three in his life, he was violently attacked three times, he was punished three times by PCEA, et al, he echoes Christ death and ascension after the third day; which is a stretch of imagination.
Overall, this is a philosophical and radically different memoir that enriches an analysis of Kenya’s history since independence, incorporating interesting elements like the church and the academia in the mix.