Churches preaching money leaving matatu and bars to teach morality

PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL Rev Njoya during the interview at his Karinyo Rock Garden office in Ngong on October 29.

What you need to know:

  • Dr Njoya is disdainful of the emerging materialism in the church he served for more than 30 years
  • It was not criticism of his church that had him defrocked, but rather, his criticism of the political system

Tucked away on a gentle slope a few metres from the main road into Ngong Town, is Karinyo Rock Garden. You might call it the recreational wing of the Men for the Equality of Men and Women offices, which retired Presbyterian minister Timothy Njoya says restored his body to that of a man in his 40s.

The Reverend Njoya, who holds Masters and PhD degrees in Theology from Princeton University was ordained minister on March 20, 1977, thus enabled to administer sacraments, almost 10 years after being licensed to for minor duties like conducting marriages in December 1967.

The 73-year-old churchman’s personal doctor, who saw a tired man in his 70s in 2001—the year Dr Njoya retired as a Presbyterian church minister—has since reassessed his radical client’s body and placed him in the 40s.

Dr Njoya attributes his youthfulness (the spring in the heel tells it all) to the rock garden that remained after the stones for the office block were quarried. The mining stopped after they hit the water table at some eight feet—2.4 metres. He has named the resulting fresh water lake Tiberias—just one of the biblical symbols to be found all over the craggy garden.

His controversial streak plays out when he points at one of the rocks he describes as Atlas carrying the earth on his shoulders. He grabs the chance to hit at the Catholic Church, which punished Galileo for declaring that the world is round and not flat.

Actually, long before Pope John Paul II commissioned scholars in 1979 to inquire into the Galileo matter, the church closed the chapter in 1741 when Benedict XIV bid the Holy Office grant an imprimatur to the first edition of the Complete Works of Galileo.

The other controversial rock statue is that of the three crosses on Golgotha. Two of the crosses representing the two thieves Jesus was crucified with are empty, while the middle has the figure of Christ. “It is to please the Catholics,” he says, revisiting a subject that has divided Catholics and Protestants for centuries.


The latter, Dr Njoya explains, believe that to have Christ’s body on the cross is a heresy, since it would imply that there was no resurrection — the foundation of the Christian faith.

With my penny’s worth of theology, I remind the Reverend Doctor that both Catholics and the Protestants profess the Nicene Creed, which declares that Christ died, was buried and rose again on the third day. He agrees that that is indeed so, but clarifies that the Nicene Creed came much later.

But it is at his fellow Presbyterians that the radical cleric targets his sharpest barbs. Dr Njoya is disdainful of the emerging materialism in the church he served for more than 30 years, during which he was defrocked three times—and reinstated as many times, thanks to his radical, straight-talking streak.

“The PCEA has turned the ministry into an industry, people coming for money rather than for the call as it used to be,” he says. Dr Njoya blames the 1972 Ndegwa Commission, which, he claims “endorsed Kenya as a says that people can double up as MPs and farmers.

“Our PCEA constitution prohibits me to do any job as a minister. But today, the church also follows the Ndegwa Commission. You can see a pastor running matatus and buses and owning shanties. So what kind of minister is that? He is a thug, not a minister.”

He takes a swipe at the underlying materialism. “You are not seen as a good minister if you don’t have a car or if you don’t have a certain lifestyle [and] if you don’t have a tummy,” he chuckles.

And yet it was not criticism of his church that had him defrocked, but rather, his criticism of the political system, an affirmation, perhaps, of the public perception that Church and State are bed mates.

It was in 1986, October 5, during the Moi administration when he recalls saying during a radio programme: “Let us dismantle the one-party state” and “Let us also dismantle the Lancaster Constitution and build our own constitution.”

Although the sermon was debated for almost four years in Parliament, it was from his church, which evidently feared to be associated with the cleric’s remarks, that he suffered most. “I lost my collar,” he says.

He had earlier been defrocked for querying why Mr Charles Njonjo, the then Constitutional Affairs Minister and a former Attorney-General, was being persecuted.

“I said, ‘let’s pray for Njonjo. Why is he being persecuted? He is the one who made laws by which he is being persecuted. Let’s get rid of those laws instead of getting rid of Njonjo.’” President Moi set up a commission of inquiry into Njonjo’s conduct in 1984 after the latter was associated with the August 1, 1982 coup attempt. Although the inquiry fizzled out soon after Dr Njoya’s programme, the preacher paid the price; he was defrocked.

There is a pattern to Dr Njoya’s woes in that his defrocking always followed his criticism of the ruling class. His first brush with the system was on Labour Day of 1977.
It was not easy, he says, of the time his three fingers were chopped. “It was in Kenyatta’s time and I preached in the morning broadcast programme Lift Up Your Hearts’ when I said, harambee was an idea of the kikuyu middle class.”


Gangsters he believes to have been sent chopped his fingers, beat him up and left him for dead. He said as he held out his scarred left palm: “I forgave them even as God also forgave them.” It took massive transplant of tendons to restore the hand, he told Saturday Nation.

And yet, the finger-chopping incident would seem as child’s play compared to what he suffered 20 years later in 1997 at the All Saints Cathedral during Saba Saba Day demonstrations.

With newspaper cuttings showing Willy Mutunga — the current Chief Justice — and fellow activist Kamau Kuria taking flight, Dr Njoya narrates how his attackers left him bruised with 52 injuries all over his body.

According to him, Dr Daniel Gikonyo, who attended him at the Nairobi Hospital where he was comatose for three days, told him that his attackers missed a critical nerve on the skull by a millimetre.

“I was defrocked by the PCEA three times, and I have been reinstated three times. I have also been ‘killed’ by the government three times and I have ‘risen’ three times,” he says.
For all his activism, what does he consider the most important achievements of the 50 years of independence?

The only achievement, he says was dismantling the one-party state. “That also dismantled colonialism. The one-party state was a continuity of the colonialism state... You remember Ali Mazrui said Kenyatta is the second colonial governor? Oginga Odinga had said Kenya is not yet free. So, dismantling the one-party was the beginning of dismantling colonialism.”

He also speaks well of the new Constitution. “It gave Kenyans a new template on how to start operating,” he says, but warns that its realisation is going to be “very difficult... It may not start operating in at least 20 to 30 years, but it is at least a parameter against which Kenyans would measure their morality and their humanity.”

And yet Chapter Six is problematic, viewed against the rapacity that has been displayed by the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature in their profligate management of public finances.

Dr Njoya believes that transforming the rank corruption that pervades all the three arms of government has to do with our philosophy of humanity.

“We have transformed our institutions; we have created devolution; created the distribution of power; the Judiciary; and also Executive. All these kinds of institutions were created by the Constitution,” which, Dr Njoya says, “has not been created by anywhere else in the world. We are Number One.”

However, “You have to transform the people psychically to conform to the institutions, to the philosophy [of the Constitution].”

Asked why the Christian church, with more than 80 per cent of Kenyans as followers has failed to tackle corruption, which has all but destroyed the moral fibre of the society, Dr Njoya says: “Christianity is not being followed. Christianity articulates certain standards and benchmarks of values, in which there is no social backing. We are not socialised by Christianity; we go only on Sunday to be socialised by the church.”

The industries, factories and matatus, he says, are where 90 per cent of socialisation occurs.

Vintage Njoya predicts in agitation: “We shall have to have a civil war to remove the present kind of leadership; like in Syria. Things will have to change. If they don’t change, things will start in a very small way, like the Mungiki, Chinkororo, Baghdad boys; somebody will galvanise them to overthrow the bourgeoisie.”


Why such a radical stance? I pose. “The more we fight for people, the more people want to squander all the money in salaries. I say, they are creating their own graveyard. I want to be alive to be a chaplain to that kind of revolution,” says the cleric, who, at 73, reckons he will live up to 139 years.

Dr Njoya describes the Judicial Service Commission’s Sh80,000 sitting allowances as “robbery.” The cleric who went to court to have MPs pay taxes, has been to court again to have the law enforced.

“How do we transform people without a revolution?” he poses, referring to the current clamour for higher salaries by members of county assemblies.

“We fought for the people, the poor, the marginalised, the weak, and the pastoral people, to become part of Kenya to build a nation and not a market. What is required is transforming Kenya from a market to a society, into a nation,” he says adding: “In a market the majority lose the minority make profit.”

Dr Njoya traces Kenya’s ‘market’ roots to 1886 when the British came to colonise us, to make profits.

Saturday Nation asked him how we could still blame colonialists 50 years after Independence. According to him, unemployed youths from South Africa and from Birmingham came here and became billionaires.

“Sir Charles Elliot (who was governor of the British East African Protectorate (BEA) from 1900 to 1904)) transformed Kenya into a market,” he says.

The seeds of corruption were sown when Kenya was made a big market as people were moved out of their land. “There were mass evictions of the Nandi and the Maasai and other people, which, instead of (Jomo) Kenyatta fighting for restoration of those people to go back to their land, he settled the Kikuyu instead.

Now the Kikuyu have to pay the price of that historical injustice, which was done by Sir Charles Elliot and governor Northey.” (Sir Edward Northey was governor of the BEA from 1919 to 1920, and the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya from 1920 to 1922).

Transformation of Kenya into a market where people make money has been reinforced by the education system, which the cleric says, glorifies top grades at the expense of production.

The Princeton University alumnus notes that while uneducated missionaries left us schools and hospitals, today’s PhD holders are coming home to look for rather than create jobs.

“Our education is geared for the market so that those who are unproductive are paid by the sweat of those who dig stones. You live in a stone house without ever digging a stone; you drink milk without having milked a cow, because you got A in school, you will never work; you will only go to the office, hang your coat, go and play golf. Because some people failed exams, they have to work for you,” he says.

In a scathing attack on the transformation of middle level colleges into universities, Dr Njoya notes: “When Makerere was a college, it produced the first group of teachers.
Egerton graduates produced the Molo Lamb and other breeds of cattle while today, graduates of the same universities are tarmacking.”

As to which presidency the corruption gene can be traced, the cleric scoffs: “In Kenya, we have never had a president. What we have had is only the first colonial governor, the second colonial governor, the third and now the fourth colonial governor.


“I always called Moi the second Kenyatta; I called Kibaki Moi the second and I will now call Uhuru Kenyatta the fourth.” Maybe the presidents should simply be called Kenyatta I, II and II, like the popes do. “After all the presidents share the same characteristics,” he quips.

And yet Kibaki campaigned on the platform of zero-tolerance to corruption. How does he explain the failure of Kenya’s third president to rein in corruption?

Dr Njoya’s terse response attests to the intricacy of corruption, applying his answer to the country’s successive presidents:

“If they wanted to end corruption, they would be shot.” And, because they want to save their lives, “they’re hostages of the corrupt.”

There is no President of Kenya, who is not hostage to corruption, the cleric declares.

“If they wanted to end corruption, first of all they will not win the next election” and if they win, “they will be shot.”

While Kibaki may have meant well in vowing to make corruption history in Kenya, Dr Njoya blames his failure to slay the monster on his failure to diagnose the problem. And because he could not pin-point the problem, he had no prescription. “He was simply an activist without an agenda,” he says.


According to the cleric, corruption is rooted in our education system, which psyches us to leave school and get jobs rather than create jobs.

“So, we are all consumers of things we have not created and the creators are the workers, the poor people who produce cows, who produce chickens, who produce goats. Who makes our economy? There’s no Kenyan economy without milk. Who produces milk by going to the university? Nobody,” he declares.

On the police and their current ranking as the most corrupt institution, Dr Njoya says: “They are the greatest victims because they are given the hardest and the riskiest job and paid peanuts. And they see they watch and protect the thieves. What do you expect?”

He expressed outrage that a quarter of the police force is used as bodyguards for the MPs and Senators, and “they are seeing glaring inequalities,” adding, the police are simply victims of our moral decadence.

“You cannot expect to have a better police protecting a thief and they are not thieves,” he asserts.