The unholy marriage of church and state that propelled Ruto to power

10 minutes
President Ruto at Jesus Winner Ministry

Opposition leaders Raila Odinga, Martha Karua and Kalonzo Musyoka stole the limelight of National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee petitions seeking the removal of four commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Very few noticed the petitioners whose names raise little awareness for people who do not know the shadows and puppeteers running the show behind the scenes. Of much interest was Reverend Dennis Ndwiga Nthumbi who brought his pulpit-oratory to his presentation, dabbing his brow with a white handkerchief perhaps from the habit he has cultivated at New Breed City Chapel near the intersection of Northern Bypass and Kiambu Road.

Mr Nthumbi is close to President William Ruto who has been to his church on different occasions, a tented contraption which opens up into glaring display of flat screen televisions, red carpet and fervent very youthful congregants lapping at his prosperity gospel and pronouncement of good fortune like people who have nothing to live for but faith.

The pastor who dresses the part in well-cut expensive suits to cultivate his aura is a darling of the media and has appeared on several TV stations as a commentator and a supporter of President William Ruto.

He vied for Nairobi Senate seat on Agano Party in 2017, garnering 12,215 votes and has controversially supported America’s Donald Trump even calling for a vigil when the 45th US President’s younger brother, Robert Trump, died.

“Sending prayers and condolences to the family of His Excellency
President @realDonaldTrump for the loss of his younger brother Robert Trump. May God grant you more grace and comfort in Jesus Christ Name. Your Excellency @USAmbKenya is it possible to hold a prayer vigil?,”
Mr Nthumbi tweeted from his iPhone on Aug 16, 2020.

Before Church and politics, Mr Nthumbi was the head of Division Specialized Services at G4S Security Services Limited where he parted ways under unclear circumstances.

The company posted his mug shot in the newspaper warning Kenyans not to deal with him in relation to them, indicating a strenuous exit from the security firm.

He later sued G4S for casting him in bad light where he sought Sh15 million in general damages and Sh5 million in aggravated and exemplary damages. He lost both after he failed to demonstrate how stating that he no longer worked for G4S damaged his character.

Interestingly in the ruling it emerged that he had actually left under a cloud of controversy after internal investigations were launched on him for missing client funds.

“DW1 (Boniface Ngungu) also stated that in the course of employment the plaintiff (Mr Nthumbi) was requested to account for missing funds and instead of responding he opted to resign from the 1st defendant’s employment but investigations continued even after his departure,” the court papers read.

Mr Nthumbi formed part of the wider network of churches in Central Kenya that were crucial in President William Ruto’s victory in the August elections. Dr Ruto cultivated his popularity by attending Sunday services and donating generously to these churches.

President Ruto donated millions to churches each Sunday mostly in Central Kenya which also gave him a platform to project to believers mixing religion with politics on the pulpit.

The President promised the churches goodies including state land to Jesus Winners Ministry based at Roysambu which has been fighting over a parcel of land allegedly sold to it by Uchumi Supermarkets. This land has, however, since been seized by the Kenya Defense Forces.

A section of the political class led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga hit back at churches forcing some of them to deny politicians the much-needed spotlight at their podiums in what was increasingly being seen as an endorsement by the believers in the just concluded polls.

A few churches even returned the money they had received from politicians, terming it proceeds of corruption.

The battle to control churches was so intense that it featured amongst the widely coordinated misinformation strategy where a viral video of Azimio leader Raila Odinga seemed to suggest he will discriminate against Christianity if elected.

His spouse, Ida Odinga, was also forced to apologise after she made remarks in Kisumu County challenging the National Council of Churches Kenya (NCCK), an umbrella for protestant churches, to “regulate the establishment of churches” and disband small churches.

“I wish to this morning withdraw the statement I made to NCCK on Saturday 29th (asking them) to regulate the churches under them in order to promote consistency and relevance in messaging for promotion of evangelism in Kenya.

“It has come to my realisation that my comments haven’t sat well with some members of the church. I sincerely apologise for the discomfort caused as I meant no harm to any person,” said Ida in a statement. Such a backlash was expected. Kenyans are not just highly religious, as a 2016 survey by American think-tank Pew Research Centre showed, most of them also profess the Christian faith-one of the lasting legacies of British colonialism.

Data from the 2019 census conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that the majority (85.5 per cent) of the Kenyan population are Christians with Protestants, Catholics and Evangelical churches accounting for 33.4, 20.6, and 20.4 per cent, respectively.

And in Mount Kenya counties of Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Kiambu, Nyandarua, Embu, Meru, and Tharaka Nithi, a rich vote-hunting ground for Ruto, data showed that the Christian population averaged a high of between 96 and 98 per cent with a relatively high representation of the Evangelical churches like Nthumbi’s New Breed.

To counter the religious wave that supported Ruto in Central Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta fell back on the Akorino, an indigenous church that emerged from break away Christians during the colonial period in the 1920 hoping to sway the conservative group estimated to number about one million.

The church, especially the evangelical church, celebrated President Ruto’s victory with a youth group gracing the inauguration through gospel music including a rare Israeli ritual where a woman fully dressed in white blew the Shofar (a ram’s-horn trumpet formerly used by Jews as an ancient battle signal) as Ruto was being sworn in office.

The ritual brought in the internationalism of the Church’s investment in Ruto’s victory especially following a strange video of two Israelis who hailed President William Ruto’s incoming leadership and blew shofars in honour of his new leadership, saying he is going to bring peace to Kenya and honour to the people of God and tribe of Judah.

The Americans were also very invested with US Senator Chris Coons mediating the political stalemate when he met outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, Opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Ruto to facilitate a smooth transition.

The US senator’s heavy involvement was not lost on opposition supporters who made claims that the Americans meddled in the election with Winnie Odinga, the daughter of leader Odinga claiming she could prove the interference.

Mr Coons has been an active player in Kenyan politics. He is credited with bringing together the three leaders during the 2020 National Prayer Breakfast, first held in the US by the Fellowship Foundation, a controversial shadowy American religious organisation that coordinates secret meetings among politicians. It has chapters in several African countries including Kenya.

In 2019, Netflix released a documentary on the organisation known only as the Family shedding some light on the organisation that has weaved its web into American politics for decades. This organisation exerts its influence on US leaders through secret meetings.

What was considered merely conspiracy theory for a long time is getting mainstream attention especially as the Christian right finds renewed energy since President Trump’s election and the success of the late Doug Coe who took over from the organisation’s’ founder Abraham Vereide; to create an annual gathering of religious leaders in the world of politics, business and culture come to Washington every February to share a meal and build networks among like-minded believers.

The organisation is said to have been spreading its network across the globe. In Kenya, it has held 19 national prayer breakfast meetings with the most recent one interestingly centered around Kenya’s transition.

“The Parliament of Kenya is scheduled to host the 19th Edition of the National Annual Prayer Breakfast tomorrow, Thursday, 26th May 2022 at Safari Park Hotel. President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to grace the occasion themed “Transitions,” Kenya’s parliament said on its website.

According to Kenya National Prayer Breakfast Website, the organisation holds weekly small prayer groups, which is a male-only invite. The gathering is normally over an undisclosed agenda with the guidance from the international group.

“The Gathering is not only for men only, it is also an “invitation only” event. It brings together men from the small groups, their friends and associates, as well as other strategically invited national leaders. The Gathering is known as a ‘safe space’ where the truth is spoken candidly in love. Although there is no formal agenda, there are important speakers guiding the conversations. About ten percent of the participants are International invitees.”

The Group has also a recruiting Youth wing called Africa Youth Leadership Forum selling Jesus as the solution of Africa’s problems.

“The challenges of Corruption, Ethnic and Religious conflict have continued to rock governments and the politics of Africa. There is a lack of a revolutionary perspective of Jesus among the majority of young people yet they are the current largest population in most of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have the potential to influence change.”

The dalliance between the Church and State in Kenya has not come with the presidency of Ruto. Previous administrations have also courted the church. However, their preferred churches have often been either Catholic or Protestants.

But this is changing under the presidency of Ruto who is an evangelical. His wife, Rachel Ruto, believes in miracles and preaches the gospel of prosperity.

With a huge evangelical audience resonating with religious messaging, the First Lady has been picture perfect. A video of her professing to have prayed for tepid water in a well into sweet and clear water, just as Elisha of the Bible did, would be dismissed as rather delusions of faith based adherents. But for the right audience the biblical proportion ‘miracle’ would resonate as markers of greater destiny.

Increasingly, it is men of clothes who peddle such messages of miracles that are having a front seat in the latest dalliance between the State and Church. Dr Ruto, himself an evangelical whose faith in God was hewn way back in High School and the Christian where he never missed the Christian Union meetings, seems to have sidelined mainstream churches-the Catholic and Protestant.

To paraphrase the title of British author Michela Wrong’s book about the vicious cycle of corruption that never seems to end with the change of guard at the top, it appears like it is the turn for the evangelical churches to eat.

But the mainstream church will not fade into obscurity without a fight. After being snubbed, they seem to have garnered some courage to return the favour. They have opposed the government’s decision to allow the importation of genetically modified maize into the country. Such voices of dissent from a section of the church might get louder as Ruto’s camaraderie with the evangelicals gets tighter in the next five years.

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