The evolution of Mutava Musyimi

Before 1990, Mutava Musyimi was just another obscure preacher of a little known church, as the Daily Nation once categorized him. He always preached hard hitting prophetic sermons in the same breath as Presbyterian’s Rev. Dr. Timothy Njoya or Anglican Church’s Bishop David Gitari, boldly tackling the most sensitive social and political issues of the day.

But his homilies were never heard outside the walls of the Nairobi Baptist Church on Ngong Road. The media was yet to discover the intrepid young preacher. One day all that changed. The Kanu government had increasingly become draconian since 1982 when it made Kenya a de jure one party state and ruthlessly clamped down on dissent. Towards the end of the 1980s brutalized Kenyans became increasingly restive.

Open dissent at home and growing isolation by the international community made President Moi more sensitive and dangerous. Even within the institutional church which had increasingly assumed the role of the silenced opposition, individual clergymen, excepting the likes of iconoclastic Njoya, went silent. Only the very brave and reckless, so to speak, could openly criticize the excesses of the administration.

It was within the context of this oppressive atmosphere that this writer sat at the Baptist Church listening to Mutava tear at the excess of the Moi government. The congregation sat squirming in the pews, stunned by the audacity of their pastor, some possibly wishing they were not there to listen to what in officialdom would certainly be concluded as high treason.

I took notes and then after the sermon I approached the preacher to enquire whether he would find it objectionable if the contents of his sermon were published. He had no objection. When I filed the story the news editor would not publish it until he had contacted Mutava himself to ascertain that what was reported is what he said. It was headline news the next day and for a week Mutava went into hiding as the secret police looked for him everywhere. When he finally emerged Mutava had been transformed from an obscure preacher into an important newsmaker with every media house dispatching a reporter to the Ngong Road sanctuary every Sunday to look for important perspectives as the country went into political ferment in earnest.

Mutava Musyimi’s profile has been on the up and up since then. When he later succeeded the unassuming Rev. Samuel Kobia as the NCCK secretary general, Mutava became a truly important national player as he transformed the church lobby in to one of the prime movers of political change, especially in constitutional reform. At one point he was the chairman of the Ufungamano Initiative, the body formed by religious groups to spearhead constitutional review. It is when he was steering Ufungamano that his name was floated as a possible opposition compromise candidate when it appeared like politicians might not agree.

Mutava Musyimi is deceptively soft spoken. He has a facility with words and packages what he wants to say unambiguously when he wants to but can also be notoriously vague. He is also calculating, ambitious man, but this, too, is not something he flaunts. Unlike other people of his ambitions he has never overtly cultivated media attention.

The same streak appears to characterize everything he has done in life and people often misread his intentions again and again. When his spiritual mentor Bishop David Gitari became the head of the Anglican church, conventional wisdom seemed to point out to Mutava succeeding him as the bishop of the then Mt. Kenya East. Although Mutava had been a pastor in the Baptist Church, he had not renounced his Anglican roots. For a long time he pastured without being ordained and it was when Gitari was shifting base to Nairobi that an elaborate ordination ceremony, was done at Embu. Gitari presided over the event. Mutava however did not eek office of the bishop and continued in his job as secretary general of the NCCK.

His resignation from NCCK in an election year is very telling. Speculation has been rife for months that he would be going for the Gachoka parliamentary seat but, true to character, he has been circumspect when asked about it. If he joins parliamentary politics, it is unlikely that his intention is to return to the obscurity of the pre-1990 days. His sights must be trained very, very high and he has the calculating patience to wait to get there.

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4 Responses to The evolution of Mutava Musyimi

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Irene J said...

I wonder if the sudden silence by some of the most ourspoken parsons is because the Churches' leadership and moral authority is critically wounded.

I am still waiting for the Mutavas to challenge the government to implemenet the 2008 Budget and many other policies... for the good and well being of Kenyans.

Check out

Anonymous said...

I do not know Mutava well, but judging his actions for the last few years points that he has abandoned his Moi era activism. Same as Kiraitu, Kibaki, Kibwana, NCCK, Catholic church, Nation and media in general, University Students etc. ...and the list goes on.

He has been overwhelmed by the corrupt system and become part of it. He never even offers an opinion and at one time he was also in a committee to advise Kibaki on corruption issues during the Anglo Leasing era. Call me a skeptic, but I have given up on Mutava being a change agent.

p/s: I also witnessed Mutava back in his Baptist Church days.