MADOWO: The ‘Real Preachers of Nairobi’

By: LARRY MADOWO

A mighty man of God walked among we mere mortals the other day. Like Jesus atop a borrowed donkey in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he was of humble means — just one 2015 Range Rover and four brand new Toyota Landcruiser V8s as chase cars.

The ‘prophet’ was on Kimathi Street, shopping at a high-end clothing store. He had the shop all to himself as his minions waited outside, blocking anyone else from entering and breathing the good preacher’s air.

He was wearing his customary long beard and an even longer coat, cutting the image of a pious man; a pious man with a bold, self-defined sense of fashion. I drifted away after nearly half an hour of waiting to pay homage.

Even prophets need retail therapy, evidently.

A week later, an ‘apostle’s’ Range Rover killed a woman in a road accident on the Naivasha-Nakuru highway and left her husband badly wounded.

Multiple eyewitnesses claim the ‘apostle’s’ car was speeding on the wrong side of the highway. A man was produced as the driver of the car. He looked well, save for a neck brace. At his hotel in Naivasha, a crate of beer at the reception area told of the partying that had been.

Nairobi’s superstar preachers have such storied lives they’re only missing one key ingredient of true self-actualisation — a reality show. Someone needs to rip off Preachers of LA and do a Real Pastors of Nairobi, because they have truly earned it.

They go by such lofty titles as prophets, apostles or evangelists, live on the fast lane and use the Bible as a source of fame and fortune, never as a guidebook.

Christianity is the fastest growing line of business in Kenya; the savvy entrepreneurs being the preachers of questionable theological standing holding court in tents, parking lots and rented backstreet halls.

THE REASON OBAMA WAS HERE

In these uncertain economic times, it is truly uplifting to see self-made millionaires bootstrapping and succeeding in a hard-to-crack market dominated by the duopoly of the Catholic Church and conservative Protestants.

This is the whole reason President Obama was here, to talk up entrepreneurship and its value in society.

Think about another ‘prophet’ and his chemistry practice… sorry… church. After being so memorably exposed in a television investigative piece, his ‘ministry’ is still thriving.

He even went on a comedy show and got thoroughly sanitised. It was a joke.

The ‘prophet-doctor’, because two titles are better than one, erodes whatever little faith we had left in humanity.

This is probably why aliens don’t speak to us and have never bothered to contact us. What some consider a criminal enterprise built on deception is still alive and well. The brazenness with which it is carried out is quite admirable, really.

The Lord sure does work in mysterious ways.

These new-age ministries are almost always one-man shows built around a charismatic leader who is accountable to none but himself. The most successful of them have large, loyal congregations with impressive financial war chests to build monstrous mega-churches and other unsightly monuments to kitsch.

They graduate to televangelists, selling miracles and motivational speeches to even larger Christian audiences through the magic of broadcast media. The Americans perfected the art of televangelism for profit ages ago, and now Africans are catching up. Unlike smaller, more reasonable outfits, there are no audits or systems for checks and balances. Whatever the big man says — and they’re mostly men — is the law.

I’ve been privileged to sit across from some of the most prominent religious leaders and regard them from close range, and what fascinating people they make!

I interviewed Prophet Dr David Owuor two years ago and he was most gracious and kind, always referring to me as “my son”, which was a little patronising but also quite sweet. For all his ease, his senior leaders and congregants were scandalised, calling me disrespectful and arrogant.

More recently, I sat down with Bishop Allan and Rev Kathy Kiuna for another revelatory conversation on their ministry and means. They are funny, pleasant and immensely likeable.

You can instantly see why they can command legions of adoring worshippers with their charm.

As a result of the recent incident on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, all I can ask myself is: How much of this production is a charade, and how much of it is solid Christian teaching?

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What six months in prison doesn’t teach you…

Alan Wadi, 25, is a man of contrasts. He first got in touch with me on Facebook, asking to come on #theTrend to “apologise to the president”.

He was newly free after spending half a year in prison for insulting President Uhuru Kenyatta on Facebook.

Though the posts were deleted, cached copies of his Facebook page had him calling the president all manner of colourful, unprintable names. “I was upset about the Security Bill,” he offered as an explanation for his tasteless updates.

On air last Friday, he offered a classic non-apology, saying he did not regret having written those comments.

The Moi University political science student said he had been targeted only because he was an Opposition critic.

He argued that pro-government bloggers were constantly slamming the Opposition without being harassed by the Establishment. I had been against doing the segment with him on #theTrend, but the suits in the newsroom thought it might make for good television.

It did, but not in the way we had imagined. He was awkward and uncomfortable, but also stoic in his resistance to getting gagged by imprisonment. In a sense, he was almost unbowed by his six months as a guest of the State.

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… and holding breath for Kenya Airways

I fly Kenya Airways as many times as I can, and I will again this weekend. There’s an unspeakable pride when you see the familiar livery in strange cities with horrid weather patterns.

When you enter the aircraft and the announcements begin in Kiswahili, you almost burst with emotion. Then you come home and they announce a record Sh25.7bn loss, the lowest it has sunk in history.

Armchair analysts everywhere are sounding the death knell for the airline and it seems that pride alone won’t save it.

Full disclosure: I have been on a few Kenya Airways junkets when they opened new routes — to Ouagadougou, Rome and Hanoi. All those have either been closed or are performing well below capacity. The airline cannot measure up to competitors like next-door neighbours Ethiopian Airlines, with lower costs and higher revenues. A government bailout has been suggested, getting rid of KLM and bringing in a new strategic partner with a higher stake. We are all holding our breaths.

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Feedback: On the ‘hotbed of terror’ and other silly stories from Kenya

DO NOT DISCRIMINATE: Larry, I didn’t know you were such a coward and shallow. I mean, earlier it had been said from some quarters that (US President Barack) Obama should never talk about those things while here, and he went ahead and lectured you for some “considerable amount” of minutes on civil rights, minorities… blah blah blah. Then came your turn… I mean, Uhuru’s turn… and he was on the defensive.

No one said Kenyans have to be gays or “imposed” any values on you. Whether or not it’s an issue, the fact is there are gays in our society.

Please do not discriminate against them. If Jesus came back, he would ask you and that government you are trying to cover up for and boot-lick to be the first one to throw a stone if you are clean. You articles are boring. Please style up. W Eileen

SICKENING HYPOCRISY: Larry, aren’t we Kenyans hypocrites? Are we denying that Kenya is a terrorism hotbed? What purpose does this denial serve? Please count the number of Kenyans who have perished from terrorism — Westgate, Eastleigh, Lamu, Mombasa, Garissa, Mandera — just count and tell me the total for the last three years. Then compare that with Somalia, the supposed hideout of terrorists, and all other African countries.

Tell me, Larry, are we not incurring so many casualties? Doesn’t that amount to our country being the hotbed or terror?

Okay, I don’t support or subscribe to the other narratives by CNN or foreign writers that paint our country so negatively, but we must, for once, stop over-reacting and being overly-defensive when some ignorant writers somewhere comment wrongly about us. These people have no obligation to us, or even to know us as accurately as we want them to.

We pay the price for abdicating our responsibility of shaping our image and international character and leaving it to others. And, by the way, how accurate are our writers when they talk about China, France and Canada? And how much does their accuracy matter? Well, I fully endorse the CNN sentiment that we are a terror hotbed; perhaps that’s even polite.

And, by the way, I was surprised those people could analyse our politics to a point of knowing that some people would have wanted Obama to visit Kogelo and use the image boost to spite others.

I had told my friends the same even before Obama’s arrival. I am unable to even share drinks with fellow tribesmen as I constantly harangue them for their greed and hypocrisy, which has completely undermined national integration.

Last year during Saba Saba, Raila had a rally at Uhuru Park after coming from the US. He was condemned by some people as being used by Obama to destabilise the Uhuru government, and that he had come with a lot of money. I remember quarreling with some of my friends at a bar in Nakuru, and being nearly beaten for it.

I asked them what the fuss about Raila having a rally was yet we are a free country and we fought for pluralism. I asked them what was wrong with Raila visiting the US, and why they thought the US had so much money to waste destabilising Kenya. They even hated Obama, until Uhuru went to US and a picture of him with the Obamas appeared in local media.

They then turned around and said Obama liked Uhuru because they “have a lot in common”. What nonsense!

Why are we so mediocre that we go looking for heroes in the US when we have ours, whom we despise because of their tribes?

Yes, Obama talked about corruption and tribalism, but isn’t that what our writers like Maina Kiai, Godwin Muruga, Koigi Wamwere, and David Ndii have been talking about?

Obama gave a good lecture, yes, and he understands our country well. But haven’t James Orengo, Anyang Nyongo, Peter Kenneth and Martha Karua talked about the same issues over and over again?

Do we need a US president to tell us that? Our hypocrisy and mediocrity is so sickening. Daniel Njaga

JUST SOME RACISTS: Larry, the CNN “hotbed of terror” claim is just part of the white American obsession with racism.

I once asked a former US President why it was necessary to have the title “African American” and not just “American”, and he told me “America invented racism and exported it to other-world racists”.

I was once asked by a bunch of American high school students whether African women menstruate, to which I replied “no”, only to discover they genuinely didn’t know and I had to teach them what may sound obvious to you and I.

Take it easy, but be on guard when dealing with some racists. Dr Gichuyia M’Riara