Church and State in Kenya: New Additions to the Archive

A newly processed donation to the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide’s archive sheds important light on the role of church leaders during a time of turmoil in Kenya.

Paddy Benson, now archdeacon of Hereford, worked in the Diocese of Mount Kenya East from 1978 to 1989. It was an important time and Benson worked with several consequential figures, including David Gitari, bishop of Mount Kenya East, who was developing a reputation as an outspoken church leader who was unafraid to criticize the failings of President Daniel Arap Moi’s government. Bishop Gitari was also an innovator in mission and theological education, served on international commissions of the World Council of Churches and the Anglican Communion, and expanded his diocese in substantial ways. He later went on to serve as Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya.

Archdeacon Benson has donated a substantial collection of his books and papers from his time in Kenya to the CCCW archive. They include extensive collections of local news-cuttings, internal publications of the Kenyan church and recordings of Bishop Gitari’s sermons. The donation has been sorted and work is in progress to ensure their proper preservation and cataloguing to enable them to realise their research potential.

“This is a significant collection,” said Dr. Philip Saunders, CCCW’s archivist. “It’s particularly important for the material it contains on church and state in conflict during the Moi presidency. But it also gives new perspectives on the church’s interface with African cultural issues such as polygamy, FGM, burial rites, and much more.”

Bishop Gitari, who died in 2013, left behind a substantial archive of his own in Kenya. The donation to the CCCW archive allows researchers to consult important primary documents in England and complements what already exists elsewhere.

 “The history of the African church in the decades after independence continues to be written,” noted Dr. Jesse Zink, director of CCCW. “The work of building the archive from which that history can be written is an ongoing task. Archdeacon Benson’s material is a vital contribution.”

The CCCW welcomes enquiries from interested researchers, as well as from those who may be considering how best to preserve their papers.