Obituary

Reinhard Bonnke: Moi, Kenya’s first crusade on TV, and why Luo boys were named Bonnke

The President was accompanied by a retinue of Permanent Secretaries and eight Cabinet Minister- three of whom got saved

President’s buddy: Reinhard Bonnke was last in Kenya to open the headquarters of Rev Teresia Wairimu’s ministry in Karen, Nairobi in 2016. Rev Wairimu is next to Uhuru Kenyatta.

By Undercover Reporter

@Undercover KE

Boys born in Kenya when he first came here in June 1988 were named after him.

German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, who died at 79,  gradually revolutionize open-air crusades into large scale spiritual markets for winning souls to Christ in Kenya and when his crusades reached Kenyatta Sports grounds in Kisumu, boys born then got names like Reinhard Bonnke Odhiambos and Reinhard Odonga Bonnke.     

Someone who was closely following the power of Reverend Bonnke in making Kenyans leave work early, close businesses and attend his crusades, was President Daniel arap Moi, who was known to quote the bible off head inside the presidential jet during foreign trips.

Moi was raised a front pew African Inland Church faithful. To acquire his first Nandi bible in the 1940s, he walked livestock for 30 kilometres in three days to earn the Sh3 needed to acquire it.

It is said by his bedside were three books: the Holy Bible, The Prince by Italian political strategist Niccolo Machiavelli and Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power.

Moi also never missed Sunday services at Moi High School Kabarak chapel. So, Moi, a self-confessed born again Christian, connected with Bonnke and his evangelizing mission, but more importantly, saw the mass crusades as political opportunities to influence the masses under his dictatorial single party rule, a police state.

In fact, because of outlawed dissident movements like Mwakenya which gave Moi sleepless nights at the time, Kenyans required permits from police and nabobs at the Provincial Commissioner’s office to gather in groups. But freedom of worship meant gospel crusades were hard to regulate in a largely Christian country.

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Boonke told the crusader in Mombasa: “Jesus said you should receive. Now say to Jesus, I have come to collect what you have promised.” And the crowd roared in response: “I’m collecting. I’m collecting.”

He then gave a boy Sh1000 note (which was a lot of dough at the time) and told the crowd that Jesus would give them a “gift a million times greater.”

Moi ordered that KBC Television broadcast the crusade live to the 22 million Kenyans, the population at the time

Bonking the limelight: Reinhard Bonnke was a constant State House guest in Kenya where retired President Moi saw his large-scale open-air crusades as potential political grounds.

And as Bonnke performed miracles and people accepted the Legend from Nazareth as their personal saviour every night, Moi declared his intent on attending Bonnke’s last crusade at Uhuru Park.

Moi was following a well-beaten as Presidents in Nigeria, Togo, Zambia and Cameroon had graced Bonnke’s crusades, invited him to their State Houses. In Burkina Faso, Blaise Campaore gave Bonnke his Presidential Limo for three days. In Malawi, Bonnke addressed parliament!

In Kenya, President Moi graced Bonnke’s last crusade at Uhuru Park: It was a Thursday, a working day. The crowd that turned had never been seen there before.

Those at home were not to miss a thing. Moi ordered that KBC Television broadcast the crusade live to the 22 million Kenyans, the population at the time. Those without television followed the crusade on KBC Radio. After all, state-controlled media had always portrayed him as God fearing.

Moi was accompanied by a retinue of Permanent Secretaries and eight Cabinet Minister- three of whom got saved! There was also his Vice President, Dr Josephat Njuguna Karanja-who would shortly be humiliated and hounded out of office in the most Machiavellian and Unchristian ways imaginable.

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Moi’s attendance was not only because he was dyed in the wool Mission Boy, but the crusade gave him an opportunity to connect with Kenyans who were scrapping through life in the 1980s which the United Nations called “the Lost Decade.”

Besides Soul music, few goodies characterized the 1980s- the decade of atrocious fashion, economic decline and political upheavals. Just five years before Bonnke came to Kenya, Moi’s government had been overthrown in an abortive coup by misguided soldiers from the Kenya Air Force that August 1, 1982.

To weed out bad elements in his government, Moi called a snap general election in 1983 and five years later he introduced the ‘Mlolongo’ voting system in which Kenyans lined up behind their preferred candidates. That was in 1988, the year Bonnke, who got into ministry after a woman in his home church of Konigsberg prophesied he would evangelize Africa, was in Kenya.

Businesses went bust, the ‘Golden Handshake’ ruined families

Gospel market: Boonke’s crusades were massive events. His first in Kenya in 1988 was the first to be broadcast live both on television and radio. Bonnke opened the floodgates for other preachers to use the same formula that has never failed to date.

It was a crucial time.

The country was reeling from the negative effects of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Moi, with a broke government following a coup attempt, massive crop failure, high fuel and falling coffee prices in the international market, had accepted the SAPs in the early 1980s in exchange for foreign loans.

The effects were being felt in 1988 and early 1990s.

The SAPs meant the government stopped funding social services like health and education. Doctors and nurses resigned, took jobs abroad. Medical services in government hospitals deteriorated. Doctors who remained in Kenya opened private clinics. 

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There was no money to pay teachers. Many were retired. Schools were congested and standards of teaching plummeted. Companies sacked workers. School dropouts increased and so did crime levels.

The government being the biggest employer was not left behind. It laid off hundreds of thousands of civil servants in an early retirement package dubbed ‘Golden Handshake.’ Employees who had never dabbled in business invested in pubs in remote corners of their rural hamlets where they were the only clients. Businesses went bust. The ‘Golden Handshake’ ruined families.

There was no money in Kenya-just like now. The future appeared bleak and the mainstream churches like the Catholic, Presbyterian and Anglican churches were still steeped in robes and ‘the First Reading from the Book of Mathew.’

It was into this set of circumstances that Bonnke came with preaching that promised hope through prophesies that hardly touched stuff about fire and brimstone in hell.

There was nothing like ‘the poor shall inherit the earth’

Fare thee well: His Christ for all Nations Ministry was in almost 10 countries including Nigeria where he had what were to be his last crusades before surgeries took a toll on his health.

Reihard Bonnke, indeed, ushered in the era of prosperity gospel preachers. They gave the people hope and religion being the opium of the masses; they filled stadiums and open air grounds by the truckloads.  Unlike mainstream churches, their preaching featured live electronic music, not choirs with shakers and the kayamba. There were miracles, healing the sick. Prosperity was a key theme of crusades where material wealth and physical well-being was lumped with biblical teachings that financial blessing was the will of God for Christians.

The attendees could clearly see that the young preachers driving nice cars, wearing shiny suits and white pointed shoes were truly blessed. There was nothing like ‘the poor shall inherit the earth.’

The crusades under Bonnke’s ministry, Christ for all Nations, was to later usher in other international preachers including Morris Cerullo and Benny Hinn besides nurturing local spinoffs like Rev Teresia Wairimu’s Faith Evangelistic Ministries whose 5000-seater church he opened with President Uhuru Kenyatta in Karen Nairobi in August 2016.

Reinhard, the father of Kai-Uwe, Gabrielle and Susie Bonnke, was survived with eight grandchildren.

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