YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has called on the country’s Education Ministry to ensure that churches take over the management of schools they built.

The president was speaking during the funeral service for Archbishop John Njenga, who headed the Archdiocese of Mombasa from 1990-2005. He died on Nov. 4, at the age of 89.

“There are a lot of schools sponsored and built by the church. And the Ministry of Education — and I’m saying it for the last time today — I want you to ensure that you resolve that sponsorship issue. And secondly, you have one week to restore all church-owned school land to its rightful owners,” Kenyatta said.

Like many African countries, Christian organizations founded most of the schools in the country during the colonial era. However, in the 1960s the Teachers Service Commission – the Kenyan government teachers’ employer – took over the staffing of all schools in the country.

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Kenyatta said the lack of church mentorship and guidance was responsible for the rising rates of indiscipline in the country’s schools.

“Look at what is happening in our schools. Look at the level of indiscipline in our schools. Look at some of their activities, where school children are burning schools. It tells you there is something missing in their lives. This is not something that we heard of in those days,” he said.

“We need to go back to the times when church-sponsored schools mentored our children,” the president said.

Deputy President William Ruto spoke on the relationship between church and state in the running of various sectors, particularly education.

“That is a discussion we need to revisit so that we can manage our education better and train our children to have the highest standards of morality and integrity,” said Ruto.

The president’s directives rescinding a government role in the management of church-sponsored schools comes two years after the former Education Cabinet Secretary, Fred Matiang’i criticized churches for exercising unnecessary control over schools they managed.

He said then that many schools had become inefficient because bishops would not allow government to determine who was appointed head of the school, teachers and principals.

The Church now wants to once more have a say in who runs Catholic schools, as well as reclaim land where missionary schools were established, and title deeds were issued in their trust.

“At independence, an agreement was entered where the government brings teachers, learning materials and the curriculum and the Church makes schools available,” said the deputy secretary general of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, Father Lucas Manwa.

The priest said at independence the Church managed school boards and there was “amicable mutual understanding and respect for church and state.”

“But that changed in 1968 when “several education policies were formulated integrating religious education and secular education. The policies were made and approved without consultation with the Church,“ said Manwa.

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This subsequently led to a diminished role of the Church, with the government now stepping in to appoint head teachers and get involved in school administration. In the 1980s, the government took an even larger role in school management.

“This is the moment we started seeing strikes because issues of sexual orientation, devil worshipping and drug abuse sprang up,” Manwa said.

These developments were formalized in 2004 when the Education Act was amended to diminish the Church’s role in managerial and investment decisions by curtailing their power to appoint principals and board chairpersons.

Section 11 of the Act, for instance required that the school board chair proposed by the Church is approved by the Ministry, and the number of board members appointed by the Church were reduced from four to three.

The, director of the Jesuit Hakimani Centre, Elias Mokuam said the Church didn’t teach only for purposes of examination, but also for the moral health of students.

“The Church provided the necessary chaplaincy. Head teachers were appointed on grounds that were firmly in faith and they understood the philosophy and vision of the Church,” he said.

The takeover of school boards by the government, he said, led to falling moral standards.

Uhuru’s new directive to have churches once again take over the management of their schools has been enthusiastically received by the country’s religious bodies, who say it will result in the inculcation of better morals in society.

In honor of an archbishop

Kenyatta said he was rescinding government control over church-sponsored schools in honor of Njenga.

He said the archbishop was a champion of education who frequently visited “my father’s home in Gatundu, often over matters education. He believed that even though the church and the state should remain separate, they must work together to improve education.”

Kenyatta said “the church feeds our spiritual needs; the state feeds our physical and human needs here on earth.”

“But our bishop has shown us that it is possible to merge the two and still remain acceptable and achieve the same objective,” the president said.