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Kamwana, Elliott Kenan
1872 to 1956
Watch Tower
Malawi

Elliott Kenan Kamwana was the founder of the Watch Tower movement and a Christian separatist leader, one of the forerunners of the independent church movement.

He began as a Scots Presbyterian and between 1899 and 1903 led a highly successful revival movement. On a trip to South Africa he met Joseph Booth, a peripatetic English missionary who founded many sects and had baptized John CHILEMBWE. Kamwana became an Adventist and then a Jehovah's Witness. Returning to Malawi in 1906, he established a branch church known as the Watch Tower, taking the name from the newspaper of the Witnesses, and within three years he had baptized 10,000 followers. Kamwana preached that Armageddon would arrive in 1914 and that at His second coming, Christ would abolish hut taxes and expel all Europeans. The British authorities deported Kamwana to South Africa (1909-1914) and banned the Watch Tower movement.

During Kamwana's exile, his churches continued clandestinely. Without organization, the Watch Tower movement spread to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and the Belgian Congo (now Zaïre), continuing to preach the end of colonialism. Whole areas of western Zaïre converted to the new religion. Although it was pacifist, colonial authorities suppressed it whenever possible. The Watch Tower movement continued to follow Jehovah's Witness teaching, using its symbolism. It was often known as Kitawala or "Kingdom", a central Witness theme, and preached the imminent coming of Christ, although it was non-Christian in its focus.

The failure of the millennium to arrive in 1914 as predicted by Kamwana did not deter the growth of the movement. Kamwana preached briefly in Mozambique but was promptly deported to Malawi. During the Chilembwe revolt (1915) he was placed in preventive detention and then deported to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean because his followers refused to enter the army. In 1937, Kamwana returned to Malawi to take charge of the movement, but it was much reduced by then. He quietly continued to lead it until his death.

Norbert C. Brockman


Bibliography:

Lipschutz, Mark R., and R. Kent Rasmussen. Dictionary of African Historical Biography. 2nd edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from An African Biographical Dictionary, copyright © 1994, edited by Norbert C. Brockman, Santa Barbara, California. All rights reserved.