Kivuli, David Zakayo (C)

African Israel Church Nineveh


Before discussing the biography of Paul David Zakayo Kivuli, it is important to provide a brief background on the beginnings of Pentecostal Christianity in Kenya, for this is where he was baptized and his faith nurtured.

The earliest roots of Pentecostal Christianity in Kenya can be traced to Clyde Toliver Miller and his wife Lila Sturges who were associated with the Apostolic Faith Mission in Iowa, United States of America.[1] They went to Kenya as independent missionaries. They arrived in Kisumu in 1907, in response to the perception of Africa at the time as a dark continent in need of the light of the Gospel.[2] For a short time, they helped at the Nilotic Independent Mission (NIM) at Oganda before they purchased their own land in Nyang’ori in 1908. They moved there in 1910 and established their own mission. As a result, this is the place where the seeds of Pentecostal Christianity in Kenya were first planted.

In 1919, Miller sold the mission to Otto Keller, an independent missionary who had settled in Kisumu in 1914 and who helped him whenever he went on furlough. In 1919, Keller had married Marian Wittich, a former Pentecostal missionary in Tanganyika loosely connected with the Nilotic Independent Mission in Oganda. In 1924, Keller sought affiliation with a chartered mission, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC). The colonial government at the time was wary of independent missions for they lacked accountability and transparency, not being affiliated to a formal organization.[3] In Nyang’ori, the Kellers worked and established a rapidly expanding network of churches and schools for many years until Otto Keller died on October 4, 1942.[4]

Nyang’ori Mission was, at the time, the center of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC), mission outreach in Kenya. In 1942, the current Pentecostal Assemblies of God, the oldest Pentecostal church in Kenya formed out of this mission. This is the Christian tradition into which Paul Daudi Zakayo Kivuli was converted and raised. The Africa Israel Church Nineveh (AICN), founded by Kivuli, also emerged from this tradition. So who was Kivuli?

Early Life and Conversion of Zakayo Kivuli

According to John Padwick [5], Kivuli was born near Tiengere, between Tigoi and Jebrok, near Nyang’ori in 1896. He belonged to the Bagenya clan from Ugenya in Nyanza, which, though Nilotic in origin, was wholly integrated into the Luhya community. Welbourn and Ogot observe that “it is important for his [Kivuli’s] development that the Nyang’ori location not only boarders on the Nilotic Luo to the south but contains a considerable admixture of Nandi.”[6] This multi-ethnic context was to prove important for the acceptance of the Africa Israel Church Nineveh among the Luhya, Nandi and Luo communities of western Kenya. Kivuli is said to have been proficient not only in his Logooli language but also in Nandi, Luo, standard Luhya and Kiswahili (he acquired the latter when he went to school). As a young boy Kivuli enjoyed taking care of his father’s cattle.[7]

In 1914, Kivuli escaped conscription in to the Carrier Corps (to serve in the 1st World War) and in 1918, at the age of 24, he attended school at the Nyang’ori Mission. He left after a short while to work as a farm laborer and then as an overseer in order to support his widowed mother.[8] In 1921, he married Rebecca Jumba. He returned to school at the Nyang’ori Mission in 1925. There he was baptized and realized the importance of being a Christian. Otto Keller was so impressed by Kivuli’s performance in school, that in 1927, he sent him to the Jeanes School in Kabete, west of Nairobi, for training as a school supervisor. On his return from Kabete, he was appointed mission supervisor of schools. Welbourn and Ogot note that, “in 1931, two teachers from the Jeanes School inspected his work at Nyang’ori and invited him to return to Kabete for a further course.”[9] After the short course in Kabete, he returned to Nyang’ori towards the end of the year. In late 1931, Kivuli claimed to have fallen sick for six months and on February 6, 1932 he became convinced for the first time that he was a sinner and needed salvation. In his own words, he says, “On 12th February 1932, I received the Holy Spirit. As I was singing, in my house, something lifted me up and threw me on the ground. Everything became dark and I was temporarily blind. That night, I began to speak with tongues like the apostles of the New Testament.”[10] Apparently, he was “blind” for 17 days and he could not eat. He also claims to have heard a voice like that of thunder. After much prayer and repentance, he claims that God healed him.

This spiritual experience marked the total conversion of Kivuli. From it also emerged some of the practices that he adopted and that were later practiced by members of AICN. He further claims that God commanded him not to shave his beard and to take the name Paul. This period was for him a time of prayer. When he recovered, he lost interest in teaching and became a fulltime preacher moving from village to village, asking people to repent and confess their sins, singing and converting them. The power of the Lord filled him and he began a ministry of praying for the sick and healing them.[11] The Kellers apparently supported Kivuli in his evangelistic mission. It is important to note that Kivuli’s charismatic experiences were typical of Pentecostal spirituality. By 1927, there had been a public outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Quaker Mission in Kaimosi that led to the formation of several spiritual or Roho African Instituted churches. These experiences were therefore not new to the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada Mission in Nyang’ori. [12]

Kivuli’s fame grew and he attracted a huge following. He turned his house into a place of worship, prayer and healing, thus following the custom of the time. Padwick observes that Kivuli became an object of envy among his fellow pastors. At the mission, Keller proposed to elect a pastor, who would have responsibility over all other Africans. On August 13, 1940, an election was held and Kivuli emerged the winner. Unfortunately, Pastor Zakaria Oyiengo, an elder stepbrother of Kivuli, bitterly opposed him. The mission became polarized and Keller allowed the election to lapse.[13] The acrimony that followed led to Kivuli’s dislike of bitter church politics and he decided to concentrate on preaching for repentance. He withdrew to his home and began worshipping there with permission from Keller. According to Padwick, authorities of the Africa Israel Church Nineveh date the separation from PAOC on January 1, 1942 and the granting of permission to Kivuli by Keller to February 3, 1942.[14] This separation solved the problem of division in the PAOC and those who believed in the spirit or Roho practices followed Kivuli.

The Founding of the Africa Israel Church Nineveh

Kivuli established his new church on his own land on the outskirts of the village of Jebrok. There he had led a Pentecostal congregation earlier, for it was the practice by the PAOC not only to develop central churches for an area but to encourage prayer houses on private land. His initial members were a large part of his own followers, and two men of his own generation—his brother Matiya Muzibwanyi and Zedekiya Musungu who became priests in the new church.[15] He was also in close contact with ex-Anglicans who had received the Holy Spirit in Nyahera. This group led by Philemona Orwa became members of the new church. Kivuli appointed himself as the High Priest of the church. The first name of the church was Huru Salvation Church—a name that denotes the concern of the church to be free of missionary control and to focus on salvation. This name was later changed to Africa Israel Church Nineveh. The new name emphasized the church’s African roots, universality, and the fact that it was anchored in the Holy Spirit and His gifts. The word “Israel” indicated that church members are the people of God.

The AICN began at a time when other spiritual and nationalist independent churches were emerging in western and central Kenya. The East African Revival Movement that started in Rwanda in the 1930s, was also sweeping across Protestant missions like the Church Mission Society, Church of Scotland Mission, and the United Methodist Mission. This was also the period of British colonial rule and Kenyans were agitating for self-rule and the restoration of their human, social, economic, cultural, religious, and political rights. Many of these churches were regarded by the colonial authorities as hot beds of anti-colonial sentiments. Welbourn observes that Kivuli and his followers were regarded with high esteem by the colonial authorities for their loyalty, their prompt payment of taxes and the fact they were amenable to discipline.[16] This is not surprising considering that Kivuli was involved to some extent in the local colonial administration.

From 1937 to 1943, Kivuli was a member of the Local Native Council as the representative for Nyang’ori. From 1936 on, he was Chairman of the African Church Committee of the Pentecostal Mission and, from 1939 on, an authorized evangelist. It seems Kivuli had won the confidence of both secular and ecclesiastical authorities. Kivuli was therefore a charismatic leader and, as Padwick describes him, one who had the ability “to combine a Roho spirituality with a particular concern for grassroots development and considerable political wisdom.”[17] From the beginning, the AICN was multi-ethnic. As already mentioned, Kivuli came from a Luo clan, the Bagenya and could speak Luo. He had been circumcised according to the traditional rites of the Terik (Nyang’ori). He was also widely accepted in the ethnically mixed community of Tiriki and Nyang’ori.

The African Israel Church Nineveh grew steadily under Kivuli’s paternal leadership and by 1967 it had a membership of 26,777 with branches in Nyanza, western Kenya, Nairobi, Nandi, Kipsigis (Rift Valley), and in Uganda and Tanzania. He utilized the knowledge he acquired at the Jeanes School to improve the economic situation of his followers. He built them fish pods, kept grade cattle and clinics, and established schools at Nineveh (his land), Kapsaoi, and Pergamo-Obede (in Nyanza). For him there was no contradiction between the life of the Spirit and social economic progress. Because he had learned administrative skills, he is said to have kept meticulous records in his church. He led the church like a father and was known for his hospitality, kindness, and friendliness not only to his family and followers, but to visitors as well.

The AICN under Kivuli was eager to establish and develop ecumenical contacts with other churches and Faith Based Organizations. When the evangelical agency World Vision held the first, all pastors’ conference in Nairobi in 1968, the AICN had the largest delegation.[18] The AICN became a member of the National Council of Churches in Kenya in 1970 and an associate member of the World Council of Churches in 1975. When the Organization of the African Instituted Churches (OAIC) was formed in Nairobi in 1978, the AICN became one of its most active members; the current Archbishop of the church, John Mweresa Kivuli II, has been the chair of the East African branch of the OAIC.


Zakayo Kivuli died on November 10, 1974. He had hoped that his son Moses Aluse who had undergone theological training at St. Paul’s Theological College, Limuru would succeed him. Unfortunately, Aluse fell ill and could not take the leadership. Kivuli therefore appointed a council of seven elders to decide who should lead the church after his demise, with preference being given to a member of his family. The church thereafter experienced a time of power struggles and splintering until the council of elders decided to appoint Mama Rebecca, his widow, as high priest. She retired from the leadership at the end of 1982 and on March 20, 1983, Zakayo Kivuli’s grandson John Mweresa Kivuli II was consecrated as high priest. The young Kivuli instituted radical changes including changing the structure of the church. In 1989, Kivuli II became bishop instead of high priest for theological reasons. In 1991, he was consecrated as Archbishop.

Zakayo Kivuli’s vision continues to be upheld by his grandson and the church continues to grow. Padwick states that by 2005 the membership of the church was 178,000 in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. [19] It had 125 regions and 447 centers (each center has about eight local churches, assemblies or pastorates). The church is the epitome of the “Three Self” principle of Henry Venn, being self- governing, self-propagating, and self–supporting. The current archbishop is highly educated in theological studies.

Philomena Njeri Mwaura


  1. Susan W. Murimi, “The Changing Face of Pentecostalism in Kenya Since 1910: An Examination of Historical, Religious and Cultural Dynamics,” (unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture, 2013), 95.
  2. Ezekiel M. Kasiera, “The Development of Pentecostal Christianity in Western Kenya” (unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Aberdeen, 1984), 212-213.
  3. Susan Murimi, “The Changing Face of Pentecostalism in Kenya Since 1910,” 103.
  4. F. B. Welbourn and B. A. Ogot, A Place to Feel at Home: A Study of Two Independent Churches in Western Kenya. (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1966), 73.
  5. Timothy John Padwick, “Spirit, Desire, and the World: Roho Churches of Western Kenya in the Age of Globalization” (Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University if Birmingham. 2003),’
  6. Welbourn and Ogot, A Place to Feel at Home, 75.
  7. Welbourn and Ogot, A Place to feel at Home, 75.
  8. Padwick, “Spirit, Desire and the World,” 90.
  9. Welbourn and Ogot, A Place to Feel at Home, 76.
  10. This information is based on interviews conducted by Welbourn on Kivuli and his church. See Welbourn and Ogot, A Place to Feel at Home, 77.
  11. Welbourn and Ogot, A Place to Feel at Home, 77.
  12. See Susan W. Murimi, “The Changing Face of Pentecostalism in Kenya Since 1910.””
  13. Padwick, “Spirit, Desire and the World,” 93.
  14. Padwick, “Spirit, power and Desire in the World,” 91
  15. Welbourn and Ogot, A Place to Feel at Home, 81.
  16. North Nyanza District Council, Report of Committee on Africa Religious Bodies in North Nyanza, 1959, cited in Welbourne and Ogot, A Place to Feel at Home, 84.
  17. Padwick, “Spirit, Desire and World,” 65.
  18. Norbert C. Brockman (ed.), Dictionary of African Historical Biography, Santa Barbara: University of California Press, 1994.
  19. Padwick, “Spirit, Desire and World,” 94.


Brockman, N. C. (ed.). Dictionary of African Historical Biography. Santa Barbara: University of California Press, 1994.

Kasiera, E.M. “The, Development of Pentecostal Christianity in Western Kenya.” Unpublished PHD Thesis, University of Aberdeen. 1984.

Murimi, S.W. “The Changing Face of Pentecostalism in Kenya Since 1910: An Examination of Historical, Religious and Cultural Dynamics.” Unpublished PHD Thesis, Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture, 2013.

North Nyanza District Council. Report of Committee on Africa Religious Bodies in North Nyanza, 1959.

Padwick, T. J. “Spirit, Desire and the World: Roho Churches of Western Kenya in the Age of Globalization.” Unpublished PHD Thesis, University if Birmingham. 2003.

Welbourn, F. B. and B. A. Ogot. A Place to Feel at Home: A Study of Two Independent Churches in Western Kenya. Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1966.

This article, received in 2018, was written by Prof. Dr. Philomena Njeri Mwaura, Director of the Centre for Gender Equity and Empowerment; Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Kenyatta University (Nairobi, Kenya), and DACB Advisory Council member.