David Zakayo Kivuli was the founder of the African Israel Church Nineveh (AICN), which has grown into one of the largest independent African churches in East Africa. He became a preacher and school supervisor for the mission of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada in 1925, but it was only in 1932 that he began speaking in tongues and claiming the gifts of the Holy Spirit. To this Kivuli added the gift of faith healing, and he began to develop a considerable personal following, especially among the Luo and Luyia peoples of western Kenya. In 1942 he separated from the Pentecostal Assemblies and founded the AICN. His movement spread into Uganda and Tanzania.
Kivuli’s movement appeared in a period that was ripe for the foundation of independent churches in East Africa. A religious revival, the Balokole, swept through the Christian churches beginning in the 1930s. It was based on lay communities of prayer and fellowship, which created fertile ground for separatism from the missionary churches. Revival communities also became homes for anticolonial sentiment, and new church bodies free from missionary control appeared throughout East Africa. Kenya became a center for the independent church movement, which was also flourishing - as the result of other factors - in southern Africa.
Kivuli drew members from the Pentecostals as well as from the Quakers, or the Society of Friends. The AICN is a curious mixture of traditions. Their services on Fridays (their day of worship) include dancing, spirit possession, and the wearing of white clothing. The church’s members revere a religious center (called Nineveh) where vast numbers of the faithful gather to celebrate Christmas. They also have an elaborate doctrine of sin, including confession and physical taboos about touching certain places of the body where sins are located. The church discourages polygamy and forbids it among the clergy. Unlike other independent churches, however, the AICN is not divorced from modern life. It is active in development projects and promotes modern medicine.
The AICN has been eager to develop ecumenical contacts. When the evangelical agency World Vision held the first all-pastors’ conference in Nairobi in 1968, the AICN had the largest delegation. Kivuli attempted to join Kenya’s National Christian Council in 1957 and was rejected, but by 1970 the AICN had become a probationary member. In 1975, one year after Kivuli’s death, it became affiliated with the World Council of Churches.
Norbert C. Brockman
Lipschutz, Mark, 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.