An Orthodox Journal of Cross-Cultural Theology, Dialogue and Mission

Orthodoxy in East Africa beyond Decolonisation

Dr Evi Voulgaraki-Pissina
DOI: 10.57577/1-22A11
Salt: Crossroads of Religion and Culture: 1 (2022): 159-205
Keywords: Orthodox Missiology, Mission, Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Mau Mau, decolonisation, World Orthodoxy, World Christianity, Church History, liberation, reconstruction

This article proposes to investigate some key issues concerning the presence and development of Orthodoxy in East Africa which was closely linked with the process of decolonisation and, in particular, the Mau-Mau Uprising (1952–60) in Kenya. It will raise the question of the interrelation of political and religious/spiritual factors and discuss the rise of self-awareness of the Baganda people in Uganda, the Kikuyu (Agĩkũyũ) in Kenya and others, which emerged from the founding of the Karinga (Karing’a) and other self-managed educational institutions. It will examine how these leaders turned to the Patriarchate of Alexandria, and the ties formed with world Orthodoxy, and then tackle the misconceptions and the heterogony of ends leading to a schism and various wounds which proved difficult to heal in the following years. After a survey of the further development of the Orthodox Church in East Africa, beyond development projects, we shall come to the present day and discuss issues of dependency, also with reference to the Greek financial crisis and its impact on the Orthodox Church in East Africa. The article will hear voices of anguish from both sides: financing fatigue on the one side and the quest for self-sustainability on the other. Is the Orthodox Church in East Africa what the original leaders longed for, and to what extent will the future be influenced by undertones of nostalgia for things to become again as they used to be in the Karinga days? In post-colonial times, how can the Church maintain and broaden its liberating function, true to the views and hopes of the people but also to the Gospel, and at the same time avoid a nostalgic and utopian regression to an idealised past which would risk bringing isolation and introverted stagnation? Is it possible for Orthodoxy in East Africa to come to maturity and form an important and integral part of world Orthodoxy, building relations and bridges on an equal level? Furthermore, is “mission from the margins” possible in this context, and can a beneficial two-way relationship develop between mission and mother Churches? This article will conclude with some suggestions for the future, paving the way for an era beyond decolonisation.



The African Greek Orthodox Church is perhaps a unique example of a body which, starting (for both nationalist and personal ends) as a movement of separation from Canterbury, has asserted its full catholicity by submission to the Orthodoxy of Alexandria.

F.B. Welbourn, East African Rebels: A Study of Some Independent Churches, 3.


The origins of Orthodoxy in East Africa lie in an ecclesiastical split that led to an ecclesiastical change, but not a typical one. Its character is, in fact, extremely rare in the history of missions, let alone Orthodox missions. It emerged as a people’s movement from the bottom up, tightly linked to the political awareness of the people, within the framework of­­—though not identifying with—the nationalist movement that led to various revolts against the colonial regimes. The most renowned of these is the Mau-Mau Uprising (1952–60), an important step towards the decolonisation of Kenya (12 December 1963) and the establishment of a self-governed sovereign state exactly a year later (12 December 1964).

The full history of the origins of Orthodoxy in East Africa has yet to be written, and the eight common shortcomings in African or mission historiography listed by Ogbu Kalu[1] are also apparent in this case. Much historical narrative still relies on oral sources and mouth-to-mouth storytelling, and although most of the protagonists are no longer alive, other important players at a later stage still are. There is a need to document facts and conduct research on both historical origins and later developments. A recent boost in bibliographical research, benefiting the self-awareness of the Orthodox, is to be observed. It has led to a number of important articles and books that try to create a narrative, record oral witnesses, preserve Oral History and even self-critically reflect on the course of events.

[1]        O. Kalu, “Introduction: The Shape and Flow of African Church Historiography,” in African Christianity: An African Story, edited by O. Kalu, Perspectives on Christianity, 5,3 (Pretoria: University of Pretoria, 2005), 15–21. Cf. also on general historiographical issues on Africa, John Edward Philips (ed.), Writing African History (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2005). Similar problems, connected in particular with Western dominance in epistemology, are raised in the classical work of Ng̃ug̃i wa Thiongʼo, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (London: James Currey, Nairobi: EAEP, 1986) and Idem, Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms [London: James Currey, Nairobi: EAEP, 2008 (11993)]. On issues arising in theology, Ben Knighton, “Issues of African Theology at the turn of the Millennium,” Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies 21/3 (July 2004): 147–161.

Article free access: Register