Skip to content

September 17, 2013

Tribalism and Power Struggle in the Anglican Church Of Tanzania

by Admin

The Rev. Canon Kwikima gives an analysis of the effects of tribalism and the power struggles they engender in the Anglican Church of Tanzania.  Giving specific examples she shows that such power struggles have the effect of “sowing…fruits…of hostility, hatred, cruelty and hypocrisy” in the dioceses and congregations of the ACT.  Applying the same principles to the wider Anglican Communion Rev. Kwikima warns that the struggle for power of one province over another will lead to the same ill effects worldwide.


The purpose of this presentation is to contribute to the on-going Indaba programme by giving insights on issues which bring the Anglican Church worldwide into misunderstandings and conflicts. The material in this presentation mostly comes from experience of some Anglicans who have served the church at different levels from congregants, priests, and bishops.

The only written material read and used in this presentation comes from a thesis written by Mkunga Humphrey Mtingele on Leadership and Conflicts in an African Church for   the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) September 2004.

Tanzania, as a country, has about one hundred and twenty different tribes, some are regarded as big tribes—such as Chaggas Sukuma, Nyakyusa, and Hehe, and some are considered small tribes—such as Bondei, Konde, Fipa, etc. In the past, during the colonial period for instance, tribes united their tribesmen together under the leadership of chiefs and sultans who came to power by inheriting the thrones. People of one tribe lived together showing love, kindness, solidarity, and concern for one another’s welfare. They went out to war to fight against their enemies when the need arose. Oneness, togetherness and respect were not things one had to search for in a tribe, clan and family.

Therefore each member in a tribe was sure of protection, care and security. After independence chiefdoms were abolished and tribal languages were superseded by Swahili, which is Tanzania’s national language. Tribal traditions, customs and cultures were slowly weakened by inter-tribal marriages, schooling, and foreign religions like Christianity.

When the Church was introduced in this country it maintained peace , love, respect, kindness, care and unity for a remarkable length of time, both in the Anglican Church of Tanzania and in the midst of the communities it served. The church I am talking about in this presentation is the Anglican Church of Tanzania which I have been tied to from birth to the present time when I am above sixty years of age. I have been brought up in mission schools and now I am an ordained minister.

I have seen great changes slowly taking place in the Tanzanian Church as leadership was handed over from western priests and bishops to Tanzanian ones. The former servants of God were respected by their congregants and the communities surrounding them. Maybe their status as foreigners and the realities of colonial rule influenced believers to give them very high respect. Thus leadership was more or less smooth and peaceful. These western church leaders were being sent to their working areas in Tanzania from Great Britain.

The Christians at this end had no choice to choose which person they wanted to lead them. But they seemed to be content with the situation. I wonder whether this situation was truly brought by God-fearing ethics or driven by the fear of colonial powers. All-in-all, the church was the symbol of love, kindness, care and peace. Orders from the clergy were received and obeyed.

There were no questions whatsoever from the congregants to their ministers. They wholeheartedly accepted their priests and bishops as servants of God being and believed them to be miracle performers, honest, providers of their day-to-day needs, and extraordinary kind and caring. Indeed the congregants needed their leaders.

When the rally stick was handed over to the indigenous to lead the Church things changed bit-by-bit. First and foremost the was change in the method by which bishops come to power. Now it is by casting votes. Who is to enter the contest and finally be elected a diocesan bishop? This question has driven the Anglican Church of Tanzania into conflicts in both Anglo–Catholic dioceses and Evangelical dioceses.

The electoral structure involves congregants at the gross-roots level, the diocesan council, the House of Bishops and the diocesan electoral synod. A clergy candidate wins the Bishop’s seat by getting a majority vote. One would not ever think of conflicts to arise from this well thought-out procedure, but conflicts do arise and cause rifts within the church of Christ. The problem so far is not created by the method by which diocesan bishop is elected, rather it is brought about by tribalism.

History shows that once a vacancy is to be filled by a new bishop, a power struggle immediately emerges. Groups of different tribes are seen to stand out for war. Each group fighting to put its tribesman into office.

This situation bears heartily felt fruits of hostility, hatred, cruelty, and hypocrisy amongst the congregants, thus weakening the unity of believers and the spiritual fruits of love, peace, kindness, harmony, togetherness and oneness of the people of God. These gifts were seen vividly before the indigenous leaders came to power. The church has lost it’s testimony of being the One, Holy and Apostolic Church.

When “ tribe” is said to be a group of people who have a common purpose or goal in their lives, as I expressed earlier, tribalism in Tanzania  has  been a  tool of unity and  solidarity of a particular people. But in the church today tribalism does not promote unity, but diversity. I would like to believe that Christians of the Church of Christ are expected to interpret the church as their tribe, speaking the same language with one  purpose and one goal—proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus worldwide with the purpose of converting the human race and bringing them to Jesus Christ our Saviour. Henceforth our tribalism should be expressed through Anglicanism Worldwide, which fights Satan who weakens our effort to achieve our said goal.

It is very embarrassing to learn and see that Christians in the Anglican Church of Tanzania fight against one another using tribalism as a sharp tool to ruin our  intellectual, physical and spiritual health; giving way to Satan to root conflicts in the church to reign over us. History shows that conflicts are destructive in many areas of the life and development of the church and believers.

Apart from conflicts which are destructive to the spiritual welfare of believers involved, they also affect the social and economical welfare of the same to a greater degree. Energy, time and other resources, instead of being focused on the development of the souls of congregants and the church at large, are wasted on cementing and rooting enmity amongst those congregants and tearing the church into pieces. This trend places the lives of Christians in danger of destruction here on earth and in heaven after death. We are changing the Church of Christ from a vessel meant to sail us to heaven into one which will take us to hell. We are blocking the saving act of God in our midst and in the midst of those who do not know Christ yet.

Therefore, conflicts should be avoided and, when they happen to emerge in our midst, must be curbed immediately by approaches which would work as fire extinguishers rather than those which accelerate them and widen the rifts already created afar. Christians should sit together to talk about their differences and find resolutions to iron them out. I love the motto of the Anglicans worldwide which says: “We agree to disagree”. As many as we are, with a wide range of backgrounds, cultures, traditions, habits and customs, we are united in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are the children of God through Jesus. So we must not allow the devil and his evil spirits to divide us under any circumstance. We may differ in many spheres of life but we must not work towards schism at any level.

We must explore our differences carefully and with calm hearts in order to learn from one another the root cause of a particular problem and seriously grasp opportunities to bind us together as Anglicans, as Christians, and  as the precious parts of the body of Christ. Let us use constructive meetings such as Indaba (SA) and Baraza (TZ) and respect the resolutions which come from consensus of such gatherings. Stiff necks will just tear us apart and lead us to losing our status of inheriting the Kingdom of God. We must strive to harvest abundantly from the saving act of God through his begotten son Jesus Christ. Even our constitutional bodies such as synods, diocesan councils, chapter meetings and standing committees must be used for conflict resolution instead of being used as conflict sources.

In this presentation two examples of chaotic conflicts which arose from the phenomenon  of tribalism and power struggle that shook the Anglican Church of Tanzania in recent years will be highlighted. On my side these power struggles brought the church shame, disgrace, diversity and fruitlessness. They left scars in the hearts of believers which are difficult to remove and memories which revolve in our minds for a long period. In most cases conflicts get rid of forgiveness so bitterness and hatred and sometimes witchcraft prevail among parishioners.

Let me now highlight two power struggle conflict case studies which were brought about by tribalism during the elections of bishops and destroyed the image of the church tremendously and made the public fail to see the difference between Anglicanism and Paganism. The presence of Jesus was hardly traced in the church during the period of these quarrels and fighting. Satan seemed to be at work, fully armored, roaring around ready to swallow every follower of Christ(c.f. 1 peter 5:8).

Case Study 1

In the year of our Lord 1991 Diocese Y had to elect a diocesan bishop. During elections the bishop who won the elections was consecrated. Immediately groups emerged within the diocese. There were people who were against the bishop because he was neither from their tribe nor their geographical region. According to them this person was a foreigner so a question of discrimination cropped up: “why should we be ruled by a foreigner”? This question overcame them and surpassed their thinking capacity and faith. They sort of beat up the bishop physically using his staff, dragging him out of teh church building and refusing him to do confirmations. He was dragged on the ground until his robes were torn completely into rags. His blood and sweat left marks vividly seen on the rags. I saw these rags with my own eyes on the day of his burial when the Archbishop of ACT narrated this story to the mourners and showed the rags of the robes of the late Bishop John Changae. The mourners were told that the late bishop pleaded when he was alive that those rags be preserved and shown to people as a testimony that tribalism that bears cruelty and hatred has roots in the Church of Christ. And that the spirit of tribalism must be uprooted in the hearts and lives of Christians to allow the agape love of Jesus Christ to bind his disciples together for servanthood. This conflict, which stretched to about fifteen years and cost the diocese concerned a lot of funds used for reconciliation meetings that did not bear spiritual fruit. The Archbishop, Dean, Registrar and other provincial officers made numberless expensive trips to that diocese to try to influence the people to reconcile, but tribalism was not shaken so the bishop in question had to retire prematurely.

Observation bring to light that tribalism is a poison that spreads quickly amongst people and has very disastrous outcomes. In the case of this diocese Y two bishops of the neighboring dioceses were influenced to side with the group which was against the diocesan bishop. But, very strangely, these two bishops were also at loggerheads with one another, each of them wanted the next bishop of diocese Y to come from his tribe. There were three main tribes struggling for power in diocese Y (the Sukuma, Ha and Hangaza). There was an intense tension in diocese Y which reigns even today, after a Sukuma bishop came to power. Christian interest has been diverted from proclaiming the Gospel to power struggles for a bishop’s throne.

Case Study 2

Another case study comes from diocese X which held elections for a diocesan bishop in the year of our Lord 1998. Here again tribalism shot up to create confusion, tension, hatred, and enmity, to name a few of the evil spirits in the diocese. History shows that this diocese had to undergo election for a bishop because the one who was there went to lead a newly formed diocese.

The two priests who were contesting for the office of the bishop of diocese X came from two different tribes. One came from a big tribe that occupies a bigger geographical area in that diocese and so had many supporters and fans. The other one came from a small tribe. The former had been working within the diocese for quite a long period while the latter worked outside the diocese. After the elections, it was learned that the contester who emerged from the small tribe won the race. The group which campaigned for the other contester were taken by surprise because they were sure that their tribesman would win the elections and become the diocesan bishop. So, at the announcement of the results this rival group invaded the officials from the provincial office, including the General Secretary of ACT, and beat them up with chairs, fits, blows, sticks etc. Some valuable documents and the possessions of the GS were scattered and stolen. This honoured church occasion turned into a police case! It was a big shame! What I learned from this case is that the Holy Spirit of God is not invited to control, guide and guard the elections from the  beginning, but people are engaged so much in campaigns, witchcraft, and mudslinging as if a bishopric were a political position. Thus people had to harvest the weeds that the devil had planted in their midst. If the believers spiritually followed the biblical approach in putting bishops into office (ACTS 1:23 – 26) things would never happen as they usually happen nowadays.

The situation in diocese X became so tense that even when the elections were repeated in the same year and the same priest won for the second time, the Primate did not dare announce the winner for consecration. Instead, amazingly a foreigner was brought from overseas to be the diocesan bishop. Maybe the Archbishop and his advisory team had good intentions in bringing this foreigner instead of consecrating an indigenous bishop, but observations brought to light that the foreign bishop was not a solution to the conflict. Cracks and rifts caused by tribalism widened for the three years of his reign. Diocese X held other elections for a diocesan bishop in the year our Lord 2009. Despite that tribalism did not rest, the bishop-elect of the past two elections won these elections too and this time he was consecrated diocesan bishop by the new Primate of ACT. I understand why our former ACT leader was not moved to consecrate this priest though he won elections twice. The two come from the same tribe of the Pangwa. Should we believe that the former ACT leader did not want to strengthen tribalism during his reign and let his tribe brother suffer spiritually, physically and mentally. Nevertheless, the Primate has set an example to be followed by many in combating this Goliath-like tribalism movement. He acted with wisdom from God (1 Kings 3:16- 28). On the other hand, Bishop John Simalenga has also set a good example to be followed by all clergy. Though he had to go along with this torture and humiliation for about ten years he was tolerant, patient and loyal to the Primate by performing his responsibilities and the tasks assigned to him at his level best. We can all witness that he has harvested what he sowed (Ps 64:10), 27:3 – 4; Col 3:12 – 18; Gal 6:9, the Lord’s Prayer). Nevertheless, diocese X is still not peaceful. The current diocesan bishop has to make deliberate efforts to to bring congregants together once again. He has to show love to all his people regardless of what they did to him in the past. This includes even his rival contester (Luke 6:27 – 29). It needs a God-fearing man like this who does not wish to revenge evil for evil after coming to power (ROMAN 12:17 – 21).


From the two case studies highlighting the evil of tribalism, the church must learn to avoid this movement at all levels. The Anglican Church of Tanzania must seriously review how dioceses are divided geographically. I have noted that geographical boundaries of our dioceses encourage tribalism. For example, if one reviews when the dioceses of Mara and Masasi were divided, the new dioceses got their bishops from the leading tribes in population in those areas. The Newela diocese got their bishop from the Konde tribe and Tarime diocese got their bishop from the Kuria tribe. And when the time comes to divide the diocese of Tanga, it can be predicted that the bishop will come from the Zigua tribe. Even now, when the bishop’s throne is vacant in Tanga, diocesan tribalism is swelling among the three main tribes—Zigua, Bondei and Sambara.

Since the ACT follows the government’s district geographical administrative boundaries, it cannot avoid this divisional pattern for its dioceses. Something must be deliberately forced in order to abolish the influence of tribalism within the Church. I suggest that bishops must be posted to the dioceses from the provincial office. By transferring bishops to areas other than their tribal homes these neo-chiefdoms will die out gradually and, in turn, the bishops will truly become servants of God, serving their Lord and tending the people of God rather than becoming tribal chiefs. We must use Anglicanism worldwide to bind us together from Canterbury to all member countries. Our identity must be LOVE (Jn 15:12 – 13), regardless of our differences in many spheres of life. We must be ready to forfeit our interests because of our UNITY. Not a single nation or group in the Anglican Communion should ever think of or strive towards SCHISM of the Church. Let us pray for spiritual fruits from on-going Indaba programme so that our task should only be to execute the Great Commission of the Church (c.f. MATHEW 28:19).

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: