Elijah Masinde (also spelt Elija Masinde) (1910–12 (?)—1987) was a Bukusu freedom-fighter.
Born around 1910 – 1912 in Kimilili, Bungoma District, Masinde wa Nameme okhwa Mwasame started out as a footballer, who captained a football team from Kimilili. He also played for Kenyan national team in the Gossage Cup against Uganda in 1930. By the early 1940s, he had risen to the rank of a junior elder within his community in Kimilili area, and became increasingly anti-colonial. In 1944, he led a number of localised defiance campaigns against the colonial authorities, and was imprisoned many times as a result. At one time he was kept in Mathare Mental Hospital and in Lamu.
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Elijah Masinde, was the founder and the leader of Dini ya Musambwa religion. He was an ardent opponent of colonial regimes of Kenya. He also opposed and condemned the post independence regimes of Kenyatta and Moi for betraying the African people's cause. He accused Kenyatta of land grabbing, ethnicity, rampant corruption and other malpractices. Of Moi, he accused him of perpetuating what Kenyatta had initiated and introducing neo exploitation of the fellow Africans. He died in 1987 at the age of 75. Mr. Masinde, one of the last Luyia prophets, founded Musambwa the anti colonial religion in 1936. He led the Bukusu, the Tachoni, the Kabras, the Teso, the Pokot, the Turkana and some Nandis to object to over taxation, racism and forced labour. Fearing his influence the British arrested him in 1944 and had him detained till 1961.
Upon Kenya's independence, Masinde was very critical of the dictatorial government of Jomo Kenyatta. He was against the land grabbing, tribalism, and abuse of the non-Kikuyu rights by the Kenyatta regime agents and the state. Kenyatta had no option but to detain him for almost 15 years. In 1978 Kenyatta died; Moi took power. To please the unhappy population then he had to release some key opponents of the Kenyatta regime. Amongst those released included Elijah Masinde. But Masinde was still not happy with the Moi regime which perpetuated corruption, impunity abuse of the basic human rights. In Moi, Elijah Masinde saw a dictator who had to be stopped or deny the people of Kenya the freedom they had won from the British Imperialists. Moi soon sensed the threat posed by Masinde. He set his state agents against Masinde. One day on his way from Webuye to Kitale, he was arrested by the agents. He was taken through a court of law unprocedurely and send to Mathare Mental Hospital and later taken to Prison. Dini ya Musambwa was also banned. But still Elijah Masinde remained defiant even while in prison. It is believed the oppressive Moi regime might have poisoned him, just like they did with Hezekiah Oyugi and Tito Adungosi and others, before releasing him in 1987. Elijah Masinde died threat very same year. Elijah Masinde's Dini ya Musambwa had his followers amongst the Bukusu and Tachoni. He later had converts among the Isukha, Kabras, Bagisu, Nandi, Pokot, Tugen, Turkana, Sebei, Sabaot, Bagwere, and many others. In Bungoma the following locations were highly Musambwa: Lwakhakha, Kuywa, Ndivisi, Webuye, Kongoli, Kapchai, Kibisi, Kibingei, Kimilili Kimalewa and Kamukuywa. They slaughtered sheep and supplicated to Wele Khakaba, (God the of Providence). Wele Khakaba was at times called Mukhobe or Malaba. Masinde went allover Luyialand and Bugishu restoring all the shrines and sacred places of the nation of Muntu the founder of the Luyia Nation. Some of the shrines were in caves and others hills and/or mountains. Mount Elgon remained the Mountain of Wele Mkhobe (Almighty God) just like Mount Zion to the Jews. As the colonialists introduced forced labour in combination with racism, oppression and abusive laws the more the people believed in Elijah Masinde. He questioned the Protestants and Catholics how they could claim their God was a true God when he was according to them the chief supporter of the oppressive colonial system. He asked the people to defy and if necessary act contrary to the teaching of these churches. He defied the church and encouraged the people to practice polygamy. This he did with full knowledge that he needed the numbers to fight the British. (Remember the Bukusu had fought with the British in 1895 at Lumboka and Chetambe). Masinde knew the British colonialists won because they divided the anti imperialists forces like the Nandi, the Kisii, the Kakilelwa and the Pokot. Hence Elijah had embarked on the unification purpose via Dini ya Musambwa. The colonialists became ruthless and hostile to the followers of Dini ya Musambwa and more so the members of the tribes mentioned above. This forced them to quit the churches and join Musambwa which had been emboldened and daring in its opposition to the white man. Some propaganda by the British that Musambwa were devil worshippers only worsened the situation. Musambwa followers were taught that the white man was the devil for he specialised only in exploitation, oppression and abuse of peoples rights. Dini Ya Musambwa believed in Wele Khakaba and the departed ancestors. This made sense to them than colonial impregnated Christianity that the missionaries preached. At Webuye, then Broderick Falls, Elijah Masinde led his adherent believers to sacrificing over twenty bulls and thirty or so goats and sheep and declared that it was time for the white man to leave the land of Africans or he was going to be forced out. The colonial regime agents saw this as a declaration of war against the imperial regime. Masinde sensing the danger, he went underground. The colonialists looked for him every where. But to no avail. But after a year or so the agents found Masinde hidden in a bunker in Zakayo Lukorito’s farm in Kamukuywa near Chesamisi. Chief Namutala gave orders to the police to have Elijah Masinde flogged. As he was led away and driven in an open police land-rover, flanked both sides by the colonial police men, throngs of his followers stood by the road from Chesamisi to Kimilili wailing for their hero. Elijah waved all the way, and assured them of his return. Masinde was released in 1961. Kenya was moving very first towards independence. At that time, Elijah Masinde also returned from his visit to Bugisu. He had gone to confer with his Musambwa flock and Omuyinga, the Bagisu ruler/king, and other Kombololo (County) Chiefs especially Wanambwa. But Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote after being tipped off of Masinde’s presence in his country ordered his arrest. Masinde had noted the abuse of power in Obote’s Uganda. He naturally questioned it. Obote’s regime was agitated. Upon release from jail in Uganda, he was escorted to the Kenya border. He looked for “Sihuna” from the shrubs, uprooted it, and dragged it along. It gathered rubbish behind him. Then he told those around and accompanying him “that he had gathered Obote’s power together that would soon end.” He travelled peacefully to his home in Maeni, Kimilili. He predicted the overthrowing of Obote’s government for the oppression against the people of Uganda. And sure enough Obote was to be ousted by Idi Amin Dada in 1971. That fulfilled Elijah Masinde’s prediction. Prior to this stage, the Kenyan leaders had dismissed him and called him names just as they did in 1948 before the colonialists subsequently arrested and detained him in Lamu. Everywhere Elijah Masinde appeared; political leaders and some of the elders in the community avoided him. They described him as religious maniac. Suddenly he was restricted to Maeni village only and not allowed to meet with people from other villages. Some leaders outside the community did not heed this government requirement. Notably Jaramogi Oginga Odinga maintained his close contact with him. After all, he had not liked Kenyatta since he came out of detention. Eventually Elijah was arrested and charged. He was jailed for a bundle of these petty misdeeds at Kamiti maximum security prison. He was then later transferred to Mathare Mental Hospital in Nairobi where he stayed without treatment.
Detention, old age, and death
Upon Kenya's independence, Masinde was detained by the government of Jomo Kenyatta for almost 15 years. He had been accused of fomenting religious hatred. He was released by the government of Daniel arap Moi in 1978, Moi also arrested him following his clashes with traffic policemen in Webuye and Kitale. Elija Masinde remained defiant and always questioned post independence Kenya government especially on the issue of land distribution and citizen rights. He died in 1987, a neglected freedom fighter.
Before his death, Masinde pointed out to his elder son the spot where he wanted to be buried – he wanted a huge sycamore tree uprooted to make way for his grave. The family decided to bury him elsewhere, though, but were thwarted when a spot they chose for his grave turned out to be a hidden grave. They took this to be an omen and proceeded to bury him in the spot where the sycamore tree had been.
He left a widow, Sarah Nanyama Masinde. She was still alive in November 2007 and was then reportedly 105 years old.
- Daily Nation, 29 June 2008: SOCCER: When Elijah Masinde sneaked from team camp
- Daily Nation, 12 November 2007: Masinde family supports Raila
- Makila, F. E. (1978) An Outline History of Babukusu of Western Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya Literature Bureau.
- Alembi, Ezekiel. (2000) Elijah Masinde: Rebel with a cause. Nairobi, Kenya: Sasa Sema Publications Ltd.