23 February 2013

Tanzania: Bishop's Burial Brings Lowly, Mighty and Glitterati

For the leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, Mr. Freeman Mbowe, the late Bishop Thomas Laiser, who was buried in Arusha February 15 was more than a spiritual leader.

On August 11, 1991, he blessed his wedding to Lilian Mtei and five years later, he led the burial service for his father in Hai District, Kilimanjaro Region.

In December, 2011 when Mbowe attained 50 years of age, the former Bishop of the North Central Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) was at the home village of the opposition leader to lead prayers for that life achievement.

On Sunday February 3 this year, barely four days before the Bishop passed away, the Chadema national chairman visited him at the Arusha Medical Centre (ALMC) and conversed for at least two hours.

The last time but one the opposition politician had been with the late Bishop was in November last year at Lookii Lutheran Parish in the heart of Maasai land to raise money for a technical school.

This was among narrations by several people, the lowly and mighty, during the well attended burial of the cleric held in Arusha last Friday. The burial brought business in Arusha to a standstill for hours.

President Jakaya Kikwete, retired presidents Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Benjamin William Mkapa, former premier Edward Lowassa, Speaker of the National Assembly Anne Makinda, ministers, MPs, bishops from various church denominations, representatives from the Lutheran World Federation and thousands of people, attended the burial.

The body of the Bishop was brought to the main Lutheran Church located just a stone throw from the famous Clock Tower roundabout.

Mr Mbowe told an attentive audience whether his association with the late church leader had raised eyebrows on whether the man of the cloth was affiliated to him politically. No. It was because of his passion for the Bishop's love for peace, unity and development.

However, the Chadema national chairman caused a stir when he invited the Arusha Urban MP (Chadema), Mr Godbless Lema, to speak, against the day's protocol and to the shock of the organisers who didn't list Lema as a speaker on their programme.

There was nothing they could do at the end as the MP took the floor immediately. But church officials felt relieved when the outspoken opposition MP, who had been at loggerheads with the government authorities since his election in 2010, avoided attacking the ruling party and its government directly.

Although not known to have met officially with President Kikwete, the MP acknowledged the presence of the head of state, saying it was his first time to have addressed an audience with the top most government leaders.

Speakers during the funeral lauded the late Bishop's effective participation in community development projects, especially in health and education.

The chief executive officer of Kenya Airways, Dr Titus Naikuni, who led a delegation of Lutheran Church from Kenya to the funeral, said the late cleric had no boundaries in serving the Maasai community.

He said, the cleric often would cross into Kajiado and Narok districts of Kenya for spiritual services.

President Kikwete said he had known the Bishop as a firm leader, and said the government would continue to support the projects that he initiated.

However, in response to fears expressed by some church leaders in the sermon on the increasing attacks on the churches and the clerics, the President cautioned that religious tensions should not be an excuse to make utterances which can spark disorder.

Mr. Kikwete said relevant government agencies would address the problem. Muslim clerics attended Bishop Laizer's burial yesterday.

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