Kalamba, the cradle of African Inland Mission dating back 135 years
By Joe Ombuor

The first Africa Inland Mission, founded by Peter Cameron Scott, a Scottish-American missionary in 1932, in Kalamba, Makueni County, the front runner of Africa Inland Church. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Kalamba is a remote area in Makueni County laden with mangoes, oranges and other fruits. The land is productive; the neighbourhood drenched in history.

Impressions of human footprints on a boulder in Nzaui Hill overlooking Kalamba market is in keeping with popular Kamba mythology placing the origins of the community there.

Kalamba, known for its cool, spring water oozing from the entrails of the undulating Nzaui and Makuli hills that once teemed with wildlife, is also the cradle of the African Inland Church (AIC) in Kenya and the East African region.

The Africa Inland Mission (AIM), the precursor of the AIC, was first established at Kalamba by Peter Cameron Scott, a Scottish-American evangelist in 1895. Today, his remains lie metres away from a church built in 1932.

Records have it that Scott died of malaria in 1896, hardly a year after establishing the mission. His grave is part of a cultural centre built by Makueni County to keep AIC's history alive.

Older folks in Kalamba remember the 1990s when the late President Daniel arap Moi, a devout AIC follower, was a frequent visitor.

Then there were rumours that Moi would have a complex constructed there to mark the church's roots, replete with an ornate church, a college and a hospital to rival the one at Kijabe.

The rumour triggered a mad rush for property at the area that, according to residents, made Moi change his mind.

“As soon as Moi called for the relocation of people with homes close to the cradle, unscrupulous and powerful characters moved in, sweeping away people in their thousands from their ancestral land," recounts James Mbuyu, 69.

"This angered Moi who promptly stopped the project when the public outcry reached him," he recounted.

“It was grand corruption in display that Moi nipped in the bud, albeit at the expense of development that would have accompanied the project. The road linking Emali with Wote would have been tarmacked long ago had the project materialised,” says the father of eight and a fruit farmer.

Driving 27 kilometres to Kalamba from Emali is like navigating the surface of the moon - the road through Matiliku market is nothing but unending ruts, furrows and outright craters that are a nightmare to manoeuvre across.

The historic spot where Scott and his entourage settled for a pioneer mission hugs the stunted and dusty Kalamba shopping centre.

The pioneer missionary, who died at 29, is immortalised several kilometres away at Mumbuni in Machakos town where Scott Theological College (now a fully-fledged Scott Christian University) was established in 1962.

The church that he built in 1895 has been replaced by an equally antique one whose construction was completed in 1932. 

The church, built from baked mud bricks, stands sturdily on a boulder 88 years later, its tin roof rusty from the elements. A colony of bees said to have survived the 88 years hum from the attic.

The bees are curiously innocuous and are not known to sting.

Mbuyu is not sure about the origin of the bee colony, but it is steeped in myth. Some say the bees were sent by a female chief named Syumbesa, who felt the missionaries were threatening her authority.

“My father used to tell me how he saved a white man from falling to his death when the bees attacked while he was supervising work on the roof. He was gifted a sack of salt, the most valued item those days,” says Mbuyu.  

Besides a fruit processing plant located across a ravine in the bosom of fruit farms, Kalamba today hosts an AIC sponsored secondary school and a water project.

Thanks to its shared history with the Africa Inland Church, the shopping centre was connected to the national power grid long before Makueni County headquarters at Wote.