Congregations in Britain, Asia and Africa believe in his healing powers, but the self-appointed Archbishop Gilbert Deya may be linked to a sinister trade. By Jonathan Este
Science is squaring up to faith in a country where many see acts of God as commonplace. DNA tests by police in Kenya last week appear to show that children at the centre of an alleged baby smuggling operation were not “miracle babies” produced by the power of prayer but the result of something far more sinister. Five people, including two Britons, now face charges of baby-snatching in a Nairobi court.
The tests were the first step in a process which may uncover a child-trafficking network between Kenya and Britain. At the centre of the allegations is Gilbert Deya, a self-styled miracle-worker who has congregations in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Nottingham and claims a following of more than 30,000 people in Britain and many more in Africa and Asia.
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Archbishop Deya, as he calls himself, claims to have powers of healing and exorcism and the ability to make women pregnant with the power of prayer. Curiously, women that God has apparently made pregnant through the intercession of Mr Deya shun British hospitals, preferring instead to fly to Nairobi to have their children, not in the city’s hospitals, but in back-street clinics.
Two of these clinics, Mama Lucy’s and Ngomongo, were closed last week by local authorities for not having the appropriate licences to operate.
Mr Deya’s wife, Mary, was charged on Monday with the theft of a baby from a maternity hospital earlier this year. Miriam Nyeko, a British citizen of Ugandan origin, and Rose Kiserem, also British but of Nigerian origin, face similar charges. Mrs Nyeko, 40, claims to have flown to Kenya last month to give birth to her son, Daniel. Police in Nairobi say DNA tests prove she is not the biological mother of the child.
Another couple, Eddah and Michael Odera, were also charged with child theft. In a way, it was hubris on the part of this couple which led to the investigation and arrests. The pair held a press conference earlier this month at which they paraded 11 children between the ages of five and two months who, they said, had been born to Mrs Odera, 56, in the space of five years as a result of the miraculous powers of Mr Deya. They claimed they had been conceived without sexual intercourse and said the children had not been visible on pre-birth scans. The 11 children are also pictured on Mr Deya’s website.
Afterwards, Nairobi CID detained the Oderas and took the children. A few days later, police raided the Deyas’ home in the upmarket Nairobi suburb of Mountain View and found nine more children, claimed by Mrs Deya as her own. Mrs Deya was arrested.
DNA tests taken from the women and children – according to Nairobi CID – show that none of the children were in any way related to the women who claimed to have given birth to them.
Mr Deya, meanwhile, has chosen not to return to Kenya to support his wife and remains in England, where he continues to preach and spits defiance at Kenyan authorities. He warned President Emilio Mwai Kibaki and Amos Wako, the Attorney General, that their “children and grandchildren will die in the streets, the way you have left these holy children of Almighty God to suffer and be humiliated throughout the streets of Kenya”. In a press release at the weekend, he reminded the President of the donations he made to his election campaign. He published photographs of officials of the ruling NARC party accepting a cheque last year.
Mr Deya is not averse to trading on his supposed influence. His website includes a video of him with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at his church in Peckham. He also claims a close relationship with the former Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi. But all his connections appear to be running for cover. None has made a public statement in his defence, while the pressure on the Kenyan government mounts to lodge a formal extradition request for Mr Deya to face charges alongside his wife.
Since arriving in Britain in 1996, Mr Deya has built himself a reputation as a barnstorming preacher. He has built up a large congregation in south London with offshoots in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham. He has a £1m headquarters in Peckham, a large house in the swish Mountain View area of Nairobi and a palatial bungalow in Got Abiero, the village where he was born. A stone’s throw from the tin shack in which he grew up, it is the finest home in the area.
He has the use of at least one liveried private aircraft, and his Mercedes, with its personalised number plates, is the talk of the neighbourhood.
Mr Deya told The Independent last week that the Kenyan authorities were pursuing a vendetta against him, and threatened temporal and spiritual punishment – libel laws and hellfire – against those who questioned his powers, calling journalists who report the child-trafficking story “malicious”, “wicked” and “devil worshippers”.
“I am not a trafficker. I have invited international doctors to come and witness the power of God that is using me to perform miracles in Jesus’ name – that women are giving birth within two to three months every time.”
He also rejected allegations that he was enriching himself from the proceeds of his miraculous abilities and from the donations of his congregation, who are understood to be encouraged to give a “tithe” (10 per cent of their income) to the church. It has been estimated that he earns at least £200,000 a year, but he insisted that any money donated went directly to his registered charity, Gilbert Deya Ministries.
The charity’s accountancy firm, Kojo & Co, recently wrote an open letter confirming that all incomes generated by the charity were used for the purposes of the charity: “In our opinion, none was used to acquire a property for the benefit of any trustees.”
A Kenyan journalist, Gitau wa Njenga, told The Independent that, in addition to the £1m headquarters building in south London, Deya Ministries owned several other properties in London and Nairobi. “By our standards he has a lot of property,” Mr Njenga said. “He is very rich.” Repeated calls to Mr Deya’s accountants this week were not answered.
It has been a long road from the impoverished district of Thika, where Mr Deya was born in the 1950s to, in his own words, “a family of thieves”. His father, he says, was a “pagan, a terrible drunk and a womaniser”, who found God not long before his premature death in 1973. Mr Deya gained early fame as a rural exorcist, performing healing at religious gatherings.
But while Mr Deya may claim thousands of followers, his ministry has found little favour with people who live and work near his church. Many complain of the mayhem caused by the crowds that flock to this part of south-east London on a weekend.
Anne Ward, landlady of the Barnaby pub, said: “You want to come round here on a Saturday night. They start at 10 o’clock and there are raves going on until 6 o’clock in the morning.
“It is like New York city, music until all hours. They are a nightmare. We have had the police around millions of times but they won’t do anything.”
The street from which Mr Deya runs his ministry is filled with small churches offering solace to a predominantly African crowd, one local explained.
Christie Justice, of Lambarts repair shop, added: “There must be 50 churches down there. You can’t park out there and the place is a tip on a Monday morning. We have written to the council four or five times.”
Mr Njenga says the preacher inspires an awe-stricken belief in his followers, the vast majority of them African. “They are brainwashed,” he says. “He is a charismatic preacher. If you mention God, sex and miracles, you captivate people. Most of the communities in Kenya believe in witchcraft and miracles, these are traditional beliefs.
“In Deya, you have a ‘man of God’ who is recognised internationally and he claims he can work miracles. You go to his website and you see him with the Queen. You believe him.”
The Church of England clearly doesn’t: “I believe in miracles, but I don’t believe that people can have babies miraculously that have totally different DNA,” says the Right Rev Dominic Walker, the Bishop of Monmouth. “It’s very difficult when people are claiming something is a miracle when perhaps it’s a criminal activity.”
Kenyan authorities also prefer to believe that the children have more earthly origins. They have published photographs of all the “miracle” children and a large number of distraught parents have flocked in, claiming the babies are theirs and have been stolen.
On Saturday, the East African Standard reported that a couple from Meru in north-west Kenya had been recognised by one of the boys, four-year-old Simon Odera, as his real parents. The police asked the boy to point out his father and mother and he ran straight to Catherine Kajuju and her husband, Gerald Muthomi M’ikunyua, who “shed tears of joy”. Their son, who they called Hardy Kaimenyi, disappeared from their home in June last year. DNA tests will be used to determine the boy’s parentage.
Attention has focused on one hospital in particular. Of the 47 recorded cases of couples claiming to be the real parents of the miracle babies, 16 say their babies disappeared from Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi. The hospital was the subject of an investigation earlier this year which established high-level professional negligence. A task force has been appointed by the Minister of Local Government, Musikari Kombo, to investigate activities at the hospital, although the task force was careful to point out there was no evidence of an organised baby-stealing racket. It is alleged that Mary Deya took at least one child from Pumwani, “Naomi”, who disappeared on or about 5 February this year. Since his wife was arrested, Mr Deya has declined to talk to the press.
Mr Njenga said that when he started to investigate Mr Deya last month, the “archbishop” tried to suborn him. “He was very keen to meet me,” Mr Njenga said. “He said we could come to some sort of an ‘arrangement’. I told him I wasn’t interested – I’m a journalist, I don’t want to be compromised. That was when he threatened me – he said he would cast demons on me and my family.”
He made similar threats in a curious telephone interview with The Independent, which took place during one of his services recently. As what sounded like hundreds of worshippers roared their approval, the preacher threatened hellfire and damnation against this reporter who, he said, would pay the price “in the court of heaven”. He also called several of his congregation to testify, including a doctor, Kay Ngagba, and a state registered nurse, Mabel Davies. Both attested to their preacher’s claims.
“I’m not talking obstetrics, I’m talking about what happened,” Ms Davies said, insisting that the DNA tests meant nothing. “Even if you see the babies coming out of their mother’s wombs, I am confident the DNA will not match”. This, she said, was merely further proof that the children were the result of God’s intervention.