Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Indiana Area Bishop Michael J. Coyner, president of the General Council on Finance and Administration board. This story also has been updated to include information on the trial of Joshua Bule, Joseph Kanyike and the Rev. John Kiviiri.
Bishop Daniel Wandabula, who leads the East Africa Annual (regional) Conference, says he blames the decisions of United Methodist church agencies to withhold funds from his conference on a campaign "of malice, mud-slinging, character lynching and insurrection."
The General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination's finance agency, recommended Sept. 27 that all United Methodist bodies cut off funds to the East Africa Conference until further notice. The agency's board also filed a formal complaint against Wandabula with the Africa Central Conference College of Bishops dealing with concerns about Wandabula's use and accountability of funds.
Another United Methodist agency, the Board of Global Ministries, announced Aug. 8 its decision to suspend all funds indefinitely to the East Africa Annual Conference.
Both agencies took action after three internal audits since April 2011 by African auditors of the conference treasury in Kampala, Uganda. Bishop Peter Weaver, chair of the audit committee of Global Ministries, told United Methodist News Service that regional auditors found "unsatisfactory accounting practices."
Wandabula disagreed with that assessment.
"There have been audits and the EAAC has responded to the audit queries to the best of our knowledge and ability," he said. "It is therefore not true that the EAAC has failed for several years to provide complete and accurate financial audits of general church funds received. If there are still discrepancies between the audit and the response then we can further narrow the gap."
Wandabula responded Tuesday, Oct. 2, afternoon to emailed questions from United Methodist News Service after calls, texts and an email Sept 27 and 28 seeking his response to the finance agency's actions.
He contended that the general church agencies are siding with a blackmail attempt by an anonymous emailer who used the name "Journey Jonah."
"It is unfortunate that some of the officials of the church support these acts, which are criminal in nature in our country and which promote hatred and malice instead of embracing unity and love," Wandabula said.
John Goolsbey, executive of administration at the General Council on Finance and Administration, said the finance agency's recommendation "was a result of a review of information and a discussion with the chair and staff members" of the Board of Global Ministries Internal Audit Committee.
"As stewards of the general funds of The United Methodist Church, GCFA has the responsibility to determine that funds have been distributed solely for the purposes of the stated mission of the entity as defined by the General Conference, the governing board and donor designations," Goolsbey said. "Based on the information currently available in (Board of Global Ministries') audits, we cannot confirmthat is the case."
Indiana Area Bishop Michael J. Coyner, president of the General Council on Finance and Administration board, said the agency's Audit and Review Committee "studied the situation very thoroughly and made their recommendations on the basis of finances not on the basis of any internal politics of the (East Africa Annual Conference)."
When contacted by United Methodist News Service, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries declined to comment on Wandabula's allegations.
'Journey Jonah' and arrests
Wandabula complained to the Ugandan police on Oct. 21, 2009, when the anonymous "Journey Jonah" sent an email to the bishop demanding $300,000. Attached to the email was a document, labeled "report," which contained allegations against the bishop.
On Aug. 30, 2011, "Journey Jonah" sent a report with further allegations against Wandabula to the Council of Bishops and several executives at the Board of Global Ministries but did not supply documentation or a name and full contact information.
In September 2011, the Ugandan police arrested three United Methodists in Uganda and charged them with sending "Journey Jonah's" emails to Bishop Wandabula.
The Rev. John Kiviiri, at that time a district superintendent in the East Africa Annual Conference, and Joseph Kanyike, brother of Kiviiri and an intern with the Board of Global Ministries, were arrested first. Joshua Bule, Kiviiri's son, was arrested later. All were charged with attempting to blackmail Wandabula .
To date, the three have appeared in court some 20 times. But each time, individuals the court deemed important to the case were missing, and the trial has been rescheduled. The last time the three appeared was Sept. 3 when the magistrate was absent. They returned to court on Oct. 3.
A new magistrate has been assigned to the case. She told the court on Oct. 3 that she needs more time to review the specifics of the case. The next hearing is scheduled Nov. 16.
United Methodist News Service reported on the arrests Oct. 4, 2011.
If found guilty, the three face a minimum of three years in prison and could serve up to 10. The Board of Global Ministries has hired an attorney for Kanyike. Wandabula suspended Kiviiri from his pastoral duties in mid-December. That suspension was still in effect Sept. 17.
Kanyike told United Methodist News Service that Wandabula has offered reconciliation to the trio, but only if they admit that they attempted to blackmail him. Kanyike said they would not sign the confession because they are innocent.
Questions and accusations about Wandabula's handing of contributions in the East Africa Conference have been swirling since 2005.
The former Pittsburgh East District of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference became concerned in 2005 about funds it had sent to the East Africa Conference
After not being able to obtain satisfactory accounting for the money, the Rev. Jeff Greenway, a district superintendent from 1999 to 2004 and now lead pastor of Reynoldsburg (Ohio) United Methodist Church, filed a complaint on Nov. 11, 2010, with Bishop Leo A. Soriano, then president of the Central Conference College of Bishops. Greenway said he has not received a response to his letters.
Soriano has not yet responded to an email request for comment.
Nancy Denardo, a former Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference lay leader and co-leader of the Pittsburgh East District effort, also wrote asking for help. Among those to whom she sent letters were Bishop Larry Goodpaster, president of the Council of Bishops at that time, and Bishop Gaspar Domingos, president of the Africa Central Conference College of Bishops. Goodpaster replied that the issue had to be raised in the Africa Central Conference College of Bishops. Denardo said she has not received a response from Domingos.
The Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference has asked the Judicial Council to rule on whether funds given to the East Africa Conference were used in accordance with the intent of the donors as required by Paragraph 258.4 of the 2008 Book of Discipline. The council, the denomination's top court, will consider Denardo's questions when it next meets Oct. 24-27 in the Chicago area.
Effects of suspension
Wandabula said the problems in Uganda stem from "insurrectionists" in Uganda who "are trying to overthrow the bishop after trying to blackmail him."
He said the formal complaints he faces "cap a long process of harassment and underhand undermining of the Resident Bishop" of the East Africa Annual Conference.
"But the ripple effect of the suspension (of funds) will be in the whole conference," he said. "This is most unfair and unfortunate for the other countries in the EAAC, which do not have this infighting."
He said the beneficiaries of United Methodist projects in the East Africa Annual Conference are the ones who are suffering.
The East Africa Annual Conference includes Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the new nation of South Sudan. The conference office is in Kampala, Uganda.
*Peck is a retired clergy member of New York Annual Conference. Hahn is a staff reporter for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].