history of aa kenya
Alcoholics Anonymous was first started in Nairobi sometime in the early 1960’s only to disband soon afterwards presumably because its largely expatriate membership left the country. In view of the role of the Oxford Group, later to be known as Moral Rearmament, in the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is noteworthy that Franck Buchman, the movement’s founder, visited Nairobi early in the 1960’s. Soon afterwards MRA meetings, attended largely by expatriates except for one indigenous Kenyan, were conducted in a private home in the Upper Hill throughout the 1960’s until when the movement was proscribed by the State in 1969. There is need for more research to establish if any connections exist between the first attempt at starting AA meetings in the 1960’s and the MRA meetings that were conducted in the Upper Hill area of Nairobi over the same period.
Ten years after the first attempt at starting AA meetings in Kenya, two distinct serendipitous encounters set in motion a chain of events that culminated in the AA message of hope and recovery finding a foothold in the country. These two encounters planted the seeds of the parallel emergence of first AA groups within Nairobi CBD and within Nairobi’s Eastlands neighborhoods. Over time, these pioneering groups were to in turn grow into the now vibrant fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous in Kenya.
Non-Alcoholics and the Story of AA Kenya
The Alcoholics Anonymous Kenya story disabuses us of the misconception that only an alcoholic can help another alcoholic. Indeed, a number of non-Alcoholics played significant roles in the weaving of the story that is today Alcoholics Anonymous Kenya.
These non-alcoholic allies of the AA fellowship in Kenya ranged from Medical Doctors, Clergymen and members of the Al-Anon family support program. The section on the “Doctors Opinion” the AA Big Book gives the medical estimate of the AA program of recovery stating among other things that:
“The unselfishness of these men as we have come to know them, the entire absence of profit motive, and their community spirit, is indeed inspiring to one who has labored long and wearily in this alcoholic field. They believe in themselves, and still more in the Power which pulls chronic alcoholics back from the gates of death.” AA Big Book, (The Doctor’s Opinion) pp. xvi-xvii.
In the story of the growth of AA fellowship in Kenya, two medical professionals who played critical roles in the formation of the first AA groups in Nairobi and Mombasa are worth mentioning. In 1971, the late Professor Joseph Mungai, then the deputy vice chancellor of the University of Nairobi who had also served as the first Dean of the School of Medicine at the University, chaired the first public information meeting on the disease of alcoholism. This meeting resulted in the formation of the first AA group in Kenya. On the other hand, Dr. E.O. Omolo’s deep concern for the plight of the victims of alcoholism in Mombasa and the Coastal region and subsequent engagement with AA groups in Nairobi led to the formation of the first AA group in Mombasa. (NB: Dr. E.O. Omollo was a consultant psychiatrist who at the time worked at the Coast Province General Hospital).
Similarly, numerous members of the clergy also played significant roles at the inception of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous in Kenya by opening up their parishes and churches to host Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Amongst these are Fr. Bob Vujs, a Maryknoll priest, who was then pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jericho, Nairobi and the Rev Henry Poltridge then the pastor at the St. Peter’s Church in Nyali when the first AA/NA meeting was formed in Mombasa.
Finally, a number of Al-nonmembers also played a prominent role in passing the AA message. Among the prominent Al-Anon members who passed on the AA message included Jessie and later Pat.
The journey that is the story of Alcoholics Anonymous is a wandering journey, a journey of falling down and getting up, it is a day at a time journey. The ongoing story of Alcoholics Anonymous Kenya mirrors a similar wandering, a falling down and getting up one day at a time. On the anvils of the experience of wandering, of falling down and getting back up again, has emerged this ongoing story of Alcoholics Anonymous Kenya.
The past, it has been said, has its own unpredictability. The past can indeed come knocking on the door at any time wearing new clothes. As AA’s we need hope, a hope that is rooted our memory. As a fellowship, we breathe life into this memory in the telling of our stories of how it was, what happened and how it is today.
Al-Anon and Al-Ateen
A mention of Al-Anon, a twelve-step program for families’ members and friends of people addicted to alcohol, and Al-Ateen, a part of Al-Anon meant for young people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking, is warranted at phase of the growth of the growth of AA within Nairobi.
By the mid 1970’s, the nascent Al-Anon family support group despite comprising of only three active members was not only active but also prominent due to the dedicated service of one lady known as Jessie. Jessie kept the doors open in many ways for both Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon. As part of her service in passing in passing the Al-Anon and AA message, Jessie gave out her contact telephone number to the Parish Priest at the then Holy Family Cathedral. When Mary B reached out for help with her own drinking problem, Jessie was not only the contact person that she was given but also the first person that she contacted. Jessie then spoke to Helen T who eventually called up Mary B.
The AA Kenya fellowship gratitude thus needs to go out to persons like Jessie who though not being an alcoholic, effectively passed on the AA message of hope and recovery. Al-ATeen, on the other hand, was formed around 1978/79 and for a brief period was very successful.
The New Millennium: Strengthening of AA Kenya Service Structure
The reconstituted AA Kenya intergroup became increasingly vibrant as the new millennium was ushered. Public Information meetings targeting Churches, schools and institutions of higher learning, hospitals as well as State Corporations were conducted over this period. As a result of these public information meetings, new meetings opened up in Thika, Kisumu, Kwale in Coast province and Nakuru. Within Nairobi, new meetings started at the Madre Teresa Church in Zimmerman, Nairobi Hospital, Lavington United Church, PCEA Runda and at the Hekima University College along Ngong Road amongst others. The AA Kenya online started at the end of 2019 by a group of members desirous of having morning AA meetings. These online meetings were to prove providential when at the end of March 2020, all face-to-face AA meetings were suspended as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The new millennium also ushered in a period during which the AA Kenya service structure was significantly strengthened. The process of having AA Kenya registered as a legal entity started in 2005 and it was not until early 2018 that its incorporation as a company limited by guarantee under the Company Act 2015 was completed. With its incorporation, AA Kenya not only opened at Bank Account but also acquired additional help lines registered in its name. As a registered legal entity, Alcoholics Anonymous Kenya was granted the capacity of engaging in transactions in its own name.
Sub-Saharan Africa Service Meetings
Since early 2003, AA Kenya has been sending delegates to the Sub-Saharan Africa Service Meetings (SSASM) in South Africa that have as a tradition been held after every two years. Over the years, the SSASM has been made possible through the supportand collaborative service of Alcoholics Anonymous United States and Canada, Alcoholics Anonymous Great Britain and Alcoholics Anonymous South Africa.
The primary purpose of the Sub-Saharan African Service Meeting is similar to that of all A.A. activity-to carry the AA message to the still suffering alcoholic, whoever she or he may be, whatever language he or she speaks. The Sub-Saharan Africa Service meeting seeks ways and means of accomplishing this goal by serving as a forum for sharing the experience, strength and hope of delegates who come together from all parts of Sub Saharan Africa. Since its inception, the SSASM has encouraged the planning of sound structures suited to the needs and capabilities of the various countries as well as an exploration of expanding A.A.’s services to reach the alcoholic through internal communication, community relations and working in institutions. Partly as a result of AA Kenya sending delegates to the SSASM, the initial push to have AA Kenya registered, as part of the overall effort at ensuring a sound service structure, began in earnest in the year 2005.
At each of its meetings since inception, while a Trustee or General Secretary from Alcoholics Anonymous Great Britain would often times be in attendance, GSO USA has over the years been routinely represented by the General Manager as well representatives from the International Desk and or Translations and Licensing.
The delegates representing AA Kenya at the SSASM initiated an engagement with GSO USA on exploring the possibilities of undertaking the local printing of the AA Big Book. The rationale of locally printing the Big Book was that it would significantly cut down its unit cost by doing away with the high cost of shipping in copies. These engagements bore fruit in 2013 when the AA Kenya Intergroup was granted a license by GSO New York to locally print out copies of the AA Big Book. The result of locally printing was that the Big Book became much more affordable and accessible for the vast majority.
Finally, and significantly, Gitau N became the first member of AA from Kenya to serve as the Chair of the 2019 SSASM, reflecting the reality that after South Africa, Kenya appears to have the largest concentration of AA meetings and AA groups.
East African AA Convention
The initiation of the annual East African Convention is another direct consequence of the SSASM. The 1st East African AA Convention was held in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in 2016 with a number of members from AA Kenya attending. The following year, the 2ndEast African AA Convention was hosted in Nairobi in November 2017. This Convention drew participants from within East Africa, Southern Africa and as far as North America and served as a platform for members to share their experience, strength and hope in the passing of the AA message to the still suffering alcoholic. In 2018, the 3rd East African AA Convention was held in Kampala, Uganda with a number of members from AA Kenya participating.
A BRIEF GUIDE TO AA
General information on Alcoholics Anonymous.
HOW AA TRADITIONS DEVELOPED
Bill W.’s 1946–47 Grapevine articles on the Traditions.
ACCESS TO AA
Members share on overcoming barriers.