The already icy relations between church and the state got even colder this weekend after a senior cleric spoke about a disturbing plot to harm him.
Rocked by the staggering revelations, President Museveni responded almost immediately, chastising the Catholic archbishop of Kampala, Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, for turning to the media to air out his grievances.
The president spoke to Lwanga on Monday by telephone, and it is during this exchange that the president reportedly made his feelings about the perceived attacks in the media known.
Two separate sources briefed on the telephone conversation between the bishop and president later revealed to The Observer that Museveni bared his discomfort with Lwanga during that exchange.
The archbishop has over the years strengthened his reputation as a vocal cleric; criticizing the government for its excesses and human rights abuses, lawless conduct of sections of the armed forces, failure to protect Ugandans as cases of murder increase and for its constant attack on Uganda’s fledgling democracy.
According to the source, during Monday’s telephone conversation, “The president said he had had a better working relationship with Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala because for him if he had any problem, he would seek audience with the president instead of going to the media like Lwanga does.”
Lwanga replaced Cardinal Wamala in 2006. Senior presidential press secretary Don Wanyama on Monday issued a statement, indicating that Museveni and Lwanga agreed on a way forward during their phone conversation.
“The matter will be discussed and resolved in due course,” Wanyama’s statement said.
While speaking at Old Kampala Secondary School playground on Good Friday, Lwanga said someone told him that government had recruited church people to spy on him. He repeated the same fears during his Easter Sunday homily at Lubaga cathedral.
The always-frank archbishop said that an anonymous caller informed him that the government thinks he is conspiring to overthrow it.
“A few days ago, I got a telephone call… it was a private [number]; so, I didn’t know [who was calling] and this person had an accent from western Uganda and this is what he told me, ‘there are many lies being told to the president; that… they have recruited your priests, your sisters, your brothers even catechists and seminarians…and we give them a lot of money,” Lwanga said on Friday.
“Some of the clergy that have been recruited are giving wrong information; terrible, terrible, terrible messages…This is the humble message I have for His Excellency and the government; you are recruiting wrong people…some of them we have dismissed and the people with that record are some of those who are shining as saints before you, talking about Archbishop [Stanley, the archbishop of Church of Uganda] Ntagali, myself and others,” Lwanga said.
The caller reportedly warned Lwanga to be careful lest he becomes the next Janan Jakaliya Luwum; the former archbishop of the Church of Uganda. In the late 1970s, along with other churchmen, Luwum was accused of being an agent of former president Apollo Milton Obote and for committing treason.
On the orders of Amin, he was arrested, publicly humiliated, then murdered in cold blood alongside cabinet ministers Charles Oboth Ofumbi and Erinayo Wilson Oryema in February 1977.
Luwum is considered a martyr for his steadfast spirituality, selflessness and courage in the face of a blood-thirsty regime.
He is revered for condemning the excesses of the Amin regime. Shortly before he was shot dead, the archbishop had delivered a note to Amin protesting the arbitrary killings and unexplained disappearances of Ugandans.
So, Lwanga said: “If God wants me to die that way, I will. But if I’m going to die because of wrong accusations; that is criminal.”
He asked government security agencies to stop character assassinating people.
“I call upon all of you to stop telling lies; stop misleading our president... Mr President, we love you very much and that’s why we have been electing. you. These people are your enemies; they are going to make you fail because your mind is poisoned and you act on that information,” Lwanga said.
He also advised those church colleagues who are bearing false witness against him to instead join the government.
“Jesus said you can’t serve two masters… the best thing is to resign and if it’s for the sake of getting money, I give this humble advice to Your Excellency; form a company of road builders among all those that you have recruited and work upon these bad roads which we have … and by so doing, they will be earning some good money instead of falling into sin,” he said.
Interviewed yesterday, some close church officials said they were hearing Lwanga’s fears for the first time. Nothing, not even his body language, prior to his pronouncements betrayed his inner feelings.
Lwanga was unavailable for comment by press time. However, Reverend Father Deogratias Kiibi Kateregga, the information coordinator of Kampala Catholic archdiocese, defended him.
“They attacked him as a person. There is no way he could not have spoken out because if anything happens to him, he will have told us beforehand who has been intimidating him and we know whom to blame,” Kateregga said.
“I think all that is done to try and intimidate the archbishop but he is not a politician; he only speaks out on issues that affect the people and this country. As a good shepherd, there is no way he can keep quiet,” he said.
Late last year, during the acrimonious amending of the constitution to remove presidential age limits, Lwanga and other senior clergy from the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches spoke out strongly against the move.
Not to take this criticism lying down, in his New Year’s message, Museveni reverted to his old condemnation of the Church.
“Some of our religious people are so full of arrogance. They talk most authoritatively on all and everything even when they have not bothered to find out the truth…What is clear is that some of these elements have left undone what they ought to have done and did what they ought not to have done and there is no truth in them.” Museveni said then.
In January, government spokesman Ofwono Opondo suggested that Lwanga was up to something when he spoke to The Observer.
“How come the Catholic Church position is usually given in a pastoral letter? I don’t want to go into what is motivating him to go in that direction [attacking government]. Clearly there is something motivating him, which is sinister and we shall find out what it is,” Opondo said.