With warm thoughts on one side and painful memories to forget on the other, today marks 44 years since virtuous clergyman and former Archbishop of Uganda, Janani Luwum, met his brutal death. Six years ago, 16th February was established as a national day to honour the fallen emissary of God.
The story of Janani Luwum is one of an ordinary man that had an extraordinary temperament; whose unwavering commitment to his faith and service to God set him apart and catapulted him to a position of great influence.
At that level of prominence, though, his style of leadership would soon place the Archbishop in bad stead with the State. Throughout his years of service as an evangelist, Luwum had cultivated a confrontational approach to advancing his ideals and agenda of the Church.
In 1974, at the height of Luwum’s career as it were, the days were of palpable anxiety as the effects of then-President Idi Amin’s volatile political rule had become glaringly apparent. However, the clergyman’s unfazed resolve was geared towards triumph than survival. This mark of character ultimately set the two disparate leaders on a sure trajectory of collision.
In the period leading up to his woes, the late Archbishop’s frame of mind and damning protest had been informed by the scale of tyranny, arbitrary murders and religious persecutions, all of which had engulfed the nation and were the hallmarks of Idi Amin’s regime.
Archbishop Luwum’s face-off with the president was good enough to land him in big trouble; and on 16th February 1977, he was assassinated. His horrific death at the hands of the State punched a huge hole in the sociopolitical spectrum and guaranteed that Luwum’s earnest hopes to unify the Church in Uganda were knocked off the axis.
Whereas the road to the genesis of the Janani Luwum Memorial Day might’ve been paved with good intentions, the status quo suggests that, years later, the ghosts of the 1970s continue to pay us unwelcome visitations.
In his 25th May 2020 ‘Open Letter to the Political Leaders of Uganda’, prophet Elvis Mbonye highlights issues pertinent to the nation and citizenry, which, in hindsight, bear striking similarities with the matters that were of grave concern to the Archbishop in his day.
For example, the outspoken prophet challenges the political actors to get their tentacles out of the places of worship and desist from extending their unwarranted influence to matters of faith—an attitude that he said is causing divisions in the Church.
It’s worth mentioning that in 2019, the Man of God was the subject of shameful episodes of persecution and harassment in which he had been wrongfully—as it eventually turned out—accused by the State of sabotaging a government immunization program.
In the public eye, though, this was generally perceived as some sort of retaliation to the prophet’s strong and vocal stance against a repressive proposed Religious Faith Organizations (RFO) policy whose origins were the Directorate of Ethics and Integrity in the Office of the President.
In his authoritative letter months later, Mbonye also cautioned the politicians against, among other things, gross human rights violations and infringement of the freedoms of the people of Uganda, a trait that’s typical of historical tyrannies.
Undeniably, the year 2020 was a catalogue of such misdeeds and more, especially during the lockdown, political campaigns season and elections period in early 2021.
If four decades after the Archbishop’s death the same chorus is still being sung, like it is, the hard truth is that we learnt nothing, forgot nothing and, unfortunately, history enjoys visiting people like us.
On a day such as this, much more than deliver rosy speeches, the perfect tribute to the late Janani Luwum would be to thoughtfully reflect on and put into action the ideas he greatly espoused. Doing that represents the continuation of the legacy of a man whose life was sacrificed on the altar of peace, unity, truth and justice. To do otherwise would be a flagrant dishonour of his nobility.