‘Culture of Death’ Why the rift between Church and Govt is growing
The Good Friday messages by leaders of both the Catholic and the Anglican churches in Uganda on the unexplained and continuing killing of people across the country have come down like a hailstorm.
Dr. Stanley Ntagali, the Archbishop of the Province of the Church of Uganda, perhaps coined it more appropriately when he referred to the gruesome, and yet seemingly casual, killing of people as a ‘Culture of Death’.
Speaking from Namirembe, the central seat of the Church of Uganda, Ntagali said: “The increasing deaths and the seeming inability to do anything about them is part of our current culture of death. This is not the way of Jesus.”
Ntagali also criticised the theft of drugs from public health centres and efforts to legalize abortion as another sign of the pervasive culture of death that has engulfed Uganda’s society.
His counterpart, Dr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, the Archbishop Bishop of Kampala Archdiocese, speaking from Rubaga, the nucleus of the Catholic Church in Uganda, sent a more pointed message to the Government by criticizing it over failure not only to perform its core duty of protecting life and property, but also to account for the recent death of hundreds of people in the country.
While this is not the first time the top clergy are raising concerns about the wrongs in the Ugandan society, their latest remarks are, not only blunt and weighty, they demonstrate a growing rift between the Church and the ruling NRM Government.
President Yoweri Museveni’s reported call to Archbishop Lwanga, while apparently trying to allay fears among Ugandans, also captures the importance of the matters raised by the clergy. Still, being a private call, most Ugandans may never know the gist of the president’s call.
Is Government at war with the Church?
The emotions as well as revelations that have been expressed by Bishop Lwanga including allegations of espionage by intelligence agencies in the Catholic Church is perhaps the biggest indicator of unease between the Church and the Government.
Some observers have likened the scale of differences between Museveni and the Church to the Amin era animosity, between Idi Amin and the Church of Uganda, which led to the assassination of Archbishop Janan Luwum in 1977, allegedly by Amin’s soldiers.
It is perhaps an exaggeration, but when Lwanga publicly denounced the Government for planting armed spies among the ranks of church clergy; priests and nuns, one cannot help but conclude that something terribly wrong is happening.
The souring of relations between the Government and the Church does not appear to be based on personal differences but rather differences on the strategic direction or misdirection of the country.
At the height of the constitutional amendment late last year, to remove the age limit for anyone contesting the presidency, the Church openly backed the Togikwatako campaign. Under their umbrella body, the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), which is chaired by Dr. Lwanga, the clergy called for a constitutional review process, as opposed to the Government supporting a Private Member’s Bill – as it did by supporting the Raphael Magyezi Bill.
With the support of 317 MPs, the NRM Government pushed through the Bill and amended the constitution – which did not occur without a much criticised attack on Parliament by armed forces – disregarding any opinion that considered the amendment of Article 102(b) manipulative and illegal.
In recent years, the clergy have increasingly sharpened their criticism on the way the Government is managing the affairs of the country. Following the passing of the Age Limit bill the leader of the Orthodox Church in Uganda, Bishop Jonah Lwanga, described the situation in the country as a “crisis.” Bishop Reuben Bizarwenda Kisembo of Rwenzori Diocese this February, after thanking president Museveni for donating to a Church in Fort Portal, asked him to “plan for a peaceful succession and transfer of power” despite the removal of term limits by Parliament. Several bishops and priests have increasingly condemned the high levels of corruption, inequality, human rights abuses and the abuse of power by the political elite.
While delivering his subsequent Easter Sunday sermon at Rubaga Cathedral, Bishop Lwanga this time delivered a “bare knuckles” blow to the Government when he noted that poverty was rising amongst the population. A comment of this nature has enormous implications. The most important one being that the bishop is disputing the official Government’s data and narrative that things are improving; and that poverty is coming down.
The Rev. Emmanuel Lutaaya of Martyrs Church Katwe, expressed discontent about the way poor people were being forced out of businesses by politically-connected individuals.
Citing the injustices and loss of property that surrounded the displacement of former Park Yard vendors and the take-over of Nakivubo Stadium, Rev. Lutaaya implied that Government was complicit in failing to investigate the repeated fires that razed the market. Also, under question was the shady way the land was controversially given away to individuals, connected to the centre of power, who have erected massive commercial structures.
Seen from a narrow perspective, the ‘Culture of Death’ remark may have been triggered by the recent mysterious deaths in the country. But the wider context of the increasingly hostile rhetoric between the Church and Government emanates from a culture of injustice, dispossession, poverty, political domination, human rights abuses and the lack of accountability on the part of the Government to the people. These are sentiments that are widely shared by many Ugandans.
President Museveni has in the recent years consistently told the clergy to back off politics – they haven’t. It is another growing voice of opposition to the state of affairs in Uganda. And the issues they raise are valid. The NRM government simply needs to look itself in the mirror and correct the wrongs.