He entered his Summer Gardens leisure resort in style, preceded by a brass band. Driven in a white V8 Toyota Land Cruiser, the Reverend Doctor Frederick Kefa Sempangi, stepped out of the limousine accompanied by Olivia, his wife of 17 years, to a rapturous welcome by about 3, 000 invited guests.
This picturesque setting took place last Friday, October 11, at Mukono Wantoni village along Jinja Road. The occasion was the celebration of Sempangi’s 80th birthday.
It was prominently marked by a church service, which was led by Bishop Emeritus of the Church of Uganda, the Rev. Jackson Matovu. President Yoweri Museveni was represented by Vice President Edward Ssekandi.
It was at the behest of a group of his “street children”, whom he has “fathered” through the non-governmental organization (NGO), Africa Foundation, which he established early on in 1975 in Nairobi. Interestingly, there is always a misconception that the Africa Foundation was set up, here in Kampala, to care for orphans, the activity it became famous for.
Yet the initial start of the Foundation was for Ugandans, who became refugees running away from the grasping arm of the President Idi Amin regime at the time. Sempangi, himself became an exile victim of Field Marshall Amin.
But this sore association with Amin had not always been such. As a university student in Makerere University of Fine Art in the late 1960s, Sempangi had come under Amin’s attention when Amin asked him to interest members of his Youngsters of Uganda Students’ Association to join the army. Amin even initially interested Sempnagi to join the army; and enticing him to join the prestigious British Sandhurst Military Academy.
In the meantime, Sempangi had become a Pentecostal “savedee”, having been saved at Namirembe Cathedral in 1961. As such he had come to the attention of the Ghanaian pastor-prophet, Obiri Yeboah. Unfortunately for Sempangi, Yeboah had in one of his sermons prophesied that Amin would be overthrown. This had come to Amin’s attention; and that Sempangi was an associate of Yeboah. So, Amin wanted to arrest and, most probably, kill both of them.
That made Sempangi to run away to Britain where he subsequently joined the Royal College of Arts for his degree. (Yeboah was to die in a car accident along Jinja Road at Mabira Forest.) From there he proceeded to the United States to do a degree in a Master’s degree in Divinity, where the idea for Africa Foundation was hatched – and eventually, he worked his way to Nairobi.
It is here that he joined other Ugandan exiles in the conference at Moshi in Tanzania that fleshed out Amin’s ouster in 1979. His involvement in this political endeavour got him to chair the nascent National Consultative Council (NCC) that became the post-Amin parliament in 1979.
The shift to politics did not make his philanthropic pre-occupation wane. Instead, Africa Foundation and his spiritual interests converged in the Kisenyi slum where Sempangi established the Presbyterian Church, which gave rise to other associated churches such as: the Redeemed Church; the Reformed Church of Uganda; the Deliverance Church; the Full Gospel Mission; and other associated Pentecostal churches. Today, the Presbyterian Church has its headquarters there in Kisenyi.
It is here that the care for orphans and the other disadvantaged children blossomed; in which more than nine other slum-based homes for these children were established. The biggest of these homes was at Lohana (Academy) which housed between 600 to 800 children.
Sempangi’s greatest achievement is the rescue of the more than 6,000 orphans and poverty-stricken children over the years from poverty through the Africa Foundation that has educated them and got them into influential positions from around the world.
At the Mukono Summer Gardens, the two huge tents that were set up for the guests of the exhilarating 80th birthday celebrations was financed by one of the Africa Foundation “children” who is “a big shot” in Kigali, Rwanda. Many of these beneficiaries of the Sempangi philanthropic largesse can be found in numerous corners of the world in influential positions. Said Sempangi’s same-age friend, the Rev. Joseph Musiitwa, who was at the celebrations; “He doesn’t have the records of all the children he has catered for.”
Leading the “street children’s” appreciation was Mark Kiwumulo, who now doubles as one of the managers of the Summer Gardens. He broke into a rendition of the song that they term the Children’s anthem, “celebrating a living soul”. And whenever it is sung as it was at the celebrations, Sempangi weeps, also in rememberance of his late mother.