By Stephen Lwetutte
On 3rd April 2021, Uganda worked up to the chilling news of the demise of the Archbishop of Kampala, the late Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga. The news was more so disturbing since he had been seen by multitudes performing the way to the cross, a pre-Easter ritual, and was reportedly in his element.
Dr. Lwanga had reportedly had no known complaint or health condition that could, at the time of filing this article, adequately and satisfactorily explain the sudden death and explain away foul play. One thing is very clear – he pulled no punches in criticising government about the brutality and murders by the regime, and that has definitely not been lost on the shocked public – dictatorships do not take criticism happily.
The rumours suggesting that state security operatives have moved swiftly to cordon off the late Archbishop’s residence and restricted access to even family members do nothing to allay suspicions of state involvement.
When Kabaka Mwanga II ordered the execution of a number of his pages 135 years ago in 1886, such a punishment, especially for political transgressions, was hardly queried, nor were there international standards for the monarch to uphold. In 2021, the story is totally different, yet two Archbishops are now dead under very suspicious circumstances: one, Janan Jakaliya Luwum who, according to the official version, had died in “a car accident” and now the second, Archbishop Kizito Lwanga who, according to the official version, “was found dead in his bedroom”.
We now know differently about the death of Bishop Luwum, who was the archbishop of the Church of Uganda from 1974 to 1977 – he was arrested and executed by the Idi Amin regime. Despite persistent and credible rumours about his fate, it nevertheless took the removal of Amin from power to be able conclusively confirm the true circumstances of his death – he had been shot execution-style at point-blank range on accusations of subversion.
According to Amin’s former Vice President of Uganda Mustafa Adrisi and a Human rights commission, the execution was carried out by a one Brigadier Isaac Maliyamungu, a close and trusted Amin military aide. The two fallen Archbishops share a common trait – to fearlessly stand up for freedom and justice in line with their call of duty.
Ugandans are deeply religious and the overwhelming majority of the population professes one religious faith or another according to the 2014 census, which is why it is hardly surprising that that those young pages who stood up to Kabaka Mwanga because of their faith were among, if not the first Christian martyrs for modern Africa and a source of pride throughout the continent. The religious community in Uganda is, therefore, a potent force to be reckoned with politically, economically and socially – you ignore them at your peril. As a top prelate, Dr Kizito Lwanga was a formidable force, but one that must have been construed to work for the opposition given the fact that he was incessantly seen and heard publicly to be sticking up for them owing to the brutality targeted at them, although he was clearly discharging his duties and responsibilities. If confirmed, it would then appear that his fate had been sealed long before the 3r of April 2021.
Whatever exactly has befallen the Archbishop, like in the case of Archbishop Luwum, we may never know until much later when circumstances for objective, impartial and effective investigations allow. In the meantime, the brutalized Ugandans will remember the late Archbishop for his principles, call of duty and fearlessness even when his life and safety were in jeopardy. He joins the Uganda martyrs who stood up to the authorities notwithstanding the eminent danger facing them. He will no doubt serve as a role model to reinforce goodness and the Christian faith among the youth, as well as live on as a reminder of how to act and react even in times of adversity. This will help counter balance the hoard of some born-again Pastors who have chosen betrayal and side with the oppressors in the face of the brutalities being meted out against their followers due to their political beliefs.
The writer is a Multilingual Human Rights Practitioner, formerly at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London for over 20 years and now Legal and Human Rights Consultant.
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