KAMPALA, Uganda: Today 16th February 2017 was designated as a public holiday in honor of the late Church of Uganda Arch Bishop Janaan Luwum who was reportedly murdered in cold blood by the then President Idi Amin.
The most intriguing aspect of his death is the fact that he is one of the few Ugandans who were allegedly killed by president Amin himself. It is actually rumored that a very infuriated Amin shoved the pistol in the Man of God’s mouth and practically delivered the fatal shots that killed him instantly!
After realizing that he had killed the man of God, a scared Amin placed a call to one of his trusted lieutenants and confided in him that he had lost his temper and killed the bishop, and so he asked what he could do?
In the film, ‘The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin’’ that was transcribed about the Ugandan dictator, a scared Amin narrates how he lost his temper and killed the bishop. He then hastily advises his men to cook up a story that shows that the bishop died in a car accident.
Actually, the version about the bishop’s death by car accident has roundly been dismissed by the majority of the people who worked closely with Amin who insist that he personally killed the bishop, a clear indication that the cover up failed to work out as Amin had expected.
Therefore there are few counter arguments regarding the way the bishop died-the outstanding version being that Amin personally killed him. According to a witness account of Mr. Apollo Lawoko who was arrested and detained with the bishop, he was quoted as having said that
“I was detained in cell number one at Nakasero Research Bureau. Farouk Minawa was heading the Research Bureau. I was arrested in 1977, beaten and got unconscious. Archbishop was in cell number two. He kept telling them he was innocent as they tortured him…we heard him saying ‘you have broken my jaw.’
He told them: “you can continue doing what you are doing but I’m innocent…Amin had two pistols. He said: You want to kill me and overthrow my government. But I will kill you before you kill me. We were taken back to our cells and a few minutes later, we heard two gunshots and there was total silence in the cell where the Archbishop was,”
Accomplice or Not?
However there are contradicting versions about his complicity in a plot to overthrow the government. It’s on record that Bishop Luwum made it his business to confront the injustices and atrocities of Amin. He took his criticism public in a radio address in 1976 at Christmas. His sermons were mostly becoming political than religious.
It must be recalled that prior to Janaan Luwum’s death, the Ugandan clergy men wrote a letter to the Ugandan president complaining about the high rate of human rights abuse in the country.
Many innocent people had reportedly disappeared without a trace while others were known to have been killed and dumped in forests and rivers. According to the clergymen, they thought it was better to address to the president that his country was in total anarchy.
Obviously, it’s highly practically improbable that Amin could have based on a letter or mere criticisms to kill the Man of God. But Was Bishop Janaan Luwum directly involved in a plot to overthrow President Idi Amin’s government?
Was he probably killed because of the stinging letter he authored with 15 of his fellow bishops decrying the state of affairs in the country? The Ugandan government of that time actually implicated the bishop for engaging in subversive activities.
The Ugandan security agencies even tendered evidence in form of weapons which were allegedly found in the bishop’s house. These weapons had arrived from a neighboring country to arm Ugandan dissidents within the country. Question is, were these weapons known to bishop Luwum?
It was reported in the media that On February 16, 1977, Amin summoned religious, government, and military leaders to Kampala to condemn Luwum for “subversive acts.” The archbishop and six other bishops were publicly arraigned in a sham trial for smuggling arms, but it was clear that it was Janani Luwum with whom Amin was concerned. As the church leaders were ordered to leave, one at a time, Archbishop Luwum said to Bishop Festo Kivengere, “They are going to kill me. I am not afraid.” He told the bishops not to be afraid, that he saw “God’s hand in this.” …
But again you ask yourself why were the other bishops allowed to leave but Luwum was retained together with two cabinet ministers, Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi? How come Bishop Festo Kivengere and other bishops were allowed to go scot-free?
Actually Bishop Festo Kivengere was more confrontational in his criticism of Amin and even preached on “The Preciousness of Life” to an audience including many high government officials. He denounced the arbitrary bloodletting, and accused the government of abusing the authority that God had entrusted to it. Why was Kivengere not killed with Luwum? How come bishop Luwum himself was very sure about his fate at the conference center?
Another thing that needs to be cross examined is the exact reason why he was canonized as martyr while his colleagues who also almost participated in the same like bishop Kivengere never received the same recognition.
Can we say that bishop Luwum was canonized for his efforts in the fight against Amin through his preaching or through his direct involvement in the fight against Amin? If it was for his preaching, then we should have seen many Bishops, including Cardinal Nsubuga and Festo Kivengere on the list of people honored for crusading against the dictatorship.
In conclusion therefore, there are contradictions regarding bishop Luwum’s martyrdom. Today it’s fashionable to say that Luwum fought President Amin’s regime. But we should be honest enough to admit that his participation in that fight somehow vindicates president Amin’s actions.