written by Felix Warom Okello
It is five years since you took an early retirement. What have you been up to?
I got myself in the thing I told people on January 8, 2012 that I was to retire so that I could go and preach to people. Since then, I took the gospel to radio Paidha FM where nearly two million people listen to us twice a week. We have been serious about conferences and convention to basically young people. And we know young people are the leaders not only of tomorrow but also today. I remember going to the President and he asked me the same question: why do you want to retire? I said because I want to raise young leaders in order to be able to get better leadership in the future. We do conferences as well at diocesan level and leadership retreat where we meet every three months in Buikwe overlooking Jinja. We call people in Judiciary, people in market and we want our leaders who are Christian believers to know what it means to shoulder the burden of leadership.
How you describe the transition from an Archbishop, where almost everything was done for you, to an ordinary evangelist?
I don’t think things were done for me as Archbishop; I was a director of ministries. The bureaucratic part of my life as an Archbishop is gone. I am now applying my gifts to do the work I am sure God has called me to do. When I was an officer, the office thing is what you can pass on to somebody. But gifts are yours until you die.
What reforms and developments did you initiate that have outlasted your tenure?
When I got in office in 2004, there were series of things I met. There were a lot of leadership wrangles in dioceses. Kisoro was top on agenda. [Then followed] Masindi. [When] the new diocese was being created and the present Archbishop [Stanely Ntagali] was being made Bishop, there was a lot of tension there. There was North Mbale, Sironko area and Madi & West Nile diocese had a problem. The first thing I wanted was to get our church back to quiet and normal so that we could function. The second thing was the exodus of young people from mainland church to Pentecostals. [Because] of my background in youth ministry, I connected with Pentecostal churches like Watoto church twice and they invited me to say goodbye when I was retiring because they said I was also their Bishop.
I encouraged the church economy to grow in terms of faithfulness and accountability
What is the one thing you miss most about your time as Archbishop?
Nothing. I think I am where I am supposed to be. All along I wanted to be a preacher. In all my leadership, what makes me tick is preaching. For a preacher, his voice is an asset.
One evolving aspect which is attractive to mostly women and the youth is celebrity Pentecostal pastors and their prosperity gospel. There is the recent tale of Pastor Elvis Mbonye and, before that, Pastor Samuel Kakande selling holy rice and supplying holy water. Is this the beginning of the end of the world?
(Laughs) We shall soon get holy maize or holy cassava. It is not the end of world, but the truth has always been attacked. The truth, according to Jesus, always sets people free. But not everybody will be set free. There will be a capacity to deceive people… When you walk in life like today, you have the truth and lies in abundance, sometimes the lies look like the truth. And if you are not careful you will believe something you are not to believe. But the truth will always prevail.
Let me take you to the elephant in the room: the plan to amend Article 102(b) of the Constitution and scrap the upper presidential age limit. What is your counsel?
It is a big thing that should be handled carefully and not taken in a hurry; a big thing that when it is inserted in our Constitution, it will not be subjected to amendment according to people wanting it to be done. What do stable democracies do? They adhere to the Constitution that has been there and is solid. So my take is, can we get some cool-headed Ugandans to sit down and talk, both from people who are supporting it and those who are not supporting it? Cool-headedness will take us a long way as opposed to emotional approach to this.
Two, can we give Ugandans time to have their say in it. Why should you rush it? This is going to affect Ugandans, why don’t you give time for Ugandans to have an opportunity to talk about, dialogue and have a referendum. The lawmakers represents a crowd of people, can they come and talk to their people and pick what their people are saying and take it to Parliament? I don’t think this is something you can rush. I would appreciate people sitting down, talking, and understanding one another because this is not only short term; it is also long term.
The Inter-Religious Council of Uganda in a statement [last] Monday proposed that the matter be resolved through either a national dialogue or referendum. What is your impression of that position?
I think their position is good. I support it fully. The politicians have a great role to play here. The leadership should also consult The Elders Forum of Uganda because those people have passed all the political stages of our country. They may receive good advice from there.
Let me ask this direct question expecting a direct answer: Do you support lifting of the age limit?
I don’t think it is my saying yes or no to a thing like that. My position will depend on how it is presented to us — the people of Uganda — because the term limit is something that does not [come into force] now. [The amendment] should be something that will also go through future leadership. So our question is, are we willing or prepared to see 20 years down the road for the decisions that we are making today?
There have been concerns about the value system and principles of present-generation religious leaders when compared, say, with former Archbishop Janani Luwum killed during Idi Amin’s regime for speaking truth to power, condemning state brutality and abuse of human rights.
Having been an Archbishop and with the benefit of an insider’s knowledge, why aren’t our current religious leaders able to carry the cross of leadership as Luwum did?
Ahh! Do people understand the era of Luwum, do people know the President leading at that time and do people know the agenda that was carrying the place at that time? Let me tell you the truth: If Idi Amin was here today, what the religious leaders are doing now could send them to jail or lose their necks. Most people didn’t even experience the tyrannical rule of Amin. When people are shouting, they should talk like Luwum, he presented himself the way any church man would do. He was an honest man, spoke the truth and lived the truth which I think most religious leaders are doing today. But his era was very terrible; it was dictatorship at work. And so what our religious leaders are doing right now if you judge it in the light of where Luwum was; you would find that they would still be killed or chased away from this country. I don’t think people are quoting Luwum within context. Luwum did his work as a shepherd concerned about the people of Uganda, was willing to speak the truth for which he was consecrated as a Bishop and ordained as a Priest. And his work stood against a very dark picture of political era at that time.
Sometimes when I talk about Museveni, people say you are pro-Museveni. If people understood that the cartoon you people draw today (in the media), if you did that during Amin’s time, your heads would be gone. Ugandans needs to stand strong in faith. And if a leader like Museveni allows such to be done, we have shifted. And the liberalisation has made us so naïve and we take our faith as a by-the-way. Before, there were only three faiths: Anglican, Muslim and Roman Catholic, but now we have so many churches. Do people also appreciate this freedom? The Martyrs were not even religious, but they were killed because of the situations of that day. I was even arrested by the way in 1977.
Why were you arrested?
I was arrested because I was preaching and I had gone to visit the Veterinary Training Institute in Entebbe. And I was in the house of one of their lecturers who came to see me. They said Pastor before you go back to Mukono, can you preach? And so I was preaching. I was locked up in Entebbe for four nights. [I was just an] ordinary Theological student, man! You can see at that time the lack of freedom to practice our faith compared to today when people can chose their churches to go to every week. We need to judge things according to where we are to be very balanced.
As a senior and respected Ugandan, what honest counsel would you give President Museveni on the scheming to scrap age limit after the presidential limit was removed in 2005?
I am not sure I can give counsel to President Museveni for one particular reason. How come President Museveni managed to stay in power for this long? People need to ask this question? Who voted him in? Ok and how come Ugandans are not voting him out? Museveni wants to be the President because people are voting him in. What is the question to that kind of answer? The other Presidents did not stay for long. I believe time will come when Ugandans will say to President Museveni that you can’t get our mandate anymore. And I think that time will come like (for) anybody else. Because this is not monarchy; this is democracy which is decided by the will of the people. And the people will say to Museveni we are now needing another leader, it will happen. You think it will not? (Pauses) It is Ugandans to decide.
Do you think the offers of cars and cash to clerics by the President compromises their ability to hold him accountable on matters of good governance, corruption and democracy?
It doesn’t. President Museveni gave me a car and I am using it to do the work which God wants me to do. Museveni is the only leader who has acted positively to religious bodies for the work that followers of religious leaders are doing. But supposing the followers tell Museveni that we have already got two cars and give it to another place, are the followers doing that? So when he gives a car to a Bishop, it is not a personal car, but belongs to the institution. Now he cannot muzzle him because the Bishop does not own the car. The leaders still have the right to speak the truth to the President.
Why can’t religious institutions have their own way of managing their affairs like providing cars for their Bishops?
It is because their followers are not willing to do it. I have a friend who is a Pastor in Kampala and his followers wanted to get him a car Land Cruiser V8, he said no, I am not a Bishop, a minister? So, a man like that would not accept Museveni’s car. If the followers were behind their leadership, these kinds of accusations would not even come. But you still don’t want your Bishops to be on boda bodas. I don’t think bishops are accumulating cars. A leader is strong because of the strong followers. Like the late Bishop Fredrick Drandua of Arua (Catholic) diocese, he was a man loved by the people of West Nile and he had his own car. We were so close. And the diocese was able to get him a car. Thanks to Bishop Drandua.
Should Ugandans expect that you are interested in offering yourself to serve as President of Uganda?
People have asked me this question even when I was in office. A fine smart lawyer came on appointment and asked me: when are you offering yourself for President? I said why? She said I have your vote. But I asked her, do you know [the Book of] Mathew 6:33 in the Bible [guides that] seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and the rest will be added to you? Now supposing Museveni came to the Cathedral and wanted to receive God’s blessing from me as Archbishop, who will kneel down? So the President will kneel down and I will stand up to declare God’s blessing on him because I represent a higher authority on him. So in my position, I am already representing a higher authority over Uganda.
You get endless invitations to preside over weddings. What wisdom do you offer young families and why, as far as you know, are even wed couples divorcing?
There is a problem of competition, especially during weddings. On one single day one spends what you can spend in two years. For instance, when you (Warom) are wedding, you can use 10 cars, and then another will use 20 cars. The question is why? This is a spirit of showing off and it is killing the economy of the young families and many people are struggling in aftermath of weddings.
Secondly, families are breaking because the man and woman are too busy and leave babies at hands of minors. Why are you spending time raising money to send children to good school whereas the best teachers are you as parents?
Then how was your wedding like and how much did it cost you?
My wedding was very simple and I only entertained 20 people and they were even my in-laws. (Laughs) I gave them lunch then we took off and went to Lira. That was it. It only cost me Shs40 and that was in 1972. In 1997 during silver jubilee I entertained 2000 people. Why? Because I was the Bishop, I had the money and had the motorcade. In fact Archbishop John Baptist Odama was in my motorcade at that time. I now had the means. Work according to what you have. Money brings conflict into families. Comparison is a killer.
What was the most difficult time for you as Archbishop of the Church of Uganda?
[It was] dealing with the issue of Muhabura Diocese in Kisoro. It was very hard. I found already for five years my predecessor tried to bring people together. but they could not. It took me another two years before they could come together. I travelled from Kampala to Kisoro five times, the fifth time I took 13 bishops and we flew and, thank God, Eagle Air gave us half fare rate. This was the time we discovered the problem and solved the matter. In fact, my first year was spent to sorting out leadership wrangles. That to me was so hard and yet God was able to sort it out for us.
There is a report that there were attempts to kill you while you were in that high office. If so, what was the circumstance and how did you survive?
I even didn’t know how people fabricated that story. Do you know what the version I heard? That I was invited to State House by Museveni with a plot to assassinate me on the way and that Peter Kerim (RIP) intercepted the whole thing and came and put me in his vehicle and when he drove in my car, they saw him and thought it was a wrong person. It was totally wrong because first of all who would kill me? And I ever drove deliberately with my flag on. And my car registration number was personalized. So, you can never miss my car by the way. I was an easy target anytime anywhere. And I travelled the whole length of the country, why wasn’t I killed? I think it was started by people who wanted to smear the government. Why should I be assassinated? There was no reason; I spoke the truth wherever I went. So I don’t know where it came from. There was no time anywhere when my life came under threat.
You final word
Ugandans are desperate for leadership that can stand up and say I want to see this country go and get better. Very few people who are capable want to go into politics. I really want to encourage capable people to go into politics because if they don’t go, the kind of people we are electing, many of them are there for personal gains. There is a desperate cry for leadership who are sacrificial, committed, who are not money-minded and who can speak for the people. There is a very big need there; it cuts across the country. My appeal is those of you who are able to do it, go into politics. I know it is difficult to get into politics today because you have to bribe your way around. But even so, there are other people who are with trust. They may put you in there without paying money. For instance, the Member of Parliament for Jonam, Mr Emmanuel Ongiertho, he didn’t bribe people. He is just a good man. And he did not go to Parliament because he is [a member of the Opposition] Forum for Democratic Change party. No! [He was voted] because he is Ongiertho. The people like that are there but they fear. I also want believers to go to politics. May they take away fear from their hearts and stand for their people. That way, things will change.