The Most Rev John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is the second highest ranking cleric in the Church of England – the mother church of the global Anglican communion. Sentamu’s story has been well documented; trained as a lawyer before fleeing Uganda during Idi Amin’s regime and training as a theologian at Cambridge before being ordained as a clergyman. Sentamu’s local clan among the Baganda is Buffalo who are the Kabaka’s couriers. His ancestors travelled through the Mubende plains before settling in clustered communities in northwest Buganda before arriving at the king’s court. Sentamu has been in Uganda as the Church of Uganda marked an important milestone to honour Archbishop Janani Luwum who was executed by Amin in 1977.
When asked about a popular local game that has pervaded most of our faith-based institutions, where the presidency routinely honours requests for cash and cars from ranking clerics in return for political support, Sentamu said he had no problem with it. The public purse, managed at the leisure of the President, has become accepted as part of Uganda’s political system. Pledges run through the presidential hands at fundraisers, ceremonies and private events such as weddings, funerals and so on. There is an entire committee of Parliament on government assurances that exists for no other purpose than following up on these pledges. And the pledges are sustained outside Parliament’s power over the purse.
The separation of church and State in Uganda has become a mostly intellectual subject. Clerics spend a lot of time at political meetings, schmoozing with the President and other politicians. They are engaged in secular programmes financed by the State, collecting money to run programmes which otherwise should have been run by the government. The political class similarly obliges; it graces and co-presides over religious functions. The government often has a message on “religious holidays”. You may be lucky to catch the Pope’s message but you will listen live to the government’s message delivered by a politician.
In this respect, culture of cash and cars has accomplished a lot neutralising discord from institutions whose sole rationale for existence is to point and clarify society’s moral compass to their adherents. The history of organised religion in Uganda has especially been the history of fighting injustice, misrule and other evils such as corruption. It’s a great irony to say the man whose life was being celebrated by Sentamu and others, Archbishop Luwum or even his contemporaries such as Bishop Festo Kivengere, exist today in the hierarchy of the church. The plainness of Archbishop Joseph Kiwanuka and his great pastoral care is something that is buried with him.
The topic of cash and cars has caused a lot of consternation in religious circles. Are these gifts personal or official donations to the entities the clerics head? In the Church of Uganda these keys would actually be unnecessary. Any Suffragan See waiting for elevation to an independent diocese must build a bishop’s house, construct a cathedral and acquire reasonable means of conveyance for a bishop. Requirements in other churches must be similar.
Sentamu should have been informed that even what used to be purely ecclesiastical matters now have to be resolved in the regular civil system. Bishops, priests, pastors are always in the courts battling their flock. For those who can’t resolve their issues the normal way, there is always a safe pass to the surreal. At least one former Archbishop was brave enough to narrate the reality of witchcraft. And if all these fail, they have no other address to appeal to except to the Fountain of Honour!
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate. email@example.com