I first got an invitation to come to Uganda by Uganda’s first black Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Erica Sabiiti, who I got to know in 1966 when I was a refuge secretary at the All African Council of Churches in Nairobi.
After five years in Nairobi, I moved to Geneva to work as a development and refuge guru at the World Council of Churches (WCC). Before leaving Nairobi, the Church of Uganda had asked the World Council of Churches to send a team to Uganda to carry out a survey on how the church’s development programmes can be coordinated.
The study recommended that the archbishop should employ someone knowledgeable in development work to implement its recommendations.
In 1970 as I was leaving Nairobi, Sabitti asked me “if we asked you to come and do development planning for us, would you come,” I said I would come. I didn’t expect the programme to take off, so I proceeded to Geneva and forgot about the Uganda offer.
In 1974, while in Geneva, Archbishop Luwum and his secretary Wesonga were in Geneva for a conference and they paid a courtesy call to my office. Luwum said:“I read in a report that you promised to come as a development planning officer for the Church of Uganda, will you still come”. I said yes if I get the invitation.
At the time the country was in a mess, Idi Amin had just expelled people of Asian origin. However, Luwum sent me the invitation to come and start the development programme of the Church of Uganda.
By the time Archbishop Luwum sent my invitation, I still had a running contract with the World Council of Churches. Since I had made a promise to the archbishop that I would come, I had to resign my job at WCC.
However, a Dutch organisation in Netherlands advised me against coming to Uganda and opened an office for me in Netherlands. I told them I had given the archbishop my word and I had to honour it and it was the reason I resigned from the WCC so as to come to Uganda.
Before meeting Archbishop Luwum in Geneva, the president of Sudan Gaafar Muhammad Nimeiry, had in 1972 invited me to his country with a promise of getting land and settling us there when he awarded me the Order of the White Nile medal, because of my work among the Anyanya refugees. I turned down his invitation, and two years later, I was in Uganda.
Coming to Uganda
By then, coming to Uganda was not easy. There were questions about my family coming down with me but we had no choice anyway.
The easiest entry visa to Uganda at that time was a missionary visa. I, therefore, applied as a missionary coming to teach at Bishop Tucker Theological School Mukono, now Uganda Christian University. I taught from 1974 to 2003.
Had I applied as a development officer, I would not get a work permit. Amin was asking for teachers. The Ghanaian government had sent 150 teachers to Uganda to fill the gap left by the expelled Indians. I came on a three-year contract to work as a Church of Uganda development coordinator.
As a missionary and my personal relationship with Misairi Kawuma, the then principal of the college, I decided to stay in Mukono and would commute to Namirembe for the development work, and teach in Mukono on Thursdays.
Teaching in Mukono had its problems. I was teaching development studies, but the students were resisting the course, saying the subject was not academic. It almost led to a riot at the school with some students saying they didn’t come to study development; they had come to study theology. It took the intervention of the archbishop to have the subject accepted by the students.
After 10 years during a meeting of theologian teachers in East Africa it was adopted as part of theology course. Years later, the course was adopted by other universities, including Makerere University.
Towards the end of my third year, the board decided that instead of having a development advisory board, it should be made an independent board. I served on that board until the 1979 liberation war.
After the 1979 war, a lot of overseas agencies which had not been able to work in Uganda because of Amin’s regime, wanted to come in through the Church of Uganda. Amin had chased away all churches in Uganda save for the Anglican, Catholic and the Orthodox Church.
With other churches and agencies showing interest in working with us, the scope was widened and it became Planning Development and Rehabilitation (PDR), and this went on for another seven years. This was the reason for my coming to Uganda, and I am proud to say I fulfilled it.
First impression of Uganda
We arrived in Uganda in August 1974. At the airport, the immigration officer asked me “for how long are you going to stay?” I said three years and he was shocked.