Sunday January 19 2014

Kwodwo Ankrah: He came to teach, but found a home

Maxine and Kwodwo Ankrah take a walk around their resort.

Maxine and Kwodwo Ankrah take a walk around their resort.  

By Henry Lubega

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.

Another chance
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.

My first impression of Uganda was not a good one; there was shooting all the time, bodies along the way from Mukono to Namirembe, through Namanve were a common sight.
Life was not that easy at the beginning. Because of the civil strife, we had to go to Nairobi to buy supplies, including things like bread.

The weekend in Uganda then was very long, it stretched from Friday to Sunday, and we had only four working days and made sure we crossed Namanve before 4pm while going back to Mukono. Namanve was a very dangerous place.

For Maxine Ankrah, Kwodwo’s wife, her first impression of Uganda not being easy is when she had to line up at Drapers House, Uganda’s only departmental store then, to get some supplies.

“I remember we had to line up at Draper’s House with a chit from someone to be able to get some supplies like sugar, but not on a regular basis. At the time we came there was a lot of indiscriminate killing.”

We enrolled our children in Buganda Road and Buddo for our daughter and son respectively. However, later we had to transfer the boy to Makerere College. But the experience of young children having to see bodies by the road side every morning as they go to school was very traumatic. We had to take them to schools in Kenya.

Testing Amin’s wrath
When people disappeared or were arrested by the security agencies, their relatives ran to Archbishop Luwum for help. He would call Amin directly and if the person was alive he would be released but if there was no response after three days then the person was dead.

The families of the disappeared people were supported through the archbishop’s office. That is why he sought help outside Uganda, and one such a place was the German Church.

I recall a day before his death. Luwum had received $100,000 (about Shs250 million) from the German church. That money was partly for development and one third was for welfare - looking after people like widows and orphans. We bought Lweza where we constructed a conference centre and also bought Wamala farm.
One Monday morning while in office, Luwum called me over to his office and said: “I have been to Entebbe and I have not liked what I heard from Amin”. He said Amin was very nice and he told him how much he loves him. But a week before, armed men had raided Luwum’s official residence to search for arms.

The archbishop told me he was not feeling well after the meeting with Amin, it was also agreed that he calls all the bishops and tells them what had transpired between him and Amin.

The day he was killed I was not in the country; I had gone to take my children to school in Nairobi. It was while in Nakuru that I learnt that Luwum was dead. It was unfortunate the person who had invited me had been killed; I couldn’t walk away as I had a job to finish.


When Yona Okoth became the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, we started a new century of Christianity in Uganda.
During this time, I met Eridadi Mulira, who was editing the New Century newspaper, which had replaced the Newday church newspaper at the turn of the church’s century anniversary.

It was Eridadi who asked why I did not stop going to Ghana and I told him I did not have land here. He promised to talk to his brother, who incidentally was with me in a seminary in the 1950s in America.
When we met, he agreed to sell to me one acre of his land in Mukono. It was from that acre that we expanded to have the land where the Ankrah Foundation sits today.

The other aspect of my stay was when Archbishop Yohan Okoth went to Obote and told him: “This young man has helped us a lot, can you give him a permanent residence?”

In April 1982, I was given permanent residence for life and in December of the same year my wife also became a permanent. About eight years ago, we proposed to have Ugandan citizenship but we were told to hold on since Ugandans in the Diaspora were demanding for dual citizenship, if it is approved we can have Ugandan citizenship as well.

Retiring in Uganda
In 1992, I retired from fulltime work for the Church of Uganda but I continued to teach as a volunteer with Uganda Christian University until 2003. I started out as a volunteer lecturer at Bishop Tucker Theological College in 1974 before it became Uganda Christian University.
From the time I came to Uganda, my service to the university has been on voluntary basis.


The Ankrah Foundation Resort & Conference Complex opened its doors to the public in January 2000, only to grow into a unique Resort and Conference Complex. With a country resort flair, it is an elegant facility that showcases the cream of Ugandan culture in its 73 rooms, while delivering the ultimate in personalized service, International cuisine, Social style and Business reliability.

It’s architectural décor is an inspiration of Canon Kodwo and Dr. E Maxine Ankrah’s insights from the very essence of Uganda, which they perceive as being typified by it’s ever loving climate, lakes, rivers, lush vegetation and abundant fertility. These themes appear in both the exterior and interior features of the Foundation. Canon and Dr. Ankrah have also called upon the skills of numerous local artists to create stunning carved panels, mosaic pillars and other sensational pieces now displayed throughout the lounges.

Its beautiful grounds are also inhabited by a vast selection of flowers, birds and butterflies, and various species of monkeys. The Foundation’s extensive grounds provide a haven of calm and tranquility, 11km away from Uganda’s most cosmopolitan city, Kampala.