People & Power
My father rejected going into exile, says Luwum’s son
Posted Sunday, February 16 2014 at 02:00
When Janani Luwum was tipped to become the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, he intimated to his son that the job was not going to be easy. Today marks exactly 37 years after his death. Sunday Monitor’s Henry Lubega talked to Ben Okello Luwum, the late archbishop’s son, about his father’s legacy, and his moments with him.
At the time of my father’s death in 1977, I was in London for studies. I had previously worked with the East African Ports and Harbours Association, then part of the East African Community. When his official residence in Namirembe was searched I was already away, but Ben Ongom, the man who came with the soldiers, was known to me. I had met him when I was still a student. I learnt of the incident through newspapers in the UK.
A few days later, the late Bishop Wesonga, the provincial secretary then, rung and he said: “Your father has been killed, but do not try to come back to Uganda.” Even my mother had to flee with the children without attending the burial of her husband.
My father’s body and the ones of the other two men were taken to their respective villages by the army. My father’s body was taken to Mucwini in Kitgum for burial. He was buried near a church on a hill surrounded by rocks.
Initially, the army officers who took the body wanted to bury it themselves. They located my uncle’s home where they first took the body. When the villagers heard of the arrival of the body, they gathered only to be chased away by the officers, telling them the coffin was not to be opened. They asked for the choice of the burial place and they were shown the site at the local church there.
At the local church, the officers started digging the grave, but the place was so rocky that they could not dig and burry on the same day. They kept the coffin in the church overnight with no guard, saying they will finish digging and bury the next day. Some brave friends of my late father came at night with lamps, opened the coffin and inspected the body. According to them, they found gunshot wounds and breakages on the body.
The next morning when the army officers came back, they allowed volunteers to complete the digging and bury him.
When my father was arrested at Nile Hotel, soldiers came to the driver and told him: “You go back home there is no need for you to stay here, you cannot wait for the archbishop.” He drove home and my mother asked why he was home without the archbishop. The driver narrated to her what had happened.
My mother did not believe her ears and decided to go back with the driver to Nile Hotel. When the officers saw her, they told her: “You go back and look after the children, your husband is not coming back.”
She did not know whether he was going to come back alive or not. However, the next morning she was told her husband had died in a motor accident. Friends came to her residence in Namirembe but they knew she was not safe there. A friend took her to Mukono where she stayed until a Bishop in Kisumu in Kenya who had worked with my father at Namirembe heard of her plight. Still through friends, he took the family to Kisumu until after the fall of Idi Amin.
Family and church legacy
As a family, the legacy he left with us is first and foremost living a Christian life. We have tried our best despite the challenges of modern life. One of my daughters is now a reverend in Kitgum District; she is walking the footsteps of her grandfather.
For the church, he gave them an example of how a church leader should perform his leadership duties. It was a selfless service to the church; he dedicated his whole life to church work.
About the letter he and the rest of the bishops wrote to Amin, I think it was warranted at the time.
People were being killed like chicken. I do not think the religious leaders should be blamed for that letter as they were doing what was expected of them as spiritual leaders, and I think they did the right thing. Sometimes leaders need to sacrifice and that is exactly what he did and I wish current church leaders could emulate him. Had Amin not killed my father, I think he would not have left office the time he did. When he killed him, the whole world was incensed and was against him.
Riding on the father’s name
There are things I had decided never to get involved with at all, and one such a thing was politics. Not until 1986 when the NRA took over power. By then I was working with Nile Breweries when I got a call that President Museveni wanted to see me.
I tried my best to avoid him, but someone from the president’s office came twice to my work place asking me to go and see the President. One afternoon I went and met Peter Ochanda, the president’s private secretary, and he told me to get back the next day in the afternoon to be taken to State House.
When I met the President, he told me: “There is a lawyer from your area I proposed for a Cabinet post, but we found out that he was a crooked lawyer and had eaten people’s money. I had to withdraw his name and look for another person, and we have zeroed on you.”