The top Catholic leadership, including the Vatican’s top envoy to Uganda, Archbishop Michael Blume, will meet this week to chart a way forward to defuse the seemingly escalating relations between Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga and President Museveni.
Archbishop Blume, the Apostolic Nuncio, supervises all Catholic bishops under the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC), the top assembly of Catholic leaders in the country.
Attempts to reach Archbishop Blume yesterday for a comment on the scheduled meeting and the agenda were futile as calls to his known landline went unanswered.
The meeting comes in the wake of the recent back-to-back meetings between Archbishop Lwanga and President Museveni over the deteriorating relations between the former and the State.
Early this month, Archbishop Lwanga accused the State of spying on him and cited the Good Friday incident during the commemoration of the Way of the Cross at Old Kampala Playgrounds. He also said State operatives spied on him again when he was delivering his Easter sermon at Rubaga Cathedral in Kampala.
Lwanga’s spying claims
In his remarks at Old Kampala Playgrounds, Archbishop Lwanga said he had received an anonymous call warning him to be careful or else he might be the next Janani Luwum, the former Church of Uganda Archbishop who was murdered by president Idi Amin’s regime on February 16, 1977, after criticising the excesses of the State.
The caller, Mr Lwanga said, told him that government had recruited informants within the church hierarchy, who had given information to President Museveni about an alleged plot to overthrow the government.
Some of the informants, he said, had been excommunicated from the Church and are deemed saints before the President.
The Archbishop said a lot of false information was passed on to the President by politicians, police, operatives of Internal Security Organisation and Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, among others. He also dismissed claims he was engaged in subversive activities against the State.
Highly placed sources in the Catholic Church in Uganda told Daily Monitor that Archbishop Lwanga had been informed of the State surveillance by another cleric who had worked closely with an informant who is no longer in the church establishment. The identity of the alleged informant has been withheld.
Asked on Saturday about the alleged informant, Archbishop Lwanga quipped: “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”
Sourced said before publicly making the remarks on alleged State espionage, the Archbishop reshuffled all staff around him.
His revelations on espionage provoked immediate fury from President Museveni who called the archbishop on phone the following day on Easter Monday to discuss a way forward, according to a brief State House statement.
The statement indicated that Archbishop Lwanga and Mr Museveni agreed to discuss and resolve the contention in due course.
They later met on Sunday 9 at State House in Nakasero to defuse the bad blood. Both parties have since remained tight-lipped on what they discussed, but sources said Mr Museveni’s urgent phone call the following day and the subsequent meetings suggested “the President knew the Archbishop knew what he was talking about.”
State House meeting
Archbishop Lwanga was accompanied to the State House meetings by other members of the Kampala Archdiocese, who included his new private secretary, the Rev Fr Honoratus Kazibwe, the Vicar General, Msgr Charles Kasibante, Judicial Vicar Andrew Kato, and the Deputy Chancellor, the Rev Fr Joseph Sseruga.
Kampala Archdiocese is the metropolitan arm of the Catholic Church in Uganda and any antagonism against its leadership is likely to trigger indignation from the Catholic Church in the country.
Uganda is divided into four ecclesiastical provinces - Kampala, Tororo, Gulu and Mbarara. Tororo Archbishop Martin Obbo is new, having taken over from long serving Archbishop James Odongo.
President Museveni first held a joint meeting with Archbishop Lwanga’s team and later had a private meeting with the archbishop.
During the meeting of the Catholic leadership this week, the Archbishop is expected to brief the Church hierarchy about the recent developments on talks between him and the President.
Senior Presidential press secretary Don Wanyama said at the weekend that “the two had a lengthy and cordial meeting” which was a follow-up to their earlier phone conversation “but beyond that I cannot tell you anything else.”
Archbishop Lwanga was also cagey about what he and the President discussed during their meetings.
“Why don’t you leave that [espionage] issue where it is: Is it healthy for the public?” he said.
President Museveni has always berated Church leaders for criticising him and his government and told them to stop lecturing him on governance. In his New Year message, Mr Museveni castigated Church leaders as “full of arrogance, and talk authoritatively on everything.”
WHEN THE ALLEGED SPYING AGAINST ARCHBISHOP LWANGA STARTED
Sources said security agencies could have started surveillance on Archbishop Lwanga in the run up to Pope Francis’ visit in 2015 when press reports indicated he and former prime minister Amama Mbabazi had formed a private company to redevelop all Catholic shrines and faith-based tourist sites across the country, including Uganda Martyrs Shrine, Namugongo.
Mr Mbabazi, one time the de facto number two in President Museveni’s government and seen as potential successor, was sacked in 2014 for allegedly developing presidential ambitions.
Mr Mbabazi’s relationship with the Catholic Church top hierarchy is not new. In December 2012, while still prime minister, he and his wife Jacqueline met Pope Benedict XVI during the Papal Audience at the Vatican in Rome, becoming the first Ugandan premier to visit the pontiff in official capacity.
On the 2014 Martyrs’ Day celebrations on June 3, Archbishop Lwanga singled out Mr Mbabazi for praise and a group of people he did not name, for contributing Shs500m towards the Shs52.5b reconstruction of Namugongo and Munyonyo martyrs’ shrines. President Museveni, who officiated at the annual ceremony, pledged Shs400m.
According to the records of the Registrar of Companies, Uganda Martyrs Shrines Redevelopment Limited (UMSRL) was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee on February 26, 2014, with Mr Mbabazi and Archbishop Lwanga as chairman and vice chairman, respectively.
A February 4, 2014 ordinary meeting of the company resolved to open up a current account with the largely Catholic Church-owned Centenary Bank, and picked Mbabazi’s daughter Nina Rukikaire, as a signatory alongside Archbishop Lwanga and MTN chairman Charles Mbire.
The company, according to its memorandum of association, was formed to, among other objectives, “prepare for the celebration of the golden jubilee of the canonisation of the Uganda Martyrs, prepare for the visit of Pope Francis and redevelop Namugongo and Munyonyo martyrs’ shrines.”
Intelligence briefings claimed the Mbabazi-Lwanga joint account was to bring in cash from abroad to finance Mr Mbabazi’s campaigns but sanitise it using the Catholic Church preparations for the papal visit in November 2015 as a decoy.
Daily Monitor has seen a copy of a letter attributed to the informant in which he claims to have met Mr Museveni at the latter’s country home in Rwakitura in July last year.
In the August 2017 letter, the alleged informant appears telling one of Mr Museveni’s aides that the President had pledged to give him Shs1.2b to help him run his ventures following his departure from the Catholic Church.
The informant was asking State House for fulfillment of the president’s pledge through an account in Stanbic Bank.