Birth of the Balokole in Uganda

Saturday June 13 2015

Students walk to the Bishop Tucker building at the Uganda Christian University, formerly Bishop Tucker Theological College. In 1941, the relationship between the Anglican Church and the Revival Movement reached its all time low when 26 Balokole students were expelled from the college. PHOTO BY JUSTIN D. EMEDOT

The Balokole are widely recognised as one of the most significant Christian movements in Uganda and East Africa as a whole.Balokole is a Luganda word meaning “saved people”. In Uganda, it started as the Revival Movement in the Anglican Church. The movement also has links in Rwanda, but its roots are firmly found in Buganda with strong ties to the Church of Uganda.
The Revival Movement was started in the 1920s as a quest for holiness by Simeoni Nsibambi, a wealthy Muganda landowner in Mengo.

Nsibambi established a bond with Joe Church, an English doctor, who belonged to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Rwanda Mission. This is how the movement got to have links with Rwanda, which was not a British colony.

Taking on Church of Uganda
It was through this partnership that a number of youth from Buganda and western Uganda went to work at the mission hospital in Gahini in Rwanda.

They started coming back to Uganda in 1935, more revitalised in their new belief and ready to take on the church establishment in Uganda.

Much as the Church of Uganda welcomed the idea of the Revival Movement, it became a hot potato for the church at some point.

In 1941, the relationship between the church and the movement reached its peak when 26 Balokole students, who were referred to as “bajeemu rebels”, were expelled from the Bishop Tucker College in Mukono. They were training to serve in the church ministry.


By the 1950s, the Revival Movement had become an integral part of the Church of Uganda, producing church leaders such as Archbishop Janani Luwum, and Bishop Festo Kivengere.

1941 Mukono crisis
The Mukono crisis of 1941 came about as a result the disagreement between the Balokole and the main stream Anglican Church over the interpretation of the Bible.

The Balokole wanted a strict and conservative way of biblical interpretation.
The crisis can be traced from the earlier colonial days and the position of the Anglican Church in Uganda.

The triumphant Protestants over the Catholics and Muslims in the religious wars of the 1890s made the Native Anglican Church (NAC), also known as the CMS in Uganda, to become the dominant political religion in the colony. This created a strong bond between the ruling chiefs and the church.

Writing in the book Mission, Church and State in a Colonial Setting: Uganda 1890-1925, Holger B. Hansen says: “The relationship between the native church and the native administration was enshrined in the 1909 NAC constitution drawn up by Bishop Tucker.”

This was further consolidated by Bishop Willis during his time in Uganda between 1912 and 1934. It was these political ties that created tension in the Church. This had implications in the spread of Ganda political imperialism to other parts of Uganda.

The enthusiasm of the Revival Movement believers did not agree with the worldliness of the Native Anglican Church.

One such people was Mabel Ensor, an Irish woman, who in 1928, left the Anglican Church to start her own fellowship called the Mengo Gospel Church. This was a protest against the worldliness of the NAC.

She was opposed to the modern teachings as advanced by the Bishop Tucker College. At the centre of such liberal teachings was John Jones whose views were a major issue in the 1941 crisis.

He was warden of Bishop Tucker College. At that time Ensor’s informant at the college was Besweri Galiwango, one of her former workers.

The missionaries in Uganda were very conscious of the spiritual weakness in the Church in Uganda, with the cause of trouble being the poor quality of the clergy.

Attempts early in the century to combine high school and theological education at King’s College Budo had come to nothing because theological education had to rely on the meagre resources of CMS and the local church.

The CMS-founded schools on the other hand produced well educated lay elite, while the clergy from Bishop Tucker College, which opened in 1913, were the opposite.

Writing in the book A History of Bishop Tucker Theological College, Kevin Ward says: “Besides training pastors, it also had a normal school for training vernacular teachers.

But even here the better quality of the teachers as compared with the ordinands was noted.”

J. Vincent, writing in 1929 in the Normal Training, observed that: “The theological students are in the eyes of the authority regarded as of a higher order, but at present are as a matter of fact intellectually inferior.”

When Bishop Willis tried to introduce an English ordination course in 1929, the move was met with a lot of resistance and hostility from the local clergy.

According to another of Kevin Ward’s books, Obedient Rebels: The Relationship Between the Early “Balokole” and the Church of Uganda: “Any move to recruit at high school level would take away their power of patronage and put yet another area of church in the hands of the missionaries.”
By then Budo was the likely source of new entrants to the English ordination course. Among the first to join this class was Erica Sabiiti, the first Ugandan archbishop, and Blasio Kigozi, a brother of Simeoni Nsibambi.

In 1939, three other Budonians – William Nagenda, Eliezar Mugimba and Erisa Wakabi – who went on to become leaders of the Revival Movement at the college, were sent to Mukono by Bishop Stuart.

However, they were dismissed two years later.
At the college, the new group formed a formidable team of the Balokole under the guidance of Nagenda.

One of the characteristics of this group was that they met every morning before dawn for prayer and praise. These meetings did not meet the approval of the warden and he threatened to ban them.

During the 1941 Easter holiday trip to Tooro with college chaplain Benoni Kaggwa, the Balokole renounced the sinful life at the college and vowed to fight it once the returned to Mukono.

Daily preaching by Balokole students against the sins they claimed were eating up the college became the order of the day. To non-Balokole students, this was a source of concern as they complained that the Balokole were avoiding communal work.

Put to vote
The warden intervened by putting the issue of public preaching to a vote.

The non-Balokole took the day with 83 votes against 44. However, the preaching continued with the Balokole vowing to obey God, and not man.

During a general assembly on October 22, 1941, the warden warned against indiscipline and disrespect for the law. He went ahead to introduce new rules to curb the increasing indiscipline at the college.

Among these included barring students from leaving their beds before 6am. The Balokole saw this as an attack on their freedom since they started their praise and warship at 4am.

The Balokole student’s leader, William Nagenda, reacted to the new measures by saying, “To stamp out our prayer meetings is rather like stamping out Balokole.”

The Balokole disobeyed the new rule and continued with their morning prayers with support from the chaplain.

Just a day after the new rule was put in place, the Balokole students disobeyed and the warden reacted by dismissing chaplain Benoni Kaggwa for misleading the students. But this was not threat enough to deter the determined Balokole students.

Twenty seven students, who belonged to the Balokole Movement, were also paraded before the staff and three questions were put to them,” Did you hear the rules? Did you understand? Did you obey?”

Two of the students apologised. Others admitted having heard the rules but deliberately disobeyed them and were not willing to apologise.
The unruly Balokole students followed the chaplain, who led them to the archdeacon to go and appeal their dismissal.

Unfortunately, their appeal fell on deaf ears. The warden was willing to allow them back to the college only if they were ready to make an unconditional apology. But they were not ready to do that and they had to leave the college.

The confrontation

Once the confrontation had finally erupted, it was difficult for the warden to modify his intransigent stance. And once the Balokole responded with equal intransigence, Jones could not back down.

He demanded that there be an unreserved apology before a student could be reinstated. Among those expelled, 15 were Baganda, five were from Ankole, four from Bunyoro and one was from Kigezi.
There were no bajeemu (rebel) students from northern and eastern Uganda mainly because at the time the two regions were not part of the diocese of the Church of Uganda.

They were under the diocese of the Upper Nile with its clergy being trained at Buwalasi in Mbale.

The leader of the expelled students, William Nagenda, insisted that God was calling his group not to join the ordained ministry, but to work as lay evangelists.

He moved to Namutamba where he lived the rest of his life as a lay evangelist. Some of his colleagues like Wakabi, Magumba and John Musoke apologised and went back.
William Nagenda was born into a large family and his father, Festo Manyangenda, was a respected Muganda chief who lived on Namirembe hill, Kampala, Uganda.

After primary school, he attended King’s College, Budo, from where he went on to acquire a diploma at the University College of Makerere.

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