Janani Luwum’s last moments

Sunday February 9 2014

An illustration of Archbishop Luwum, who in

An illustration of Archbishop Luwum, who in 1948 as a young school teacher, was converted to the charismatic Christianity of the East African Revival, in his own village in Acholi. In September 1966, he was appointed Provincial Secretary of the Anglican Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. ILLUSTRATION BY KWIZERA 

On Saturday Morning at about 1:30am on February 5, I heard dogs barking wildly and I knew something was wrong. Without switching on the lights I walked down the stairs from my bedroom. At the door I looked through the curtains and I was able to see one man standing in front of my door.

The man at the door was Ben Ongom and known to me in the past.
The man called out; Archbishop open we have come open, when I opened the door armed men sprang up shouting Archbishop, Archbishop, show us the arms, I replied what arms, they insisted they were in the house.

The men who came to my house were commanded by an Arabic speaking man putting on a red Kaunda suit. The man in the red Kaunda put a cocked gun against my stomach asking me to get back into the house, he was shouting ‘show us the arms, take us to your bedroom’ when we got to the bedroom we woke up Mary (The archbishop’s wife) and they started searching crawling under the bed, climbing into the wardrobe, opening the suitcases, boxes and they found nothing.
From my bedroom they went to the children’s bedroom and they repeated the same, the young ones were left sleeping the older ones woke up and went around the house with us.

After checking the entire upstairs of the house and failed to discover anything the security men moved downstairs, at this point Mr Ben Ongom who was handcuffed began to say “Archbishop, you see some time back we bought ammunition and divided it with My Olobo who works in the ministry of Labour in Kampala. I kept some and Mr Olobo kept some. Now mine has been found and certainly because of involving myself in politics am going to die in any case for it. When we went to Olobo’s home with the security people they searched his house they found nothing but they arrested him.
I thought that Olobo might have transferred his share of the arms to Dr Lalobo’s home (medical superintendent of Mengo hospital) since he was also an Acholi and they seem to be related. We have been to Dr Lalobo’s home and searched his home but found nothing.

The security men had arrested him. Then I suggested to the security men that Dr Lalobo might have transferred the ammunition to the Archbishop’s house, this is why we have come to you. Please help us. If the arms are not here tell us the location of any Acholi or Langi homes in Namirembe so that they can be searched.

No arms, please
I told Mr Ongom that I did not come to Namirembe for the Acholi or Langi but I was the Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire and there was no arms in my house. Our house was God’s house. We pray for the president. We pray for the security forces in whatever they do. We preach the gospel and pray for others. That’s our work not keeping arms.


All the same the search continued. They demanded we open the study. They searched there. We opened the Chapel. They searched there, even looking under the Holy table. They searched the food stores putting their hands into sacks of sim-sim (Sorghum) millet, groundnuts trying to feel for hidden objects. We went to the guest wing. They searched through the toilets, bedroom etc. They searched cars parked in the compound.

Cry for the church
Finding nothing, we continued to complain that the incident was a serious one for the whole church since we knew nothing of any arms. I said “what will Christians think of this incident when they hear about it since we shall certainly not keep quite.” I told them I was going to talk to the president immediately.

The security thought that since arms had been brought into the country to overthrow the government and since Ben Ongom suggested our house, they had no alternative but to follow his suggestion. I told them they must have come in a more respectable way, their leader who was a Nubian, remarked that they had to come in a military way since the matter was a serious one. I told them I had done nothing wrong to warrant the treatment of a rifle being put in my stomach.
My neighbours Bishop Kauma and the Provincial Secretary, had rung Old Kampala Police Station when they saw there were men with arms in our compound, thinking they were robbers. When the military police came these men sent them away before they could enter our compound.

About 3:00am these men left. They requested that we open the gate for them to go out, but my wife suggested they go the way they came. I said we would open the gate for them. They left and entered their cars which they (had) parked down the road. The number plates were covered. Eventually they drove away.
Earlier on Friday evening at 7:00pm I had heard from the hospital that security men had searched Dr Lalobo’s home and that the doctor was missing.

The letter

His Excellency Al-Haji, Field Marshall
Dr, Idi Amin Dada, V.C., D.S.O., M.C.,
Life President of Uganda
10 February 1977

Your Excellency,
We the Archbishop and Bishops of the Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Boga-Zaire meeting at Namirembe on Tuesday 8th February 1977, humbly beg to summit our most deeply felt concern for the church and the welfare of the people whom we serve under your care.

In presenting this statement, we are in no way questioning the right of government in administering justice, to search and arrest offenders. We believe that government has established structures and procedures for carrying out such procedures that give the citizens a sense of what to expect of their Government. These structures and procedures give the police, the intelligence, and the security forces a framework within which to work. When these procedures are carried out in their day to day duties this gives the ordinary citizens a sense of security. It creates mutual friendship and trust between such officers and general public irrespective of uniform. But when the police and the security officers deviate from these established structures and procedures in carrying out their day to day duties, citizens become insecure, afraid and disturbed. They begin to distrust these officers.

We are deeply disturbed to learn of the incident which occurred at the Archbishop’s official residence in the early hours of Saturday morning, 5th February. In the history of our country such an incident in the church has never before occurred. Security forces broke through the fence and forced their way into the Archbishop’s compound. They used a man they had arrested and tortured as a decoy to entice the Archbishop to open his door to help a man seemingly in distress. Using a man under duress and torture as a source of information can lead to unnecessary suffering of innocent individuals. The Archbishop opened the door. At that point armed men who had been hiding sprung up to attack cocking their rifles demanding arms. When the Archbishop asked what arms, the answer was the muzzle of a gun pressed against his stomach and immediately he was pushed forcefully into his house with the demand “Archbishop show us the arms run into the bedroom” The full story as told by the Archbishop is appended.

First we want to register our shock and protest at this kind of treatment to the leader of the church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. Then we shall draw out the implications of this incident to the rest of the Bishops and all the Christians of the Church of Uganda.

Your Excellency, you have said publically in many occasions that religious leaders have a special place in this country and that you treat them with respect for what they stand for and represent. You have on many occasions publically demonstrated this and we are always grateful. But what happened to the Archbishop in his house, on the night we have referred to is a direct contradiction to what you yourself , Your Excellency , have said in public and the established structures and procedures dealing with security manners.
This is why we are very disturbed, and with us the whole of the Church of Uganda. We feel that if it was necessary to search the Archbishop’s house he should have been approached in broad daylight by responsible senior officers fully identified in conformity with his position in society, but to search him in his house at gun point deep in the night leaves us without words.

Now that the security of the Archbishop is at stake, the security of the Bishops is even in more jeopardy. Indeed we have case in point. The night following the search of the Archbishop’s house, one of us, the Bishop of Bukedi was both searched and arrested. It was only when nothing could be found at his personal and official residences that he was released on the Sunday morning. This left the people in the diocese wondering and the wondering spread quickly. The Christians are asking, “If this is what is happening to our Bishops then what are we”. The gun whose muzzle has been pressed against the Archbishop’s stomach, the gun which had been used to search the Bishop of Bekedi’s house, is a gun which is being pointed at every Christian in the church, unless Your Excellency can give us something new to change this situation.

The security of the ordinary Christian has been in jeopardy for quite a long time. It may be that what has happened to the Archbishop and the Bishop of Bukedi is a climax of what is consistently happening to our Christians. We have buried many who have died as a result of being shot and there are many whose bodies have not been found, yet their disappearance is connected with the activities of some members of the security forces. Your Excellency, if it is required we can give concrete evidence of what is happening because widows and orphans are members of our church.

Furthermore we are made sad by the increasing forces that are setting Ugandans one against another. While it is common in Uganda for members of the same family to be members of different religious organisations there is an increasing feeling that one particular religious organization is being favored more than any other. So much so that in some parts of Uganda members of Islam who are in leading positions are using it to coerce Christians into becoming Muslims. Secondly members of the security forces are sons of civilians and they have civilian brothers and sisters. When they begin to use the gun in their hands to destroy instead of protecting the civilians then the relationship of mutual trust and respect is destroyed.

Instead of that relationship you have suspicion, fear and hidden hatred. There is also a war against the educated which is forcing many of our people to run away from the country in spite of what the country has paid to educate them, this brain drainage of our country, the fear and the mistrust make development, progress and stability of our country almost impossible. The gun which was meant to protect Uganda as a nation is being used against the Ugandan to take away his life and property. For instance, many cars, almost daily are being taken at gun point and their owners killed. And most culprits never brought to justice. If required, we can enumerate many cases. Too much power has been given to members of State Research who arrest and kill at will innocent individuals. Therefore that which was meant to provide the Uganda citizen with security is increasingly, becoming the means of his insecurity.

We are all concerned about the developing gap between the leaders of Christian churches, Archbishops in particular, and Your Excellency, we had been assured by you of your ready availability to religious leaders whenever they had serious matters to discuss with you. You have gone to the extent of giving His Grace, the Archbishop, the surest means of contacting you in this country wherever you may be. But a situation has developed now where you have become more and more inaccessible to the Archbishop and even when he tried to write he has not received any reply. This gap has brought a sad feeling of estrangement and alienation not only to the Archbishop and the Bishops but also it is reaching down to the ordinary citizens. While you, Your Excellency, have stated on the national radio that your government is not under foreign influence, and that your decisions are guided by your defence council and cabinet, the general trend of things in Uganda has created a feeling that the affairs of our nation are being directed by outsiders who do not have the welfare of this country and the value of life and properties of Ugandans at their heart.

A situation like this breeds unnecessary misunderstanding and mistrust. Indeed we were shocked to hear over the radio on Christmas day, Your Excellency saying that some Bishops had preached bloodshed. We waited anxiously to be called by Your Excellency, to clarify such a serious situation, but all in vain. Your Excellency we want to say here and again that we are ready to come to you whenever there are serious matters that concern the church and the nation, you’ve got to call us. This used not to be so, Your Excellency, when you freely moved among us and we freely came to you.

The Archbishop is not only the Archbishop of the church of Uganda, but he is the Archbishop of the Church of Rwanda, Burundi, and Boga-Zaire. So what happens to him here is also the concern of the Christians in Rwanda, Burundi, and Boga-Zaire. In fact it goes further than that because he is an Archbishop in the Anglican Communion which is a World Wide Community, so are the Bishops.

An action such as this one damages the image of our nation. It also threatens our preparations for the Centenary Celebrations. Christians everywhere have become very cautious about taking part in the fundraising activities of the church for fear of being misrepresented and misinterpreted. The ban on sales of things donated for fundraising in aid of the church is a case in point. This too, could have been cleared if only His Excellency had given the Archbishop an opportunity to brief you on the matter.
In addition to the concern of the Christians in the Anglican Communion there is also concern of the Christians of other denominations in Uganda and all over the world with whom we are in fellowship.

In conclusion, Your Excellency, we are very grateful that you have kindly given us this opportunity to express our grievances and concerns to you.
Signed by the Archbishop and 18 other bishops of the church of Uganda then, sent to the President’s office copied to Cardinal Nsubuga, the Mufti of Uganda, the head of the Orthodox church, the defense council, all provinces of the church (Rwanda Burundi, Boga Zaire) the vice president’s office among others.