Inside the politics of electing an archbishop

Sunday September 1 2019

Incoming Archbishop Stephen Samuel Kaziimba.

Incoming Archbishop Stephen Samuel Kaziimba. 

By Henry Lubega

This week, the House of Bishops of the Province of the Church of Uganda went into a retreat in the Hannington Chapel at St Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe, which is the provincial cathedral, to elect the next archbishop.
The election of Rt Rev Stephen Kaziimba, the ninth head of the Anglican Church, was not so much of a surprise, at least to a church insider who has been following the election of archbishops of the Province of the Church of Uganda.

Kaziimba’s journey
Kaziimba has a very humble background, having started serving the church from the very bottom as a lay reader in Madudu church in Mukono Diocese.
He was later ordained as a priest by former archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo (RIP) when he was bishop of Mukono in 1990.
Writing about the archbishop-elect in his biography, The Journey through the Unknown, Nkoyoyo says, “I first came across a youthful Kaziimba deep down in the village of Madudu which was in Namataba Parish, Nakanyonyi archdeaconry, Mukono Diocese. He loved to sing a lot and it was later on that it was realised that his other love was to preach. Armed with these two, coupled with a zeal for excellency and development, Kaziimba with the encouragement of the church joined church service, and by the time of my departure from Mukono he had been ordained as a priest.”
In 2007, he completed his doctorate of ministry from the Western Theology Seminary in Portland Oregon, the United States. He had earlier on in 2003 done a master’s degree in Theology from Western Theology Seminary in Holland, Michigan, in the United States.
In 2008, he became the fourth bishop of Mityana Diocese. In his 11-year reign, Kaziimba oversaw a number of development projects, including the construction of a residential hall at Ndejje University, Luweero District, that is rented out to students to generate income for Mityana Diocese.
He is also currently building a commercial plaza in Mityana Town to increase cash flow for the diocese.

The politics of who becomes archbishop
The election of the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda is as inherited from the mother Church of England.
However, unlike in the Ugandan scenario where the House of Bishops elects the archbishop, in England, where the Queen is head of the church, she appoints the bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury through the prime minister on the recommendations of the Crown Appointments Commission.
An American-based Ugandan clergyman knowledgeable about the process of electing the archbishop in Uganda says, “Church of Uganda claims to follow the Acts 1:12-26 model of electing Matthias to replace Judas by voting on two names, but usually it’s not the leading candidate that is elected. For the archbishop, the State always has a figure.”
He goes further to give examples of where the State had to exert its influence in the choice of the archbishop.
“Yonah Okoth was elected by pressure from [former president Milton] Obote against Festo Kivengere, a better candidate. All bishops from the north, east and central voted against the west. Peter Otai set up an operations command at the Namirembe Guest House to monitor the elections in Hannington Chapel,” says the clergyman who asked not to be named in order to speak freely.
Following Buganda’s threat to secede from the Province of the Church of Uganda and create their own province, for the unity of the church there was an unwritten rule that the post of the archbishop would rotate around all regions of the country.
“It should be someone from the east this time around, but things may have changed regarding the rotation among the regions,” says the insider.
Despite the separation between the State and the church, there has been an unwritten understanding where the State has had its preferred choice of leadership in the church, the source claims.
“The leading candidate was [Wilson] Mutebi in 1994, but once again State House interests did not want such a strong candidate, so Nkoyoyo was elected. With the 2021 elections looming, the next archbishop cannot be one that has the will to criticise the State. Usually the soon-to-retire bishops are given material retirement packages to guide them in voting the right way.”
But Rt Rev Edison Irigei, the dean of the bishops who convenes the House of Bishops to elect the archbishop, dismisses the claims.
“We are led by the Holy Spirit. There is no outside influence and it’s a secret ballot. As we convene, we call upon the Holy Spirit to lead us to elect someone who will serve God’s purpose. Government has no role whatsoever.”

During the colonial days, the church heavily allied itself with the Mengo Establishment. The Church Missionary Society made its stand clear during the religious wars when they marched back in triumph to Mengo with the Kabaka.
The influence of the Anglican Church in the affairs of Mengo can be further seen in the days of the young king Daudi Chwa when two of his three regents were Anglicans, one of them being Apolo Kaggwa, the Katikkiro (prime minister) at the time and de facto leader of the kingdom.
Following the deportation of Sir Edward Muteesa in 1953, the church Establishment was caught between a rock and a hard place. But still the impasse was settled by the Namirembe Conference.
The first Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Dr Leslie Brown, was known not to have been in good books with Buganda simply because of his alleged connivance with the protectorate government in Muteesa’s deportation.
As if that was not bad enough, when time came for the first Ugandan archbishop to be elected, Mengo thought one of their own, Dunstan Nsubuga, who was the rallying figure in Buganda during Muteesa’s deportation would be chosen but he was denied the opportunity and it fell on the laps of Erica Sabiiti, the bishop of Rwenzori, who was a known Obote supporter.
Writing in his biography Quest for Justice Bishop Henry Okullu says, “Brown was not in favour of being succeeded by Dunstan Nsubuga, the Muganda Bishop of Namirembe.”
Sabiiti was thought to be a strong Obote supporter, and he is the only archbishop to have been locked out of the provincial cathedral.