It is close to 60 years since authorities in Church of Uganda deemed it necessary to create an independent diocese in western Buganda, as way of regionalising the church administration from the central Kampala authority and to further spread and strengthen the doctrines of Christianity to a wider outlook.
West Buganda Diocese, the Church’s first administrative unit to be formed outside Kampala, came into being after it was carved out of Namirembe Diocese in 1960.
With its main administration housed at St Paul’s Cathedral at Kako Hill in Masaka District, the diocese has since its inception been governed by five bishops, in addition to the pioneer, Michael Brown who passed the mantle to native Ugandan bishops.
Latest bishop elected
A few months ago, Christians and clergy in the diocese woke up to the news of the election of Henry Katumba-Tamale as their new bishop, elected to fill the one-year vacuum left by former Bishop Godfrey Makumbi who passed on last year.
He had served only four years of his 10-year tenure. Rev Jackson Matovu, the Bishop of Central Buganda, has been serving as the caretaker bishop since last year.
After a full year of a highly secretive undertaking by the diocesan synod committee, Electoral College and the House of Bishops in the search for a suitable candidate, Katumba was finally chosen to become the sixth bishop for West Buganda Diocese. Katumba is expected to be consecrated and enthroned to assume his office today.
The Christians and clergy who eagerly followed and waited for results from the lengthy election process, are now aligning a number of tasks upon which the success of the new bishop will be measured.
Prior to the election, a number of Christians expressed their desires to have the new bishop chosen from among the qualified native priests who were presumed to be well conversant with the real dynamics and challenges of the diocese.
Mr Paul Mugabi, a member of the synod, is one of those who restlessly proposed for a native bishop, which according to him would rid them of the wrangles and misunderstandings that have rocked the diocese in the past, some of which resulted in civil suits.
“We have had problems with bishops from outside the diocese. They are misled by cliques of self-seekers in the diocesan administration, thus driving the diocese in the wrong direction,” Mugabi says.
Mr Mugabi says the continued controversial sale of Church land and poor mismanagement of the diocese’s assets are some of the primary concerns causing bigger rifts between the Christians and some priests in the diocesan administration.
In 2013, the diocesan council disposed of a two square mile cattle ranch in Sembabule District to generate funds required for the construction of the church’s commercial plaza in Masaka Town, as a regular source of revenue.
With the ongoing construction on Plot 17 Edward Avenue in Masaka Town, sections of Christians with covert support of some priests are still opposed to the sale of the ranch, arguing that normal procedures were bypassed before the deal was executed and they still demand that the diocese repossesses the ranch.
“None of the synod members were involved in the said deal neither were we told of the cost at which the ranch was sold and to who, which makes the whole process irregular and needs to be revoked,” Mugabi says.
Katumba finishes first
However, all these fears among the ordinary laity were overlooked by the House of Bishops which is the Church’s supreme appointing authority, when they chose Katumba from Namirembe Diocese.
Two other names – Rev Canon Grace Ssentongo, a born of Masaka and Rev Canon Michael Lubowa from Mityana – had also made it to the list of candidates the Diocesan Electoral College sent to the House of Bishops for consideration.
With these failing to make it through, it is now a common assumption that as a new Bishop for West Buganda; Katumba’s first puzzle will be to substantiate his election into this high office, from elections certain people have already raised suspicions about.
Unifying a flock comprising of overzealous Christians who wanted to have a bishop elected from their own priests, is another serious hurdle awaiting the new bishop.
But Rev Canon Enock Muwanguzi, the diocesan communication to secretary, says the process of electing a bishop is purely guided by the Holy Spirit, which every Christian is obliged to respect.
“As believers in Christ, we ought to accept and respect the decision of our spiritual fathers under whose discretion the final election of a bishop is vested by the principals of the doctrine,” he says.
Rev Muwanguzi explains that the Houses of Bishops critically examines the personality and different capabilities of all candidates presented to them and make the best choice.
Rev Muwanguzi has called for tolerance and urged members of the laity to support and pray for the new bishop to diligently serve the diocese.
On the other hand, a long list of other managerial challenges also awaits Katumba.
There is a shared observation of the decline in the education standards in most Church-founded schools in the diocese.
West Buganda Diocese covers the districts of Masaka, Kalungu, Lwengo, Bukomansimbi, Sembabule, Rakai and Lyantonde with 34 Church-founded schools, of which 20 are primary schools.
However, Mr Lincoln Tusubira, a member of the diocesan Fathers’ Union, says the underlying challenge awaiting the new bishop is to devise means of revitalising the performance of these schools, majority of which are currently under government’s free education scheme.
“Although some people may say it a responsibility of the teachers to produce better grades, the chief executive, in this case the bishop, also plays a pivotal role in realising this, and this is an area we would wish to see the new bishop putting much emphasis,” he notes.
Records at the diocesan education secretariat indicate that the performance and standards of all the 34 Church of Uganda-founded schools under free education scheme have drastically declined from 70 to 30 per cent (though Sunday Monitor could not verify how the figures were arrived at), which created a lot of worry.
However, the trend is different in Catholic-founded Schools in the same area.
Mr Tusubira also challenges the new bishop to struggle hard and improve the welfare and standards of the clergy right from the parish level which he says will greatly contribute to the re-building of the diocese.
Ms Sylvia Muwanguzi, a female parishioner of Kijjabwemi Archdeaconry in Masaka District, says she expects the new bishop to support the empowerment of women in the diocese by prioritising the establishment of women’s groups support projects.
However, the problem of tribalism is another open secret at play in affairs of the diocese.
Henry Busuulwa, a member of the Fathers’ Union at All Saints Church in Nyendo, says tribalism is taking centre stage in the management of the diocese.
“It is evident that one tribe is dominating the management of the diocese, when it comes to awarding of scholarships or routine training for the priests, they are the most favoured compared to other tribes,” he says.
Rev Canon Samuel Mwesigwa, the Diocesan Secretary, however, says there is high hope that all the challenges will be addressed, adding that some of the concerns are conceived by a clique of selfish people whom they are yet to engage for purposes of finding lasting solutions.
He says as a diocese they designed a 10-year development master-plan which will see them transform the Church and please both God and believers who may not be envisioned on their better plans at the moment.
Bishop Katumba until recently was serving at Namirembe Diocese as the bishop’s personal research and information assistant and parish priest of Kamuli Parish in Kireka, Wakiso District.
From 2005-2015, he served at Uganda Christian University as a male warden and land and farm supervisor at UCU’s farm in Ntawo, Mukono District.
He also served as tutor at Uganda Martyrs’ Seminary, Namugongo, the acting principal of Bishop Hannington Theological Institute in Mombasa, Kenya, and a parish priest in various parishes in Namirembe Diocese.
Rev Katumba was ordained as a deacon in 1986 and a priest in 1988 at Namirembe Diocese. He earned a Bachelor of Divinity (Hons) from Bishop Tucker Theological College in 1995, having earned both diplomas and certificates in Theology prior to that.
Rev Katumba has also received a postgraduate diploma in Community Based Rehabilitation from Kyambogo’s Institute of Teachers Education. He is married to Rev Elizabeth Julia Katumba–Tamale and they have five children.
Former West Buganda bishops
lSamuel Keffa Kamya