Today in History: Archbishop Janan Luwum is shot dead

Monday February 16 2015
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An illustration of Archbishop Janani Luwum being tortured at the State Research Bureau offices in Nakasero in Kampala. ILLUSTRATION BY KWIZERA

Born in 1922 at Acholi in Uganda, Janani Luwum spent his childhood and early youth tending goats, but earned a reputation as a quick learner when opportunities arose. He became a teacher and was converted to Christianity in the East Africa Revival on January 6, 1948.

Janani Luwum became a Ugandan parish priest during 1956. He faithfully served in that position until 1969 when he was elected to serve the Northern portion of Uganda a Bishop and was consecrated at a function atended by Amin and prime minister APollo Milton Obote. In less than two years after becoming a bishop, the reign of terror perpetrated by Idi Amin began on January 25, 1971.

It was in 1974 that Janani Luwum was chosen Archbishop of Uganda.

Bishop Luwum made it his business to confront the injustices and atrocities of Amin. He took his criticism public in a radio address in 1976 at Christmas. His sermon felt the power of censorship before he even finished.

The Bishop then threatened a public demonstration, and for a time worked to bring his Anglicans, other Protestant groups, and the Catholics together in opposition to Amin.

Amin's reaction was swift and without mercy. The Bishop's home was plundered during a 1:30 a.m. raid on Saturday, February 5, 1977. It was said they were looking for guns but none were found. Luwum was then confined and confronted by Amin himself. Two days later he was accused of treason.


On February 16, 1977, Amin summoned religious, government, and military leaders to Kampala to condemn Luwum for “subversive acts.” The archbishop and six other bishops were publicly arraigned in a sham trial for smuggling arms, but it was clear that it was Janani Luwum with whom Amin was concerned. As the church leaders were ordered to leave, one at a time, Archbishop Luwum said to Bishop Festo Kivengere, “They are going to kill me. I am not afraid.” He told the bishops not to be afraid, that he saw “God’s hand in this.” …

Luwum was not even allowed to speak and it is believed that he was shot that same night

However,the last that his friends saw him, Luwum and the two cabinet ministers, Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi, were being taken away in a Land Rover. The next day, February 17, a government spokesperson claimed that Archbishop Luwum had died in a car accident.

It was reported in Uganda that Luwum escaped and in his flight, was involved in an automobile accident that resulted in his death. The reality was that his body was riddled with bullets and only planted in a fake car crash.

Later (to explain the bullet holes found in his body) the story was changed. Luwum had been shot while trying to escape from soldiers taking him to detention.