Kampala- In a video broadcast by NBS television station on Sunday night, a sleek black vehicle bearing the Uganda flag, closely followed by an equally sleek black double-cabin pick-up, dodges stones as it drives uphill and eventually pulls up near a motley crowd.
Ms Rebecca Kadaga, freshly re-elected Kamuli Woman MP and Speaker of Parliament, quickly disembarks and, led by a gun-toting policeman, shakes hands with some of the people lining her path before proceeding to a shrine housed between giant granites.
A container made out of burnt clay and a few other fetishes are visible inside the shrine, but the video does not show the ceremony properly.
Ms Kadaga, donning a flowery blouse, blue pants and white sneakers, finally emerges to explain to the waiting journalists what it was all about.
Ms Kadaga said: “Who doesn’t have an origin? Who doesn’t have where they came from? Those are my roots, I had gone to inform my grandparents that I went through in Parliament; I went through as the Speaker. That is all I had gone to inform them about.”
A graying man later emphasised in the video: “She has come to celebrate together with the members of her clan … she has come to thank the spirits of our clan which helped her to remain in that position and the victory she has attained.”
The shrines, according to Clan leaders belong to Ms Kadaga’s “ancestors” on Nhyenda Hill, Nakigo Sub-county in Iganga District. The visit was reportedly ahead of a thanksgiving service that was held at the home of Mr Abel Kisubi, the leader of the Speaker’s clan, the Baise Igaga in Idudi.
It was not possible to speak to Ms Kadaga about the visit as her known mobile phones were off, but Maj Nantamu, the prime minister of Ms Kadaga’s clan, said the Speaker did not go to the hill to perform any acts of sorcery, but was only fulfilling a cultural norm that requires each member of the Baise Igaga Clan to visit the hill at least once a year.
Maj Nantamu says that when members visit, it is up to them to do what they feel for as long as it does not desecrate the area.
“Others pray for blessings and others offer thanks. We never really listen in to what others say when they come to fulfill what is a known cultural norm,” he said.
In December 2004, then vice president Gilbert Bukenya raised uproar when he visited a shrine in Masaka District, saying he was praying for President Museveni to get a third term.
Mr Museveni, then serving what was supposed to be his second and last elected term due to term limits, was seeking to amend the Constitution to run again in 2006 amidst opposition from different circles. The constitutional provision invoking term limits was eventually removed from the Constitution and Mr Museveni competed and won the election, keeping in power to date.
Whether Prof Bukenya’s prayer in the shrine, and other prayers which others may have secretly conducted in different shrines, eventually contributed to Mr Museveni’s keeping in power cannot be quantified.
What can be quantified is the condemnation Prof Bukenya, a scientist, received for believing in spirits. The Catholic Church, to which he otherwise belongs, called on him to repent, which he later said he did.
Hajj Abdul Nadduli, the immediate former Luweero District chairman and vice chairman of the NRM, a veteran of the bush war that brought Mr Museveni to power in 1986, who is talked about as one of the “spiritual leader” of the “revolution”, said “all” religions recognise the existence of the spirits and “the fact that spirits are stronger than humans.”
“The problem with those people (who condemn shrines) is that they are not honest,” said Hajj Nadduli, “If they were honest they would know that it is God who created all the things on earth, including man and the spirits. In fact God first created the spirits before he created man on the fifth day.”
Hajji Nadduli said the spirits, because they were created out of fire, have capacity to foretell the future, while man, who was created out of soil, cannot.
“I think she [Kadaga] visited the spirits and they told her that she will win if God wishes,” Hajji Nadduli said, “There is nothing wrong with going back to thank the spirits after she has won. In fact failure to thank the spirits can result in serious problems.”
Makerere University political historian Mwambutsya Ndebesa resorts to what he calls sociology of religions to describe Ms Kadaga’s actions, which he called syncretism – the practice of combining different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.
“She was in a shrine on that day and then she was presiding at a church function later,” Mr Ndebesa said, adding that this is a practice “common” with many Africans because “Africa was uprooted (from its traditional religions) but not properly transplanted (into Christianity).”
Mr Ndebesa says syncretism is cause by “having some insecurity or uncertainty. It is the same as you being sick and attending a first class medical facility, but then turning around in the night and visiting a medicine man for another opinion.”
As far as Ms Kadaga is concerned, Mr Ndebesa says her recent trials, particularly when her Speaker job was on the line as she faced open competition from her deputy, Mr Jacob Oulanyah, could explain her visit to the shrine “because even if she won she may not be sure that the challenges will go away easily.”
Tying together what Mr Ndebesa and Hajji Nadduli say, it is probably easier to explain President Museveni’s assertions about witchcraft during the bush war days.
Mr Museveni said in his autobiography, Sowing the Mustard Seed, that he was forced to practice rituals during the bush war, not because he believed in them but because the people around him did and his participation helped in boosting other people’s confidence.