What you need to know:
I used to work with religious leader like the late Cardinal Nsubuga. He would have his view, come quietly and we talk about it, but when you go in public to give me a lecture, one day I will also give you a counter lecture, says Museveni.
As tension between prelates and government continues to grow over the inter-link between politics and the church, plans by security officials to frame the clerics with various crimes has been hatched.
The covert operation involves bringing criminal charges against the clerics such as rape, incest, molestation and illegal possession of fire arms against those who have come out openly to use their platform to criticise government.
According to documents obtained, a group of boys and females to act as complainants have been recruited including arranged radio talk shows and telephone call-in programmes, to either implicate or tarnish the reputation of some church leaders.
The plan drawn in February, targets Catholic and Anglican clerics in Kigezi region, western Uganda. It alleges that most of the anti-government elements in Kigezi region are headed by catholic laity and clergy especially priest and nuns.
Although the religious leaders insist they are just doing their pastoral role, security officials see them as promoting an agenda that supports the works of the opposition and also aim at putting government in bad light.
Security sources also intimated that the plan, which could be applied to religious leaders across the country, is facing difficulties because of the public respect and sympathy for the clergymen.
The architect of the plan, however, notes in the strategy which includes planting guns in residences of some selected church leaders will prove difficult since they will need cooperation from the police and other agencies like Judiciary.
Speaking to Sunday Monitor yesterday, a section of church leaders from Kigezi said they are already aware of the plan and have reported the matter to police for handling.
“There is a document that came out in February, we crosschecked the signature of the author and there was no question about it that it was him. We even checked the signature with the one we have in our visitor’s book and it matched. The police is investigating and the truth will come out,” said Fr Gaetano Batanyenda from Kabaale.
He narrates how he was on radio for a discussion one evening and a man called in accusing him of certain crimes, but “people did not take him seriously.”
Efforts to get comments from the police on the case failed as the Force’s spokespersons’, phones went unanswered.
The views of security officials find home in a security assessment made in 2010 by former Local Government minister Perez Ahabwe, who also hails from the region. In his letter to the President, he strongly urged him to take stern action against the church leaders.
However, now Mr Ahabwe, says politics and religion cannot be separated and calls upon the government to dialogue with religious leaders for a peaceful end. “To me the disagreement is a healthy one, they are competing for the same people and same resources, hence the need for the two to dialogue,” Mr Ahabwe said in an interview on Thursday.
The clerics have, however, vowed to continue pointing out issues of governance, human rights abuse and respect for the rule of law. “If we are to debate on it (role of religious leaders), he will be totally defeated. What the government is arguing for is a communist ideology which attempts to degrade religion and that is where President Museveni and his politicians are coming from, where religion is called the opium of the people,” said the Reverend Onesmus Mutabaruka.
Though he says he is not aware of the plans to frame clergymen in the region, Rev. Mutabaruka likens the current developments to what happened during the rule of President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya.
“In Kenya, Moi did very well in terms of propaganda against some of the strong religious leaders. I think one has just to keep aware of the developments but some of their plans may not go well,” Rev. Mutabaruka added.
Responding to calls by the prelates for political and legal reforms such as restoration of presidential term limits, respect for human rights, and national dialogue on issues of governance, President Museveni instead warned religious leaders against intimidating and barking at political leaders in public.
“Why this approach when you can solve issues amicably. Like Archbishop (Cyprian Kizito, Kampala diocese) Lwanga going to Church and telling us how to run a country, what would happen if I did the same,” a State House Statement sent April 27, quoted the President.
But Fr Batanyenda challenges the President, saying he has and continues to involve religious leaders in politics through appointments to different government offices.
“When President Museveni appointed me to the CA (Constituency Assembly), did he not know that I was a priest? Surely, we are not being serious and trustful about what we are saying. Even his minister of Ethics is a priest.”
The priest reveals that during his discussion with the President, he pointed out to him that “the success of African dictators is by keeping their people poor and ignorant.”
“If the Constitution was translated into local languages, they would not have been deceived. Our leaders want the people to remain ignorant so that they continue to exploit them.”
The clergymen say the church in Kigezi has tremendously contributed to development in the area. “It is the politicians using the church; in the last elections, President Museveni even came with Hope [Mwesigye, former Woman MP Kabale] to our church because the Catholic Church had disowned her,” said Rev. Mutabaruka.
On allegations by security that they have frustrated government plans, especially joint church-government programmes, the cleric claimed that almost all development programmes in Kigezi region are courtesy of the church.
“You go to any church in Kabale, you will find there hospitals, schools and agricultural projects. Which programme has the church interfered with?” asked Fr. Batanyenda. “It is because the religious leaders are outspoken and they are afraid that if we speak, we will make people know and understand the truth.”
Influential politician, also former Ndorwa East MP Shem Bageine, who has been accused in the past by politicians in the region of working with the Church of Uganda to promote his political agenda, advises the clerics to stay away from commenting on politics.
“I am not in favour of what they are saying; if mud is thrown, it will flash on them.”
According to various social scientists, religious leadership should not get involved in partisan politics but should not be barred from commenting on politics.
Politics and Religion in Kigezi
The interface of politics and religion in Kabale has always raised the fear of church leaders interfering in State matters. Security sources say the government fears that there is a Catholic-into -power movement led by senior members of the NRM party in the region.
Security briefings obtained claim that the catholic-into-power movement sprang from Kabale.
Kigezi region has a long history of clergymen being involved in politics. Leaders such as Fr Batanyenda have served as the speaker of Kabale District Council while the Reverend Onesmus Mutahinduka of the Anglican Church was last year nominated to stand as the Uganda Peoples Congress candidate for the Kabale LC5 chair.
Politicians from the area will attest that religious-based politics continue to grow in Kigezi. The contest between the church and a section of NRM leaders from the district led to a humiliating defeat of former Agriculture minister Hope Mwesigye in the parliamentary polls. Ms Mwesigye, it is said, had made unkind statements against Fr Gaetano.
According to Mr Ahabwe, the history of sectarian politics based on religion in Kigezi was interlinked by the colonialists and further entwined in the 1960s when political parties were formed along Anglican and Catholic faith.
Government worries could be compounded by the fact that support for the ruling NRM party is declining. President Museveni last year polled 78.6 per cent of the votes, a more than 10 per cent drop from 90.2 per cent he got in 2006.