BUSHENYI/SHEEMA. On the morning of December 27, police led by Bushenyi Greater Regional Police Commander Paul Nkore were seen patrolling Ankole Western Institute of Science and Technology (AWIST-popularly known as Ankole Western University) campus in Kabwohe, Sheema District.
They had been sent at the urging of West Ankole Bishop Yona Katoneene, to divert a planned thanksgiving service organised by some members of the university leadership along with “concerned stakeholders”.
The bishop was not part of the thanksgiving arrangements but reportedly directed that the service takes place at the nearby church not at the earlier planned venue at the university’s new science block that is under construction.
The thanksgiving, which was a fundraising function, was then shifted to St Emmanuel Church of Uganda, Kabwohe amidst grumbling by the organisers.
Who is involved?
Such animosity relating to the university project has been constant in West Ankole Diocese and greater Bushenyi for two years now. The standoff pits the diocese trustees led by the bishop, against the stakeholders who include Sam Kahindi, David Kabigumira and Prof Ephraim Kamuntu.
Although the disagreement started manifesting at the beginning of 2013, it had begun brewing as far back as 2000 when the idea to put up a university was born. The promoters, right from the start, were divided over whether to establish the campus in Sheema or Bushenyi.
Eventually, AWIST was founded in 2003 with its campus, currently holding 1,200 students put up in Sheema. There were mixed feelings over where the campus had eventually been set up. The situation seemed calm though and only began to fire up in 2013, when in March, Prof Emmanuel Karoro, the then Principal of the Institute and head of the laity in the diocese, wrote to Bishop Katoneene asking to use diocese infrastructure at Katungu (in Bushenyi) for teaching. The diocese has vacant building facilities at Katungu that were previously hired to a tertiary institution before it shifted, rendering them redundant.
Prof Karororo’s idea was presented to the board of directors, (the highest organ of the university, which is now called board of trustees after changes in the university constitution) meeting.
“In March 2013, the former principal (Prof Karoro), wanted to use the diocese facilities at Katungu because Kabwohe campus was getting overcrowded. He wrote to me as bishop and I said the facilities are open. That is how the whole thing, the current confusion started,” Bishop Katoneene said in an interview with Daily Monitor in his office last year.
He added: “Members (of the board of directors) who at that time included Dr Richard Nduhura, Mr John Wycliffe Karazarwe and others said ‘Oh, this is a welcome idea,’ and then they resurrected the idea of a campus. They said: ‘Originally that was our plan, to establish a campus there, if we allow this we would be moving towards establishing a campus there.’ And then they proposed which courses could be taught there, courses in clinical education. It was minuted and it was said that the governing council should receive this matter and work out the modalities. But as soon as we had left the meeting, some members of the board of directors, who were not happy with that decision, used it to incite the people, especially in Kabwohe. And the message was, ‘Do you know that the board of directors has decided to relocate the university?”
It was around that time that two parallel pressure groups emerged. Those at Bweranyangi, the diocese seat, were seen as the ones who wanted a university branch at Katungu. The concerned stakeholders sprouted at that time and their argument was that the plan at Bweranyangi was intended to weaken the Sheema campus and ultimately have the university fully established in Bushenyi.
As the matter heated up, Prof Karoro resigned on October 30. He was replaced by Rev Can Edidah Mujinya, who is said to subscribe to the pro-Sheema group. At the time, Bishop Katoneene, who says the university charter gives him a bigger say in appointment of the principal, was out of the country. So he came back and found a new administrator.
Call for dialogue
Mr Kabigumira, the chairman of the concerned stakeholders, says in a bid to find a solution to the problem, the RDC convened a meeting for the two parties in April 2014 at Kyogyera College. Bishop Katoneene delegated his office aides to attend. His move was not well received.
“This dismayed us because as regards what we wanted him for, others couldn’t provide a tangible and effective solution. It was a security matter and the RDC had also invited regional security operatives as a way of ensuring security in the district and diocese at large,” says Mr Kabigumira.
After the flopped dialogue, Prof Katoneene faced more resistance. During a tour of the arch deaconries that same month, he was locked out of Nyakabira Church in Sheema where he had gone for confirmation of children.
It took the police to break the padlocks for the bishop to access the church. At this point, the bishop was also being accused of mismanaging diocese funds and other properties. On another visit to Rwabutura Archdeaconry, the head of the laity, Mr Edmund Biita Ankunda, was not there to receive him. Mr Ankunda said the bishop was behaving like a dictator.
The bishop, who used to mingle freely with Christians, was now being guarded by both police and uninformed operatives at the churches he visited.
The standoff continued into 2014. As the diocese prepared for the pastoral visit of the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda in September, a section of Christians in Sheema allegedly wrote a letter to Archbishop Stanley Ntagali asking him to cancel his visit due to security reasons.
The archbishop was expected to arrive on September 8 for a weeklong working tour and was highly expected to reconcile the parties. But a letter authored by Church of Uganda Provincial Secretary Amos Magezi, was circulated across the diocese saying the visit had been postponed due to the ongoing conflicts at the diocese.
Rev Magezi said he had been requested by the archbishop to inform the diocese he would not proceed with his visit as earlier arranged until power struggles and wrangles over money were resolved.
But Katoneene had a different take on the postponement of the visit: “The visit has been postponed due to pressure of work on the side of the archbishop.” Without giving a detailed explanation, the bishop further said Archbishop Ntagali’s visit had been pushed to November (1 – 9) and the diocese anticipated a good time with His Grace.
The war of words did not stop. Christians, especially in the districts of Bushenyi, Buhweju and Rubirizi accused the State Minister for Health, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye and Prof Kamuntu of stoking conflict in the diocese, which they denied.
“I heard that I and Prof Kamuntu sat with the archbishop and advised him not to step in Sheema. I should be cleared out of this mess because I don’t like seeing my people being divided by a misunderstanding in the church,” said Dr Tumwesigye who is also Sheema North MP.
But he also said it was clear that the archbishop’s visit was rescheduled, following petitions from Christians, and that he had nothing to do with it.
Right now, Sheema District leaders have decided to solicit funds to construct a science block at the university in a move to see the university stay in Kabwohe. The stakeholders resolved to start the construction during a meeting in December at St. Emanuel Church of Uganda in Kabwohe chaired by Kabigumira. “Together with the old council, we have withdrawn money worth Shs116m to start the construction because this money was raised for construction and it has not been used for different reasons which stem from the conflict but it’s time for serious work,” said Kabigumira at the meeting.
Though the believers say there is no problem that cannot be solved, it is still hard to predict how long it will take for the standoff to cease. Clearly, it is not just a passing storm.
Matter taken to court
In May 2014, concerned stakeholders Sam Kahindi, Canon Yowasi Makaaru Rwamango, William Wilberforce Asiimwe and Keneth Kiiza petitioned the High Court in Mbarara accusing the bishop and the diocesan trustees of mismanaging the diocese property and projects.
They wanted court to remove him and the trustees of the diocese including Marvin Byaruhanga, the diocese chancellor, from the management of AWIST. Despite all this, Katoneene said things would clear sooner than later. “When you critically reflect on this situation, sometimes it becomes very difficult to understand the real cause. But we can call it a passing storm,” he said at the time.
The hearing of an application seeking permanent injunction failed to take off in June after Makaaru, a presidential adviser and former Bushenyi LC5 Chairman withdrew from the suit citing “personal reasons.”
The remaining three petitioners kept saying they would pursue the matter further but to date have not advanced.
On June 16, diocesan council (owner of the university) constituted a new governing council and Board of Trustees. Prof Kamuntu was replaced by Prof Katunguuka and appointed a member of the board of trustees. Prof Kamuntu and Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, a member of the 14-man governing council, snubbed the function, and spent the day in Kitagata in Sheema at the commissioning of a maternity ward and staff houses at a health centre. They sent apologies and Prof Kamuntu reportedly refused to give way for the reconstituted governing council, claiming his term expires in March (2015).
Bushenyi MPs take stand
We categorically denounce the unspiritual conduct of sections of Christians from Sheema who are vigorously fighting the Bishop of West Ankole Diocese.
There is misinformation attributed to the bishop that he wants to shift the Ankole Western Institution (AWIST) from Kabwohe to Katungu in Bushenyi which is definitely not true. The utterances are either aimed at slighting the bishop and causing public hatred against him which is totally unacceptable. This can breed serious insecurity in the community.
It is regrettable that with the peace ushered in by the NRM government, some people can without shame create unnecessary fear and confusion in our people. We would like to subscribe that much as the institution will remain at the main campus (Kabwohe), at an appropriate time, Constituent Colleges will be opened up in various areas as earlier agreed.
We still feel that all matters related to the affairs of the institution (AWIST) can be amicably resolved rather than resorting to uncalled for populist actions.
The Bible is very clear on how Christians resolve their differences. We, therefore, appeal to all Christians in Western Ankole Diocese to stand firm and reject such populist tendencies that will end up dividing the Church. “United we stand, divided we fall.”
We wish you a happy and prosperous 2015.
Hon. Mary Karooro Okurut
Hon. Mawanda Michael Maranga
Hon. Biraaro Ganshanga Ephraim
Hon. Mbabazi Betty Ahimbisibwe
Hon. Jovah Kamateeka