In matter of the martyrs and challenge of nation building

Saturday June 6 2020

Asuman Bisiika

Asuman Bisiika 

By Asuman Bisiika

June 3 is a public holiday in Uganda set aside for the commemoration of the Uganda Martyrs. My information is that the Roman Catholic Church part of the Uganda Martyrs was elevated to sainthood; so, we may as well call them the Uganda Saints.

The June 3 celebrations at the Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo always attract a multitude of pilgrims from all over the world. However, this year’s celebrations were mute. I have been told attendance was by very limited invitation.

The government could not allow pilgrims (from across the world) at Uganda Martyrs Shrine (at Namugongo) because such a large gathering would ‘offend’ some of the requirements in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.
In 1886, a group of young Ugandans challenged the power of the State over some freedoms. It was a courageous act; even today (more than 100 years later), one would have to have a very high sense of self-conviction to challenge the State in such a brazen manner.

The young men who challenged the State had careers in the administrative structures of the State; and needless to say, they were destined for bigger things if only they remained loyal to the crown. They didn’t.

We hold them in awe and reverence; for in their death, they have earned the favour of national history and the universal Catholic Church. We are still confounded by their exhibition of courage that earned them the benefaction that comes with the Christian Doctrine of ‘bearing witness’ (obujulizi).

Needless to say, the ideas and ideals for which they were killed, for instance, more liberties and freedoms, were later to form the basis for the contemporary political values Ugandans espouse today. The story of the Uganda Martyrs also reminds us that human blood is the ultimate human sacrifice. There is a conspicuous thread of blood from the story of Abraham and Isaac (Ismail?) to the ultimate bloody business at Calvary.


My simple understanding is that martyrdom is bestowed unto those who exhibit the highest sense of conscious self expression. Martyrdom is human in all senses: It is earned by humans and bestowed on humans by humans.

Which means one can earn martyrdom in his or her area of socio-cultural, political and ideological expression. You only have to be good at what you are doing (or believe in) to earn the benefaction and charity of martyrdom (from the living). That is why we should remember other Ugandan martyrs who bore obujulizi with their own blood.

On September 22, 1972, State actors abducted and killed Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka over disagreements on the direction and process of justice in the country. The death of Kiwanuka has always inspired the Ugandan Judiciary.

Kiwanuka’s martyrdom set the bar very high for both the political leadership and the Judiciary. For what can the political (or military) leadership do to the Judiciary that is more outrageous than the killing of a Chief Justice? Conversely, what can the leadership of the Judiciary do that is more courageous than Kiwanuka’s bravery and fortitude to challenge State actions?
On Wednesday, Dr Kizza Besigye delivered what he called the “state-of-the-people address. Because he doesn’t hold State power, his ideas (very brilliant ones) will go to waste. One day, Dr Besigye may be declared a political martyr.

Indeed, what can a Ugandan politician do that is more courageous than what Dr Besigye has done? Or what can the government do to a Ugandan politician that is more outrageous than what they (government) has done to Dr Besigye?
Yes, we need more martyrs to sort the challenge of nation building.

Mr Bisiika is the executive
editor of the East African Flagpost.