While reintroducing Yoweri Kaguta Museveni as the NRM’s 2021 elections top-ticket-bearer, on July 28, 2020, Dr Tanga Odoi, the party’s electoral commission chairman, alleged that their candidate is 75 years of age. I stand to strongly disagree.
Although, Museveni’s age has always been the mysteriously unsolved puzzle, it is easier to nail it down using the available information - about his baptism, the age he started school and even his current looks (quite usual for a well-kempt individual).
In his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni gives several details that are very helpful. Whereas he writes that he was barely three years old at the time of his baptism, normally, it is quite unusual for children to exhibit such memory of the detailed account of events which happened at that age. However, he provides very significant details.
First, that in the same year of Museveni’s baptism (1947), his parents also ‘abandoned their pagan faith and became Christians’. Therefore, since Museveni was born to parents who had not yet professed the Christian faith, they could not have been married in church.
He was Ekinyandaro (Runyankore) or Omwana w’Ekibi (Luganda) – that is exactly how the Native Anglican Church (NAC) regarded children born outside wedlock. Second, since his birth was not a product of a holy matrimony, he could not by any means, be received for infant baptism.
Until 1968, the canons of the NAC (which was eventually surnamed Church of Uganda in 1965), barred the baptism of children born outside Holy Matrimony. This canon was strictly observed, and priests would be defrocked for disobeying the canonical dictum.
Children born out of wedlock had to wait until a later age when they would be old enough to undergo the mandatory two-year’ Catechumen (Catechism) training offered by the lay-readers (Babulizi). Thereafter, they would be orally examined by the local parish priest before they were eventually allowed to be baptised.
Unlike today, this process was strictly observed and the ill-prepared students, who failed the parish-priest’s oral examination, would be dropped out of the process, and their baptism delayed until a later date, whenever they proved proficient enough. During the baptism service, all adults (younger and older), were required to outwardly profess their faith before being eventually baptised. Once again, those who were not ready could be dropped out, even at that late hour.
As an incentive for parents to send their children to school, [where they also learnt religion (Ediini)], the NAC required that the young adults acquire the ability to read and write before they were presented and accepted for baptism. The baptism candidates underwent an arduous preparatory process during which they read out the words of the catechism to the lay-reader, and later on, to the examining parish priest.
The age for attaining such proficiency before adult baptism could not by any means be any younger than eight years, in most cases, it was 10 years of age. The former was common for children from urban settings while the latter was common for children from rural areas.
In one of the very first presidential addresses, regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, (available on Youtube), Museveni gave another relevant detail when he revealed that he started school when he was eight years old. That detail was so amazing to me, although it led me into the temptation of assuming foul-play. I couldn’t understand how somebody who knew his age when he started school, could not tell his age – after he became President in 1986.
Could it be that Museveni has always been aware of his exact age, but chose to keep it a secret thereby flouting Ugandans into suspense as a means of perpetuating his presidency?
If, Museveni started school in January of that year when he was eight years old, later in September of the same year, he turned nine. Similarly in September of his second grade year he turned 10. To this day, most children from the rural schools become proficient readers towards the end of second grade.
These details only stand to affirm that Museveni must have been introduced for baptism when he was around 10 years old – an age appropriate for having such a vivid memory of the event – the way he does.
Putting one and one together, it is, therefore, obvious that the man who was probably baptised when he was 10 years old, and later celebrated his 70th baptism anniversary in 2017, plus the three years since that celebration, will be turning 83 years old, come September 2020.
Rev John Ssebalugga Kalimi is an Anglican priest, a Church historian and student of Canon Law.