Reclaiming the soul of the nation

Saturday July 20 2019


By Moses Khisa

I know very little, if any, about the legion of ‘celebrity pastors’ and evangelists that now populate every corner of dear country Uganda. And my grasp of religious matters is at best poor despite the modest personal beliefs I espouse.

The religious explosion of the past few decades constitute a critical component of the socioeconomic milieu that now so worryingly define the nation we call Uganda. It is a nation in crisis across multiple spheres and strata.

Spirituality like sexuality is a very personal matter for which individuals hold the freedom to exercise a wide-range of preferences and practices. It is in that sense that freedom of religion is widely considered inviolable and at the heart of the secular nature of the modern State and individual citizenship.

Uganda today is in the throes of deep moral crisis, social decay and cultural deformity of unimaginable proportions. We have prophets for profit and evangelical entrepreneurs. The spiritual sphere has suffered as much torture as the soul of the nation has been battered by the political class and economic actors.

If the nation as a whole faces a grave crisis of identity and a sense of direction, the individual citizen craves to find solace in spiritual circles that are mostly under the grip of merchants in pursuit of money.

The merchants seek to deliver abundant healing and unlimited ‘health services’ in a society of limited health facilities and endemic health problems. They sell prayers that cure all problems in the same way that pseudo medicine-men now common aboard long-distance buses purport to sell magic-bullet drugs and herbs that cure everything.

In practice, the charades of overnight prayer and money-based prayer sessions, are little more than fraudulent activities. It has become more of freedom of fraud than freedom of worship. It is more of business than authentic work of God.
The socioeconomic environment is propitious. There are armies of desperate young men and women struggling to find meaning in life. Many are confronting broken families. Some are people facing a rough business environment. Others are heavily stretched by personal and intimate crises.

All are easy prey for the prophet and pastor through whom, ostensibly, God can deliver all solutions. Is it false hope? Perhaps. Is it real delivery? Maybe. But whatever God can do in people’s lives is necessarily personal and should be private.
The tendency to make it a matter of public crusading and money-projects is what has delivered us to the social disaster we are engulfed in, a fraction of which manifests in nefarious stunts as a celebrity-pastor speaking about the health history of his estranged wife. It speaks so eloquently of the moral poverty and intellectual deficiency of our time.

One can rightly say this one individual hardly represents the supposed body of Christ in Uganda and the collective attitude of the nation. But that is only if one treats this as an isolated incident of individual infraction and misconduct, which it is not.

The pattern of moral poverty and social decay, stretching from the echelons of State power to the inner sanctum of otherwise holy places of worship makes us a country on a steady decline as regards to common decency, public probity and ethical conduct.

The rulers are engaged in unfettered thieving, the religious guild has its own share of fraud and the ordinary wananchi too gasps for the chance to grab whatever can sustain life on the fringes.

Meanwhile, the national project sits on decidedly shaky ground. What is it that defines us as a people, what value-system underpins our humanity and togetherness? There is need for deep soul-searching to reclaim the precious part of the nation, the sacred soul, that binds us.

The historical accident (or perhaps more harshly, a contraption) called Uganda is where we all must belong, for we cannot denounce it for another alternative. It has to be made to work. Thus, charting the markers of collective belonging remains even more daunting today than it was at independence more than half a century ago.

Dr Khisa is assistant professor at North Carolina State University (USA).