Masaka. When Masaka Diocese Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa threatened to stage a demonstration late in September over the sorry state of roads, particularly Nyendo-Kitovu road, and the garbage littered all over Masaka Town, local political and district authorities panicked and quickly persuaded the prelate not to the take to the streets.
Why? Because they knew the cleric is a man of action.
After the expiry of the one-week ultimatum he had given them to address the issue, the municipality authorities hurriedly got to work and started fixing the roads and removed litter from the streets.
“I am a shepherd of Christ leading his flock. Besides the spiritual talk, we need healthy followers living in a healthy environment,” Bishop Kaggwa said in an interview recently.
It was not the first time the bishop threatened to go to the streets. In December last year, the man of God gathered the faithful for the bulungi bwansi, Luganda phrase for community work over the same issue, though he was calmed down by authorities, who promised to work on the road in March this year.
Bishop Kaggwa waited in vain. The authorities had “deceived” him even when he called them to discuss the matter. But they informed him that rehabilitation of the road to the cathedral was in their plan and persuaded him that work on the road would kick off early September. He waited until end of September, but nothing had been done.
“They deceived me and always when we call them for dialogue, they do not turn up,” he said, before adding that people are not happy to live in areas with such bad roads and garbage everywhere, cautioning authorities that if they have failed to execute their duties, residents would take up their roles.
What powers him?
Masaka Mayor Godfrey Kayemba Afaayo, says government listens and respects religious leaders.
“Religious leaders have become our mouths on issues the government does not want to listen to when we, the local leaders, raise them,” Mr Kayemba says, before adding that they have always asked Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) officials to repair roads which are in a sorry state, but they have completely kept a deaf ear, claiming they do not have funds.
The Nyendo/Ssenyange Division chairperson, Mr Michael Mulindwa Nakumusana, says when the bishop said he was to mobilise the faithful to clean the town, he knew he was not joking.
“I have always marked his words, he cannot divert from them and as leaders who were voted by majority, we could not let him protest,” Mr Nakumusana says, adding that in his term, he will ensure that the garbage problem in Nyendo is solved.
Bishop Kaggwa still insists that believers should live in a good society and if there are challenges facing them, somebody must talk about them so that those concerned take action. And that is why he engages in teaching social values.
“I always visit those families which benefit from the diocesan projects such as the cow projects given out by MADDO (Masaka Diocesan Development Organisation) and I always tell them frankly that if they do not meet our sanitation standards, they will miss out on the project,” he says.
Other bishops speak out
Gulu Archbishop John-Baptist Odama, who is the chairperson of the Episcopal Conference of Uganda, says the church doesn’t stop its leaders from trying to change communities and people’s welfare.
“Social development issues are for the wellbeing of the entire community that we live in and if not the bishop, any other religious person can as well address them so that they change for the better,” said Bishop Odama during a recent interview with this newspaper, adding that social development issues should not be limited to the clergy because they have spoken on them.
Archbishop Odama, however, says the Catholic Church does not believe in violent ways of expressing such issues and therefore urges fellow leaders to always handle matters in a peaceful manner.
“I have seen religious leaders in peaceful movements on some issues and I think that is a better way. If the bishop mobilises the faithful and other people in the community to solve a social problem in form of community work, that is the best way to go,” Odama sdaid.
Away from the social issues, Bishop Kaggwa also speaks freely on political issues whenever he perceives that something is going wrong.
However, many politicians have condemned religious leaders who blend into politics, saying they should always concentrate on their spiritual duties.
President Museveni has on different occasions advised clerics not to engage in political issues.
“Why can’t a cleric engage in politics of the country, I am also a citizen of this country with freedom of expression and whatever affects society affects me as well,” Bishop Kaggwa says.
Bishop Odama also says he finds no reason why religious leaders should be barred from talking about political issues when they come out to guide politicians, but appealed to the clerics not to actively involve themselves in politics or side with political groups.
During this year’s Independence Day celebrations when Christians from Masaka converged in Kampala to pray for the country, Bishop Kaggwa advised legislators against the frequent amendment of the Constitution, which he said must be respected since it is the supreme law of the country.
“Laws are changed time after time, and more unclear laws have been adapted leaving those which benefit our people,” he said.
He cited new Bills such as the one that seeks to empower government take over of private land before compensation.
Deputy government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said he sees no problem when a man of God speaks out on political and social issues in his society.
“Bishops and other clerics are also citizens of this land and have equal rights like others. The only mistake they may make is to preach partisan politics in favour of one political affiliation and create gaps among their followers, which I think is not acceptable since their role is to bring people together,” Mr Opondo said in a telephone interview with Saturday Monitor recently.
About Bishop KagGwa
Birth. Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa was born on March 23, 1943 at Bulenga near Kampala.
Education. He attended Lubaga Boys Primary School. He started his priestly formation at Kisubi Minor Seminary, later joining Katigondo Major Seminary in Masaka before moving on to Urban University in Rome, Italy for his Philosophical and Theological studies.
Career. He was ordained priest in Rome on December 12, 1971 at the age of 28. Soon after, he completed his doctorate studies, graduating with a PhD in (Secular Law) and in Canon Law (the law of the Catholic church). He was later appointed vice rector of the Pontifical College of St Paul, Rome, for five years.
He later returned to Uganda in the 1980s to become the first rector of Ggaba National Major Seminary.
On December 19, 1994, he was appointed the coadjutor Bishop of Masaka, and consecrated on June 24, 1995.
Legacy. For the period he has served as bishop, Kaggwa is praised for having taken services of the church nearer to followers through creation of new parishes, building a church commercial complex in Nyendo Town and promoting household income projects under the Caritas-MADDO.