As he sinks into the springy compressions of the cushions on a brown sofa in the living room at his staff quarters in Luweero, and picks up a book to engage his eyes, the Reverend Albert Senkeeto is under the watchful eye of a greyscale photograph hanging from above on the wall, just across the room.
It is an ancient-looking picture, from back in 1905, stretched and pixelated beyond its portions. But it is of utmost grandeur and sacred importance; for it is an image of a girl in the prime of her youth, plumb and round, on her wedding day, superimposed against that of her husband, a clergyman.
The girl in the picture is Tolophina Nakanwagi, the only child to Frederick Kizza, one of the Anglican martyrs executed at Namugongo on June 3, 1886. Reverend Senkeeto is her grandchild.
Rev Senkeeto is a teacher, cum education officer, cum diplomat, cum IT worker, cum clergyman. His story is simply incomplete without the thread of his connection with Christianity and the Anglican church, weaved by his relationship to one of its martyrs, and, one that drove him to finally pick up the call to serve the church as a priest, a whole 60 years into his life.
After a career that has seen him work in various education institutions in Uganda, spend over 30 years living and working in the USA, Rev Senkeeto now serves in the church, working as the Education Secretary in Luweero Diocese. Back at his home, in Mpigi, the clergyman constructed a chapel within, and named it after his great grandfather, Frederick Kizza.
You can tell it is a great thing for him, getting to serve his church, his great grandfather’s church, in more than just an audience’s capacity. Though he was finally ordained in 2005, the call had come decades earlier.
“Bishop Dunstan Nsubuga (former Bishop of Namirembe Diocese and distant cousin to the Reverend), approached me in 1974, to go work with the church,” he says. At the time, he had just trained as a teacher. “I tried to go work with the church, even did the interview, but I was not able to do so.”
Although that opportunity did not yield, the call did not die. And in 1979, the doors opened for him to work at one of Uganda’s missions, abroad. “After the Amin war, I was selected to go abroad and we left in November 1979. I left to go work as the Education Attaché at the Ugandan embassy in the USA,” he says. He would stay here until his return in 2009.
“I stayed there (as Education Attaché) until 1984. With the kind of political situation in Uganda, we were recalled. I decided to stay there, however, and continued to be active in the Episcopal Church (the USA’s Anglican Communion) in the USA,” he says.
Among the chosen few
“We were unique,” he says. “Few black people attend the Episcopal Church. They mainly attended the Pentecostal Churches. The Episcopal Church was an elite church. If you found a black person in the Episcopal Church, then you would conclude that they were probably from a former British colony (like Uganda).
“The rectors utilised us a lot, but still as lay people. I left for Denver Colorado, in 1995 and the bishop selected me to join a commission that advises him on racial harmony, you know, as a way of getting the church to reconcile with the black community,” he says.
“In 2000, I thought to myself: “Since the call has been around for a very long time, I should go study and join clergy-ship.” I [thus] enrolled in numerous seminaries,” he says.
However, the ordaining of a homosexual clergyman as bishop in one of the dioceses unsettled him. “In 2002/3, there was upheaval in the Episcopal Church, especially to do with homosexuality. They ordained Jean Robinson as the Bishop for New Hampshire Diocese.
I did not feel comfortable. I went back to my bishop and I said, ‘Look, I do not think I will continue to serve in a church that acknowledges the ordination of homosexuals to the point of a bishop. Because one pledge I will be required to make is to obey my bishop.
When I anticipate that, a time will come and my bishop will send me two women, and tell me to marry them, or two men, and I will say no. I will have disobeyed my bishop. And I do not want to do this.’ So I dropped out of the seminary, and the Episcopal church,” he says.
“Luckily, we Ugandans had become quite a number, so, we started a small Bible study group as Ugandans. The idea was that we Ugandans, who cannot compromise with the Episcopal Church, let us meet and commune together. We even had a reverend from Kigezi, and he led us through prayers and even Holy Communion, until we got a sizable congregation.
I resumed my studies, in conservative colleges, and was finally ordained, as a deacon, not in the Episcopal Church, but in the province of Rwanda,” he says.
And that is how his journey of ending up in full time service of his church came to be. He joined a list of Frederick Kizza’s descendants that would make the martyr proud, by joining active service in the church. In between 1984, when his time at the Ugandan mission in Washington DC ended, and the mid-2000s, the Reverend’s journey was like a survival series. It is a time he says that taught him how to trust God, when it seemed humanly impossible to make it.
“I did a lot of survival jobs,” he says. “When you are non-American, and you have no diplomatic protection, [it is hard]. I did many jobs: as a research officer and many other small contract jobs. In the early 1990s, I got two diplomas in Computer Networking, eventually. They got me jobs, fine, but they were superficial jobs, as my interests were not into computer work. I taught a bit, in a college about African Studies, of course as a part time [engagement]. It is what made me wish to return home,” he says.
Rev Senkeeto is the only son of Susan Nakiberu, one of Tolophina Nakanwagi’s children. His father was a polygamist, and he was instead drawn more to his maternal uncles, who were more religious. He is not very pleased with what the Anglican Church has done in memory of the martyrs. “The church has not done enough to give honour to Ugandans who have died for their faith,” he says. “A seminary in the US, the Bison School of Theology, in Birmingham Alabama, has a picture of Archbishop Janan Luwum as a martyr. They have venerated our man, but we have not.
“We have Bishop Stuart University and Bishop Barnham and Bishop Tucker College – why not Lugalama? Fine, they [British missionaries] brought the gospel. But we even fail to name a ward in Mengo Hospital after the martyrs? We remember the white guys, but not our own, he says.
His contribution to the marytrs’ legacy
He has preached and delivered addresses on the martyrs to congregations in the US. And as his daughter got confirmed in the early 1980s, the bishop, who was familiar with the story of the Uganda Martyrs, remarked about what great honour it was to carry out the sacrament on one of the Uganda martyrs’ very own descendants. As he completed his house, with its chapel in Mpigi, he invited Bishop Jackson Matovu of Central Buganda to consecrate it. It is here that he does his meditation.
It is the continuation of a family story that has got so entwined with the church since that moment when Frederick Kizza chose to become a Christian, and later, a martyr. The work he started with that decision alone, lives on today.
The martyrdom of his father is a thing that his children and children’s children were reminded about constantly as Rev Senkeeto says, “It was recited over and over in our family that we are descendants of the martyr.” Often, when they had done something wrong, they would be told, “You are a grandchild of a martyr; how could you do this?”
Rev Senkeeto says the martyrdom is very important to him, not because he is worshipping the martyrs, but because he is proud of his great grandfather’s contribution to the church. “Because I know, he died for this church, it makes me more obligated to fulfil that cause.”
Reverend Albert Senkeeto’s journey
I was born in 1946. I attended Luweero Boys Primary School, from 1953 to 1954. I left for Mbale Mpigi Primary School, currently called Kibuuka Memorial School, in Mpigi, until 1959. I then joined Makerere College School. Then I went to Lubiri School. Teenage was very tough for me, because we studied with children of chiefs, especially at the Lubiri School. Some of the children even drove cars to school. We had low living standards. Some people had so much, while the rest had so little. It helped shape me to be very resilient and withstand tough situations.
I then went to Teso College Aloet for my A- Level and worked at Radio Uganda during S.6 vacation. It was very prestigious at the time. I came to Makerere University (MUK) for a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and Philosophy, graduating in 1971. Joining Makerere University was so prestigious. To use a youthful phrase, which girl would turn you down, if you were at Makerere University!
I studied for a diploma in teacher education. I did my teaching practice at Ntare School, then I taught at Namilyango College. I also taught in Kako Secondary School. I moved to MUK as an assistant academic registrar after teaching at Kibuli for a while. I did not like it a lot, so I went back to teaching and became a deputy head teacher at Lango College. After the Amin war, I was selected to go abroad.
I am married to Proscovia and we have six children: Apolo Senkeeto, Susan Senkeeto, Timothy Senkeeto, Gideon Senkeeto, Naomi Senkeeto and Frederick Kizza.