Role of Catholic Church in bringing peace to Northern Uganda

Catholic faithful pray in front of the Cross of Jesus Christ erected by the roadside in Kakoge on Gulu highway. File Photo

What you need to know:

The church’s efforts towards the realisation of peace and stability in northern Uganda cannot be overlooked, writes Cissy Makumbi.

The Catholic Church under Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, was instrumental in bringing peace in northern Uganda under the leadership of John Baptist Odama Archbishop of Gulu Archdiocese.


He served as the chairman of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) from 2002-2010, and it is at that point that the group engaged the government to talking peace than taking military action to end the war against Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) under Joseph Kony.
ARLPI is an interfaith, peace-building and conflict transformation organisation formed in 1997 as a proactive response to the conflict in northern Uganda.
ARLPI brings together leaders of six different religious denominations (Anglican, Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox, Pentecostal, & Seventh Day Adventist).
The organisation has a record of inter-community mediation and a strong advocacy voice at the local, national and international levels.

Milestones
In 2003, Archbishop Odama wrote a pastoral letter denouncing the war in northern Uganda, he condemned the cruel conduct of the warring parties and wept over the suffering of children and mothers. He also slept on the streets of Gulu with the children, who were driven from their homes by the fear of being abducted by the LRA rebels.


In the letter, Odama called for involvement of the international community in resolving the conflict that had lasted for 17 years at the time. He appealed to the rest of the world for help.
However, President Museveni criticised Odama and the other religious leaders for seeking the intervention of the international community to resolve the conflict.

Stance
Since the inception of ARLPI, religious leaders maintained that the end to the war in northern Uganda should be through dialogue.
The initiative was key in convincing the warring parties to enter into talks since both the LRA and government wanted to employ military action to conclude the war.
For not supporting the government’s plan of military action, religious leaders were labelled “rebel sympathisers” by the government.

Peace brokers
However, pressure from both home and abroad forced the Ugandan government to give religious leaders two weeks to attempt contact with LRA leadership
Given that communication with the LRA was limited, it was a pleasant surprise when ARLPI obtained direct access to the rebels in 10 days.
During the same period, LRA second in command at that time, Vincent Otti called Archbishop Odama and stated: “We want you to mediate talks between the government and the LRA.”
Many feared meeting with the LRA as they were unpredictable, but Archbishop Odama accepted to meet the rebel leadership.
These meetings lasted three days and formed the beginning of a relationship, which would lead to mediated dialogue between the parties.
ARLPI, continued to connect the two conflicting parties and acted as a confidence-building bridge by delivering exchange letters.
Along with the Presidential Peace Team, ARLPI arranged a meeting between the government and the LRA in Pajule, Pader District in 2003.
The meeting was halted due to heavy bombardment on the venue by UPDF troops.
This caused a setback and mistrust with rebels blaming ARLPI of being catalyst in killing them (rebels).

Persistence
In spite of the setback, in 2006, religious leaders played a role in advising and observing the Juba Peace Talks. Many were individually called upon by LRA leadership to clarify certain issues pertaining to the agreements.
Although Kony did not sign the peace agreement, ARLPI still believe in talking peace with the rebel outfit.

Achievements
For the role of ARLPI in ending the long civil war through peace talks, Archbishop Odama was awarded the International Peace Prize by World Vision in 2012.
He beat two other contenders to the award. The award is in memory of Steve Williams, the former World Vision senior policy advisor on peace and conflict, who succumbed to heart failure in December , 2007.

Fast forward
Even after the failure of the 2006 Peace agreement, Odama, who was the first Bishop of Nebbi diocese in West Nile and the first Archbishop of Gulu, still advocated the peaceful means of ending a war, which displaced more than 1.5 million people and killed thousands.

Other catholic funded institutions making a difference

CARITAS
Caritas Gulu Archdiocese is the emergency relief and development arm of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Gulu. Caritas Gulu Archdiocese is a confederation of Caritas Uganda and Caritas International. It is a commission with a pastoral obligation to offer charity and hope to the most disadvantaged members of society and it operates in entire Acholi Sub Region that covers the seven districts. Caritas Gulu Archdiocese mixes both software and hardware provision in its package of support to communities that are targeted.
Concerned Parents Association (CPA)


This is a child-focused organisation formed in 1996 by a group of parents affected by the abduction of children by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The formation of CPA was sparked off immediately after the abduction of 139 schoolgirls from St. Mary’s College Aboke, on 10 October 1996.
CPA-Uganda was formed to seek the immediate and unconditional release of all abducted children, and their rehabilitation and reintegration into the communities. In doing so it aims to help build sustainable peace in Uganda. Other CPA programmes include the coordination and networking of peace advocates, research, documentation and capacity-building.
Current CPA programmes include peace advocacy and awareness creation, research, documentation and capacity-building, networking and collaboration, psychosocial support for war-affected families.

The numbers

From 1879 and 1896, 32, 753 natives in [B]Uganda had converted from African religions to Catholicism, according to Fr Frederick Tusingire, a Ugandan priest with a doctorate in missiology.
In his book The Evangelization of Uganda Challenges and Strategies 2003, he notes that by 1906 there were 100, 025 Catholics.
In 1916, they were 150, 603 Catholics, 218, 824 by 1926 and 227, 597 (1927).


“One can identify the blood of martyrs, disposition of the people and the missionary methodology as among the most evident factors behind the achievement,” Tusingire notes. By 1937, Catholics had increased from 227, 597 to 366,000.


Because Catholics are a majority, their vote is always important, especially during the contests for the national presidency.
It is for this reason that the President is wont to appoint a Catholic to be his Vice–President.

How population growth of Catholics has soared since 1879
Though the exact number of Catholics between 1937 and 1991 has been hard to come by, those for the post-1991 period indicate numbers have increased.
For instance, in 1991, at least 7,426,511 of the 16,671,705 Ugandans were Catholic, says the 2002 Uganda Population and Housing Census Report. The number for Anglicans stood at 6,541,830, while Muslims were 1,758,101.


The Seventh Day Adventists accounted for 179,624, Orthodox 4,738, ‘Other Christians’ were 101,914 and the rest accounted for 658, 987.
By 2002, of the 24,433,132 Ugandans, 10,242,594 were Catholic.


The population of Protestants increased from 6,541,830 to 8,782, 821 and Muslims from 1,758, 101 to 2,956,121.
Pentecostals sprouted to 1,129,647, Seventh Day Adventists from 179,624 to 367,972 and Orthodox from 4,738 to 35,505.
‘Other Christians’ population increased from 101,914 to 286,581, the Baha’i from zero to 18,614.


On the other hand, the population of ‘other non–Christians’ population dropped to 159, 259 from 658, 987 whereas that of traditional religions increased from zero to 241,630.
The category of no religion increased from zero to 212, 388.


The government has not yet released the final results of the August 2014 National Population and Housing Census.
One of the reasons for the delay – the results should have been out by August – is that statisticians are comparing the 2014 figures with the 2002 ones.
Any new census report makes reference to the previous one to show the trends.


The National Population and Housing Census 2014 Provisional Results report, which the government released last year, does not give a breakdown of the numbers of the different religions.
However, according to the World Population Review (2013) data, 47.9 per cent of Ugandans are Catholics.
Since the provisional census results indicate Uganda’s population is now 34,856, 813, one could infer that the number of Catholics has increased from 10.2 million to 16, 696,413 over the last 10 years.


The population of Protestants increased from 8.7 million to 12,513,595 and Muslims from 2.9 million to 4,217,674.
Pentecostals’ population has over the same period increased from 1.1 million to 1,568,556.


The Catholic Church preaches against the use of artificial birth control methods because, according to the scriptures, married couples engaging in sex should do it for procreation.
Even then, in January Pope Francis told select reporters aboard the papal plane that Catholics do not have to breed like rabbits.
The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that Pope Francis said there are many church–approved methods of birth control.


Though he did not go into details, one of the natural methods the Church does not oppose is abstinence from sex during fertile windows.
The Pope’s take on procreation came against the background of African bishops concerns about the West’s advocacy for birth control in developing countries to neuter population increase.

Catholic Church developments in the country

Uganda has spiritually produced the first canonized saints in sub-Saharan Africa in the spiritual personalities of the Martyrs of Uganda. By the elevation of the late Archbishop Kiwanuka to a position of an indigenously sub-Saharan African bishop sixty years ago, Uganda struck a first in as far as the localization of Church leadership in Africa is concerned.

In the area of education the Catholic Church in Uganda has shouldered the leadership of establishing educational facilities at all levels including the numerous primary schools, secondary schools and tertiary institutions of education which are exemplified by the existence of Catholic founded colleges, seminaries and the Uganda Martyrs University at Nkozi in Uganda.

In economics the late Joseph M. Mubiru as the founding General Manager of the Uganda Commercial Bank, and subsequently the founding Governor of Uganda’s Central Bank, the Bank of Uganda, traces his vital formative stages in the educational and developmental contributions of the Catholic Church in Uganda. In Jurisprudence and Politics, as a representative personality one identifies the late Benedicto Kiwanuka who as the most effective indigenous lawyer during the pre-independence years was eventually raised to the position of the first Prime Minister of Uganda and the first indigenous Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Uganda. In short, the contribution of the Catholic Church to development in Uganda is indelibly written in the annals of Uganda for everyone to know.

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