Church wars and how Kampala Diocese was created

An illustration of the Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, the Most Rev Erica Sabiiti, being installed Bishop of Kampala Metropolitan Diocese on January 16, 1972. ILLUSTRATION | IVAN SENYONJO

What you need to know:

  • In 1970, the Most Rev Erica Sabiiti instituted a commission of inquiry to make a new Church of Uganda  constitution, but also review the church finances and administration. However, when the report was published Namirembe and West Buganda dioceses rejected it. 

Today, 50 years ago, the Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, the Most Rev Erica Sabiiti, was installed the Bishop of Kampala Metropolitan Diocese. The ceremony was held on January 16, 1972, at the All Saints Cathedral.

During the occasion, Sabiiti relinquished his duties as the Bishop of Rwenzori Diocese. Kampala Diocese was to sit at the All Saints Cathedral at Nakasero Hill. 

Sabiiti had on January 6, 1965, been elected the new Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi by the House of Bishops from Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. He succeeded Archbishop Leslie Brown, who in November 1965, retired and returned to the United Kingdom.

Sabiiti installed

Under the lead story ‘Rift healed as Bishop is enthroned,’ the Uganda Argus newspaper of January 17, 1972, reported that: “The colourful ceremony which was performed by Bishop Stephen Tomusange was seen by many Christians in Uganda as the end of the six-year-old dispute which, if not for the personal intervention of President Amin, nearly culminated in a Church split. 

“The dispute arose over a report by a commission headed by Mr John Bikangaga set up in 1966 by Archbishop Sabiiti to review the church’s administration and finance. The dioceses of Namirembe and West Buganda – which last year threatened to secede – were opposed particularly to the report’s recommendation of creating a new metropolitan diocese of Kampala.”

The newspaper further reported that: “The Bishop of Namirembe, Dr Dunstan Nsubuga held his pastoral staff and declared that in accordance with the will the Church of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and with full agreement of the synod of the Diocese of Namirembe, Nsubuga as Bishop of Namirembe relinquished to the Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi episcopal jurisdiction in that part of the Diocese of Namirembe to be included in the Diocese of Kampala.” 

The newspaper reported that Bishop Nsubuga laid his pastoral staff on the holy table and knelt. The Dean of the Province and also Bishop of West Buganda Diocese, Tomusange, took the hand of the Bishop of Kampala and led him to his throne and prayed to God to help him fulfil the trust committed to him.

Creation of Kampala Diocese 

In 1970, the Most Rev Sabiiti instituted a commission of inquiry. The commission was chaired by John Bikangaga, a prominent and influential Mukiga from Kabale in south Kigezi, and also led to the making of the 1970 Church of Uganda (CoU) constitution. The commission was also set up to review the CoU finances and administration. 

However, one of the things the Bikangaga commission recommended was the creation of a central diocese in order to facilitate the archbishop’s duties. The hidden motive was to have a special seat for Archbishop Sabiiti. 

When the report was published in 1970, Namirembe and West Buganda dioceses rejected it. They claimed that the Bikangaga report recommendation for the creation of a new diocese for the Archbishop was outside the commission’s terms of reference. 

The two dioceses had also in November 1969 refused to participate in the discussions of the report which led to the making of the 1970 CoU constitution. When Sabiiti was in 1965 elected Ugandan Anglican Archbishop, a section of Buganda rejected him. 

They wanted a Muganda to succeed the retiring Archbishop Leslie Brown because some people saw Sabiiti as being too close to then Prime Minister Milton Obote who was at the time at loggerheads with the President and also king of Buganda, Edward Muteesa. 

Archbishop Sabiiti was publicly opposed at Namirembe, the headquarters of the Church of Uganda. It is also claimed that there was an attempt on the Archbishop’s life through poisoning.

Namirembe, West Buganda threatened to secede

The Uganda Argus of January 7, 1972, reported that Namirembe and West Buganda dioceses opposed the creation of Kampala Diocese. 

Under the headline ‘West Buganda, Namirembe still say no,’ the newspaper quoted the secretary of Namirembe Diocese, Rev Sengendo Zake’s press release of January 6, 1972, that opposed the 1970 CoU constitution.

“Namirembe and West Buganda dioceses have never changed their stand over the 1970 constitution,” Zake was quoted to have said.

But then President Idi Amin could not allow the two dioceses to secede. In late 1971, Amin had met the CoU leaders and warned them that no diocese would be allowed to secede.

“Within the Church, for the last six years, there has been a worsening of the situation because two dioceses of the Church of Uganda had decided to break away from the Province of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and form a new one of Buganda,” Amin said. 

“If this were allowed to happen there might be further break ups into small ineffective units and since this process might follow tribal or ethnic groups, it could be very harmful and have grave effects on the unity of the country,” he added. Slowly, the bishops of Namirembe and West Buganda receded their demands.

Kampala Diocese boundaries

The Provincial Assembly of the Church of Uganda met on January 10, 1972, and considered the boundaries of the new Metropolitan Diocese of Kampala as well as the programme of the installation of ceremony. 

The tentative boundaries were: the whole of Makerere University Hill, including Makerere Church on the northern side of the campus. The whole of Mulago and Kololo hills, Bukoto Church. The whole of Ntinda. 

The whole of Kyambogo from where the boundaries follow Kampala/Jinja Road up to the Jinja/Port Bell junction and then the line follows Port Bell Road leaving out Mbuya but including Luzira prison, Namuwongo, Kibuli and part of Kisugu on the Ggaba/Nsambya Road and Katwe. 

From the Queen’s Clock Tower, the boundary line went westwards up to the road leading to Mengo-Kisenyi market. The boundary then ran northwards to the Blue Room on the Namirembe Road.

From there, the boundary line went north westwards, leaving out the Aga Khan Mosque up to Old Kampala Police Station which was also left out and then along Makerere Road past the Aga Khan Secondary School to Hoima Road. 

The boundary line followed the road up the junction where the Church of the Gospel Mission to Uganda was located and then went northwards, following the road leading to Bwaise up to Makerere Church.


Sabiti taken to court...

On August 19, 1965, five Anglican men took Archbishop Eric Sabiti to court. The five were: Y.S Kalanzi, E. Mawejje, A.O Ssonko, S.M Nantajja and Y.S Mukasa. 

Through their lawyers Patel and Mehta advocates, the plaintiffs applied to the High Court in Kampala for an injunction to restrain the Archbishop of Uganda from installing Bishop Stephen Tomusange as the Bishop of West Buganda which had its headquarters at Kako near Masaka Town. 

The petitioners alleged that the Archbishop split the Diocese of West Buganda into two dioceses against a resolution passed by a synod. They also claimed that the Archbishop refused to elect a diocesan court in West Buganda as laid down in the constitution of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. 

Their third claim was that he announced the demotion of Bishop Lutaya against a resolution passed by the synod. Court ruled in favour of the Archbishop.


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