Archbishop Lwanga, a voice of reason, leaves a tall legacy

Tuesday September 07 2021
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Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga. PHOTO/FILE

By Franklin Draku

On many occasions, he took the government head on, hitting out at security forces because of their harrowing human rights record. 

Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga, the archbishop of the Orthodox Church in Uganda, did not disappoint when it came to defending Ugandans against any brutality by security agencies.

In controversial circumstances, Lwanga in 2018 prayed for the fall of President Museveni’s government shortly after the removal of the age limit from the Constitution, noting that the Ugandan leader had done nothing to prepare the next leaders to take over from him. 

He also chastised the legislators and other government agencies for being greedy at the expense of the majority of Ugandans in a televised Christmas message.

It is no wonder that his death, which occurred on Sunday evening, was received with shock from all corners of society.

Lwanga, who has many times rubbed the ruling NRM government the wrong way with his open and candid remarks against poor governance and deteriorating human rights records, stood tall even when many religious leaders chose to dine and wine at the high table.

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Education

Born in rural Degeya in 1945 to an Orthodox family, Lwanga grew up surrounded by the missionaries of the first Orthodox Ugandans. He completed his general education between 1952 and 1964, in Bulemezi and Kyadondo, and then the same year went to study at the Ecclesiastical School of Crete, until 1968.

After graduation from the ecclesiastical school, he continued studies at the University of Athens, graduating in 1973 with a degree in Philosophy. He continued at the University of Athens until 1978, obtaining a degree in Theology.

In 1979, he headed back to Uganda to serve as secretary of the Ugandan Mission under Archbishop Frumentios Nasios from of the Archdiocese of Irinoupolis until 1981.

On May 1, 1981, he was ordained to the diaconate and in 1982, ordained to the holy priesthood. He assumed greater responsibilities in the Orthodox Church during Uganda’s turbulent political periods, when Mr Museveni and his ragtag NRA fighters took up arms and went to the bush to fight the Obote government.

Perhaps it is his upbringing and what he saw during the NRA Bush War that set him up for the bigger challenges that were to follow. He openly spoke against the injustices and often asked all his priests not to shy away from speaking to the powers that be on things that were not right.

When Mr Museveni declared politics a no-go zone for the religious leaders, Lwanga reminded him that “the work to show the people where to go is ours, it’s not his and that it is only truth that can make us free.”

To him, politicians all over the world think that everything belongs to them and that while they are living on taxes paid by the citizens, they forget that they are servants but not bosses.

It is said he started his leadership by example when he was still a priest, a reason why when Parthenios III of Alexandria , Archbishop Petros submitted to the Holy Synod the request to establish titular diocese for the Tanzanian Mission in Bukoba for Archimandrite Lwanga, the decision was unanimously approved.

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The Holy Synod agreed and, on July 26, 1992, Archimandrite Lwanga was elected titular Bishop of Bukoba and one his first decisions in Tanzania was joining the Syndesmos Orthodox Youth Movement together with Bishop Makarios.

According to the available literature, it is stated that as a lover of children, he stressed the participation of children in the Church, and because of this, East Africa currently has the largest Orthodox population in Africa.

Because of his impressive record, in 1997, when Archbishop Petros was elected Patriarch of Alexandria, three days after his election and under his recommendation, the Holy Synod elevated Bishop Lwanga to Archbishop of Kampala and Exarch of All Uganda on March 12, 1997.

He is credited with the legacy of expanding the orthodox faith in Uganda after succeeding Archbishop Theodoros Nankyama .

In 1999, he made a lecture tour in the United States in which he described his experiences and struggles as a missionary in Uganda, visiting about 18 parishes and learning about the way Orthodoxy spread in the United States and applying it later in Uganda.

While Jesus healed people through miracles, Lwanga realised that he needed more than a miracle to help the sick and under him it is said more than 20 medical facilities and a hospital have been established in Uganda.

Schools for children have also been built, including Orthodox classes on Sundays. He also established a female monastery dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria in Uganda. 

Not afraid to confront the wrongs of the regime, the metropolitan of Kampala never shied away from confronting the evils in society and many called him the voice of reason.

The opposition Forum for Democratic Change party said it is sad to hear about the death of Archbishop Lwanga who played his role as a true leader in raising his voice against land grabbing, killings, corruption and other forms of injustice by the NRM regime.

The Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), which Lwanga co-founded with three others said he has been a voice of reason, preaching respect of human rights and rule of law.

Mr Joshua Kitakule, the secretary general of IRCU, said they shall miss Lwanga’s wise guidance.

 “We need to amplify the values he preached for and make them visible to remember his legacy because he made very valuable contributions,” he said.

Alongside the Supreme Mufti of Uganda, Sheikh Shaban Mubajje, Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, Archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo, Metropolitan Lwanga is remembered for championing the fight against HIV/Aids, gender-based violence, education and fight for the rights of the under privileged across the country under the banner of IRCU.

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