Fr Denis Mayanja: Priest who never shies away from politics

Rev Fr. Denis Mayanja during the interview. PHOTO | ANTONIO KALYANGo

What you need to know:

  • The Catholic priest says speaking the truth is a key tenet of any responsible religious leader so as to help God’s people understand their rights. 

In his office at Bisanje Parish, Masaka Diocese, which is well stocked with a cocktail of books and other liturgical items, Rev Fr Denis Ssebuggwaawo Mayanja welcomes visitors with a hospitable smile.

Rev Fr Mayanja, 87, is an accomplished author whose books and evangelisation have impacted society. He has firmly spoken out against cruelty, injustice, and human rights violations. He says it is never an abomination for men of God to speak politics.

“We are all political animals regardless of the religions we profess, but some people just choose to ignore politics, forgetting that it affects all of us when it is messed up,” he says.

Rev Fr Mayanja says he decided to write about injustices, flagrant human rights violations, corruption, and tribalism, all of which have been instigated by politicians since Uganda gained independence in 1962.

He notes that the more than 20 books he has written, including the most recent, “Communism has Infiltrated Uganda,” seek to persuade influential people to renounce immoral behaviour and advance the common good.

“They should be aware that no crime will go unpunished; the alternative is to give up aggressive methods and promote equality through equitable resource distribution so that we all coexist peacefully and concentrate on developing our country,” he says.

Another new book Fr Mayanja is proud of is titled ‘People Power,’ which he embarked on writing in the run-up to the 2021 General Election.

The book focuses on philosophy and spirituality and summarises the historical factors that have shaped the politics of Uganda, including communism,  fights between the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church, tribalism, and the ambitions of the ruling National Residence Movement (NRM) government. The original manuscript of this book, according to Rev Fr Mayanja, was confiscated by government informants, but he has yet to come up with another.

“People Power inspires masses to know and also reflect on the fundamentals of human and basic rights. It is against violence and confrontation of people with different ideologies,” he says.

Rev Fr Mayanja says the much-touted narrative that clerics shouldn’t discuss politics is only intended to silence them.

“My work calls whoever is doing wrong under the influence of power to change; he can bow or insist, but when the truth is told, I have done my part and you have a starting point,” the priest says.

The second born in a family of 10 was ordained priest in 1964.

At the age of three, Rev Fr Mayanja’s father Pio Kaggwa, who was a primary school teacher, was transferred from Nazareth Primary School in Kyebe Sub-county in the same district to some school he could not recall in Kyesiiga,  Masaka District.

When he was posted to St Gerald Primary School, Kyango in Kalisizo Sub County in Kyotera District, Mzee Kaggwa moved with the family and secured a piece of land at Kisunku, a nearby village in Lwankoni Sub-county and settled there to date.

In addition to Fr Mayanja, the family was also gifted with another priest, Rev Fr Joachim Katoogo, who has since passed on.

Fr Mayanja attended St James Primary School, Manyama, and St Joseph Primary School at Biikira Parish, which was run by priests, where he completed his primary education. He then enrolled at Kyamaganda Preparatory Seminary in 1951, a time he cherishes dearly.

 “One day I heard a motorcycle making a loud noise at a rather far-off major road. I promised my mother that one day  I would purchase a motorcycle similar to that,” he recalls.

“Are you a priest?’ She asked,’ giggling at my expense. I remained silent, but my urge persisted. I entered Bukalasa Minor Seminary in 1952 from Kyamaganda,” Fr Mayanja adds.

He has pleasant memories of his time at Bukalasa, including learning that was centred on teaching values and developing a whole person.

Fr Mayanja recalls being chosen to represent Uganda’s major seminaries to the canonisation of the 22 Uganda Martyrs in the Vatican in October 1964 as he was about to be ordained.

“It was hard to believe! I and my three other classmates from our class of 35 students who enrolled at Bukalasa that year were ordained by the late Bishop Adrian Kivumbi Ddungu at Kitovu Cathedral; we were the first cohort he ordained during his reign,” he added.

Fr Mayanja says upon returning to Kisunku the following day, he celebrated his first Mass as a priest.

Priestly service

 “I was posted in various places with special assignments, a new journey started at my home Parish Matale between 1964 and 1965 before shifting to Bigada Parish for six months then to Kitaasa in Sembabule District as chaplain for schools,” she shares.

“I became a parish priest in Kasozi Parish in Rakai District in 1967 before being posted to Kitovu as a diocesan assistant treasurer general and in many other parishes such as Kabuwoko, Butende, Biikira and Makondo as a parish priest. In 2000, I was posted to Bisanje Parish where I am still serving to date”. Everywhere I was posted I focused on promoting modern farming,” he adds.

 Rev Fr Mayanja cannot forget other tasks at Bukalasa Seminary and Uganda Catholic Secretariat, Nsambya, as a director of Laity, where he proposed brilliant ideas to the Uganda Episcopal Conference that for instance led to the start of Centenary Bank and Uganda Martyrs University, among others.

After the Vatican II conference, he was sent to Rome to take part in spreading the conference’s resolutions for 15 years through the Movement for a Better World.

According to Rev Fr Mayanja  “the experiences I went through, witnessing atrocities greedy leaders had caused to various communities globally, the passion to fight for human rights and justice was fuelled.”

 In 1972, Fr Mayanja says Bishop Joseph N Kiwanuka, the then Masaka Diocesan Ordinary, sent him to Rome to be part of this team.


He has written more than 15 books. The best seller was titled Kannungu (Kibeho III). Others include; Abenda ya Nnakalaama, Eklezia Katolika Nennyamivu olw’embeera eriwo mu Ggwanga, Obufumbo mu Kakyo Kano, Okwesalaasalamu kw’abagoberezi ba Kristu, Amasomero and Ekinatta Enju Tikyeramba luggya, A call to End the Exploitation of Rich Countries, Church and Politics, Communism Has Invaded Uganda, and People Power.