How Pastor Bugingo became so powerful

Pastor Aloysius Bugingo of House of Prayer Ministries International and his wife Susan Makula during their introduction in Kisubi, Wakiso District in 2021. Photo | MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

What you need to know:

  • The total cost of the land was estimated at $2.14m (Shs8 billion).  The source says they completed payment for the land in 2016.

Makerere Kikoni, where House of Prayer Ministries International has been located since 2015, is an unremarkable place. A sprawl of tents on the red dirt of this relatively poor neighbourhood allows Pastor Aloysius Bugingo and his dedicated team to carry out intensive church duties, including perennially holding lunch hour services.

Before settling in the place they forthwith christened Canaan Land, House of Prayer Ministries International’s congregants descended on rented premises at Bat Valley on Bombo Road. Prayers were initially conducted in the Bat Valley Theatre, with the congregants who then numbered not more than 80 having lots of legroom.

When the numbers swelled exponentially, recalls Mr George Willington Kajubi—the LC3 councillor for Luzira, Nakawa Division—who joined the congregation in 2015, “the theatre where [Pastor Bugingo] used to conduct prayers became too small to accommodate us.”

By the time they moved to Bat Valley Playground, Pastor Bugingo had launched Salt FM in 2014. Salt Television soon followed in 2015. House of Prayer Ministries International was thinking big, and Pastor Bugingo underscored this by urging believers entrusted to his care to contribute to purchase land in Makerere Kikoni where a permanent home would be erected.

One of the church members, who preferred anonymity since he is not a spokesperson of the institution, says they moved to the 8.5 acres at Canaan land towards the end of 2015 after Bugingo had paid the owner of land an instalment of $50,000 (Shs189 million).

The total cost of the land was estimated at $2.14m (Shs8 billion).  The source says they completed payment for the land in 2016.

Like most pastors of his ilk, Mr Bugingo has managed to draw huge crowds thanks to his charisma. His congregants hope for healing from sickness or deliverance from evil spirits.

Last Sunday, when he conducted his first service following a well-publicised shooting incident in Namungoona which left his bodyguard, Cpl Richard Muhumuza, dead, the promise to erect a superstructure for his megachurch was repeated. Only this time he promised that the superstructure christened Pentagon will have one of its conference halls named after the slain Muhumuza.

“The artistic impression is already out. It will happen because it is not mine. It is for God. God will not fail to raise Shs100b. Any contribution is paramount,” Pastor Bugingo said of the 380-seater Pentagon expected to have soundproof features and parking space for as many as 1,000 vehicles.

This past week, from Monday to Friday, Pastor Bugingo sat out lunch hour services at his church ostensibly to heal following the shooting that claimed Cpl Muhumuza’s life.

Mr Bugingo has always been something of a controversial and divisive figure. The after-effects of the shooting merely stoked up the proverbial fires. Yet the size of his congregation has not been adversely impacted. If anything, it appears to have grown albeit slightly.

Friends in high places

For someone who counts First Son Muhoozi Kainerugaba as his friend, Pastor Bugingo cannot be reduced to a lightweight. His preaching though has often been described as simplistic. Critics say the simplicity is, perhaps, part of its power. Airily direct, the personal qualities that have enabled Mr Bugingo’s rise to national fame might not be obvious to the casual observer. Such is his warm and open demeanour that he often joins his congregants in fellowshipping on Canaan Land’s red dirt, the weather and his well-groomed look notwithstanding.

“I listen to other people’s preachings because iron sharpens iron. One preacher said, ‘if you are not seeing the devil in your journey of salvation, you are walking with the devil.’ Because when you are not at par with the devil, then, why is it very smooth for you?” he opined last October.

Never afraid of courting controversy, Pastor Bugingo has oftentimes appeared to be an outcast from the Ugandan Christian establishment. In 2017, Aloysius Kizza Matovu and Evangelist Francisco Semugooma dragged him to Nabweru Magistrates Court. Reason? For burning what Mr Bugingo termed as “Satanic” verses in the Bible that referred to the Holy Spirit as ‘Holy Ghost’. Mr Bugingo won the case after the presiding judge said the accusers failed to produce solid evidence.

High-profile divorce

Such controversies only seem to add to Bugingo’s broad appeal. But if there is any controversy that made him a bracingly radical presence, it was events that culminated in severing ties with his erstwhile wife, Teddy Naluswa.

It was in 2019 when the pastor filed for divorce, citing 22 grounds. Ms Naluswa was labelled a violent person who forced her partner to, between 2015 and 2019, flee their matrimonial home. She was also accused of being a tad too disrespectful and hit back by claiming that the pastor was seeing another woman.

The fallout came after the couple’s eldest daughter lifted the lid on the family wrangles in a viral video. Bugingo told his followers that his wife and daughter were fighting the ministry and had intentions of grabbing church assets. The pastor also disclosed that he had spent a princely sum of money treating Ms Naluswa’s health complications.

As the squabbles continued, Ms Susan Makula, an employee of Salt Media, introduced Pastor Bugingo to her parents during a colourful ceremony held in December 2021 at her parents’ home in Kampala. The introduction ceremony was broadcast live on Salt TV. The two currently live together as husband and wife.

Early last year, Mr Bugingo told his congregation during a Sunday service that he had forgiven his children after several years of cutting off communication.

“I don’t want to miss Heaven. I have forgiven all my children. It has taken me so long to heal, but I am forgiving them for everything,” he said, adding that the last child he had with Ms Naluswa “is innocent and doesn’t know what is transpiring.”

Unlettered priest

To ensure that his lack of formal education was not invoked to question his ‘prophetic gifts’, the unlettered priest enrolled for a bachelor’s degree in theology and a certificate in Christian Culture Mentoring at Kayiwa International University. He graduated in 2019. A year later, his erstwhile wife opened her own church—Word of Salvation Ministries International (WSMI). It was on December 20, 2003, when the two tied the knot at Pastor Joseph Sserwadda’s Victory Centre Ndeeba, having been together since the early ‘90s.

Pastor Bugingo became a Born-Again Christian after watching Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames with Ms Naluswa at Kampala Pentecostal Church (current Watoto Church downtown campus) in 1992. Eleven years later, the two were married and would go on to have four children—Doreen Gift, Winnie, Jenifer Bugingo, and Miracle Bugingo.

When Pastor Sserwadda operationalised Impact FM, a Christian radio station, Bugingo voraciously tuned in. He was soon calling in to the radio after he managed to buy his first phone and could afford airtime. His contributions were well-argued and articulate. Little wonder, he was invited to the radio’s offices in Ndeeba and offered a job.

Mr Bugingo worked as a church assistant, led worship and praise sessions before he was elevated to a pastor. He burnt the midnight oil for both Victory Christian Centre and Impact FM until December 2010. When he resigned, and founded House of Prayer Ministries International with his wife in tow.

Born into poverty

Bugingo was born into poverty in 1972, in Masaka District, Central Uganda, to a Ugandan mother and a Rwandan father. After both his parents decided to leave him under the care of his maternal grandparents, aunties and uncles, Bugingo established a reputation of being a sickly child. Fortunately, his grandmother did what she could to ensure that her grandson overcame the ailments that used to bother him.

When he clocked school-going age, Bugingo was enrolled in school. However, he didn’t complete the education cycle, due to the hurdles he was experiencing back home. Pastor Bugingo claims  he was subjected to insults from his uncles and child labour, forcing him to leave the place he called home.

He showed great ingenuity to make the trip to Kampala. Although he lacked transport, Bugingo managed to convince a truck driver who was transporting matooke to Kampala to offer him a lift. He offered to offload the bunches of matooke while in Kampala in return. The driver answered affirmatively.

After offloading the matooke near Nakasero market, Bugingo was left on the streets to start a new life. What made him stand out from the rest of the street children was that he started preaching the word of God while on the streets. Later, he made friends, shared his ordeal and told them he had come to Kampala to look for petty jobs that could help him make ends meet.

Hitting the jackpot

A stroke of luck came his way. One of his friends connected him to Godfrey Ssentongo, a trader who was operating from St Balikuddembe market, popularly known as Owino. Ssentongo took him on as a houseboy.

After some time, Bugingo’s boss was impressed by his hard work. He gave Bugingo more responsibilities such as running the popcorn stall in Owino market.

“My boss would buy a sack of raw popcorn between Shs13,000 and Shs17,000, and would make about Shs100,000 out of one sack. I could hand it over to my boss. I was honest. I have never eaten free money,” Mr Bugingo said during an interview with Kasuku Live, adding, “Mr Ssentongo was like a father to me. He used to call me yanga [youngster]. He gave me an orientation on how to survive in Kampala.”

After accumulating his own capital through saving part of his salary, he hatched an idea of setting up his own business and living an independent life. Before Bugingo penetrated the hawking business, he sold polythene bags to traders. The bags were imported from Kenya.

“When he made some good money, he started hawking items like still wire, saucepans and dresses. He rented a single room in Kazo near Bwaise, Kawempe Division. He used to joke that the makeshift bathroom at his rented home was halfway his height,” Mr Kajubi recalls.

When Bugingo met Ms Naluswa, he was ushered into the evangelical Christian community. The rest, as they say, is history.