What you need to know:
- When a Latvian 36-year-old woman packed her bags in December last year and embarked on a 50-hour journey to Uganda, she had envisaged being met with unique landscapes and other geographical wonders in the Pearl of Africa.
- But, as Derrick Kiyonga writes, she returns to eastern Europe with her bitter memories after reportedly encountering con artists and rapists.
Anda swipes her smartphone straight to TikTok. The short-form video hosting service owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is the 36-year-old Latvian’s favourite social media platform.
Anda wants to show us a video uploaded to the TikTok account of SNR TJ Collins, a Pentecostal pastor. The 10-minute video shows Collins’s obsession with relationships. He advises young men on how to proposition young women albeit through Christian means.
“The first thing, you should be trusting God so much,” Collins is heard saying in the video, adding, “Even if you find a beautiful lady, however much she is beautiful, you must ensure you take her in the presence of God and you pray.”
He proceeds to note thus: “Now, most young girls cheat a lot. So, after seeing this girl, you must go before the presence of God and ask how deep she is in love with God.” If you find her hiding in the presence of God and she is not serious and she is not sure about God, know that one is not yours.”
Collins, who has a knack for blending English and Runyakitara during his sermons, offers more unsolicited advice. He says: “When you get a young lady, you must first check her mental health. You must be careful with girls with mental health problems.”
We have established that—going by his phone records—the pastor’s name is Joseph Collins Twahirwa. He ministers with Epikaizo Ministries International. In our interface with Anda, she keeps referring to the pastor as “Daddy Collins” because he often called her “daughter.”
A lawyer with Sky Advocates, Mr Twahirwa’s TikTok footprint hints at the pastoral work he does. In one of the videos, the youthful pastor—who is sporting a fitting suit—is seen dancing to a song in the church. The song is by Congolese Soukous singer Kofi Olomide.
Another video shows the pastor standing by a fleet of Range Rovers with the caption: “I feel like getting somebody’s daughter soon.” The music bed of the video is Blaq Diamond’s Summer YoMuthi.
There is also another video showcasing Mr Twahirwa’s two Range Rovers as Busy Signal’s Free Up blares in the background.
The videos are quite many to get through. The common strand is that they are glitzy. Take one showing Mr Twahirwa with a bundle of Ugandan shillings while on a plane as Jaywon’s hit declares: “I make money and I don’t care what you think…”
In another TikTok video posted on December 31, 2022, Mr Twahirwa is shown arriving at an undisclosed venue in a convoy of three expensive sports utility vehicles, heavily guarded by Counter Terrorism Police officers.
Although she is a native of Latvia, an eastern European country, for more than a decade, Anda has been living in Bilbao—the industrial port city in northern Spain famed for its golden beaches and enjoyable pintxos (a small snack usually eaten in bars).
It was here in May last year that Anda first crossed paths with Mr Twahirwa. Again on TikTok. Anda has a Roman Catholic background since her parents, who stay in the Latvian capital Riga, are Roman Catholics. She was, nevertheless, attracted by the enthusiasm Mr Twahirwa and his followers showed during the prayers they held online.
“We used to pray everyday online. I felt special with the way they prayed. It was different from how we were doing it in my country,” she says, adding, “I believed them because they were different.”
Sporting auburn hair, the 36-year-old Latvian says she was struck by Mr Twahirwa’s followers, who “wanted to pray.” Always.
“We would pray everyday on the Internet after I was done with my work yet my people don’t want to pray. They don’t go to church,” Anda says, adding, “With these people (Mr Twahirwa’s group), we prayed. I was feeling good. I felt I was a better person and everything was going in a different way.”
But it wasn’t only evangelism that attracted Anda to Africa. She had twice visited the continent in 2015 and 2021 and “enjoyed beaches in Egypt.” The Latvian, who didn’t complete her interior design course, describes her visits to Egypt on a school trip as being “very nice.”
After that experience, she made up her mind to visit Africa again. She wasn’t sure whether it would be Egypt, Tanzania or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“I love the African people and I wanted to know them more. I love the food and the music. That’s why I wanted to spend the [recently-concluded] Christmas period here,” she reveals, adding, “I wanted to know more about African people.”
Saving for the Uganda trip
Anda says Mr Twahirwa convinced her via social media that Uganda would be the right place to spend her holidays.
“Daddy Collins told me if I want to come to Africa, I should come to Uganda so that we pray. I agreed to come to Uganda,” Anda says.
It is one thing to want to travel but another to actually travel since she would need resources. Anda, a single mother who juggles between working at a bar and a restaurant, embarked on working to save for her holidays in Africa.
“I worked hard for one year to come here. I would wake up at 5am [and] go [to] work. When I finished that, somewhere I was cooking. I could also go to clean the houses, and on weekends I go to work in the bar. It was like one year without resting on weekends,” she says.
In September, she had managed to save enough to buy tickets for the trip to Uganda. She arrived in the East African nation on December 11, and intended to spend 35 days in the country.
While still in Europe, Anda started looking for accommodation in Uganda. She zeroed in on an Airbnb in Makindye, a suburb in Kampala. When she touched down at Entebbe International Airport, Mr Twahirwa sent his employees to receive her. The Latvian—on her first visit to sub-Saharan Africa—says she was taken to a place she had no idea about.
“I thought he was taking me to my house,” Anda says of Mr Twahirwa’s minder, adding that “he took me to the house of Daddy Collins (Mr Twahirwa) without my [permission].”
At first, Anda says she was under the impression that she had been taken to her Airbnb apartment. However, she says red flags were raised when it dawned on her that she had been taken to a house bigger than the Airbnb apartment she had booked.
“They welcomed me in the house and they took my bag, saying: ‘This is where you will stay.’ But I ask, ‘why should I stay here yet I have my house’,” she says.
By her count, three people lived in the gated house—the gateman, Mr Twahirwa and his minder, who used to also drive his car.
Keeping Anda “warm”
Anda says as soon as she settled in a bedroom she was ushered into by Mr Twahirwa’s minder, she heard a knock on the door.
“I heard Daddy Collins knocking and telling me to open the door. But I couldn’t open it because I was in the shower. He opened the door and he told me he wanted to keep “warm”. He pushed me to the bed,” she says.
Mr Twahirwa, according to Anda, had another strange request.
“He said he wanted to have a baby. He pushed me onto the bed and raped me,” she alleges.
When the Monitor contacted Mr Twahirwa, he denied personally knowing Anda.
“I can’t comment because the matter is still under investigation,” Mr Twahirwa, whose church is found in a gated compound in the leafy Kampala suburb of Bugolobi, told Monitor before referring us to his lawyer.
Mr Isaac Murungi—Mr Twahirwa’s lawyer—first said his client knew who Anda was but she was only among Mr Twahirwa’s congregants. He told us that adding any other comment would run foul of the rule of sub-judice. It should be noted, however, that the matter can only be considered sub-judice when it is before the courts of law. Anda’s case is not yet there.
Anda says after being sexually abused, the pastor’s minders drove her to her rented apartment in Makindye. She says she was dropped off with a warning not to tell anybody about the incident.
“Daddy Collins told me not to tell anybody that we had sex because I’m his “daughter”. ‘You don’t need to tell them’,” she says.
Anda says she came to Uganda with her credit cards and $300 (Shs1.1m) and €400 (Shs1.8m) in hard cash. She says before Mr Twahirwa allegedly raped her, she had handed over her hard cash to him after he offered to help her exchange it to Ugandan Shillings.
“He told me it’s dangerous out there. You give me the money and I will exchange it for you,” she says, adding, “He didn’t give me my money back, but he sent another girl, who is a member of the church, saying she will be the one to buy me anything I need.”
This arrangement also proved to be problematic.
“I need to buy food, utilities, soap, shampoo, but this girl only bought me fish and later some tomatoes … only those … and some carrots and onions,” she says, adding, “I told them I need some toilet paper, I need the shampoo, I need food, but I was told ‘don’t go outside, it’s dangerous. This is a very dangerous place’.”
Anda says she wasn’t only struggling to get food, but also the pastor had retained both her credit card and passport.
She says 13 days to Christmas, “I went out to see my neighbours and I explained to them the problems I had with the passport and credit cards. They told me: ‘It’s okay we shall take you to the police station’.”
‘No help from the police’
According to Anda, the police were not helpful.
“I went from one police station to another, another—like five police stations,” she estimates.
When she checked her credit card balance, she was greeted by an ‘invalid’ message. The credit cards had been blocked after someone fraudulently tried to use them.
“I tried to buy stuff with these credit cards and they told me they were not working,” she says, adding of the police, “they could tell me to move from one office to another, to another, to another, without helping me.”
The policemen, the Latvian adds, “were telling me to buy [fuel] to put in the car such that they go and arrest Daddy Collins (Mr Twahirwa).” She, however, had no money. She says at a police station, which was later identified as Jinja Road, a policeman allegedly asked her for money. When she said she was penniless, he reportedly asked for sex.
“They were saying ‘we can help you if we come to your house’. They wanted money or to sleep with me,” Anda says.
After her persistence, the Jinja Road Station police officers produced Mr Twahirwa. He came with her passport, credit cards and money, albeit being less in amount.
“The money he gave me was small. It was Ugandan money. I couldn’t count, but when I looked, it was like Shs500,000,” she says, adding, “Even one police officer told me to give them Shs20,000 such that I could go. I told them I want my Euros and Dollars, but they (the police officers) told me ‘you take this or nothing’.”
Anda says she was too scared to tell the officers at Jinja Road Police Station that Mr Twahirwa had sexually abused her. Anda says she only got the courage to talk about her sexual abuse when in January, she went to Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in Kibuli, Kampala. It was too late to prove this as any streak of evidence had been compromised.
Anda adds that a day after part of her money and credit cards were returned to her, she was asked to go to Jinja Road Police Station to purportedly record further statements.
Anda says when she arrived at the station, she found Mr Twahirwa and a group of his supporters there. She says they angrily accused her of tarnishing his name on social media.
She adds that the police officers joined Mr Twahirwa’s followers in tormenting her, grabbing her phone and deleting all communications she had with Mr Twahirwa on social media in an attempt to destroy evidence of their interactions.
Anda says the officers forcibly removed shoes from her feet and roughed her up before locking her up in a cell.
She adds that she was later released and ordered to withdraw the case against Mr Twahirwa, with threats that something unpleasant would befall her if she did not do so.
When Monitor visited the CID to get a progress report on the rape investigations, the investigators dismissed Anda’s claims. They said she had been secretly filmed wasting away in bars.
When allegations of being a drunkard were put to Anda, she admitted to taking alcohol, but in moderate amounts.
“My family sent me some money through MoneyGram and I have used some to buy alcohol because I have been stressed,” she told Monitor.
She says she is scared and experiences panic attacks, adding that she sometimes drinks alcohol in an attempt to relive her pain and keep calm.
Up against it
Back to the recording that was done at the CID, the investigator can be further heard warning the Latvian against giving interviews to media houses on the account that Ms Twahirwa is “connected”.
“She (Anda) should know that she is a stranger in this country. She is playing with a man who has big people around. The statements you made are contradictory. Your statement is against someone’s statement,” the policewoman says, adding, “If somebody says you are defaming him, he could be right.
Now you are a stranger in the country. You are moving up and down. One day you are at this bar, the other day you are at another bar. Tomorrow you come to the police to follow up on your case. You can tell that you have drunk this amount of alcohol.”
The policewoman says Mr Twahirwa had told them Anda had gone to his church to help her fight a drinking problem. The officer added that Mr Twahirwa also accused Anda of taking Shisha—a single or multi-stemmed instrument for heating or vaporising and then smoking either tobacco, or flavoured tobacco.
“He (Mr Twahirwa) told us that he couldn’t stay with you because you drink and smoke a lot,” the policewoman told Anda.
Still, sources within police say her rape case hadn’t been recorded at the CID until Mr Henry Oryem Okello—the junior Foreign Affairs (International Relations) minister—was pressed by Nation Media Group-Uganda to investigate the case.
Officially, the police claim that investigations into both the theft and rape cases that Anda reported are ongoing.
“We are doing investigations into this matter and we shall soon be giving a full report,” Ms Claire Nabakka, the deputy police spokesperson, told this publication.
As police claim to be carrying out investigations, Anda will be flying out of the country. She is expected back in her native Latvia on January 16. The Latvian told us she will never entertain the thought of returning to Uganda.
“I have had a bad experience and I will never return. People have been following me. I feel really bad,” she told Monitor.
Revival of Pentecostalism
In 1977, Uganda’s capricious dictator, Idi Amin moved to ban a litany of faiths. These included: the evangelicals, Pentecostals, Baptists, and Seventh-day Adventists. President Amin was hell-bent on recognising only four religious’ inclinations—Islam, Anglicanism, Orthodox and Catholicism.
President Amin was convinced by his spy agencies that the Pentecostals, Baptists and Evangelicals—who were mainly getting financial backing from friendly churches in the United States—were an offshoot of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
In recent years, Pentecostalism has taken root in Africa and Uganda in particular. The sight of pastors accentuating exuberant songs of celebration to the Lord, often with overwhelming emotion as they wage spiritual warfare and exorcism, is pretty common in Uganda.
With rogue pastors who tattle untruthful gospel and snip from their flock by faking miracles becoming a norm, there have been calls to regulate faith-based organisations. The calls have not been successful.
“The truth is that we don’t know these pastors because they are not registered. Everybody does as he or she wishes,” a commissioner at the Ethics and Integrity ministry told this publication.
*NTV Uganda's Rita Kanya contributed to this story.