Of Uganda’s bishops, smart pigeons and Christian witchcraft

Sunday January 17 2021

Alan Tacca

By Alan Tacca

For some strange reason, many Ugandans often expect our religious leaders to utter something so powerful that our rulers will perforce stop, examine their conscience and correct their ways.
In other words, many Ugandans seem to believe that our religious leaders are a powerful ‘moral force’.
These Ugandans also seem to believe that the prayers of our religious leaders can move the indifference of God more easily than the prayers of ordinary people.

So, obviously, many Ugandans have something to learn from pigeons. Periodically, our religious leaders come out of their shells and say something to make you think they have very tough voices.
Our rulers, whose ways can be so wicked that their opportunism shines like a virtue, have observed these people with keen interest. So they also do things to give the impression that they take the religious leaders seriously.

Now, I am a stickler for evidence in these matters, and I have found no evidence of a voice or a prayer from the churches or mosques that moves our rulers.
Just stand back. Ignore the pomp and the gowns bishops put on to wade through life like a protected species. Ask yourself: over the last three months, during the heat of our political campaigns, contemplating the systematic injustice and the violence, what did our bishops say or do that was more relevant, more consistent and more powerful than the work of our newspaper cartoonists?

The waffle from our religious leaders has left them looking feeble, contradictory, shifty and ultimately forgettable. And that is exactly what our rulers want them to be: conspicuously inconsequential. Our rulers know how to achieve this. Flatter the religious leaders. Occasionally bring them to roam and chat and feed in the company of the ruling elite. Pretend to take their ideas seriously. If they pester you, promise to act.

Give them cash handouts for solving some of their endless problems, even if you know they are lying. To the more organised traditional brigades, donate big cars. To the freelance pulpit businessmen, dangle the dark money they can access in government development projects. Our taxpayers are mostly daft; they will not demand for explanations of the principle on which all this money is spent.

Gradually, the plan works; the religious leaders find themselves in line. There is even a Victory Church ‘apostle’ who openly and repeatedly declares that he does not believe in democracy, but was overjoyed when he saw thousands of soldiers prowling our streets to keep peace during the election. 
If not democracy, does he want the arbitrary power of theocratic rule for the country, perhaps as witnessed in the feuding Pentecostal churches? 


Does he want a military dictatorship? But Uganda’s unarmed citizens are not an army of foreign occupiers. 
Both would be misguided ideas based on primitive concepts of sovereignty and gun-barrel internal security, and both would end in the collapse of accountability and the rise of authoritarianism. Only an irresponsible religious leader would denounce democracy without suggesting a feasible alternative, especially in a complex society where the rulers are eager for anything that seems to validate authoritarianism.

Pigeons are more thoughtful. When Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga released some of them in a form of Christian ‘witchcraft’ to bring peace, the birds refused to fly. They had seen that the injustices behind social discontent had not been addressed. The forced spells of calm concealed simmering unrest. The religious leaders were encouraging false expectations. The pigeons saw nothing to justify a flight for long-term peace.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.