Martyrs: Imprisoned mindset and Uganda’s culture of extravagance

What you need to know:

  • Where are our priorities? We indulge in unnecessary spending, often at the expense of essential investments. From birthday parties to funerals; from graduation parties to weddings; from Independence Day celebrations to brag fests of violent victories, we indulge in extravagant spending as though possessed by a self-destructive Nyabingi spirit.

Dear Tingasiga;
On June 3, the lives and deaths by execution of 45 young men will be commemorated at Namugongo, a sacred place just east of Kampala. The Uganda Martyrs - 23 Anglicans and 22 Roman Catholics – were killed a little more than 130 years ago because of their resolute adherence to their Christian faith. The Martyrs’ Day commemoration has become a major annual event in Uganda. So it should. The involvement of non-clergy in the day’s activities is to be encouraged, for it offers an opportunity for group evangelism and reflection on the meaning of the Martyrs’ lives and deaths.

I was very pleased to learn that the four Church of Uganda dioceses of Kigezi, my homeland, will be leading the national celebration of the Anglican Martyrs. A central organising committee, chaired by Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the Ugandan Prime Minister, is in charge of the Anglican event, which is shaping up to be a great showcase for Abanyakigezi’s generosity and mastery of celebration.
Whereas the organising committee had planned to spend Shs500m ($134,000) on the event, they have already received Shs700m ($187,000) in donations from the Banyakigezi and friends of Kigezi. This has been possible because each of the four dioceses has donated Shs20m, and many people have made individual donations ranging from Shs100,000 ($27) to Shs14m ($3,700).

It is a mark of their commitment that this group of Banyakigezi has made the sacrifice. I congratulate them for three reasons. First, I respect people, who honour their commitments. Unfulfilled pledges are empty talk that deceives the expectant recipients and reveals an emptiness of character. Second, Kigezi’s legendary spirit of self-reliance is alive and well. Third, I am hopeful that we can count on this group’s generosity to also support the efforts of the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB) to provide IT and other technical education to our youth in our homeland. Indeed, that budget surplus of Shs200m ($54,000) would be a great contribution to this year’s fundraising effort for the Kigezi Education Fund that we shall carry out at our Annual Convention in Vancouver next month.

I must confess that I am struggling with the idea of spending such a vast amount of money on the commemoration of the Uganda Martyrs. What does Uganda Martyrs’ Day mean to us? Should it be one of those ritualistic indulgences that offer us an excuse for commingling with compatriots, listening to political and other speeches, eating and drinking and generally feeling cleansed of our most recent sins? Or should it be a period of deep reflection on what it was that enabled the young men to choose death over earthly life, and what we are called upon to do as Christians?
Frankly, I would have suggested to the church leaders to declare the weekend a period of denying ourselves the nourishment of our earthly passions. Given a choice, I would have celebrated the Uganda Martyrs’ lives by investing that donated money in the education and/or healthcare of our needy children. I would have encouraged all Christians to give their talent, treasure or time to our needy brothers and sisters in a collective effort, as we are taught in Matthew 25:36, to clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit and minister to those in prison.

Imagine asking all pilgrims to Namugongo to bring their own water and packed lunches and, instead, giving the Shs500m to Kisiizi Hospital that was recently devastated by floods. Imagine giving half of that money to the technical schools in Kigezi to enhance their capacity to provide vocational education to our UPE school dropouts. The possibilities are endless. The benefits are limitless. They would last longer than the momentary pleasure of festive celebration of lives of men who died in excruciating agony.

While very little is known about their personal lives, the Uganda Martyrs’ willingness to die for Jesus was the ultimate mark of Christian discipleship. In all likelihood, they lived simple lives and served God’s needy people. It is highly unlikely that they engaged in excessive partying and other indulgences of their earthly passions. Certainly the Lord Jesus Christ and His great disciples and apostles lived lives that would have clashed with our appetite for banquets as a substitute for sacrificial Christian worship and service.
Now, I do not tell others how to spend their money. So I truly salute those who have given to ensure a successful event next weekend. However, this does not stop me from asking questions about our priorities and how we spend personal and public money. As a whole, we Ugandans live large. We tend to spend way more than we should or even can afford. Living beyond our individual and collective means is part of our cultural DNA. We indulge in unnecessary spending, often at the expense of essential investments.

From birthday parties to funerals; from graduation parties to weddings; from Independence Day celebrations to brag fests of violent victories, we indulge in extravagant spending as though possessed by a self-destructive Nyabingi spirit. Uganda, a country burdened with a debt in excess of $15b, with projected tax revenues for 2018/19 of only $4b, plans to spend $8b in the next financial year.
Large amounts will be spent on keeping the political elite happy, including cash gifts for ex-MPs and, believe it or not, $100,000 for a few Ugandans in North America to hold their annual party. How spending money on gainfully employed Ugandans in North America fits into our country’s priorities is a mystery, made worse by the fact that peasants in the villages all over the country, have no access to basic social services. It is also a symptom of our imprisoned mindset.

It so happens that the theme of the Martyrs’ Day commemoration is Revelation 2:10, which says: ‘Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for 10 days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.’
I invite you and me to reflect on this verse and seek the Lord’s guidance to understand the true message of the Uganda Martyrs.

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