King Uzziah, PM Nabbanja and sacrilege in the Temple that precedes leprosy

Author: Gawaya Tegulle. PHOTO/NMG

What you need to know:

  • History repeats itself they say; and it did with near-mathematical exactness last week, when the Prime Minister, with the airs and wisdom of Uzziah, marched into Mengo Chief Magistrate’s Court, Kampala, and proceeded to preside over a court of law, coming to ‘rescue’ a woman that the court had ‘wrongfully” (in her view), sent to Debtor’s Prison. 

The Swahili call it ushamba. The Baganda call it amaalo. In English it is called lack of sophistication; complete absence of class and know-how. King Uzziah had that and more; kind of what happens when small people fall into big things, when dwarfs find themselves, without ever climbing at all, on top of the mountain – they really get into your hair, I’m telling you! 
But see, pride goeth before a fall; haughtiness precedes humiliation! It is what happens when people are so full of themselves and seized of an enormously exaggerated sense of self-importance and think that just because they occupy high places, they can venture just about anywhere.
Uzziah is a king not many people know about. He was the 10th king of the ancient kingdom of Judah and reigned for a whopping 52 years; second only to King Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, who ruled for 55 years. For the fanatics of historical detail, let the record show that Uzziah ruled for 52 years ending about 739 BC.

He was a man greatly helped by God to rise to kingship; but when he got established, he became proud and cocky. He thought he was everything to everyone, everywhere. That is how, on one occasion, he decided that he could offer better incense than the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem that Solomon built.
There was, of course, a big problem here. Israel was designed as a theocracy; God was the “main man. The fortunes of the kingdom at any one time were tied to whether or not the Israelites obeyed Him. And the epicentre of the theocracy was the temple. This is where the high priest and his many priests sat, served the Lord and provided guidance to the kingdom. There were, of course, other places of worship, particularly synagogues, all over Israel; but only Levites (clan of Levi) could serve as priests. The temple, which had very strict protocols, was divided, broadly speaking, into three: one, the outer yard, where everybody – in fact anybody – could go. Then the holy place where only the priests went. Then the holy of holies, which was covered with a beautiful, extremely thick curtain, and where the covenant box sat. Not even the priests could dare enter the holy of holies, because they’d be struck dead. Only the high priest went there, once a year on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and even then, if he went there tainted with sin, he’d turn up dead. 

But Uzziah, blinded by pride and foolishness (which, come to think of it, are the same thing really) marched into the temple one morning and proceeded to make himself comfortable, as he attempted to burn incense at the altar.  
But the priests would have none of it. They took him on and told him off. Uzziah immediately reminded them that he was the king and could do as he liked. But at that moment, the Lord struck him with leprosy. He never recovered and died 11 years later. King Uzziah learnt too late that standing on the mountain top doesn’t make a dwarf tall – he remains just a squirm in a high place. 

History repeats itself they say; and it did with near-mathematical exactness last week, when the Prime Minister, with the airs and wisdom of Uzziah, marched into Mengo Chief Magistrate’s Court, Kampala, and proceeded to preside over a court of law, coming to ‘rescue’ a woman that the court had ‘wrongfully” (in her view), sent to Debtor’s Prison. In Biblical essence, the Prime Minister dared step into the holy of holies! Absolutely unacceptable!
Would to God that the Levites, the priests in Uganda’s temple of justice would firmly stand up, wag a finger in this Uzziah’s face and tell her that what she did was highhanded, backward and sacrilegious! 

In civilised countries, Parliament would have censured Ms Nabbanja; and the President would have fired her or demanded her resignation. The framers of our Constitution designated the Judiciary as a temple of justice; sacrosanct and inviolable. 
Nobody is allowed to do what the Prime Minister just did. Mark the word ‘civilised’. When we allow people to tamper with the independence of the Judiciary we are literally settling for a chaotic society, with the rule of law thrown out the window, opening the way for arbitrary governmental action and survival for the fittest.


Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda     [email protected]

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