It was King Solomon who warned, centuries ago, that it is much better to listen to the quiet words of a wise man, than to have your praises sang at a council of fools.
Uganda had a quiet February 16, this past week, as the country commemorated the gruesome 1977 murder of Janani Luwum, former Archbishop of Uganda, a man who paid the price of daring to speak out against Gen Idi Amin Dada, a president for whom murdering people was just about as simple and casual as swatting a fly or mosquito.
When the only tool you have in your toolbox is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. Little wonder military regimes tend to view killing as a quick solution, nay, in fact, as the best solution to just about every problem. Human life, if the person involved is not family, has no value at all; everyone is perfectly expendable. We saw that in the Idi Amin era. We are seeing it now.
Janani Luwum was under no illusions about how dangerous Amin was; but he was like a good shepherd, for whom the size of lion does not matter when the safety of the sheep is at stake. And when you fear God, you need not fear anybody – or anything – else.
He gave the president a firm reprimand, a proper rebuke, a much-needed admonition. It took daring bravery. It took love for people. It takes a man of God to do that; but “they don’t make them like that anymore”.
Just before Luwum Day, the nation was shocked by the news that a group of high-flying Pentecostal pastors had gone to State House to meet President Museveni, to congratulate him on winning “the most peaceful election in Uganda’s history”.
For the record, Uganda had never had an election as violent and bloody as that of 2021. Hundreds killed, jailed or missing in the run up to polling day. The Opposition had no chance to campaign peacefully.
It was a contest where the President ensured that his opponents were bound hand and foot, then he purported to sprint to victory. The pastors were of the considered view, however, that it was perfectly in order to congratulate the President.
Times do change! In the Bible, in those olden days when real pastors and priests; when real prophets and apostles walked the face of the earth, kings and politicians in general lived in fear of these men of God.
When a prophet walked into town, the leaders trembled in sheer trepidation. Men of God, in them days, would stand up to every evil ruler and tell them off – promising that the Lord would punish them for their evildoings.
Look at Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Nathan. They’d stand up to the kings and proclaim judgment; they didn’t come to prostrate before the king and get sacks of gold or the latest breed of horses or brand of chariots.
They lived on little; because their lives were built around pleasing God, not getting earthly riches. My favourite is probably Micaiah.
When King Ahab got good prophecy from 400 prophets (all well-paid by the King), promising him prosperity and victory, Micaiah showed up and (while laughing hard) told him that for his evil deeds, he was going to die in battle, as Elijah had prophesied years earlier.
Angry, Ahab ordered that Micaiah be locked up until he returned safely from battle. Micaiah was not bothered. “If you return alive,” said he, “then the Lord has not spoken by me.”
Ahab could have lived if he had listened to Micaiah, but he ignored the quiet words of a wise, lone prophet; preferring the praises sang by a 400-strong council of the proverbial fools. God holds rulers accountable for the evil they commit against those they rule; he punishes them. No amount of prayer by the finest of religious leaders can amend God’s eternal, sacred standard.
So I saw this State House story and smiled; I saw King Ahab, I saw the 400 prophets. As for Micaiah, who is what the President actually needs… he’s still missing.
Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda firstname.lastname@example.org