Luwum and the forgotten martyrs

Monday March 08 2021
By Guest Writer

The emergence of the iconic martyred Archbishop Janan Luwum arose out of the Ugandan political turmoil that was orchestrated by the infamous President Idi Amin Dada who reigned from 1971 to 1979. Archbishop Luwum’s forthright character of godliness and bravery inevitably brought him in collision course with Amin, his nemesis. 

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Luwum was that he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour on January 6, 1948 after an encounter with an Acholi couple who subscribed to the East African Revival Brethren fellowship also called Abalokole. 

It is said that upon his conversion to new life in Christ, Luwum prophetically said: “I am prepared to die in the army of Jesus. As Jesus shed his blood for his people. 

If it is God’s will, I will do the same.” At that time, confessing Jesus as Saviour was not as common and acceptable as is the case today. Those who described themselves as ‘saved’ were frowned upon by even mainstream church leadership. It was not until much later that accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour became fashionable.

The Revival Movement followers were daring and revolutionary to an extent that some broke ties with some cultural norms, families, and even economic associations that were considered satanic. 

It is not surprising that Bishop Festo Kivengere, another stalwart of East African Revival Movement,  is believed to have been the trigger for Amin’s frenzy following a sermon he delivered on January 30, 1977 on the preciousness of life at the consecration of the Rt Rev Yoram Bamunoba, the first bishop of West Ankole Diocese.


 During the sermon drawn from John 20:19-23 according to a witness, Mr Karukiiko, Bishop Kivengere decried the state of fear and anxiety among Ugandans. He appealed to Amin to address the kidnappings, disappearances, murder and other atrocities. 

When Archbishop Luwum was attacked at his home on February 5, 1977 and accused of harbouring arms and ammunitions to oust Amin, he summoned a House of Bishops meeting on February 8, 1977 during which all bishops supported the penning of a letter that critiqued Amin’s rule.  The letter expressly stated: “Your excellency, if required we can give you concrete evidence of what is happening because widows and orphans are members of the church.”
At the time, I was 15 years old and I have vivid memories. While at Masaka Technical Institute, the current Muteesa I Royal University, where my mother served as a nurse, I witnessed several harrowing instances. 

I am reminded of an incident when an Amin soldier who rented our house at Kamugombwa Masaka, just bordering Kasijjajirwa army barracks, alerted us about  a special operation by the army. The soldier cautioned that the moment a soldier knocked on the door, one had to open it. 

When the soldier knocked on our door, my mother complied accordingly and we produced our identity cards, she tells me that she hid our radio in the charcoal bag, lest they would steal it. One of Molly Kobusingye, a resilient Mukiga young lady,  refused to open. 

When the soldiers kicked the door she fled through the window but later she was bitter about the theft of her record player and perfume! Life had been saved and she didn’t seem to realise or perhaps who knows, she survived rape.  

We were later told about the killing of Acholi and Langi. One of the staff members, an electrical engineering instructor,  Mr Ongolomio disappeared and prior, his family. 

Interestingly, the officer says only Christians were targeted. Both Erinayo Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi who were murdered with Archbishop Luwum are said to have been deeply religious Born Again Cabinet ministers. Christians who died during these times might need to be honoured in some form even if they may not be martyrs in the sense of Luwum, particularly their families can be prayed for and comforted.  

 Rt Rev Dr Fred Sheldon Mwesigwa is the Bishop of Ankole Diocese & Chancellor Bishop Stuart University