Owobusobozi Bisaka: The self-styled god in Bunyoro region

Bisaka seated on his throne. However, not everyone believes in his alleged transcendent powers. The Vicar General of Hoima Catholic Church, Msgr. Mathias Nyakatura, says Bisaka is after self-enrichment.

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One of Ow’obusobozi Bisaka’s religions was banned in the 1980s by government over fears that its practices were dangerous. Twenty-two years later, his fold has continued to grow and now politicians, too, seek his help, Francis Mugerwa writes.

A few hours’ drive from Kibaale town, on top of Kapyemi Hill stands a white and orange storey building. As one approaches it, the visitor is met by a wooden gate that opens to a lash green compound. To the right are two rows of classroom blocks and to the left a ranch and banana plantation.

The smell from the ranch pierces your nostrils but is quickly overcome by the sweet scent from the freshly pruned flowers as one approaches the house. A group of people, in tens, seek refuge from the burning sun; some on the verandah and tree shades.

Welcome to the residence of one of Kibaale’s most powerful and influential characters, Ow’obusobozi Bisaka, a self-professed god. Bisaka does not only run a secondary school at his home but hosts hundreds of visitors daily, who come to seek prophecy, healings and bring various prayer request, some as petty as keeping beauty intact to more serious requests like winning elections for a political office.

Guarded residence
The often heavily guarded residence is the headquarters of the Faith of Unity, a sect founded by Bisaka, who lives a reclusive but lavish life. “I have come here to be healed. I have many problems. I have persistent headache, doctors tell me that I require surgery yet I do not have any money” Petero Kiiza,56, a resident of Buhimba Sub-county in Hoima District, says.

He has travelled about 50 kilometres to meet Bisaka whom he believes can heal him. Kiiza is among the hundreds of people who regularly flock to Kapyemi Hill to seek blessings, healing, jobs and guidance from Bisaka.

The self- professed god is revered by the young and old and has over the years gained about two million followers across the country and the number is steadily growing. The faith is said to have followers in other countries such as Rwanda, DR Congo and South Sudan.

The soft-spoken ecclesiastic also wears the hat of an author, singer and composer, who has various Catholic Church hymns like Nkaikiriza Ruhanga Murungi, which he wrote in 1975 to his credit.

The former Roman Catholic Church follower, who abandoned it in 1980, claims he experienced special powers and heard a loud voice from God that kept directing him to start healing people. “On February, 22, 1980, I accepted and touched a sick person who got healed,” Bisaka says.

This claim, however, cannot be verified but has brought him droves of followers from across the Kigezi and parts of Bunyoro region.
The Faith of Unity congregation prays every second, 12th and 22nd day of the month. For the rest of the days, each follower develops a list of good things they hope for daily.

The group does not believe in the Bible, calling it divisive but use ‘the book of the Faith of Unity’ authored by Bisaka and spells out cleaning courtyards, grazing animals, washing, hunting, donating, smiling at friends and praying to God as deeds that can give one eternal life.

The Faith of Unity denies Jesus’ existence. “The Bible is a source of disunity,” he says, “Whoever wants to start a religion picks a few verses to justify starting a new religion.”

The former teacher of the Bible wonders why the Holy book was not signed by the author, God. He, however, teaches that God is in three parts- God the creator, God of Holiness and himself Owobusobozi Bisaka. But his followers are so bent on believing in his powers. “He has spiritual powers which he uses to bless and heal us,” Omuhereza Baguma, a former Kibaale district LC5 aspirant, who joined the faith in 1985, says.

Bisaka claims that he was crowned by God with a throne which is a white as snow to fight Satan.

Born to Petero and Ms Byombi 82 years ago, in Buyanja County, Kibaale District, he grew up under the care of his grandparents, Alifonsio Wenkere and Malita Nyakake, who were catechists.

Bisaka served as a catechist at Bujuni Parish. In his biography published in 1987, he served as a teacher at Muhorro Primary School and choirmaster in Muhorro Catholic Church. He also served as secretary and chairman of the Muhorro Parish council.

Church’s take
However, not everyone believes in Bisaka’s alleged transcendent powers. The Vicar General of Hoima Catholic Church, Msgr. Mathias Nyakatura, says Bisaka is after self-enrichment. “He wanted money because he was not being paid well. He tricks people to get money but we pray for him and his followers to repent,” Msgr. Nyakatura says.

The Catholic Church has since banned his songs. Bisaka followers, however, think otherwise. “He has powers to see the good and bad person. Before a person joins this faith, they required to list all their sins which he wants Owobusobozi to cleanse,” Omukwenda Kusemererwa, one of the right-hand men, claims.
“If a person has forgotten, Owobusobozi is able to remind them some of the sins.”

He harvests rain water, blesses it and gives it to his followers who often drink it, arguing that they get healing from it. His followers do not enter the worship places with shoes. They wear white tunics (kanzu) to symbolise their holiness.

Political influence
If one is not his followers, then one is sure to feel Bisaka’s power and influence in politics. To show how much influence he has got, President Museveni ensures he attends his birthday every June 11 or at least have a senior minister represent him.

Several of his followers hold political positions in Bunyoro region or just pay allegiance to him. It is common for key political leaders to pay him visits and openly source for his support during political campaigns.

The leaders across the political divide from village level to higher political offices closely associate with him. Robinah Nabanja, the Kibaale Woman MP, attests to his powers, saying: “People of all religious denominations including his followers supported me. I am pleased with his work.” “I personally know people who used to be drunkards but when they joined the Faith of Unity, they got transformed,” Ms Nabanja adds.

Medard Ahumuza, the Muhooro sub-county representative to the Kibaale District council, says: “He encourages his people to vote leaders who will promote unity and I often join his followers for prayers just like I join churches and mosques.” He added that it is common for candidates to canvass support by claiming that Owobusobozi has endorsed their candidature.”

Minister for Investments Aston Kajara ( Mwenge South MP) confesses to having a close relationship with Bisaka. “At a personal level, he is my friend.”

The Kibaale FDC chairman, Omuhereza Ayebale Kanyarutooke, and the Kibaale NRM chairman, Omuhereza Mulumba, are also followers of the Faith of Unity.

Several incumbents and aspirants of parliamentary, LC5 and sub-county leadership positions in Kyenjojo, Kibaale and Hoima districts attend Bisaka’s functions and are usually at the forefront of giving offertory. “He has a lot of influence here because his followers consult him before making key decisions,” Omuhereza Baguma says.

Politicians like President Museveni praises Bisaka for promoting unity, development using “little African resources and doesn’t rely on foreign aid”.
However, not all is easy walk for his followers, as witnessed by his confidant Omuhereza Baguma who lost to the incumbent Mr George Namyaka. The self-professed god also finds his strength in the fact that politics in the region is played along religious lines.