By Jonathan Mwesigwa
OPINION | With great dismay, the country has once again learned of President Museveni’s altercation with the Church leadership over his sustained grip on power, albeit illegitimately, now spanning over three decades.
Visibly overcome with emotion rather than reason, the president particularly took offence with Bishop Reuben Kisembo of the diocese of Rwenzori allegedly for “lecturing” him on retirement and a peaceful transfer of power.
Museveni even mustered courage to call the cleric “undisciplined” and further lamented that he had endured enough provocation from the prelates whom he considers incompetent to lecture him on how to govern Uganda.
Typical of him, Museveni dictated that they should desist from doing so, henceforth. This happened on Saturday, February 10, 2017 during the commissioning of St Elizabeth Chapel at Kyebambe Girls’ School.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once observed: “Our lives begin to end the day we keep silent about things that matter.”
Thus, clerics like Bishop Kisembo must be lauded for having a thorough understanding of their calling and the power of their prophetic voice, as well as for their firm stand against the illicit amendment of the 1995 Constitution calculated to further extend Museveni’s domineering and destructive rule.
Their aloof counterparts must be pitied and forced to leave office! They have been blinded by money for their diocesan and personal projects and by the ‘esteem’ that comes with posing with the autocrat in pictures. Can they even tell the full significance of their robes and pectoral crosses?
In fact, the entire Church leadership seems to have put its conscience and prophetic voice on the back burner, appearing to acquiesce to the prevailing status quo by remaining almost mute.
Ironically, this is at a time when there is a persistent outcry and challenge by Christians and other Ugandans to religious leaders to abandon their ‘shyness’, and speak up, with one voice.
As day follows night, both the church and country will constantly need courageous and well-equipped leaders to speak against the excesses of any regime instead of flattering it with praises whilst the flock/citizenry continue to be subjected to gross exploitation and agony.
Clearly, a president who administers a country like their private property; claims personal interest in its assets and natural resources; feels obliged not to serve its citizenry; constantly views a country in guerilla terms; is unapologetic about the far-reaching impact of his manipulations; and is about to choke on his greed, needs more than just lectures. Now that Museveni has publicly expressed his ignorance about the mandate of bishops, he must be enlightened.
This is something he has purposely defrauded himself of, in spite of his regular attendance as chief guest at several of their consecration and enthronement ceremonies.
First, bishops, like all Ugandans, inalienably enjoy the inherent freedoms of speech and expression, thought, conscience and belief. These rights are not granted by the state and, certainly, not by any individual.
They are constitutionally guaranteed and provided for under other regional, continental and international legal instruments to which Uganda is party.
It behoves every organ or agency or person (the president inclusive), therefore, to come to terms that there is no conceivable alternative other than to respect, uphold and promote the same.
To this extent, his remarks run counter to both the spirit and letter of the law.
Secondly, they are duty-bound “…to respect, maintain and defend the rights, privileges and liberties of this Church and diocese, and to serve therein with truth, justice and charity, not lording it over God’s heritage, but showing in all things an example, to people… [and for Christ’s sake, to be merciful to all persons, especially the needy and the outcast, and defend those who have no helper].”
Third, they are reflectors of the radiant character of their Lord.
Bishop Festo Kivengere wrote: “The pastor can never…sympathize at a distance. There is no room for detachment in the pastor’s ministry. His place in this glorious ministry is as his Lord describes it in John 12:26, ‘Where I am, my servant also will be… The pastor’s relevance in the congregation and in the community is his identification with those among whom he serves.”
And fourth, even when called provocateurs, they are mandated to speak out against unjust regimes and to pray for their downfall and to ask God to raise new righteous and just leaders.
They might even be required to pay the ultimate price like their Lord.
“I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). It is silly to view religious leaders as political opponents when they, in the most simplest of terms, remind you of your unequivocal duty to avert a potential reverse of the petite political, economic, and social progress; and cohesion attained.
A discussion on Uganda’s political developments and their impact on both the region and continent can never be regarded as a subject over which tibuhaburwa (the president) and his cronies have monopoly.
We decry the escalation in tone and language used by Museveni, which have the potential to agitate or polarize the citizenry.
It is unfortunate that his remarks are because of a disconnect in his understanding on what the role of the Church and other religious bodies is.
To say the least, his remarks are ill-fated, ridiculous, and despicable and should, at best, be ignored.
Article First Appeared Here