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Monday, 12 October 2009

Buganda Crisis, Ugandan Evangelicals, Ssabalokole, and the Future

Buganda Crisis, Ugandan Evangelicals, Ssabalokole, and the Future

Kato Mivule | October 6, 2009

For over 20 years, Uganda’s Evangelical Churches have enjoyed a rather flattery and illusionist relationship with the current Ugandan regime headed by President Museveni. The implications of the recent Buganda Crisis, for the Ugandan Evangelical Community will in no doubt be far reaching as Ugandans from all sections of life take a second look at the cozy and manipulative relationship between President Museveni’s regime and Ugandan Evangelicals.

September 10th 2009 will probably go down in history as one of Uganda’s worst and bloodiest days when demonstrators who for all reasons were basically fed up with the current regime of President Museveni took to the streets to demonstrate, only to be met with live gun fire from government security forces.
Buganda Riots in Kampala

Brief background…

The demonstrations were a result of the Museveni Government restricting the movements of the Kabaka (King of the Baganda tribe in Uganda – the largest tribe in Uganda). Museveni’s Regime basically denied the Kabaka from visiting one of his ‘counties or village in his kingdom due to objections by one ‘Clan chief’(Banyala Clan Chief – called the Ssabanyala – Ssa-banyala…meaning chief of the Banyala Clan) that resides in the ‘county’ declaring autonomy from the Buganda Kingdom.

The Museveni administration seemed to have taken sides and rather than foster reconciliation to stop the fracas, instead sent troops to protect the Ssabanyala and stopped the Kabaka visiting the area. The result was demonstrations and riots that erupted in Kampala and throughout Uganda’s central region.

The history of the Buganda and Central Government conflict has been long since 1962 and the central issue has been Land and Federal system of governance that Buganda Kingdom demands. The Museveni Government has sought to control most of the Land in Buganda and give it to foreign investors among others, an issue that Buganda and even other tribes strongly oppose. Recent discovery of Oil in Western Uganda and other high value minerals in Uganda has only exacerbated the already existing tensions.

Land grabbing conflicts…

Museveni’s regime is increasingly seen by Ugandan locals as one that grabs land from the poor and hands it over to foreign multinational corporations in the name of economic development. Therefore denying the Kabaka his right to visit one of the counties in his kingdom was interpreted as a move to divide the Buganda Kingdom and ‘steal’ land from the poor and hand it over to large multinational corporations and Museveni’s immediate family members who currently hold most of the senior government positions in Uganda.

The Kabaka of Buganda is the chief custodian of Buganda’s land and for years diverse ethnic groups have settled in Buganda – Uganda’s central region, welcomed by the Kabaka and Baganda peoples and in many cases given free land to settle. These diverse ethnic groups have then been absorbed into Buganda and often adopt the Buganda Culture and language. No violence or wars has resulted as a result of this ‘natural assimilation’ for quite some time; it is only during President Museveni’s Regime that such inter tribe clan ethnic skirmishes have begun to erupt.

Therefore the declaration of autonomy by one of the Clan Chiefs with support from the Museveni regime was read as a tactic to further disenfranchise and marginalize the already poor Baganda by ‘grabbing’ their land.

The resulting riots in the city of Kampala, Uganda’s capital left about 26 people dead as a result of the Museveni government using live ammunition on unarmed demonstrators and killing the innocents, which seems to be common in Africa today when despotic regimes face public opposition, take the case of Guinea, where 150 Peaceful demonstrators were killed by government troops recently.

Corruption defining Museveni’s Administration…

Yet still corruption, injustice, nepotism, poverty, high unemployment, land grabbing, the war in Northern Uganda, hunger and drought in Eastern Uganda, the war of pillage in Congo, the war in Sudan, and a large young generation of unemployed youth have defined Museveni’s Government in Uganda. This negative social economic situation only added fuel to the already existing brawl between Buganda and the Central Government and the result was that people were demonstrating against the Museveni Regime that they viewed as corrupt rather than ‘simply’ venting anger over the restriction of the Kabaka’s movements.

It is in this light that Ugandan Evangelicals find themselves in a dilemma as the Ugandan political tide has begun changing against Museveni’s regime that has granted Ugandan Evangelicals a sort of ‘comfort zone’.

Influential Ugandan Evangelical Pastors Turned Political…
Some ‘influential’ Ugandan Evangelical Pastors have always turned their pulpits and gatherings as a podium for President Museveni’s re-election campaigns in exchange for promises of “more freedoms of worship”, money, land for church buildings, and armed protection from President Museveni.

President Museveni has always viewed his relationship with Uganda’s Evangelicals as a political opportunity; always using them to gain political ground and retain power especially during times of elections. Uganda’s Evangelicals command large followings, often filling up stadiums and auditoriums during prayer meetings across Uganda. Therefore a ‘good’ relationship with Uganda’s Evangelical leaders is a powerful asset in President Museveni’s hands.
Museveni at the National Prayers in Nambole Stadium National Prayers at Nambole Stadium

Influential Pastors Defended by Museveni’s Government…
It is President Museveni that has provided protection to popular and now infamous TBN preachers like Ugandan Pastor, Robert Kayanja who was strongly defended by Museveni’s Government when large quantities of smuggled European wine was found by Uganda’s Revenue Authority in his posh ‘million dollar’ home in Gaba, Kampala, one of Uganda’s upscale lakeside neighborhoods. The investigation was frustrated and a full page advertisement by the Ugandan Government was posted in Uganda’s State newspaper, the New Vision, clearing Pastor Kayanja of any wrong doing.

It is then President Museveni that sent out his minister of Ethics Dr. Nsaba Buturo, to vigorously defend Pastor Robert Kayanja on Ugandan Radio and TV Stations after the 2006 Presidential Elections that Ugandan Courts declared were flawed. Pastor Robert Kayanja had gone on national TV and declared a prophecy during those presidential campaigns that one of the Presidential Candidates from the opposition would die and that President Museveni, the incumbent would win by over 60 Per cent of the vote. The prophecy failed and was not true in that no presidential candidate from the opposition died and President Museveni did not win by 60 per cent. The public was outraged by the Robert Kayanja Prophecy that they saw as Pastor Kayanja voicing support for a ‘corrupt’ President Museveni. Ugandans during then realized that the Ugandan Evangelical Leadership was partisan and was a tool for the ‘corrupt’ Museveni regime to retain influence and power.

Those in the opposition cried foul during the 2006 presidential elections when it was discovered and reported by Uganda’s media that President Museveni had secretly met with some Ugandan Evangelical Pastors and ‘given them money’ which the President termed as “facilitation funds” so they could help send many of their parishioners to the polls to vote for Museveni. The incident was an embarrassment to the Evangelical Church that was supposed to be seen as neutral and non partisan yet for ‘thirty pieces of silver’, they sold out.

Evangelicalism viewed as Uganda’s ‘State Religion’…

A number of local evangelical pastors in Uganda have positioned Evangelicalism as the State Religion in Uganda, and with ideas they borrow from Western Political Right wing movements like the US Political Evangelicals, which they then employ in Uganda. For instance President Museveni has been invited on a number of times to officiate at the annual end of year prayer meetings in Nambole Stadium – Uganda’s largest spots stadium and asked to “dedicate” and “declare” Uganda a “Christian Nation”. In these ‘National Prayer’ events, a group of Pastors receive Uganda’s National Flag from Mr. Museveni which they then pray over and announce Uganda a “Christian Nation” – Christian in terms of Evangelical Christianity.

The National Prayers have largely been organized by Pastor Joseph Sserwada of Victory Christian Center in Kampala, who is found of flip flopping at between opposing Museveni’s policies at times and then supporting him at other occasions. For instance at one Prayer Convocation in 2005, Pastor Sserwada demanded that President Museveni release the political opposition leader Kizza Besigye from jail unconditionally but after Museveni granted the request, Pastor Sserwada joined the bandwagon calling on Born Again Christians to vote Museveni back into office.

Sexual Crime in Uganda’s Evangelical Church overlooked…
It is still the same President Museveni’s Government and State House Security agencies that defended Pastor Robert Kayanja when a number of young boys opened cases of sodomy against pastor Kayanja.

The State House defense of Pastor Robert Kayanja was highly dramatized when security agencies put on a spectacular display of theatrics by kidnapping and then releasing one of Pastor Robert Kayanja’s aides and then blamed the local Pastors who had reported the Sodomy case to Police. To this day no report has been released about those who kidnapped Pastor Kayanja’s aide.

Pastor Robert Kayanja on learning that he was about to be indicted, offered Uganda’s police money to renovate Uganda’s Police Staff quarters in Kampala. Uganda’s Police Chief Mr. Kayihura received the offer on the same day that local pastors were helping the sodomized boys report their cases to police to receive justice.

The sodomized boys were arrested and charged and the pastors were summoned at the Police Investigation Headquarters and threatened. Later Uganda’s Police released a report in the State Newspaper – the New Vision, clearing Pastor Robert Kayanja of any sodomy charges. The whereabouts of some of the sodomized boys is still unknown; Uganda’s Police claims that the boys are in “safe police custody”.
Sodomized Boys

Armed Protection for Uganda’s Prosperity Gospel Preachers…

It is the same President Museveni who has provided armed security guards from his presidential protection unit to guard and protect a number of Prosperity Gospel Preachers who preach a gospel of money and basically rob the poor of the little they have and live a luxurious Western lifestyle in poor Uganda at the expense of poor and impoverished parishioners.

After the sodomy scandal, Pastor Robert Kayanja a major prosperity gospel preacher is among pastors who enjoy the privilege of armed security guards with links to the Presidential Protection Unit in Uganda.

First Family into the Evangelicalism Business…

As if that was not enough, President Museveni’s own daughter, Patience Museveni Rwabogo recently became an evangelical Pastor and started a Church in Buziga another upscale lakeside suburb of Kampala in Uganda. Among those who attend President Museveni’s Daugter’s Church are Generals in the army, high ranking government officials, and members of Museveni’s extended family.

It is the first time in Uganda’s history that a member of the first family is now Pastor of an Evangelical Church in Uganda and with great influence among local pastors who often seek audience with President Museveni courtesy of Pastor Patience Rwabogo.

Yet despite genuine motives and sincerity by Pastor Patience Rwabogo, her ministry is seen through the eyes of her father President Museveni and how he conducts business with Uganda’s Evangelicals.

Political Endorsing of Pastor Peter Ssematimba…

The latest move by President Museveni making inroads into Uganda’s Evangelical Church was his endorsing of a flamboyant Pastor and Businessman, Pastor Peter Ssematimba. Pastor Ssematimba claims that he became a Born Again Christian in one of Pastor Benny Hinn’s Healing Meetings while on a business trip in the USA.
Museveni at Ssematimba Ceremony Pastor Kayanja and Ssematimba

President Museveni at Swearing in Ceremony of Pastor Peter Ssematimba (in middle) as Local Council Chief - Next Insert...Pastor Robert Kayanja at same ceremony to pray over Pastor Ssematimba...Pastor Kayanja looked thin and weak due to fasting over the Sodomy Scandal during the same period of time...

Pastor Peter Ssematimba is a long time buddy of Uganda’s Prosperity Gospel Czar Pastor Robert Kayanja and the two have been the champions of the ‘get rich quick’ prosperity gospel in Uganda. At one time Pastor Ssematimba boasted on his FM Radio Station how it was easy to become a millionaire if one became a Pastor.

Pastor Ssematimba

However, Pastor Ssematimba joined politics and became Mayor of his Town after a failed bid at becoming the Mayor of Kampala, Uganda’s major city. Both Pastor Robert Kayanja and President Museveni fully endorsed Pastor Ssemantimba’s run for local council office and presided over the swearing in ceremony of Pastor Peter Ssematimba in an election that was reported as flawed and fully rigged.

Pastor Peter Ssematimba, a fan of Micheal Jackson Performs the 'Obscene' Micheal Jackson Dance at a local pub in Memory of Michael Jackson...he repeatingly touches his 'private parts' as he dances to MJ tunes...

Divide and Rule Theo-Politics…

President Museveni has always viewed Uganda’s Evangelicals as his constituency and with many large churches being stationed in Buganda and many of the “powerful men of God” being from Buganda, President Museveni has made it is point to keep the Evangelicals as his political constituency. President Museveni has also used the ‘divide and rule’ technique to divide tribes into smaller rival clans and then take sides thus gaining advantage.

This was the case with the Buganda riots; President Museveni took sides with the Banyala Clan and thus the conflict and riots between the Banyala and Baganda tribes that have been in harmony for years. President Museveni makes it a point to appoint a head or chief of the newly formed faction clan. Titles like Ssabanyala, Ssabakoki, Ssabaruri, have become now familiar in Uganda’s Political discourse. Every newly formed clan faction supported by the central government gets a head with the title “Ssa”…

Ugandan Evangelical Leadership Vacuum…
Yet still Evangelicals in Uganda have of recent had squabbles among themselves over leadership. Pastor Sserwada has formed his own organization in Uganda to head Evangelicals which Pastor Robert Kayanja does not subscribe to. Pastor Robert Kayanja claims to be head of his own Ugandan Evangelical federation – the Miracle Center Churches.

Pastor Alex Mitala is also head of the original Uganda Evangelical Body which was set up voluntarily by local Pastors to help train pastors, call pastors to accountability, keep to New Testament Bible Doctrine, and discipline pastors who abuse their authority. Both Pastor Sserwada and Pastor Kayanja do not subscribe to this body and therefore the many conflicts among Uganda’s Evangelicals, not mentioning Evangelical missionaries who also have their own leadership, mostly foreign.

Will there be a Ssabalokole in Buganda?

Such vacuum of leadership has been taken advantage of by President Museveni and his political elites. It would not be surprising that soon President Museveni would appoint a ‘Ssabalokole’ to head the Balokole (Evangelicals) in Uganda before the coming 2011 Presidential Elections should some Evangelicals object his policies openly.

So, would Pastor Robert Kayanja be the next Ssabalokole of Uganda or would it be Pastor Peter Ssematimba? Of recent President Museveni has been providing armed bodyguards to newly formed tribal faction leaders like the Ssabanyala, the same detail that Pastor Robert Kayanja enjoys…so is he being groomed to be the next Ssabalokole? This issue is serious and not comical as it might sound.

Ugandan Evangelicals ought to re-examine their relationship with President Museveni and for the sake of the purity of the Gospel, it might be wise to heed the call of those who call for a separation of Church and State.

Ugandan Evangelicals and the identity of politics…

Such relationships between Uganda’s Evangelical Church and President Museveni’s regime have cast a dark shadow of doubt by the public when it comes to the integrity of Evangelicals in Uganda. Evangelicals are largely seen as being one and the same with the current Museveni Regime – they are seen as those who foster the Museveni Movement.

Therefore the recent political riots in Buganda were simply the public’s venting of anger towards what they are increasingly seeing as a corrupt and despotic regime, and this includes those who support it.

This means that the Evangelicals Churches that team up with the Museveni Regime are seen as one and the same and therefore by default become or will increasingly become a target for the opposition. Uganda’s next presidential elections are scheduled for 2011 and many analysts predict that they will largely be violent as President Museveni seeks to keep a hold on power.

The current posture of Uganda’s Evangelical Church is that it receives protection from the current Museveni Government and should there be a change of administration, there will certainly be consequences to the cozy Museveni Uganda Evangelical unholy marriage.

There is nothing wrong with praying for those in political leadership, as this the bible commands, yet Uganda’s Evangelicals have become political tools to keep Uganda’s corrupt political elite in power. The lack of a biblical based leadership among Evangelicals in Uganda has left the door wide open for political abuse and manipulation.

The future ramifications…

The ramifications are great and will be seen when political Pastors in Uganda return to their call of preaching the gospel and begin to take a stand for social justice, placing them on a collision course with Uganda’s corrupt political elite. It is then that President Museveni will react just as in the case with Buganda and vigorously and viciously enforce his own mandate and maybe a Ssabalokole in the Religious Affairs of the still young Evangelical Body in Uganda.

Future Criminal Probes…

But still the prospects of Evangelicalism in Uganda will face a backlash in event that the opposition politicians gain control of both Uganda’s Parliament and State House. Laws will be enacted to clearly spell the separation of Church and State. Investigations of major Evangelical Pastors will ensue assuming that the new government in power will be serious in fighting corruption. Pastors will have to declare their wealth and account for donations they receive in order to flash out dirty money. Sexual Abuse will be investigated and sodomy charges not dropped.

However, such would be a scenario in a new Uganda were corruption is fought with all instruments of the government. Yet this status quo of corruption with impunity among Uganda’s top Prosperity Gospel Pastors goes undeterred courtesy of President Museveni who winks at the evil (crimes) in Evangelicals Churches in Uganda in return for political support.

Harsh Laws of Church and State Separation…

For one there are no laws in Uganda dictating a separation of Church and State yet what I foresee are laws being quickly enacted by a new opposition administration in Uganda. The laws might not as much curtail mainstream religions like the Catholic Church and Episcopalian Church but rather such laws could be heavily skewed against Evangelicals in Uganda and very harsh.

Yet even such laws might help Evangelicals get more focused on preaching the gospel rather than engage in spending resources in getting a “Christian President” in office.

Violence against Evangelicals…

Further still Uganda’s Evangelical Churches might be at a security risk as large numbers of frustrated locals turn their anger and backlash at the Evangelicals who they see singing the praises not of Jesus Christ who stood for the poor and justice but for a President Museveni who they view as an oppressor of the poor and land grabber. This might mean violence against innocent Balokole (Evangelicals) and destruction of their property.

State Persecution and Imprisonment…

Yet still Ugandan Pastors are faced with another dilemma of facing persecution, imprisonment, banishment, and closure of their Churches should they voice support for justice and the poor, and such interests conflict with President Museveni. As it is now, Evangelical Pastors are expected to follow the lead of impromptu ‘Ssabalokoles’ like Pastor Robert Kayanja and Pastor Peter Ssematimba – to sing and dance to the political tunes of President Museveni or else…

Future Exodus out of Evangelical Uganda to Agnostic Uganda…

However, further devastating consequences would be that the large numbers of parishioners would begin an exodus out of the Uganda Evangelical Faith. Many parishioners in Uganda’s Evangelical Churches came out of the Catholic and Episcopalian Churches that were seen as ‘dead’ and ‘lifeless’.

During the late 1980’s large numbers of young people made exodus from the Catholic and Anglican faith and joined the Evangelical Movement in Uganda. At that time many of the young folks sought for role models, they sought a place were they could get the Full Gospel and experience of the New Testament Christianity, they sought a place were they could help by participating, helping the poor, reaching out to other fellow youth etc… Yet the result has been disappointment as Evangelical leaders are only interested in money and an affluent lifestyle.

The circumstances have changed today in Uganda, there are more young educated youth, with access to wireless communication technology, high speed internet, and Satellite TV. Such a well informed generation of people is beginning to demand for accountability to the True Gospel of Jesus Christ as we have it in the New Testament. Such a generation will not be hoodwinked by imposter pastors and preachers. The resulting exodus out of the Evangelical Churches will mean a vibrant agnostic society that is ‘burnt out’ with Balokole-ism (Evangelicalism) in Uganda.

Both the Catholic and Episcopalian Churches have been involved in Uganda’s Politics but much more discreetly and with decorum. Yet Evangelicals have instead always been radical and sometimes frenzied such as when prophecies are proclaimed in support of President Museveni. One circulating Prophecy around 1986 was that God spoke to some pastor in Kampala that President Museveni would be president until Jesus Christ came back – and many evangelicals deeply believed it…

Few helpful remedies and recommendations…

Yet Uganda’s Evangelical Church still have time to steer clear of being an object of resent and rejection by Uganda’s poor and disenfranchised public. Rather than joining hands with those who oppress the poor and deny justice, Uganda’s Evangelical church had better return to preaching the Gospel and forsake the Political Platform.

Rather than being instruments that promote the policies of President Museveni, the Ugandan Evangelical church could become a voice of peace, a voice of reason, a voice for the oppressed, a voice for the poor, the sick, prisoners, doing it peacefully from a non partisan stand, speaking truth and justice, and peace to Uganda’s warring factions; most importantly, the True Gospel being proclaimed; concentrate on preaching the gospel, feeding the poor, visiting the sick, and clothing the naked rather than joining those who pillage the poor…

The future of Uganda’s Evangelical Church is dark and unless there is a clear separation of Church and State, Evangelicalism as we knew it in Uganda ended sometime ago; what we have is a religious political cadaver…and it is stinking…certainly an aroma that the Church ought not to give off. The Body of Jesus Christ – The Church is called to be a fragrance of Christ’s Knowledge and Life to the world and not to give off choking and lifeless political fumes.

Yet Uganda’s Evangelicals can arise to the right side of history and do what the Church has done since the first century, Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, stand for justice, care for the poor, widows, orphans, be instruments of peace and reason, and perhaps help Uganda’s warring ethnic tribal factions resort to peaceful means of conflict resolution.

Kato Mivule