Uganda’s Archbishop Janani Luwum: A Tribute And Remembrance

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The late Janani Luwum. Photo: Anglicannews.org 

[The View From Uganda]

Today is Archbishop Janani Luwum Day. The theme is “Hope beyond Affliction”, which is borrowed from biblical scripture Romans 12:12  which reads, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Janani Luwum was born in 1922 in Mucwini, Chua, Kitgum District, in Uganda to Eliya Okello and Aireni Aciro. He lived in perilous times. The reign of Gen. Idi Amin—1971 to 1979—was marked by extra judicial killings, kidnappings, illegal detention and Amin’s unquenchable desire to rule by decree. That pattern of state violence sadly remains entrenched in today’s Uganda. 

In the midst of Amin’s terror, famously captured in the appropriately titled book, “State of Blood,” by former minister Henry Kyemba, Luwum kept his spiritual counsel and preached the Word of God. In doing so, he reflected Romans 12: 12 by living a full Christian life: by rejoicing in hope, staying patient in tribulation and being constant in prayer. 

As he lived The Word, Luwum found joy in Jesus, discovered hope for humanity in Jesus, and patience in trying times through the love of Jesus. He knew that, with Jesus, tribulation was a storm that would not last long and so with constant prayer through Jesus he, Luwum, connected to God, the Father.

In 1974 Janani Luwum became Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire which is the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This was two years into the misrule of Amin, when terror began to become a cultural digest in Uganda. 

President Milton Obote had been overthrown by Amin three years earlier in 1971 and Amin had enacted repression as state policy, arresting anyone suspected of not supporting him. Obote hailed from Lango, so Amin trained his sights on people from the Lango and Acholi people and soldiers from that region were shot dead in their barracks.  

Archbishop Luwum was from Kitgum, which is one of the seven Districts in the Acholi sub-region in the northern part of Uganda. At independence in 1962, Kitgum was part of Acholi District. In 1974, under the provincial administration the then Acholi District was divided into two districts, West Acholi and East Acholi.

Over the next few years, Amin widened his terror and started killing Christians. It was like the biblical story of Daniel and the lion’s den. In this story, King Darius enacted a law in which people could worship and pray to only the king and if they worshipped or prayed to other gods, they would be thrown into the den of lions. 

The starving lions would eat “lawbreakers” alive. 

Instead of being afraid, however, Archbishop Janani Luwum often went personally to the lion’s den, which was also known as the State Research Bureau, Amin’s torture house, to help secure the release of prisoners. By doing this, Archbishop Luwum was obeying Romans 9-11 of the bible which instructs us to “Let love be genuine.” 

We are told to hate only evil, not evil doers and hold fast to what is good in the bad as something that is essential to love. “Love one another with brotherly affection,” the book of Romans says. 

Jesus also said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Archbishop Luwum bore his own cross as he said in his own words: “I face daily being picked up by the soldiers. While the opportunity is there I preach the Gospel with all my might, and my conscience is clear before God that I have not sided with the present Government which is utterly self-seeking. I have been threatened many times. Whenever I have the opportunity I have told the President the things the churches disapprove of.”

In 1977, Archbishop Luwum took on the suicidal mission of making Amin see reason after an army rebellion that was put down and Amin went crazy, killing thousands of Ugandans. The archbishop delivered a note of protest, signed by nearly all the bishops of Uganda, against Amin’s arbitrary killings and the many disappearances of Ugandans.

Instead of listening, however, Amin accused the archbishop of treason and then pulled out a document supposedly written by former President Obote showing that the archbishop was in league with Amin’s opponents in trying to overthrow the government. Luwum was then arrested and held for military trial.

On February 16, the archbishop and six bishops were tried on the charge of smuggling arms into the country on behalf of Obote-led rebels. 

Archbishop Luwum was not allowed to defend himself, but shook his head in denial. Then, we saw history repeat itself. When trying Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, the fifth governor of Judea Pontious Pilate washed his hands in front of the crowd before announcing, “I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.” 

The crowd shouted in response, “His blood be on us and our children.” Amin also called out to a crowd of soldiers: “What shall we do with this traitor?” 

The soldiers shouted, “Kill him now, Kill them today.” 

The archbishop was separated from the bishops and taken away. His final words were: “Do not be afraid. I see God’s hand in this.” He was reportedly murdered by Amin himself. Amin was overthrown and driven into exile in 1979 by the Tanzanian military after he’d launched an ill-conceived war against our neighboring country. 

The book of Romans agreed with Luwum: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance.” Today, we come together to remember that whatever we are going through, God’s Hand will guide us to salvation in the same way it has spread the loving spirit of Archbishop Luwum across the nation.

Columnist Matogo can be reached via mugashop74@gmail.com 

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