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Post by sol_drethedon on Mon Jan 20, 2014 11:13 pm

We need to make Museveni unafraid of change – Bishop Zac

Retired Assistant Anglican Bishop of Kampala Diocese says for any election, President Museveni on the ballot paper is an obstacle to free and fair elections.

A picture, goes an old adage, is worth a thousand words. That cliché can aptly describe the image of Bishop Zac Niringiye being led into a cell at Wandegeya Police Station in February, 2013.

Local TVs broadcast footage of the cleric, walking barefoot after police personnel had removed his shoes, being shoved into a crowded, dingy, dark cell. Niringiye’s crime, according to police, was the distribution of flyers denouncing corruption while in Wandegeya, a known hotbed of activity given its proximity to the excitable Makerere University.

He had been participating in a civil society-led anti-corruption campaign, branded Black Monday, where Ugandans were rallied to don black attires every Monday as a sign of mourning over the rapacious theft of taxpayers’ money. The cell, about 10 by 12 feet in size, was holding more than 30 prisoners, according to the Bishop. “We were sitting in turns on blankets. I could hardly visit the toilet,” Bishop Niringiye recounts of the nine hours he spent behind the cells.

As has become the practice, whenever a charismatic figure voices concerns about matters of governance, the police unleashes its full force against him or her. Perhaps, in treating the Bishop to an instant baptism of fire, the government wanted to send him a message about the consequences of his actions.

But if the high-handedness the police meted out on him was meant to cow him, it backfired.
“It made it clearer why this [Black Monday campaign] must continue. It emboldened me. I do not fear being arrested. I want to be arrested doing the right thing,” Bishop Niringiye says.
Though corruption has been the scourge of Uganda for a long time under President Museveni’s leadership, the vice within public bodies has reached an all-time high, according to several reports by corruption-tracking agencies.

With unstained public personalities, possibly wary of the consequences, taking a backseat and abandoning the stage of governance exclusively to the politicians, a clergyman who breaks from the cloth to condemn the vice is welcomed with open hands.

The institution of the Church has been particularly faulted for being indifferent and passive about governance issues. Rarely have bishops especially, of the Anglican Church, spoken about the excesses of the ruling regime, with critics attributing their silence to the gifts they often receive from Mr Museveni.

The President, himself an Anglican, runs an informal scheme through which retiring bishops and other religious leaders receive send-off gifts in form of either four-wheel cars or more than Shs100 million in cash. Bishop Zac was not a beneficiary of that scheme.

During the turbulent days of President Idi Amin in the 1970s, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Janani Luwum, paid with his life for voicing disapproval over the brutality the regime was meting out on citizens. Other equally outspoken clergymen like Bishop Festo Kivengere were targeted and forced to flee.

In South Africa, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was at the forefront of the anti-apartheid crusade and later led peace and reconciliation efforts, thrusting him on the stage of global reverence.

Uganda being a predominantly Christian country with an estimated 86 per cent of the 34 million Ugandans subscribing to Christianity, a message from clergymen would go a long way. Thus, the role of the clergy in shaping the political course of the country cannot be underestimated.

Campaign launch
As Christians ushered in the lent season last year, Bishop Niringiye launched the “No lunch until our learners have lunch” campaign. Under that crusade, activists piled pressure on the government to provide much-needed lunch for children in public primary schools.

The campaign is now in its second year with the bishop digging in. It is part of a wider effort advocating better pay for teachers. He munches roasted groundnuts over a cup of coffee throughout the interview as his meal for the day.

On several occasions, an irritated Mr Museveni has insisted that religious leaders should leave politics to politicians, counselling that they restrict their sermons strictly to scriptural issues. But his assertions about religious leaders not wading into politics are negated by his appointment of clergymen allied to the ruling party like the Dodoth County MP, the Rev Fr Simon Lokodo, whom he selected as the Ethics minister in 2011. The priest was subsequently either defrocked or suspended from saying mass by the Catholic Church.

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