Twenty-nine years ago, the murder of the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga Zaire Janani Luwum stunned and shocked the world. Together with two cabinet ministers and hundreds of thousands others, the Archbishop fell victim to the late former dictator Idi Amin’s killing machine.
Luwum was born in the village of Mucwini in the Kitgum District to Acholi parents. He attended Gulu High School and Boroboro Teacher Training College, after which he taught at a primary school. Luwum converted to Christianity in 1948, and in 1949 he went to Buwalasi Theological College. In 1950 he was attached to St. Philip's Church in Gulu. He was ordained a deacon in 1953, and the following year he was ordained a priest. He served in the upper Nile Diocese of Uganda and later in the Diocese of Mbale. In 1961 he was consecrated bishop of the Anglican Church Province of northern Uganda at Gulu. After five years he was appointed archbishop of the Metropolitan Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire, becoming the second African to hold this position.
Gunmen raid archbishop, residence
“So I opened the door and immediately these armed men who had been hiding sprung on me, corking their rifles and shouting, ‘Archbishop, Archbishop, show us the arms’. I replied, ‘what arms’? They replied: ‘There are arms in this house’. I said ‘No’.
‘At this point their leader put his rifle in my stomach on the right hand side whilst another man searched me from head to foot. He pushed me with his rifle, shouting walk, run, show us the arms’. In the same account, the archbishop quotes Ongom as having alleged: “Archbishop, you see some time back we brought some ammunition and divided it up with Mr. Olobo who works in the Ministry of Labour in Kampala…. I have suggested to the security men that Mr. Olobo might have transferred the ammunition to your house…please help.”
After searching the archbishop’s bedroom where his wife Mary was asleep, the men searched all the other rooms, food stores, toilets, bathrooms, cars in the compound and the chapel where they even looked underneath the holy table. No gun was found by 4:30 a.m. when they left.
Fearing that the soldiers might come back for him, Mary Lawinyo Luwum, the widow, said in an interview in Uganda Weekly observer recently, that the following day, the archbishop slept at Namirembe Guest House. She advised him to flee the country but the archbishop declined. [see Not even an archbishop was spared” by Michael Mubangizi, 16th February 2006].
Mary further says that not long after the nocturnal search, Amin invited the archbishop to State House Entebbe. She accompanied him, something that did not go down well with Amin. “He wanted to see him alone,” she says. During the meeting, Mary recounts, Amin tried to justify the search for weapons.
“We wanted arms you got from Obote,” she quotes Amin as having told Luwum in his face.
“I can’t keep guns because guns kill people, I am not a murderer,” was Luwum’s humble response to Amin. But Amin insisted the prelate had transported the arms to Kitgum, Luwum’s home district.
Amin then insisted on taking photos with the archbishop. He said rumours had circulated worldwide that the archbishop had been jailed so he wanted the photos to prove the contrary.
Meanwhile, a day after the search of the archbishop’s house, a similar raid was conducted at Bukedi Diocese’s Bishop Yona Okoth’s his residence. Now deceased, Okoth was later to become archbishop in 1984.
Bishops issue missive
Church of Uganda leaders met on February 8, 1977 to discuss the incidents and on February 10 issued a strongly worded memorandum signed by the archbishop and 17 bishops to Amin. Only Bishop Brian Herd of Karamoja who was on leave at the time did not sign.
This memo, condemning the raids in no uncertain terms, rubbed Amin the wrong way and probably became the last nail in the archbishop’s coffin. Copies were also sent to leaders of the Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim religious groups, cabinet ministers, and foreign missions.
“We feel that if it was necessary to search the archbishop’s house, he should have been approached in broad [day] light by responsible senior officers, fully identified in conformity with his position in society, but to search him and his house at gun-point deep in the night leaves us without words,” the document read in part.
“The gun whose muzzle has been pressed against the archbishop’s stomach, the gun which has been used to search the Bishop of Bukedi’s house, is the gun being pointed at every Christian in the church,” the bishops continued.
The clergy also condemned the killings and general insecurity in the country. They further slammed Amin’s attempt to turn Uganda into an Islamic state, citing some Muslim leaders who they said were coercing Christians to become Muslims.
Col. Bernard Rwehururu wrote in his book Cross to the Gun that the statement was a true reflection of Uganda at the time.
“It was depressing but an accurate account of the conditions of the majority of the people of Uganda,” said the author who also served in Amin’s army.
As the bishops had requested for a meeting in their memo, Amin invited them to Nile Hotel Kampala on February 17. Also invited were cabinet ministers, diplomats and members of the Economic Crimes Tribunal that had been set up to prosecute persons involved in illicit economic activities such as smuggling, hoarding, overcharging and embezzlement, which had become rampant after the 1972 expulsion of Asians.
The hotel compound was flooded with soldiers sitting on the ground in a large semi-circle. In the middle of the semi-circle were heaps of weapons reportedly captured from dissident groups. The guests took their positions in front of the hotel, facing the seated soldiers.
The assembly waited in the hot sun for the president to arrive in vain. Little did they know that he was watching the proceedings from his office at Nile Hotel, striding back and fourth between the balcony and the television inside.
Malyamungu addresses assembly
At 11:00 a.m., Col. Isaac Malyamungu opened the proceedings. He was one of Amin’s toadies and most feared officers in the army. He is said to have headed the execution gangs after the 1971 coup with unlimited powers to execute anyone in the army, even officers senior to him. Before joining the army, he had been a gatekeeper at Nyanza textile industry in Jinja but had quickly risen through the ranks to become a colonel.
As expected, Malyamungu told the gathering that the subversion the government was talking about was real. “Here now is proof of it,” he said, pointing at the cache of arms.
Then followed the reading of written statements by ‘conspirators’ who reportedly confessed to attempting to overthrow the government. Their testimonies implicated Obote and the archbishop in rebellious activities.
Abdulla Anyur, a former chairman of the Public Service Commission, read the first statement allegedly from Obote directed to his henchmen. It claimed that many people were unhappy; that Amin had mismanaged the country, and that people were being tortured and killed. The archbishop was alleged to have received some arms from Tanzania to distribute to insubordinate groups in Uganda. Henry Kyemba, Amin’s Minister of Health at the time, later wrote in his book, The state of blood, that the archbishop shook his head in denial the moment that allegation was read. Ben Ongom and Lt. Ogwang, an intelligence officer, ‘admitted’ in their statements to receiving from Obote instructions and the arms that were on display.
Interestingly, nothing in those accounts implicated ministers Erinayo Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi who were killed together with the archbishop. Oryema was the minister of Lands and Water Resources. He had been in the army with Amin for years and had previously been the Inspector General of Police. Ofumbi was minister of Internal Affairs.
After the statements had been read out, Malyamungu asked for those who wanted the “conspirators” to die to show their hands. All the soldiers raised their hands, shouting “chinja yeye, chinja yeye,” Kiswahili for “kill them, kill them.”
At about 3:00 p.m., the gathering was told to move into the nearby International Conference Centre to hear an address by Amin. After they had all settled in the new venue, Malyamungu asked the religious leaders to return to the hotel. He also ordered ministers Oryema and Ofumbi to join them.
Along the way, the soldiers stopped the bishops. They were told the President wanted to meet the archbishop alone. He was immediately bundled into a car and driven towards State Research Bureau headquarters in Nakasero. Back at the conference centre, security men arrested the two ministers, shoved them into cars that drove in the direction the archbishop had been taken.
Kyemba, who witnessed the drama, further wrote in his book that Amin who was watching the drama from the balcony of his office at Nile Hotel, at one point shouted instructions to his soldiers to the effect that the arrested people shouldn’t be man-handed until they have been driven away from the dozens of drivers and bodyguards waiting to pick their bosses.
Between the International Conference Centre and State Research Bureau on Ternan Avenue, an accident was faked in which the bishops and the two ministers died between 3:00–4:30 p.m.
Col. Rwehururu, who attended the meeting at Nile Hotel as a member of the Economic Crimes Tribunal, writes in his book that Maj. Okello Moses pulled the trigger. Kyemba only describes Okello as the one who drove the archbishop from Nile Hotel but is non-committal about his role in the shooting.
At the conference centre, Amin addressed the jamboree gathering and reiterated his criticism of the church. He also invited his ministers for a party that evening, but only soldiers attended. Commenting on this, Kyemba wrote:
“Having spent the whole day listening in horror to patent fabrications and knowing that the whole event was stage-managed, no minister was inclined to celebrate.”
News of the deaths was suppressed until it was relayed simultaneously in the official newspaper, Voice of Uganda, and on Radio Uganda.
“God has given them their punishment,” was Amin’s response when told that the trio had perished in an “accident”. The accident theory was merely a cover up and there are numerous grounds to disprove it. Despite the fact that the ‘scene’ was just a stone’s throw from Mulago Hospital, the bodies were not taken to the mortuary until 4:30 a.m., nearly 12 hours later.
When the bodies did arrive, it was not in an ambulance but an army truck. The deceased were all dressed as they had been the previous day. Kyemba, who received the bodies as minister for Health, further wrote in his book:
“The bodies were bullet-riddled. The archbishop had been shot through the mouth and at least three bullets in the chest. The ministers had been shot in a similar way but one only in the chest and not through the mouth. Oryema had a bullet wound through the leg.”
At the ‘accident scene’, two Range Rovers that had previously been involved in an accident, UVW 082 and UVS 299, were paraded in positions that suggested an accident. The Mulago Hospital postmortem report read that the three “`had died of injuries to the ribs and internal organs”.
As had been the case with most murders committed under Amin’s watch, the bereaved families and the church were denied the chance to retrieve the bodies lest they found out the real cause of death. Instead, they were driven to Mbuya army headquarters where they were kept for a week.
Without consulting the concerned families, Amin ordered the army to make arrangements for the funeral. Subsequently, the bodies of Luwum, Oryema and Ofumbi were buried in Kitgum, Gulu and Tororo respectively, in the presence of military personnel and a few relatives.
According to Ben Okello Luwum, the archbishop’s son, only their elder sister, Emima Lakang and their uncle attended the burial. The rest of the family had fled to Kisumu, Kenya, for safety. Here, they were housed by then Bishop Henry Okullo of Kisumu Diocese.
The family returned to Uganda shortly after Amin was overthrown in 1979 and have since lived at Namirembe hill in a house provided by the church.
Janani Luwum is recognised as a martyr by the Church of England and his death is commemorated on 17 February. His statue is among the Twentieth Century Martyrs on the front of Westminster Abbey in London.
By A Web design Company
By A Web design Company