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Longer, analytical article.  Blaming religion and tribe for unrest in Uganda

Summary & Comment: In the first article, President Museveni seems to lay all the blame for political unrest on "the friction between the Protestants and Catholics and later between the two and Muslims". In the opinion article that follows, the author agrees that indeed "there has been some unrest between different religious and ethnic communities. Since the 1880s, multi-religious denominations and religions resulted into multi-political ideologies: Protestant, Catholic, Islamic and traditionalist". But the author claims that "what is always reported as religious or ethnic wars is not actually the case. It is rather a clandestine struggle for power and control of economic resources". B.T.

Author: Cyprian Musoke, John Ssemakula and Francis Kagolo; Fr. Ambrose J. Bwangatto | Date Written: 25 August 2010
Primary Category: Interfaith Relations Document Origin: New Vision, Kampala, Uganda
Secondary Category: Culture Source URL: http://www.newvision.co.ug
Key Words: Kampala, Uganda, religious extremism, ethnicity,tolerance

African Charter Article #23: All peoples shall have the right to national and international peace and security. (Click for full text...)

Printable Version

Blaming religion and tribe for unrest in Uganda

  1. Museveni warns on religious extremism
  2. Nation's problem is not religion or tribe


Museveni warns on religious extremism


President Yoweri Museveni has warned against religious intolerance, saying it is one of the reasons that prompted him and his comrades to go to war in order to stabilize the country. Addressing the All Africa Bishops Conference in Entebbe yesterday, Museveni said the formative years of religion in Uganda were characterised by friction between denominations. "There was friction between the Protestants and Catholics and later between the two and Muslims. Protestants came in 1877 and the Catholics in 1879, but by 1890, we already had a civil war. You can imagine the confusion allegedly in the name of God," he said.

From 1888, he noted, people were killing each other 'on behalf of God'. "I don't know where they met God to instruct them to go and kill each other, you should study this," he told the prelates, throwing them into laughter. That rivalry, Museveni added, went on into the 1970s, climaxing into the (former dictator) Idi Amin regime. "This problem is one of the issues that formed my political awareness and together with my colleagues, we were determined to stop it. As a Christian, I challenged this and said: 'This is not what God told you to do; you are all wrong'," he said, to thunderous applause. He reminded them of the story of the Good Samaritan who helped a man who had been beaten up by robbers, yet he (Samaritan) was not of the victim's social caste.

"I am always looking for the Good Samaritan. Jesus said we shall know them by their deeds. Not clothes, titles or names, but by their deeds," he stressed. He described the religious wars going on in the world as okuhimbagira, "to disorient oneself in a very fundamental way. You fight this one, fight that one; what is your problem? That I am a Muslim? If you are, so what? If I am a Christian, what's your problem?" "You are what you are, I am what I am and everyone of us is here in their own right by the permission of God; so you must accept me the way I am."

He said there were some groups in Kawempe on the outskirts of Kampala some years ago who wanted to riot because somebody had eaten pork. "I don't eat fish because my people call it snake. I don't eat chicken because my people think it makes one unstable, don't eat pork and sheep but I am the number one promoter of piggery in the whole of Uganda. "I think tolerance is firmly based on the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan," he said. The President, who was jolly and kept cracking jokes, invited the clergy to visit Uganda again, saying it is unique, being on the equator but experiencing permanent snow on Mt. Rwenzori because it is 5,000 metres above sea level. Only Kenya and Ecuador in South America, he added, have such an experience.

Addressing a press conference later, Orombi said they had met the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, over homosexuality which has split the Anglican church. "He recognised that he has complicated work to do. We impressed it on him that he had totally gone in a different direction and he has to sort it out," Orombi said. He said the church in Singapore, south-east Asia and Africa had decided to stick to the Word of God and the Anglican Communion was strengthening its ties with them. "We sympathise with his (Williams) position. It's like having unruly kids in his house and he can't sit down to eat food. We told him no more diplomacy on that matter," he said.

Experts on family issues, maternal health and HIV/AIDS also made their presentations. Dr. Peter Okaalet said the 10 killer diseases in Africa like malaria, HIV/AIDS and accidents are preventable. "Africa has failed to prevent these 10 killer diseases because its health system is overburdened to the extent that it cannot deliver anything," Okaalet said. "Most of the budgets of the African countries offer $10 to $20 for health per person every year, which cannot do anything."

Sylvia Mwichuli said Africa has the potential to end poverty. "Africa is not doomed, it has a lot of potential and South Africa has just exhibited it when she hosted a successful World Cup recently," she added. Mwiculi observed that the gap between the rich and the poor who struggle to live is very big and needs to be bridged urgently. She challenged religious leaders to support people and groups of people who advocate for the positive change on the continent


Nation's problem is not religion or tribe


I am prompted to write about religion and ethnicity in Uganda as social issues which have come to characterise our modern times to the extent of breeding bloody conflicts.

It is unfortunate that over time, Ugandans have come to accept that our main problems are ethnicity (tribalism) or religious differences. These differences have dominated many discussions related to Uganda as a nation. Many people have found consolation in this wrong belief as reflected in poisonous sayings like: Blood is thicker than water.

In the recent past, we have witnessed religious and tribal battles and President Museveni has been impelled to intervene on many occasions. At the moment there are tensions between the Bafuruki and the Banyoro in Kibale district and the Catholics and Protestants in the districts of Kigezi. The President had to broker relations between the Catholic church and Hope Mwesigye in Kabale recently.

There is a belief that the biggest problem threatening Uganda's unity, is ethnic differences. From history we realise that there has been some unrest between different religious and ethnic communities. Since the 1880s Uganda's politics has been built on religious sectarianism. Multi-religious denominations and religions resulted into multi-political ideologies: Protestant, Catholic, Islamic and traditionalist.

I was amazed when a professor at a Dutch university recently asked me whether Uganda's problems are tribal or religious? I answered him that neither was.

What motivated my response, was that there is no conflict or war ever recorded in history which had purely religious or ethnic grounds. The life of any society revolves around two systems, the political and economic. In any society one is able to dominate the other by having more money or votes (people). But these two elements hardly influence society beliefs. So, in order to claim their rightful positions of dominance, they colonise the smaller and weak systems.

Among the vulnerable systems that are colonised, we have the family, religion, tribes and culture. It is common to find politicians and business men using tribes and religion as a camouflage to attain their goals. What is always reported as religious or ethnic wars is not actually the case. It is rather a clandestine struggle for power and control of economic resources.

The problems of ethnicity and religion that are always attributed to Uganda and Africa are diversionary theories of European and American scholars. They do this so as to create avenues to economically exploit Africa. Ugandans and Africans have, for many years, believed that the biggest problem on the continent is ethnicity and religious bigotry. And we have perpetuated the same erroneous belief as handed on to us by its architects.

What is most appalling is the way Ugandans have participated in a foreign constructed prejudice and made it theirs. We daily accuse ourselves of being tribalistic and religiously prejudiced.

We undermine our own values of tolerance and mutual co-existence that have guided us for centuries. In Uganda there have been countless intermarriages between people of different regions and backgrounds. We fail to value the harmonious cooperative acts between people of different backgrounds and instead embrace a culture of hate and disunity.

I would propose that, as Ugandans prepare for the elections in 2011, any politician or leader who appeals to religious or ethnic sentiments must be rejected outright.

The Parliament must enact laws to criminalise any individual who fuels religious or ethnic conflicts in Uganda. If Ugandans fail to realise that our most awful challenges are the equitable distribution of economic resources and a well streamlined political system, then we shall continue to point accusing fingers at religion and ethnicity as the cause of our problems.

Fr. Ambrose J. Bwangatto

Printable Version

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