Ugandans Remembers Archbishop Janani Luwum Killed by Idi Amin

Because of his welcoming nature, many Christians from 1974 to 1976 were privileged to interact with the Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Boga-Zaire. But then, others had basked in his loving nature when he was still the Bishop of Northern Uganda.

This week, as we celebrate the love and courage of Janani Luwum, we are also aware that suffering for the sake of Christ and justice for all people can never be in vain. As Bishop emeritus Misaeri Kauma of Namirembe Diocese, wrote in an unpublished letter, Archbishop Luwum’s death was the first milestone on the way to the removal of (President Idi) Amin.

Dr Stephen Mungoma

Dr Stephen Mungoma, principal, Uganda Christian University, Mbale University College, got to know Archbishop Luwum when they met in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974. Mungoma had just broken away from the Anglican Church to start Deliverance Church Uganda, a Pentecostal church. “We were in Switzerland to attend the International Congress on World Evangelisation.

The Africans did not have the funds to book ourselves into a hotel, so our sponsors got us a school dormitory. I shared a room with Archbishop Luwum. I had known him from a distance when I studied with his son at Nabumali High School.”

Within the close confines of their room, Mungoma discovered a down-to-earth man. “He was an archbishop; I was just an evangelist, but it was the most interesting experience. I had to learn to appreciate other cultures.

In high school, we had open bathrooms; we were all boys anyway. So, when the archbishop saw the open bathrooms of our dormitory, he said to me, ‘Now Stephen, what are we going to do?’ He was very uncomfortable. We decided to wake up at 4am every morning to bathe before the others.”

Many Anglicans were not happy with Mungoma for leaving the mother church but Luwum never rebuked him.
“His interest in Jesus Christ impressed me. I remember him telling me, ‘I understand why you moved out (of the Anglican Church). What is important is Jesus Christ, and it is good that you are teaching about him.’ His understanding strengthened me.”

Many people, including Mungoma, were bothered by the deteriorating human rights situation. “In January 1977, I made a decision to meet Amin,” Mungoma says, continuing, “I wanted to tell him that even though he might have nothing to do with the disappearances, he could stop them. Pentecostal churches had been banned but Deliverance Church was still operating.”

However, Amin postponed the appointment to March 1977. In the wee hours of February 5, 1977, soldiers had come to the archbishop’s home, looking for guns. The House of Bishops of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Boga-Zaire held a meeting on February 8, 1977 addressed their famous letter to Amin, after which, Bishop Kauma left for Italy to attend a conference, and according to his wife, after warnings from friends, continued to England where he got a teaching position.

“I still admire the courage of Archbishop Luwum, Bishop Festo (Kivengere) and the others,” Mungoma says, adding, “It took courage to raise the issue of disappearances with Amin.”

Bishop Ochola

Macleod Baker Ochola, Bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Kitgum can never forget his first encounter with Archbishop Luwum – then, a parish priest of Lira Palwo in Agago in 1960.

“We met as we were travelling to Kitgum. At the time, I was a teacher at Koch Goma Primary School, Gulu. We did not know each other but he greeted me jovially. It struck me that this must be a jolly man. We did not talk much but we discovered our ancestral homes were 14 miles apart.”

After that first meeting, Bishop Ochola was transferred to Mucwini Primary School in Archbishop Luwum’s village.

Their friendship grew because the latter frequently visited his ancestral home. “He was so pastoral; spending several weeks away from home travelling deep into villages, visiting with people and preaching to them. The parish was big and it collected more money than the other parishes in the Diocese of Northern Uganda. Later, he went to England for studies and then spent some time at Buwalasi Theological College. When we met again he was diocesan secretary while I was a member of the diocesan synod.”

According to Bishop Ochola, Luwum loved his family and spent as much time as he could – whenever he could find it – with his family. “He was a hardworking man. I remember one time he suffered from a terrible backache because of spending long hours in the office. In fact, the doctor had to prescribe bed rest for him.”

When he was captured. “I went to see him after that incident,” Ochola says, adding, “He told me a soldier had pushed the muzzle of his gun into his stomach. I spent the night with him. He was very happy that I decided to stay.”

The next morning, Luwum set off for State House Entebbe with his wife, Mary, for a meeting with Amin. When he returned, though, there was no joy in him. “He told me they had intended to kill him; only Mary’s presence had stopped them. He kept saying he was going to be killed. But, he refused to go into exile, even when many friends offered a hand. He refused to leave Ugandans to suffer alone. He had no fear.”


Bishop Kauma, in his memoirs, says, “Archbishop Janani Luwum was a pastoral bishop. He suffered when his people suffered … one day I went with him and Bishop Dunstan Nsubuga … Amin’s soldiers had arrested one of our active Christian men… Janani Luwum had no reason to be going into these places of suffering. He was an archbishop and could have chosen to play safe and not be bothered, probably then he would have lived to be a great world Christian leader. But that was not his calling. He was called to suffer for justice and peace for Christ and His people. Another time I listened to him … telling a story relating to the suffering and torture that one of the Christians had gone through and as Janani spoke; big, tall, brave and strong and yet tears streamed down his face … We all cried … ”

Ms Geraldine Kauma

Geraldine Kauma, the widow of Bishop Kauma, recalls the former archbishop as a jolly evangelist. Bishop Misaeri Kauma moved to Namirembe Hill, as assistant bishop in 1975 from Bishop Tucker Theological College in Mukono.

“We were neighbours and he loved us. The archbishop’s house was small, so when people came to visit him, they would first come to our house thinking it was his. He consecrated my husband – and other reverends – on June 29, 1975. At the joint reception, at Makerere University, he held us both by the hand and walked us to the high table. I was amazed, and

I have never seen that again. Nowadays, each bishop has their own reception and there is no intimacy at the function.”

Although he worked for a short time as archbishop, Ms Kauma remembers it as a precious time to the Church. “The archbishopric had a wrangle with Namirembe Diocese. The diocese was huge but the archbishop was not from Namirembe. Namirembe had had Bishop Dunstan Nsubuga and (St Paul) Cathedral, the seat of the Anglican faith, is in Namirembe Diocese.

Whenever the archbishop had visitors, there were disagreements over who was responsible for them. Who had more power in Namirembe – the bishop or the archbishop? Obviously the bishop! However, Luwum managed that situation, and the relationship between the province and the diocese improved. Who could quarrel with Luwum, good-natured as he was?”

She believes this disagreement was why Kampala Diocese was carved out of Namirembe Diocese to give archbishops their own seat.

The different accounts of how Archbishop Luwum was murdered

Dark Wednesday

There are conflicting accounts about what happened on February 16, 1977, after Archbishop Luwum was arrested after the kangaroo court at the Nile Conference Centre. He was never seen alive again.

“A week after I returned to Kitgum, I heard of his death,” Bishop Ochola says, adding, “It was a very painful.

I was diocesan secretary and my bishop, Bishop Benon Ogwal was in Kampala. We feared that Amin would kill him too, so the Bishop of Gulu Catholic Archdiocese, Cipriano (Biyehima) Kihangire smuggled him to Kenya. We expected the burial to be at Namirembe Cathedral, but much later, we learned that soldiers had buried the Archbishop in Mucwini. Only his younger brother, Aaron, and another man were present.”

On the day Luwum was murdered, Kauma was teaching a class at the deaf school in Namirembe. “My young brother came to the school, with his hands on his head. I asked him what was wrong. He said, ‘The Archbishop is dead.’

I asked him how and I remember crying, ‘Ssebo Yesu, nekumulundi gunno totusaasideeko?’ (Lord Jesus, even this time, you have not had mercy on us?) It was too much to bear. I walked home. I had to pass through the Archbishop’s compound and I found Mary walking around the compound, lost in thought. There were soldiers around but she kept on walking around. I stopped to commiserate with her. Our conversation was short.”

Listening to reports on Radio Uganda, Kauma could not believe the Archbishop had died in an accident. “I had never seen anything like it before. A bishop being murdered? Later, my uncle, Dr Lekoboamu Kafeero, who worked in the mortuary (as a pathologist) told me soldiers had brought the bodies and instructed him to write a (postmortem) report indicating death was caused by an accident.

He opened the Archbishop’s purple cassock and saw bullet wounds. He refused, saying as a born-again, he could not write a false report. The soldiers immediately carried the bodies away, taking them to Mbuya Barracks.”

Mungoma received the news as he was travelling to Tororo for an open air crusade. “We knew for sure that it could not have been an accident. I was devastated but his death gave me courage. If it meant dying for Christ, then we were ready to die. Together with the choir, I began the crusade earnestly. There were State Research Bureau men among the congregation. I had been told they had come to arrest me, surprisingly they did not.”

By the end of the year, though, Deliverance Church Uganda had been banned and was operating underground. When Dr Kafeero died two months later, in April, there were rumours that he had been killed. However, Kauma says he died of an acute asthma attack.

According to Kauma, the Diocese gave Mary Luwum a house on Namirembe Hill. Today, her grandson lives there. “I think she was traumatised; she was not allowed to bury her husband. She kept to herself; you would never know Mrs Luwum was on Namirembe Hill.”

Luwum’s death should have sent Christians into hiding. Instead, as fire refines gold, his death strengthened their faith. Underground, the Pentecostal churches thrived. For instance, Deliverance Church and Full Gospel Church registered more converts, and today, they have branches in almost every district.

By Gillian Nantume

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One Response to Ugandans Remembers Archbishop Janani Luwum Killed by Idi Amin

  1. Pingback: “I am prepared to die in the army of Jesus.” Janani Luwum | Fragrant orchids

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