Janani Luwum was a man of rare courage


On February 16, 1977, a man like no other armed not with a gun or a dagger but the Bible and the cross was assassinated at the hands of the then Ugandan ruthless president Idi Amin Dada.

According to historical accounts, the Most Rev Janani Jakaliya Luwum, archbishop of the Anglican Church   in Uganda,  Rwanda Burundi, and Boga Zaire, had become a sharp critic of the gross atrocities  including murders orchestrated by Idi Amin.

On the day he was killed, it is said    that Luwum met with   President Idi Amin who accused him of smuggling arms and other “subversive acts” before being driven away with two government ministers, Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi, in a Land Rover.

On the morning of February 17, 1977, Radio Uganda announced that the archbishop had died in a car accident as he attempted to escape. The scuffle that happened  caused the accident that resulted in his death.

This theory was later refuted after his body was found riddled with bullets, but  only planted him in a  fake car crash, allegedly on the orders of the president.

A planned funeral service for the following Sunday was forbidden by the government, and the archbishop’s body was not released. Nevertheless, according to records The Standard has seen, about 4,500 people gathered at St Paul’s Cathedral on Namirembe Hill, and a funeral service was held without his body.

It is at this exact venue (St Paul’s Cathedral) that activities to mark the 40th anniversary of the commemoration of slain martyr will be launched on February 5, 2017.

According to a Church of Uganda statement, the activities will be a precursor for the main event that will be held at Mucwini, Kitgum District, the burial ground for the slain archbishop, 22km north of Kitgum in northern Uganda. 

“The purpose of the Kampala event is to create public awareness about the martyrdom of Archbishop Luwum as we plan for the main event  on Feburary 16 but also to enable and allow those who cannot make it to Mucwini to celebrate it in Kampala,” the statement, largely  attributed to Archbishop Stanley  Ntagali, partly reads.

The activities which will include a walk from five different centres in and around Kampala will be followed by a service at St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe where the body of Luwum was meant to have been buried.

The guest of honour for the Kampala celebrations is the Rt Hon   Ruhakana Rugunda, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda, while the main celebrations in Kitgum are expected to be graced by the President of the Republic of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.

Road to martyrdom

Luwum was the first sitting archbishop in the entire Anglican Communion to be martyred in office since Archbishops of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer and William Laud who were martyred in AD 1556 and AD 1645, respectively.

Luwum’s death inspired the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral to establish a chapel to commemorate “Modern Martyrs.”

Canterbury Cathedral was hence the first ecclesiastical authority in the whole of the Anglican Communion to proclaim Archbishop Luwum a 20th Century African Martyr.

According to Rev Jasper Tumuhimbise of All Saints Cathedral, Kampala, one of the starting points for this year’s walk to Namirembe, martyrdom gained a bad name for its association with violence and linkage to cruelty, manipulation and death.

“But when we consider Christian martyrs like Luwum, we see something else. Instead of violence, there is peace and a seeking of reconciliation. Instead of cruelty there is dignity and mercy. Instead of manipulation there is integrity.  This    is  the ultimate martyrdom,” he said.

During similar 2015 celebrations, President Museveni declared February 16 an annual public holiday arguing  that people should celebrate his life in the same manner as other Uganda Martyrs.

Life and ministry

  Luwum was   born     in   1922 in the Acholi district that time   and  spent his youth as a goat herder. Although he didn’t have a formal early education, he was given a belated opportunity to begin school and quickly showed his resourcefulness and ability to learn.

His conversion to Christianity happened in 1948 while he was a teacher but would later quit teaching for evangelism. In 1949, he joined Bishop Ush’er Wilson Theological College, Buwalasi, to study theology.

After a period as a lay preacher, he was ordained priest in 1956 of the then Upper Nile Diocese in St Phillips Church, Gulu and thereafter served as parish priest and chaplain in a number of parishes and church schools in Northern Uganda.

As Uganda gained independence from Britain, Luwum was noted as a rising indigenous leader in the church.

He became bishop of the newly-formed Diocese of Northern Uganda in 1969. Following his consecration, Luwum was appointed to the Anglican Consultative Council and served on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.

In May 1974, Bishop Luwum succeeded his mentor Archbishop Erica Sabiti, who had been the first Bishop of Kampala Diocese between 1972-1973.

Thus, Bishop Luwum became the second African Archbishop of the Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire and the second Bishop of Kampala Diocese.

After his assassination, his body was taken to the Churchyard at Wii Gweng, Mucwini, on February 19, 1977 where he was later buried. He is survived by his widow, Mary Luwum, seven children, four sisters, two brothers and several grandchildren.

Glowing tributes

“He was a strong man, one who stood for the right thing, a true reflection of a Christian. And it is only right that we not only celebrate his legacy but also draw lessons from it to better our faith and strength in face of trial and tribulations,” – Rev Canon Aaron Mwesigye, head  of the Directorate of Ethics and Integrity in the Office of the President.

“I was still a young man in 1977 but I have drawn a lot of inspiration from Luwum’s life and ministry. In fact, the Archbishop [Stanley Ntagali] chose me to speak at this year’s event in Kampala about  Luwum’s life but        I feel too small to speak about a man of his calibre. He is a true saint,” said   Dr Alfred Olwa, Ag deputy vice chancellor Development and External Relations and dean of the Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology.

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One Thought to “Janani Luwum was a man of rare courage”

  1. musombe bosco

    i am a mugisu and i like my culture bamasaba for sure it makes man to be subjected to the environmental situations which fore tells any man the thing are not easy outside there so u should be able to stand and define your man hood.
    that is how i understood after being circumcised
    i remain musombe bosco bamasaba butwela. butwela bamasaba God bless u .

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