A History of Christianity in Uganda

Kevin Ward

Buganda and Christianity

Buganda in the 19th Century [1]

Christianity came late to Uganda compared with many other parts of Africa. Missionaries first arrived at the court of Kabaka Muteesa in 1877, almost a century after the missionary impetus from Europe had begun. And yet within 25 years Uganda had become one of the most successful mission fields in the whole of Africa. What were the causes of this phenomenal success?

Any discussion of Christianity in Uganda–the creation of colonialism at the end of the 19th Century–must begin with Buganda–the ancient independent kingdom on the northern shores of the lake which the Baganda call Nalubaale (the home of the balubaale gods) and which the British christened “Victoria.” Over the centuries Buganda had evolved a complex system of government under a Kabaka (king), a system unusual for its high degree of centralization and internal cohesiveness. Another feature of Kiganda society, of importance in explaining the eventual success of Christianity, was its remarkable adaptability and receptivity to change.

In 1856 Kabaka Muteesa inherited a kingdom which was already the strongest in the region. During his long reign of 28 years he consolidated and enhanced that power. A major part of Muteesa’s strategy as rubber was to open up Buganda to the outside world. Swahili and Arab traders from Zanzibar were encouraged to trade their cotton cloth, guns and luxury items for ivory and slaves. But outside influences did not stop at trade; Islam was soon exerting a profound religious and cultural influence on Buganda. By the time Christianity arrived, the impact of Islam had already been felt for a generation.

The Impact of Islam [2]

In the 19th Century two “world” religions–Islam and Christianity–were both making significant advances in Africa. Often they were in serious competition; and this indeed was the case in Buganda. But this should not disguise the fact that both Islam and Christianity were in many ways complementary. Both were called “dini” in contradistinction to the traditional African religious heritage. Both offered a “worldview,” a universal explanation of life with all its opportunities and problems. Such systems seemed increasingly relevant to societies, like Buganda, which were being drawn into a larger world. In this sense, Buganda, Islam, despite its rivalry, prepared the way for Christianity in a number of ways. In fact, Christianity arrived al strategic time–when Islam had awakened among Baganda certain needs and aspirations, but before Islam had become 50 entrenched in society that Christianity failed to find a foothold. Islam had, for example, created a thirst for literacy, especially among the young pages (bagalagala) at court. Christianity was able to build on this interest, and with its printing presses and distribution of cheap books in the vernacular or Swahili, was able to satisfy that interest to a much greater extent than Islam was able to do.

But Islam had prepared the way in other ways. The idea of a holy book, of a holy day, of a God above all gods who was interested in the affairs of this life and in the moral life of the individual, the expectation of the resurrection of the body and of a judgment after death–these were concepts pioneered by Islam which received further emphasis from the Christian missionaries.

But how far did the Baganda already acknowledge such a supreme Gad? Certainly neither Islam nor Christianity needed to import a foreign name in order to proclaim their God. The Baganda already knew of Katonda, the Creator. But the status of this Katonda has been the subject of controversy within the religious historiography of Buganda. Was Katonda just one, very insignificant lubaale? Or had he always been regarded as superior to the balubaale, high above Mukasa and Kibuuka and Muwanga, but remote from the life of the nation and of the individual, and therefore not the focus of a strong cult? Whatever the answer to these questions, it is certain that Islam gave a new prominence to Katonda, and that Christianity built on this growing significance.

Thus, in a society already open to new ideas, responsive to the technological, cultural and religious influence of the outside world, first Islam and then Christianity made an impact on Buganda in the second half of the 19th Century. But if the Buganda were so receptive to the message of a “world-religion,” why did they not simply remain with Islam? How could Christianity not only mount an effective challenge to Islam but eventually become the dominant dini of Buganda, forcing Islam into the position of a small (but tenacious) minority?

Answers to this question lie, not in any supposed superiority of Christianity over Islam, but in the volatile political situation of these years.

Muteesa’s disillusionment with Islam

For ten years from 1867 to 1876, Muteesa strongly patronized Islam. He learnt some Arabic, attended and even led prayers in a mosque built at the lubiiri (court), and ordered the observation of the Ramadhan fast. Muteesa had a genuine intellectual curiosity in the teachings of Islam. One should not discount such interest. But inevitably as a ruler his concern was largely with matters of state. He saw Islam as a religion which, under his patronage, could enhance his own power. The powerful balubaale cults were not always so amenable to royal control. But by 1876 this basis for the encouragement of Islam was being undermined by the forces of Muslim Egypt, striving to incorporate the head-waters of the Nile (including Buganda) into an Egyptian Empire. The visit of Egyptians to Buganda in 1876 precipitated a crisis in Muteesa’s relations with Islam. They criticized the Qibla (direction) of the court mosque and the fact that the uncircumcised king should lead the Friday prayers. They also encouraged Buganda Muslims strictly to observe Islamic food laws and to refuse to eat meat slaughtered by the Kababa’s butchers. The subsequent defiance of a number of young bagalagala (pages) led to the execution of some 100 Muslims at Namugongo, one of the traditional execution sites of Buganda. For Muteesa it was not simply a matter of insubordination, serious as that was, but a confirmation of fears that Islam was becoming a politically subversive creed.

It was about this time that Henry Morton Stanley visited Muteesa. For the Kabaka the advent of the Muzungu (European) was a welcome opportunity to counteract the Egyptian threat, as well as to get in contact with the actual source of the technological innovations which the Muslims had introduced but did not originate.

The arrival or Christian missionaries, 1877 [3]

Stanley’s famous letter to the Daily Telegraph painted a much romanticized picture of Muteesa. He represented the Kabaka as a great enlightened despot eager to hear the Gospel and speedily to propagate it throughout his kingdom. The reality was different as the missionaries were soon to discover once they reached Buganda. But the letter did produce a speedy response in Britain. The Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) hastily assembled a band of enthusiastic missionaries. The first two representatives of this group arrived at the court of Muteesa on June 30, 1877, having travelled from Zanzibar on the route pioneered by the Swahili traders. Eighteen months later, on February 17, 1879, a group of French Catholic White Fathers arrived, also by the East Coast route.

The presence of these rival versions of Christianity was immediately a matter of controversy. CMS understandably felt that this was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the Protestant missionary effort. The Catholics on the other hand, and equally understandably, could point to the fact that they had been planning the evangelization of the lake region of Eastern Africa for many years and were not to be out-staged by the superficial emotions aroused in Britain by Stanley’s misleading letter. They could also point to the flimsy and insubstantial nature of the CMS presence in those early years.

The rivalry has to be understood against the background of centuries of controversy and warfare between Catholic and Protestant in Europe. ln these years (1877 -1890) the rivalry was embodied in two individuals: Alexander Mackay and Fr. Simeon Lourdel (‘Mapera’). Both were young men in their 20’s when they arrived in Buganda; and neither was the head of his mission. Both were passionately prejudiced, and both delighted in the vigorous cut and thrust of theological debate or rather polemic. The confrontation was a “scandal to the Christendom” (Kiwanuka). But the spectacle was also much appreciated by those in court, who applauded the dialectical skill with which each missionary defended his version of the faith. It should also be noted that the rivalry between the two religious groups fitted well into the traditional factionalism of court life. It was to encourage competition and zeal among the Baganda converts and is one factor in the success of Christianity in Buganda. For the Christian believer this is the first of many ‘contradictions’ in the success of Christianity in Uganda: that zeal for the Gospel should be fuelled by prejudice, partisanship and polemic. Even more scandalous aspects of the rivalry emerged later, with the “wars of religion” and the cut-throat scramble for political power in the 1890s.

The first converts [4]

Both Protestant and Catholic missionaries soon attracted a lively interest, especially from the young pages at court, many of whom began to frequent the missionaries’ compounds. These basomi (readers, as they were called) – enquirers, catechumens, and from about 1881, baptized – began to form little groups of believers in different sections of the lubiri. The Protestants were especially numerous at the Gwanika (the treasury/armory), under the patronage of Chief Kulugi – a consistent friend of the Protestants, though not a Christian himself. The Catholics developed a strong following in the private quarters of the Kabaka. This was a measure of the greater favor the Catholics tended to enjoy. Both Muteesa and later Mwanga came to regard the Protestants with some suspicion. This seems to have originated from the links which CMS had with General Gordon, acting as agent for the Egyptians in Sudan. (The second group of CMS missionaries had arrived from the north). Since missionaries had been invited to Buganda expressly to counter the threat from the north, these links were detrimental to good relations with the Kabaka. Moreover the Arabs at court increasingly denounced the missionaries as agents of European imperialism. In 1882 the British actually bombarded Alexandria in Egypt and this was the prelude to a gradual takeover of Egypt. CMS missionaries protested that they had non connection with their government; but they could not at times resist pointing out the might of the British Empire. ln the event the authorities were right to be suspicious – by the 1890s the CMS missionaries were openly advocating a British takeover of Uganda; though this is not to say that they had been conscious agents of imperialism in the 1880s.

The Catholic withdrawal [5]

The Catholics did not fall under the same suspicion, if only because the French government had little interest in East Africa at this time. Nevertheless what favor the Catholics did enjoy was precarious. Mapera incurred the active hostility of the Muslims at court by his flamboyant and extravagant denunciations of Islam. In 1882 the White Fathers withdrew from Buganda altogether. This was a surprising decision; and even now the precise reasons for their withdrawal are not altogether clear. But it seems that they were particularly concerned about the corruption of their orphans and freed slaves by homosexual practices infiltrating into their orphanage from the nearby lubiri. These orphans were, by and large, not Baganda. The practice of redeeming slaves to provide a nucleus of Christianity was still a major element of their mission strategy in Buganda and this may be a sufficient explanation of their withdrawal to the moral haven of Bukumbi, south of the lake. The withdrawal did not mean an end to Catholic activity in Buganda–the pages continued to meet and an increasing number of neophytes were taught. Responsibility for the propagation of the faith increased among Baganda Catholic converts.

Muteesa’s last years and the succession of Mwanga

By 1897 Muteesa had come to realize that a complete alliance with one of the Christian groups was neither practicable nor desirable. (The insistence of both on monogamy was a fundamental obstacle, but there were other factors.) Muteesa decided that he should identify with none of the new ‘dini’, while allowing them to stay and extracting what advantages he could from each, without letting any one group get too much power in the country. Muteesa was a consummate master at this political balancing act His successor, in the much more difficult international climate of the late ’80s, prove incapable of keeping things under control.

Mwanga succeeded his father in October 1884. He was 18 years old. Mwanga seems to have lacked strong religious convictions–he was a skeptic in an age of faith. His homosexuality alienated him from the missionaries. Like all Kabakas at the beginning of their reign, Mwanga needed to assert his authority over all elements and factions within the country, including the foreign missionaries (the White Fathers had not yet returned and so at first this meant the Protestants). This general need to assert his authority and the personal antagonisms with the three missionaries in the country (especially with Ashe) led to the death of the first three Baganda Christians on January 31, 1885. The young protestant martyrs, Makko Kakumba, Nuwa Serwanga and Yusuf Lugalama, were all members of the mission household. The missionaries were being warned against becoming a focus of political power or political discontent against the young Kabaka.

The deaths of Bishop Hannington and the Uganda martyrs [6]

Whatever may have been his personal attitudes to Christianity, Mwanga, like his father, was of necessity primarily concerned with the political implications of the new religions. By 1885 this was causing very grave anxieties. The Muslim threat from the north had receded with the Mahdist rebellion in the Sudan in 1881. But a new and greater threat to Buganda’s independence quite suddenly emerged from the East African coast with the intrusion of German imperialism early in 1885. It was fear of a European invasion which principally caused the death in Busoga on October 29, 1885 of the 37 year old Anglican Bishop, James Hannington. Hannington was either ignorant of, or chose to ignore, the precarious position of the Christian community within Buganda and the dangers, in the international climate, of approaching Buganda by the politically sensitive ‘back-door’ of Busoga. Hannington was killed on the orders of the Kabaka. His death is often blamed on a fickle and revengeful young king; but this is very unfair to Mwanga, who was certainly acting on the advice of his great chiefs–including the normally friendly Kulugi. Hannington’s death, from the Kiganda point of view, was a legitimate act of state, designed to ward off a potential invasion.

Nevertheless, it was politically a mistake. Hannington had not been heading an invading army–on the way up from the coast his caravan had been ridiculed for its puny size. Hannington’s death had repercussions within Buganda. It led to further killings of Christians. Only 2 weeks later, on November 15, 1885, Joseph Mukasa BaIikuddembe was brutally killed for daring to criticize the Kabaka for the murder of the Anglican bishop. Balikuddembe became the first Catholic martyr.

In May and June 1886 a large massacre of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, took place. Many were executed at Namugongo, the traditional execution site also used for the Muslim martyrs of 1876. The immediate cause for the killings was the Kabaka’s anger at the disobedience of his Christian pages, in particular their refusal to indulge in homosexual practices. Charles Lwanga, the Catholic head of the pages in the king’s private apartments, had been particularly vigilant in protecting the Christian boys under his charge from the advances of the Kabaka and some of the chiefs.

But, in addition 10 young pages, quite a number of the victims were minor chiefs: men such as Andrew Kaggwa and Matthias Mulumba for the Catholics; and Robert Munyagabyanjo, Nuwa Walukaga and Freddie Kizza for the Protestants. The youngest page, Kizito, was about 14 years; some of the chiefs were in their 50s. Some of these chiefs were the victims of particular grudges by their seniors- (for example Katikkiro Mukasa, the Prime Minister), jealous that these up and coming young men would soon be ousting them from power.

Undoubtedly these Uganda martyrs (there were Bunyoro and Basoga as well as Baganda) died believing and trusting in Christ as their Savior. They sang hymns on the way to their deaths, preached to their persecutors, strongly believed in a life after death, and their courage and fortitude made a great impression on those who saw them die. But naturally, secular historians have been cautious about accepting wholesale the simple pieties of hagiography. The deaths of these Christians must be put in the context of the traditional precariousness of life at court, and the deeply ingrained habits of obedience which made Baganda generally face death philosophically if the Kabaka so wished. This would put the Christian martyrs firmly in the long tradition of the kiwendo, the ritual sacrifice of a number (kiwendo) of victims at the instigation of one of the balubaale. Conversely, it has also been argued that these Christians were rebels against the Kabaka, unwitting tools of foreign imperialism. There is some truth in all these assessments, traditional and modern, religious and secular. Historical reality is complex and does not admit of simplistic explanation. The martyrs are part of that complex reality.

The Wars of Religion 1888-1892 [7]

Whatever the original motivation of the missionaries, the traumatic events of 1885 and 1886 convinced many of them that foreign intervention might be the only long-term solution to safeguard the future of Christianity in Buganda. Meanwhile, however, events in Buganda pursued an internal logic which at first had little 10 do with external affairs. The persecution of Christians (perhaps 200 had died in all) was not part of a coherent strategy to eradicate Christianity. By 1887 Mwanga had begun to rely on the younger generation of Baganda leaders– and this meant relying on many who were converts to the new religions. Backed by official favor, the leaders of the three religious groups (Muslims, Protestants and Catholics) began to bring in large quantities of arms and to organize themselves into militarized “regiments”–the first time that Buganda had something resembling a standing army. These soldiers were nicknamed bapere and gained a great deal of notoriety for their high-handed attitudes, for rape and plunder. It is one of the ironies of the Christian history of Uganda that the witness of the martyrs (strong in faith but weak and powerless politically and militarily) should have convinced the survivors that the future of Christianity depended on securing military and political power. Moreover these regiments attracted young men, fortune seekers and adventurers, who saw membership as the new avenue to progress, and who at first had little conception of Islam or Christianity.

Mwanga at first encouraged these groups as a way of countering the older generation of chiefs. But by 1888 he began to get scared that they were becoming too powerful. His feeble attempt to get rid of the bapere provoked a coup, and in April 1888 Mwanga was overthrown by the united forces of the new religions. Mwanga fled and sought refuge with the White Fathers at Bukumbi, to the south of the lake. But the new leaders were soon quarreling among themselves. The Muslims, as the most powerful group in terms of numbers and fire power, were able to oust the Christian groups, who in October 1888 fled to Kabula, on the borders with Nkore. The Muslims proceeded to establish a Muslim state. They circumcised their Kabaka, Kalema, and called him ‘sheikh’. They envisaged a radical reordering of society along Islamic lines.

At this stage the survival of Christianity seemed to depend entirely on questions of military and political power. The Christian exiles made overtures to Mwanga to restore him as their Kabaka. They also made a tactical alliance with traditionalists fighting the Muslim regime from Kyaggwe (eastern Buganda)–since many traditionalists were alienated by the harshness of Muslim rule and its radical attempt to overturn traditional society.

By the end of 1889 the Christian forces had managed, at least temporarily, to defeat the Muslims, who retired to the borders of Bunyoro to regroup. They might well have regained control if it had not been for intrusion at this point of an external factor in the form of Captain Lugard and the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC). The Christian forces needed help to ensure that the Muslims did not get back to power. But the Catholics were unhappy that this help should be British and, therefore, Protestant. The fragile unity of the Christian factions soon gave way to bitter quarrels about the division of political office. The Catholic party was stronger in that it attracted more followers as the party of the king. Mwanga was not baptized, nor did he lead a life morally acceptable to the Catholics. But he did believe that he had more chance of retaining Buganda’s independence if he sided with the Catholics. The Protestants, conscious of this fundamental weakness, clung all the more strongly to Lugard, who at first tried to remain aloof from these conflicts. But increasingly he was drawn into supporting the only group which supported him–the Protestants. When open warfare broke out in 1892, Lugard threw in his lot decisively with the Protestants. He directed his Maxim gun against the Catholics and routed them.

The Protestants, exulting in victory, were keen to divide the spoils (i.e. political office) among themselves alone, on the basis of ‘the winner takes all’. But Lugard, the real arbiter of the situation, insisted that both Catholics and Muslims be given some small share in the political life of the country. This was how Buddu became a Catholic county, the strong base on which much of the subsequent success of Catholicism in Uganda was based. Nevertheless, the Catholics felt bitter against Lugard, the architect of their defeat. Lugard, for his part, always insisted that he was neutral as far as religion was concerned. His support for the Protestants had been purely on political grounds. It is quite conceivable that had Lugard found the Muslims in control of Buganda in 1890 he would have tried to work with them–in which case Buganda might have become a Muslim state!

The British annexation [8]

IBEAC was a private British chartered company, which the British government approved of but had no financial responsibility for. It was a way of ensuring British influence without the inconvenience of costing the British taxpayer anything: Imperialism on the cheap. But by 1892 the IBEAC was in imminent danger of bankruptcy. Bishop Tucker and the CMS conducted a vigorous campaign in Britain to ensure the ‘retention of Uganda’. Tucker enlarged on the inevitability of a renewal of the religious wars (and a Protestant defeat?) if the British government did not assume direct control. One M.P. asked ironically why the state should spend money “to prevent these very remarkable Christians from cutting each other’s throats”. But British Public opinion had been effectively mobilized and in 1894 the British government formally declared a Protectorate over Uganda’. The Protestants were well satisfied. The Catholics bowed to the inevitable. Bishop Hirth, who had been such an outspoken critic of Lugard, was transferred to German territory; and it was arranged that the Mill Hill Fathers, a British-based Catholic missionary society, should start work in eastern Uganda in 1895, a sign to Ugandans that being a Catholic did not mean being anti-British.

British control was at first hesitant and problematic. In 1897 there was mutiny of the Nubian troops used by the British to subdue their Protectorate. There was also a last attempt by Kabaka Mwanga to regain his independence. Both revolts were put down, largely with the help of “loyal” Baganda. Mwanga was deposed and exiled to Seychelles. There he was baptized as a Protestant: a recognition that the forces of Christianity and imperialism had triumphed. But was his choice of baptismal name Daniel, a final act of defiance–a reference to his confinement in the lions’ den of his British captors? In 1900 the Buganda Agreement consolidated the British takeover and established the special relationship between Britain and Buganda which was to survive until 1955. The Agreement consolidated the dominant position of the Protestant oligarchy under Apollo Kaggwa, the Katikiro and one of the regents to the boy Kabaka Daudi Cwa.

A “Christian Revolution” [9]

The events of this violent period in Buganda’s history are sometimes characterized as a “Christian revolution”–by which is meant the fact that a fundamental change occurred in Buganda in which Christianity was the motivating force and the chief beneficiary. It was a revolution with several phases: a revolution of the ‘new dini’ (1888), a ‘Muslim revolution’ (1888-9), a ‘Christian counterrevolution’ (1889), a ‘Protestant seizure of power’ (1892), and finally the consolidation of the revolutionary changes by the British take-over and loss of Buganda’s sovereignty (1894/1900).

Christianity came to dominate the political arena of Buganda; and Islam was relegated to an under-privileged minority. But the Christian chiefs have also been called ‘conservative modernizers’. They had a strong sense of Buganda’s history and traditions. They wanted to graft Christianity onto these traditions, to use the literacy which Christianity had brought to preserve these traditions. Kaggwa wrote a history of the Kings of Buganda in Luganda. He also wrote a history of his clan. The institutions of the Kabakaship and the clans were the two fundamental pillars of Buganda. Christianity (in its two forms) was now added as a third pillar. This meant that the balubaale cults (especially the large shrines) were displaced by Christianity. But the national gods did re-emerge in times of national crisis, such as the deportation of the Kabaka in 1953. And the basic thought patterns and practices of Kiganda religion remain strong to this day.

The Spread of Christianity in Uganda

Christianity and “sub-imperialism” [10]

The fact that Christianity, in its two rival creeds, became the religion of Buganda profoundly affected its spread to other arts of colonial Uganda. The British needed local collaboration to make their occupation of Uganda effective and cheap (financial economy was always a prime consideration for the British!) The British regarded the civilization of Buganda as superior to anything else available in Uganda; and the acceptance of Christianity and literacy enhanced that superiority.

The Baganda, for their part, became enthusiastic “sub-imperialists”. They benefited from their relationship with the British. Buganda increased its territory at the expense particularly of Bunyoro, which was severely punished for Omukama Kabalega’s heroic but in the end futile resistance. Baganda–both Christian and Muslim–became chiefs (British agents) in such areas as Bunyoro and Ankole. The soldier and adventurer, Semei Kakungulu, a Protestant Muganda who had quarreled with Apollo Kaggwa, attempted to compensate for his political failure in Buganda, by carving out for himself a “kingdom” in eastern Uganda. His followers, in search of land and power, were able to find both in Bukedi and Teso.

In the wake of this “sub-imperialism,” and indeed part and parcel of it, went the missionary expansion of the Church of Baganda evangelists. They were motivated by an eagerness to spread Kiganda culture alongside Christianity, by desire for a status and prestige often unattainable within Buganda itself. But, apart from these political and social advantages, we must not discount genuine religious impulses. The Catholics appealed to the sacrifice of the Uganda martyrs as an inspiration to Uganda to offer themselves as missionaries: as living sacrifices. For the Protestants, Pilkington’s revival of 1892 emphasized a victorious Christian life of a total commitment in the power of the holy spirit.

Many of the evangelists shared the arrogance and domineering tendencies of the colonial agents. But many are remembered for their devotion 10 duty, often in difficult circumstances and with little financial reward. ln these early years, two men stand out for their qualities of devotion and saintliness: Apollo Kivebulaya and Yohanna Kitagana. Kivebulaya, a Protestant unusual for his life-long celibacy, became an evangelist to Toro in 1895, and subsequently spent his life among the Mboga people of Kongo (now Zaire). He was ordained a priest, made a canon, and died in 1933. Kitagana was a polygamist who gave up his five wives before baptism. ln 1901, when already in his 40s, he set off on a remarkable evangelistic career, pioneering Catholicism in Bunyaruguru and other parts of Ankole, in Kigezi and Bufumbira, before his death in 1939.

Christianity in Western Uganda [11]

From the 1890s the Western kingdoms of Uganda had come to terms in one way or another with British colonialism. The acceptance of Christianity was an important means of adjusting to this new situation. In Toro Christianity came as part of an attempt by Kasagama to recreate the kingdom of his father; in Bunyoro as a response to military defeat and devastation; in Ankole as part of the Mugabe’s aggrandizement of influence, assisted or rather, promoted–by the ambitious Enganzi, Nuwa Mbaguta. In each case it was the Protestant version of Christianity which was promoted by the local leadership.

Colonialism and Christianity meant the extension of Kiganda influence; and this provoked resentment of varying degrees of intensity. In Bunyoro it produced an explosive situation and the Nyangire (“I have refused”) disturbances of 1907. This marked the beginning of the end of direct Kiganda influence. The British switched to a policy of relying on the indigenous leadership 10 implement their policies, and phased out the Baganda chiefs/agents. This also meant an end of missionary hopes of establishing Luganda as the common language of Uganda. The Anglicans, reversing their policy, embarked on a Lunyoro-Lutoro translation of the Bible and Prayer Book.

Paradoxically, although Christianity in western Uganda early threw off tutelage from Buganda, Christianity did nevertheless develop a long line first worked out in Buganda. Thus, kings and chiefs overwhelmingly became Anglican. But, just as the political defeat in Buganda had not meant the collapse of Catholic missionary efforts, so in western Uganda, the Catholics took advantage of their underprivileged status to make an appeal among the peasantry. To take the case of Toro–Kasagama’s kingdom was not as ‘traditional’ as he had made out to the British. It was the 19th Century creation of his grandfather, a dissident Munyoro prince, and lacked a strong local root. Kasagama tried to exclude Catholics altogether from his kingdom, but was prevented by the British. Despite continuing political discrimination by the Mukama’s government, Catholics made impressive progress and were to become a majority of Christians in Toro.

In Ankole, colonialism accentuated traditional divisions between the bahima pastoralists (who constituted a kind of ruling class) and the majority bairu agriculturalists. The Anglican Church became a religion of the Omugabe and the bahima, but the bahima were less than enthusiastic about practicing their religion and tended to leave education to the Bairu. It was only with the Revival movement of the 1940s and 50s that the Anglican Church really took root in the bahima communities. Meanwhile the bairu had accepted Protestantism and Catholicism in fairly equal numbers. As a rough generalization one can say that Protestant bairu tended to be in a majority in central counties of Ankole, such as Kashari and Shema; Catholics predominated on the periphery, for example in Bunyaruguru.

Christianity struck deep roots in western Uganda. Today some of the most dynamic Christian communities in Uganda can be found in this region. But Christianity also played a very complex and at times divisive role, helping to aggravate old tensions and create new ones. For example, in Ankole, the Anglican Church at first reinforced the traditional division between bahima and bairu by its political alliance with the rulers. But it also created a politically-conscious Protestant educated (bairu) elite, which by the 1950s had become the most articulate critic of those traditional class distinctions. But, at the same time the Protestant-Catholic antagonism was hardening into party political division along religious lines.

Christianity in Eastern Uganda [12]

Eastern Uganda lacked the cultural cohesiveness and large-scale kingdoms of Buganda and western Uganda. In fact small-scale politics and cultural and linguistic diversity were the most obvious characteristics of the area, which included a wide variety of Bantu societies (Basoga, Bagwere, Banyole, Bamasaba) as well as Jopadhola (Luo speakers) and Iteso. The whole area beyond Busoga was called by the Baganda “Bukedi”-“the place of naked people,” expressive of a patronizing attitude to peoples who “did not know how to rule themselves.” European missionaries accepted and expanded on these prejudices and imported their own racial theories about primitive peoples on the lowest ladder of civilization. Such stereotypes tended to be reinforced by the devastating effects of famine and sleeping sickness in the early years of the 20th Century. One particularly blatant example of these negative attitudes can be seen in A.L. Kitching’s On the Backwaters of the Nile (1912), which was even more revealingly sub-titled Studies of Sorne Child Races. The book is replete with such expressions as “loathsome and disgusting,” “a rather dull race with heavy unintellectual faces,” “a reputation for expert thieving,” and “the least admirable thing about them is their language” – Kitching cannot decide whether it is “degenerate” or “undeveloped!” Kitching went on to become in 1926 the first Anglican Bishop of the diocese of the Upper Nile.

For most of the area (with the exception of Busoga), Christianity came in the aftermath of Kakungulu’s conquest. It was associated with the imposition of Kiganda culture. Luganda became the language of church and school. In Busoga an attempt to use the Lutenga dialect had to be abandoned in the face of opposition from Northern Busoga, where a markedly different form of Lusoga was spoken. For the rest, there was never any alternative to Luganda, and this applied even to the non-Bantu Iteso and Jopadhola. Defeated and fragmented there was no possibility of a “Nyangire” rebellion in the East. Eventually in the 1950s the Anglican Church in Teso did produce an Ateso Bible and Prayer Book; and the Catholic Church among the Jopadhola has more recently emphasized the vernacular in worship. But, elsewhere, Luganda remains dominant.

The Protestants, in an effort to overcome or mitigate some of the resistance to accepting the Gospel, and hopeful that a “civilizing mission” would produce spiritual results, pioneered cotton production and ox-plowing in Teso, and encouraged coffee cultivation in Bugishu. Christianity remained essentially a foreign imposition for many of the people of the area. But, predictably, it was from the Protestant educated elite (products of Mwiri School near Jinja and Nabumali in Bugishu) that, in the 1920s and 30s, the first welfare societies, incipient political organizations, sprang–the Young Basoga Association, the Bugishu Welfare Association and the Young Bagwere Association.

As in other parts of Uganda, Protestants and chiefs were from the beginning in close alliance. In fact, the Roman Catholic Mill Hill Mission was known as the mission ekitalya bwami – the mission which doesn’t eat (i.e. obtain) chieftaincies. But, again as in other areas, this did not inhibit Catholic evangelistic zeal. The Mill Hill Fathers, often with more foreign personnel working in the area than the CMS, scored successes among the peasantry, and have become the majority of Christians in Teso and Bukedi (i.e. the district around Teso). Protestants predominate in Busoga and Bugishu.

Christianity in Northern Uganda [13]

In the North, Kiganda influences were minimal. The first Ugandan evangelists were Banyoro (where traditional links were strong) or Lwo who had spent time in Bunyoro – such as the Alur Sira Dongo. Christianity did not put down strong roots in the North. Rwot (chief) Awic, of the Payira clan, invited missionaries to Acoli in 1903. But Awic himself had no interest in Christianity and was skeptical of European values generally. In any case he was not the ruler of the whole of Acoli. In Lango, Odora of Aduku did actively promote Protestant Christianity. He was ambitious to be recognized as ‘Kabaka’ of Lango, something the British had no intention of doing. Lango had no traditions of chiefs of any kind; and the colonial-imposed chiefs had no traditional authority. Odora’s Christianity was a matter of profound indifference to most Lango. Moreover, J.H. Driberg, one of the early Des in Lango, a “strident secularist,” insisted on a rigid separation of church and state, burning down churches built too close to the government boma. The Lango got the message that the colonial power had no interest in promoting the new religion; and this reinforced their own prejudices. Thus, in both Acholi and Lango, the usual CMS strategy of using chiefs was misapplied and abortive.

But the Catholics also struggled to make an impact. The North of Uganda was assigned to the Verona Fathers, an Italian society founded by Bishop Daniel Comboni, whose centre of activity was the Sudan. But in Father J .P. Crazzolara (who spent some 60 years in Northern Uganda) they did produce a missionary with a remarkable understanding of and sympathy for Lwo people. The lack of response in the North produced a comparative neglect among the missionaries. This was understandable when the response in other parts was great and there were severe limitations on finance and personnel. But it did make the North an under-developed area in terms of missionary work, as it was in other aspects of life during the colonial period and beyond.

One reason often given for the poor response is the disastrous choice of the word Lubanga or Rubanga as the name for God. This was an importation from Bunyoro, where Ruhanga, a traditional name for the Creator, was used for the Christian God. Crazzolara always regretted the use of this alien name. He felt that the Lwo word Jok was quite capable of carrying the Christian concept of divinity. But both CMS and the Verona authorities had come to the conclusion that Jok had too many ambiguous and positively evil associations to be used. What they did not realize at the time was that the word Lubanga also had a sinister indigenous meaning – Jok Lubanga referred to the unambiguously evil spirit responsible for tuberculosis of the spine.

In his book Men without God?, the Anglican Bishop of Northern Uganda, J .K. Russell, wonders whether this fatal misunderstanding was responsible for a “subconscious bar” to the acceptance of the missionary message of a great and loving God. It is symbolic of a general failure to engage the hearts and minds of the people of Northern Uganda. Okot p’Bitek, an Acoli brought up as a Protestant but who became as strident a secularist as Driberg, has argued that the failure to find an adequate name for the Christian God and the farcical adoption of Lubanga, shows the essentially non-religious, this-worldly character of Acoli concepts. It explains and justifies their non-acceptance of Christianity. It was a courageous refusal to be bamboozled by foreign myths. Modem Acoli Christians are more likely to accept Crazzolara’s contention that Jok can convey the concept of a Supreme Being. But now it is too late – Jok is now irremediably associated with the Devil!

The periphery of Uganda [14]

By 1914 only three areas of Uganda were practically untouched by missionary work: West Nile, Kigezi and Karamoja. ln the case of West Nile and Kigezi this was largely because they were late additions to colonial Uganda. For the Catholics, the White Fathers naturally extended their work to include Kigezi, and the Verona Fathers to include West Nile. For CMS this additional territory caused some problems, since CMS had already over-extended itself in the evangelistic thrust of the previous twenty years and could hardly spare finances or personnel to open up new mission fields. Thus Bishop Willis was willing to negotiate a special arrangement with the Africa Inland Mission, a conservative evangelical interdenominational faith mission, largely American in origin and with work in Kenya and Congo. By this agreement, AIM undertook to send mainly Anglican missionaries to West Nile and to form congregations which were part of the Native Anglican Church.

West Nile is one of the most diverse parts of Uganda, the most significant groups being the Sudanic Lugbara, Nilo-Hamitic Kakwa, and Nilotic Alur. Christianity has made a greater impact here than in other parts of Northern Uganda. Islam is also a significant force in Aringa County (a Lugbara area). Neither the Verona Fathers nor the AIM put a great emphasis on the school – the Verona Fathers felt at a disadvantage in the face of a colonial British educational system; the AIM were anxious not to confuse evangelism with education and were to come into conflict with their converts over their neglect of schools in contrast to the CMS. Nevertheless a situation characteristic of other parts of Uganda did emerge in West Nile of a smaller Protestant community, often go-ahead and innovative; and a larger and more tolerant Catholic society.

Kigezi was evangelized for the Anglicans by the Ruanda Mission of the CMS, financially autonomous of its parent mission and with a distinctly conservative evangelical basis. It was through the Ruanda Mission that much of the impetus for Revival in the Anglican Church in Uganda was mediated, and Kigezi has become the stronghold of the Balokole movement. Protestants and Catholics are fairly evenly divided in Kigezi, which resembles Ankole in the bitterness of its political-religious conflicts.

It is strange that West Nile and Kigezi, almost the last area of Uganda to be evangelized, have evinced such a strong and vigorous Christianity. This can not be said of the last area, Karamoja. Since 1929 the Anglican Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society (BCMS – another conservative evangelical society, which broke away from CMS in 1922) has been working patiently in Karamoja, without any dramatic results. The Verona Fathers came later, but in the last 20 years have overtaken the Protestants through their efficient and effective school work and the range of their relief work. Christianity has remained peripheral to this pastoral society.

Church and State in Colonial Uganda

Protestants and Catholics [15]

The Anglican Church was never an official established church in colonial Uganda. But it approximated to an established church, with the Bishop of Uganda standing third in order of precedence at official functions, after the Governor and the Kabaka of Buganda. The Catholics had no such political role in the colonial state, and in fact they felt it better to eschew politics altogether and to concentrate on their religious tasks. At times they could legitimately complain of discrimination, at least in the early years. But, by and large they felt reasonably content with the official British policy of religious neutrality. This allowed them to evangelize freely throughout the country, whatever the denomination of the local ruler or chief.

At times the British authorities preferred the non-political role of the Catholics to the gratuitous advice or criticism of the CMS. CMS missionaries were very conscious of the fact that they had preceded the administrators - had practically (invited) them to Uganda, in fact. Individuals thus felt free to criticize where they thought necessary - for example, the excessive use of force in “pacifying” Bunyoro in the 1890s. The British often resented such criticism. J. J. Willis, the second Bishop of Uganda (1912-34) adopted a much more conformist position than Bishop Tucker. In fact educated Baganda Anglicans regarded Willis as far too close to the government point of view for their liking.

The Church and Development: Education and Medicine [16]

One of the chief reasons for the continuing success of the missions in the colonial era was the continued attraction of literacy. The missions began in the 1890s to establish a formal system of schooling. Each village would have, next to the church, a school for elementary instruction. In the early years of this century the missions also began to establish “central” or “high” schools for more advanced learning.

At first the government was more than content to leave education to the missions. But after the First World War, the British began to take a much more active role in African education. J. H. Oldham of the International Missionary Council (based in London) played an important part in persuading the Colonial Officer not to set up a rival system to the one the missions had pioneered, but rather to use the mission network of schools, to set up an Inspectorate and offer grants-in-aid to approved mission schools. This was highly satisfactory to the missions. They were very anxious to retain the denominational character of their schools, as well as a general “Christian atmosphere,” and feared the establishment of a secular system. But they critically needed financial assistance.

CMS had pioneered high schools such as Mwiri (Busoga), Nyakasura (Toro) and Nabumali (Bugishu), and Gayaza for girls. King’s College Budo was the apex of the whole system. By the 1920s a large proportion of missionary personnel were absorbed in teaching in such schools, and government funding, once begun, became absolutely necessary if the system were to be maintained. The Catholics also cooperated with the government education policy - though always with more reservations than CMS and with a concern not to lose their independence. Kisubi for the White Fathers, and Namilyango for the Mill Hill Fathers, became important high schools on the CMS model. But the Catholics did not neglect their own seminary system, which aimed primarily at encouraging vocations to the priesthood.

Both the high school and the seminary system were unashamedly elitist after their own fashion. But the heart of the mission education system continued to be the village school, built almost entirely by local initiative and employing “vernacular teachers” whose training, pay and standard of living were all very basic. In the 1920s and 30s the missions and government made efforts to improve basic standards by evolving a system of “Normal” or teacher training institutions.

Mission education has been criticized as an agent of imperialism: for its narrow “academic” curriculum stressing British culture, history and geography at the expense of African; for despising manual labor; for encouraging elitist attitudes and individualism through the divorce between the high school and the mass of village schools. Missionaries were not totally unaware of these issues. There was a general revulsion in colonial and mission education circles against creating “black Englishmen” (sometimes tinged with racialist sentiment). The Phelps-Stokes Commission visited Uganda in 1924, strongly advocating a philosophy of an education “adapted to the needs of Africa.” But they failed substantially to re-orientate the academic bias of education. Agricultural and technical education was expensive and could therefore, like the high schools, be only for a privileged few. Moreover there was always the suspicion that “adapted” education meant “inferior” education, designed to prevent African advancement and keep them in their place. “We send our boys to the High School not to learn to drive bullock wagons and to look after cows, but to learn to be fitted for posts of high standing,” Said one parent. (Admittedly he was a son of Sir Apollo Kaggwa and therefore one of an elite likely to benefit directly from an elitist system.)

Medicine. If CMS set the pace in educational developments during the colonial period, the same can be said for medicine. CMS Mengo Hospital began in 1897. Sir Albert Cook and his wife Kathleen are the towering figures in the development of “scientific” medicine in Uganda, with their pioneering work on sleeping sickness and venereal diseases, the training of nurses and midwives. The Catholics excelled in the establishment of local dispensaries – one can point to the great work of the Franciscan Mother Kevin in this field.

The colonial economy. The colonial government aimed to integrate Uganda into the world-wide capitalist system. By its nature this was a system of exploitation of the labor and resources of underdeveloped societies. But Uganda at least escaped some of the worst effects of a settler or plantation economy, due to the reliance on peasant cultivation of cotton and later coffee. CMS, as the original promoter of cotton production in Uganda, closely identified itself with the basic aims of colonial economic policy, stressing its benign rather than its exploitative aspects. CMS encouraged the cultivation of cash crops and in its schools inculcated a “Protestant ethic” of discipline, punctuality and cleanliness, and individual enterprise. Within the narrow constraints of a colonial and racially stratified society, they favored the development of small scale African capitalism in agriculture and trade; and so encouraged the growth of a fragile petite bourgeoisie. In discussing the development of a Protestant elite, however, one needs to stress that CMS congregations remained overwhelmingly peasant; only a tiny minority ever escaped the constraints of rural poverty and under-development of the colonial economy.

Catholics did not put the same emphasis on the creation of an elite. Their missions were often models in farming and industrial self-sufficiency (e.g. brick making). But here the primary aim was to build up a self-contained, economically viable Christian Community (it bas been called “feudalistic”) rather than to promote directly the colonial economy. Nevertheless whatever the mission ideology, Catholic peasants were drawn into the colonial economic system along with everyone else.

Protest against the Missions [17]

As we have seen, the Anglican Church in Uganda had a privileged position both in terms of its relationship to the local rulers and to the British administration. This close connection with the centers of power was to cause tensions within the Anglican Church when the colonial power structure was challenged. The Catholic Church, less concerned with questions of political power, was much less affected. However, in colonial times, independent churches did not easily thrive in Uganda (unlike Nigeria or South Africa or Kenya). One reason for this may lie in the fact that the Christian Churches had from an early stage become genuinely “folk churches,” churches of the people. In Buganda, to be a Muganda had come to mean that (if you were not part of the Muslim minority) you were either “Protestant” (i.e. Anglican) or “Catholic.” This was part of your basic identity – and just as political protest against the chiefly oligarchy did not make you any less a Muganda, so protest against church involvement in that oligarchy did not make you any less a Protestant (member of the Native Anglican Church).

In colonial times, where independent churches did not occur, they usually had a close connection with political protest. The exception is Mabel Ensor’s Mengo Gospel Church, the creation of a powerful ex-CMS missionary, discontented perhaps with her status as a woman within the mission structure, but more obviously motivated by the desire for a pure Spiritual church. Even here we might see political implications in her protest in that she wanted a Church which was totally divorced from politics, unimpeded by the compromises of being part of an establishment.

The Bamalaki

Joswa Kate was the Mugema, the head of the Nkima (Monkey) clan. In 1914 he and his clansman Malaki Mussajjakaawa broke away from the Anglican Church. They objected to two features which had become integral to the Christian mission in Uganda – the use of Medicine and the requirement of education as a prerequisite to baptism. The dissidents called their new movement Ekibiina kya Katonda Omu Ayinza Byonna (The Society of the One Almighty God), but it became popularly known as the Bamalaki. The chance of immediate baptism was largely responsible for the rapid growth of the movement, which consequently acquired the nickname Diini ya Layisi (religion on the cheap). Behind the religious protest was a political quarrel between Kate, a venerable representative of the bataka or clan heads, and the batongole (office holders) who had been the chief beneficiaries of the 1900 Agreement – the “Protestant oligarchy” led by Apollo Kaggwa. The bataka were particularly aggrieved that their land rights had been ignored in the land provisions of the 1900 Agreement.

The stubborn refusal even to inoculate cattle (i.e. give medicine to cows) brought the Bamalaki into direct conflict with the colonial authorities, and in 1929 (after a riot) the leaders were deported to remote parts of Uganda. After this the movement disintegrated. The Seventh Day Adventists first began work in Uganda in 1927. In some respects their emphasis on Saturday worship and adherence to many aspects of Jewish law resemble the teachings of the Balamaki – but the SDA were not, of course, against medicine, and there is no direct link between the two churches. The name malaki survives as a nickname for safari shoes, which do not need shoe polish (“medicine!”).

One interesting offshoot of the Bamalaki was begun in the Mbale area by Semei Kakungulu, who had a natural sympathy for Kate in his quarrels with Apollo Kaggwa. But he had no wish to be junior partner in a movement whose base was in Buganda, and so after collaborating for a time he founded his own group which took Bamalaki principles to an extreme by rejecting Christianity altogether and adopting what they could reconstruct of Judaism from the Luganda Old Testament. They practiced circumcision and Sabbath worship and were known as Bayudaya. ln the 1960s the survivors of Kakungulu’s “Jews” were given help from orthodox Jewish communities in Israel, but Amin’s anti-Zionist stance after 1972 put an end both to this incipient collaboration and the Bayudaya as a viable community.[17b]

Spartas and the African Greek Orthodox Church

A more forward-looking movement than the Bamalaki was that begun by Reuben Mukasa Spartas, an Anglican educated at Budo. Reacting against Anglican paternalism, in 1929 he announced the establishment in Uganda of an Orthodox Church “for all right thinking Africans, men who wish to be free in their own house, not always being thought of as boys.” Spartas had been greatly influenced by the pan-Africanism of the Jamaican Marcus Garvey, through the magazine Negro World. The African Orthodox Church was founded in America as a religious expression of pan-Africanism; but when Spartas discovered that this Church was not regarded as a legitimate branch of traditional Orthodoxy, he associated his Church with the Greek patriarchate in Alexandria. In the 1940s and 50s Spartas was much involved in the politics of Buganda nationalism. Unlike the Bamalaki, which grew rapidly and then collapsed, A.G.O.C. grew slowly and has remained a small but “respectable” Church. When Amin banned independent churches in 1977, the Orthodox were placed alongside the Catholics and Anglicans as a “recognized” Church.

The Church and Nationalism [18]

The Protestant schools were the breeding ground for the rising nationalism of the 1950s. In Uganda, nationalism was complicated by the conflicting claims of Buganda nationalism and Ugandan nationalism. It was, by and large, the Protestants who made the running in both kinds of nationalism. But the hierarchy of the Anglican Church was often attacked for identifying itself too closely with the colonial authorities. It was widely believed that the new bishop of Uganda, Leslie Brown, was involved in one way or another with the deportation of the Kabaka in 1953, though he has always strenuously denied any such involvement. The Anglican Church lost a lot of support in those years when Kiganda traditionalist sentiment was running high.

But Catholics too were under attack in these years from the traditionalists. After long years of being passive in political matters, as Independence approached, the Catholic hierarchy increasingly saw the Democratic Party as a suitable party for Catholics to support, more acceptable than either Buganda’s traditionalism (as finally embodied in Kabaka Yekka) or the secular and left with ideology of the Protestant dominated nationalist parties (which finally coalesced into the Uganda Peoples’ Congress).

D.P. was headed by a Muganda Catholic, Benedicto Kiwanuka; but D.P.’s commitment to a unitary Uganda alienated Buganda. In the political maneuverings of the early 60s D.P. lost out to an alliance of Obote’s U.P.C. and Kabaka Yekka (a strange and incompatible alliance). But it did ensure that the Catholics entered Independence still denied any real share in political power.

The Religious Life of the Churches

The Anglican Church [19]

Bishop Tucker, despite opposition from missionaries, gave to the Native Anglican Church a constitution which allowed Ugandans a significant measure of participation in decision-making, in particular through the Synod. Tucker was also keen to foster a “native clergy,” and the first ordinations took place in 1893. These admirable developments were, however, partly offset during the colonial period by the poor educational level of the clergy, and consequently their low status and pay. The situation was much lamented but seemed incapable of solution. Moreover it seemed to lend plausibility to the failure of Bishop Willis to promote Ugandan clergy to positions of real responsibility, a persistent source of irritation, especially to politically-conscious Baganda. Why, for example, was a Muganda not appointed assistant Bishop in 1920, instead of importing a European who had never even worked in Uganda before? And why, when a Ugandan bishop was at last appointed in 1947, was he not a Muganda?

All this seemed to be evidence of a deeper spiritual malaise. It was 10 be the Revival movement, known as the Balokole (the Saved People), which was directly to confront that spiritual malaise. A key figure was a Muganda, Simeoni Nsibambi, who formed a strong spiritual bond with a young medical doctor of the CMS Ruanda Mission, Joe Church. Nsibambi sent keen Baganda missionaries to work at Gahini hospital in Ruanda, where Joe Church was working. It was here that a revival broke out in the early 30s. It spread to Kigezi and Ankole before making a powerful impact in Buganda itself. It was from the first a controversial movement, often extremely critical of the church leadership, both missionary and Ugandan. In 1941, 26 Balokole were expelled from Bishop Tucker Theological College for “indiscipline.” They were led by a great evangelist, William Nagenda, and included some of the best educated and most promising ordinands. For a time it seemed as if the movement might break away from the Church. But this did not happen and by the 1950s the relationship between Church and Revival had become much more amicable. The 1950s probably saw the high point of the Balokole movement. It became in western Uganda the dominant form of Anglican Church life. In Buganda there was more resistance, especially as the Balokole often conflicted with a resurgent Buganda nationalism. Nevertheless, the Revival became an integral part of church life in Buganda too. Revival was taken to northern Uganda by a Muganda doctor called Lubulwa, who had quarreled with Nagenda and the leadership of Revival in Buganda. Here it often took a militantly anti-Anglican form, with the Strivers or Trumpeters, as they were called, attacking church members after or even during church services, using megaphones. These immoderate attacks made the Church very suspicious of the whole Revival movement. Nevertheless a moderate group did emerge there too. Both Archbishop Janani Luwum (an Acholi) and Archbishop Silvanus Wani (a Kakwa) combined loyalty to the Anglican Church with leadership in the Revival.

The fact that the very first Anglican Archbishop, Erica Sabiti, was also a pioneer or Revival in Ankole is an indication of how deeply the Revival movement has penetrated the whole life of the Anglican Church.

The Catholic Church [20]

As we have seen, the loss of political power early on in the colonial era did not mean a decline in evangelistic zeal for the Catholics. Unencumbered by aspirations for political power, they devoted their efforts to the more spiritual side of their work. Archbishop Henri Streicher (nicknamed Stensera) was leader of the White Father Vicariate in Uganda from 1897 to 1933 (and after his retirement remained in Uganda until his death in 1952). He did much to consolidate Catholics, to build up their institutions and to encourage priestly vocations. Buddu (in southwest Buganda) became an overwhelmingly Catholic county and a strong base for Catholicism throughout the country. Despite the long, arduous and essentially de-culturizing process of seminarian training, the first two Baganda were ordained in 1913: Bazilio Lumu and Viktoro Mukasa. In 1939 Uganda produced the first African Catholic bishop of modem times – Joseph Kiwanuka W.F., appointed Vicar Apostolic of Masaka.

The success of Ugandan Catholicism should not be measured only by the steady stream of priestly vocations. Lay orders were also established: the Bannakaroli (Brothers of Charles Lwanga); the Bannabikira (Sisters of the Virgin), founded by Mother Mechtilde of the White Sisters; and the Little Sisters of St. Francis, founded by Mother Kevin. The fact that these local orders flourished rested on the strong foundations of a solid Catholic piety at village level. The Ugandan Catholic Church, particularly in Buganda, became surprisingly indigenized, long before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. At Villa Maria, the Catholic center in Buddu, an elaborate ritual was developed on the model of the Kabaka’s court. The Church was known as Twekobe (the place where the Kabaka dwells), and the Virgin Mary, as “Queen Mother” or Namasole was addressed as Naluggi (“She was the most effective door for seeking special royal favors”). There were other imaginative translations of Christian concepts into local terms, such as referring to a guardian angel as ow’omukago (a blood-brother).

“The mission that can produce martyrs can also produce priests,” Streicher had claimed. For laity too, the cult of the martyrs became an important aspect of their piety; and remains one of the outstanding features of Ugandan Catholicism to this day.

If the success of Anglicanism lay in its ability to become part and parcel of the new political framework of Ugandan society, the success of Catholicism lay in its penetration into the fabric of village and peasant life.


Christianity in Uganda Since Independence Since Independence Uganda has gone through py history of conflict, turmoil, war and oppression. With the failure of D.P. to gain power in 1962, the Catholic Church was forced back into its pre-independence role as the church without political power. However, the exigencies of the situation have impelled the Catholic Church to adopt a much more critical stance towards successive governments. Both Archbishop Kiwanuka and his successor Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga have had occasion to speak out strongly on the abuse of human rights, speaking not only for Catholics but for all oppressed Ugandans. Under the impact of a common experience of suffering, the Catholic Church has managed to maintain an impressive unity of purpose and goal.

The Anglican Church (the Church of Uganda), in contrast, has reflected all the tensions and disunity which have characterized Ugandan society as a whole. The fact that a Protestant-dominated party came to power at Independence meant that a close relationship between the Church of Uganda and the state was bound to continue, however much Church leaders might try to distance themselves from the government, and however much the politicians stressed a secular, non-denominational nationalism. But the nation was becoming bitterly divided, especially with the abolition in 1967 of the Kingdom of Buganda and the other kingdoms and the declaration of a unitary state. The frustrations and animosities caused by these events found expression in conflict within the Church of Uganda. The coming to power of Amin in 1971 at first diffused the conflict. Even a common identity was achieved in the face of Amin’s repression, which culminated in the murder of the Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum in 1977. But the tragedy of Obote’s second term of office (1980-5) brought a return of conflict and bitterness.

Since religion has remained a strong factor in the conflicts of Uganda politics, Protestant-Catholic relations have often remained strained. Nevertheless in 1963 the Uganda Joint Christian Council was formed – a pioneer venture in world ecumenical relations between Catholics and Protestants. There has been co-operation in joint Christian education syllabuses for schools, and in Bible translation. Above all, Christians of both churches have been united in a “fellowship of suffering.” Christians of both churches have courageously witnessed to the truth at the cost of their lives: Ben Kiwanuka, Fr. Clement Kiggundu (editor of the Catholic newspaper, Munno), Archbishop Luwum, Rev. Godfrey Bazira (killed in the Namugongo massacre of 1984).

Independent churches have blossomed since 1962 (despite being banned by Amin). They tend to be a political, of a Pentecostal/charismatic type, some of American origin, but many truly indigenous, such as the Deliverance Church. They are rarely “traditionalist” in seeking consciously to indigenize their worship but the emphasis on spiritual healing does accord with a deeply felt traditional religious concern, as well as facing the modern reality of a breakdown of health services!

Despite the challenge of these new churches, the Anglican and Catholic Churches continue to retain the allegiance of an overwhelming majority of Ugandans. Their position has if anything been strengthened. For a period in the 1950s and 60s enthusiasm for the new politics often detracted from church participation. But with Amin’s seizure of power in 1971, the disintegration of the economy and of social services, the demise of political parties, the judiciary and the press, the insecurity of life and property, so the Church increased in importance, a refuge in times of trouble, a sign of hope. Prominent Ugandans who avoided death or exile threw their energies and resources into the Church. This has been a period of enthusiastic church building, the growth of parishes, the creation of dioceses – a response to local needs and concerns. But neither has the Church been immune from the general social disintegration. Corruption, personal rivalries, ethnic conflict have all been present in the Church also. Both church and state have an immense task of reconstruction. In the era of Yoweri Museveni and the National Resistance Movement, Christianity remains at the centre of Uganda society, both as a problem to be overcome; and as an essential contributor to fundamental change.


1. The best account of Buganda in the 19th Century is S .M. Semukala Kiwanuka, A History of Buganda, London, 1971.
For a brilliant account of Muteesa’s reign, see J .A. Rowe, Revolution in Buganda 1856-1900. Part 1: The Reign of Kabaka Mukabya Mutesa, Ph.D. Wisconsin. Unfortunately this has never been published.

2. For the impact of world religions on Africa in the 19th Century, see the pioneering essay by Robin Horton, “African Conversion” in Africa, XLI, 1971. pp 85-108.
For the relevance of Horton’s ideas for East Africa, see J. Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika, London, 1979.
For an important discussion of Kiganda traditional religion, see F.B. Welbourn, “Some Aspects of Kiganda Religion,” Uganda Journal, 1962, pp. 171-182; and F.X. Kyewalyanga, Traditional Religion, Custom and Christianity in Uganda, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1976.
For Islam see, A. Kasozi, N. King & A. Oded, Islam and the Confluence of Religions in Uganda 1840-1966, Florida, 1973.

3. Both the Centenary publications describe the coming of missionaries: T. Tuma & P. Mutibwa, A Century of Christianity in Uganda, Nairobi, 1978.
Y. Tourigny, So Abundant a Harvest, London, 1979.
For the rivalry between Mackay and Lourdel, see Mackay of Uganda, By his Sister, London, 1898; and K. Ward, “Catholic-Protestant Relations in Uganda: An Historical Perspective,” in African Theological Journal, Makumira, Tanzania, 1984.

4. J.V. Taylor, The Growth of the Church in Buganda, London, 1958, still provides an excellent account of the first converts.

5. The reasons for the Catholic withdrawal are discussed well in R. Heremans, L’Education dans les Missions des Peres Blancs en Afrique Centrale, Brussels, 1983, pp. 100-103.

6. The deaths of the three boys and the circumstances of Hannington’s death are well described in the contemporary account of the CMS missionary Robert Ashe. R. Ashe, Two Kings of Uganda, London, 1890.
The now classic work on the Catholic martyrs (but with attention to the Protestants too) is J.F. Faupel, African Holocaust, London, 1962. (Reprinted in paperback by St Paul’s Publications, Africa, 1984.)
L. Pirouet, Strong in the Faith, Kisubi, Uganda, 1969, is a good, popular account, with particular attention to the Protestant martyrs.

7. The story of the wars is brilliantly told by M. Wright, Buganda in the Heroid Age, London, 1971. J. Rowe, Lugard at Kampala, Makerere History Paper/3 Kampala, 1969, gives an equally graphic account of the period 1890-2.

8. The quotation of the British M.P. Labouchere can be found in M. Perham, Lugard. The Years of Adventure, London, 1956.
D.A. Low & R.C. Pratt, Buganda and British Overrule, London, 1960. H.P. Gale, Uganda and the Mill Hill Fathers, London, 1959.

9. The concept of a “Christian Revolution” is discussed in: C. Wrigley, “The Christian Revolution in Buganda,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, II, l, 1959, pp. 33-48.
D.A. Low, Buganda in Modern History, London, 1971, pp. 13-53. M. Twaddle, “The Muslim Revolution in Buganda,” African Affairs, 71, pp.54-72.

10. The basic books on the expansion of Christianity outside Buganda are:

– Louise Pirouet, Black Evangelists, London, 1978.
– A. Luck, African Saint: the Life of Apolo Kivebulaya, London, 1963.
– J. Nicolet, Yohaana Kitagaana: a Runyankore translation from the French, 1953, reprinted in Mbarara 1985.
– See also two articles in Leadership (magazine), Kisubi, Numbers 2 & 3, 1987.

11. D.M. Byabazaire, The Contribution of the Christian Churches to the Development of Western Uganda 1894-1974, Frankfort am. Main, 1979.
E. Maari, The Growth of the Anglican Church in Ankole, 1899-1951, unpublished M. Phil. degree, London, 1984.
M.R. Doornbos, “Kumanyana and Rwenzururu: two responses to ethnic inequality,” in R.I. Rotberg & A.A. Mazrui, Protest and Power in Black Africa, London, 1970 pp. 1088-1136.

12. See Gale op. cil. and Pirouet op. cit.
For Busoga, see T. Tuma, Building a Ugandan Church, Nairobi, 1980.
For a biography of Kakungulu see H.B. Thomas, “Capax Imperii –The Story of Simei Kakunguru,” Uganda Journal, 1939, pp. 125-36.

13. J.K. Russell, Men Without God? London, 1966.
Okot p’Bitek, “The Concept of Jok among the Acholi and Langi,” Uganda Journal, 1963, pp. 15-29.
J. Tosh, Clan leaders and Colonial Chiefs in Lango, London, 1977-8.

14. P. Ngologoza, Kigezi and its people, Nairobi, 1969.
S. Kermu, The Life and Times of Bishop Silvanus Wani, presented to ATIEA as a research paer for the BD, 1987.

15. H.B. Hanson, Mission, Church and State in a Colonial Setting, Uganda 1890-1925, London, 1984.
Leslie Brown, Three Worlds: One Word, London, 1981.

16. A. Wandira, Early Missionary Education in Uganda, Kampala, 1972.
For the economy see: J J. Jorgensen, Uganda, A Modern History, London, 1981.

17. For Mabel Ensor, Joswa Kate and Reuben Spartas see:
F.B. Welboourn, East African Rebels. A Study of some independent Churches, London, 1961.

17b. Editor’s note: Email from Mr. Peter Persoff who wrote, in an email to the editor dated July 5, 2022: “Actually, although the Bayudaya (or Abayudaya) did suffer persecution under Amin, and their numbers shrank, but they are still a viable community in 2022: See for example: Uganda - Abayaduya

18. F.B. Welbourn, Religion and Politics in Uganda 1952-62, Nairobi, 1963.
J. Waliggo, “Ganda Traditional Religion and Catholicism,” J. Waliggo, “Ganda Traditional Religion and Catholicism,” in E. Fashole-Luke (editor), Christianity in Independent Africa, London, 1978.
M. Twaddle, “Was the Democratic Party a Confessional Party?” in Fashole-Luke op. cit.

19. For the question of the Muganda Bishop 1 am relying on research done in the CMS Archives in London.
For the Balokole see:
C. Robbins, Tukutendereza. A study of Social Change and Sectarian Withdrawal in the Balokole Revival, Columbia University Ph.D., 1975, unpublished.
Joe Church, The Quest for the Highest, London, 1979.

20. Waliggo, The Catholic Church in Buddu Province of Buganda, 1879-1925, Ph.D., Cambridge, 1976, unpublished.
Adrian Hastings, “Ganda Catholic Spirituality,” in Journal of Religion in Africa, 1976.

21. E.B. Muhima, The Fellowship of Suffering: A Theological Interpretation of Christian Suffering under Idd Amin, Ph.D., North western-University, 1981 (unpublished).
A.B. Mujaju, ‘The Political Crisis ofChurch Institutions in Uganda’, Africa Affairs, Jan. 1976.</font>


R. Ashe, Two Kings of Uganda, London, 1889, (reprinted 1970)
——–. Chronicles of Uganda, London, 1894, (reprinted 1971) D. Bukenya, The Development of Neo-Traditional Religion: the Baganda Experience, unpublished Aberdeen M. Liu, 1980.
D. Byabazaire, The Contribution of the Christian Churches to the Development of Western Uganda, 1894-1974, Ph.D. published in Frankfurt, 1979.
J.C. Church, The Quest for the Highest, London, 1979.
J. Ddiba, Eddini Mu Uganda, 2 Volumes, Kampala, 1965, 1967.
J.F. Faupel, African Holocaust, London, 1962 (new edition St Paul’s publications, Africa, 1984.
H.P. Gale, Uganda and the Mill Hill Fathers, London, 1959.
J.B. Hansen, Mission, Church and State in a Colonial Setting, Uganda 1890-1925, London, 1984.
A. Hastings, “Ganda Catholic Spirituality,” in Journal of Religion in Africa, 1976, No. 2.
R. Hereman’s L’Education dans les Missions des Pere Blancs en Afrique Centrale (1879-1914), Brussels, 1983.
A. Kasozi, N. King & Aoded, Islam and the confluence of Religions in Uganda, Florida, 1973
M.S.M. Kiwanuka, A History of Buganda, London, 1971.
F.X. Kyewalyanga, Traditional Religious Custom and Christianity in Uganda, Freiburg, 1976.
E.K. Maari, The Growth of the Anglican Church in Ankole, 1899-1951, unpublished M.Phil, London, 1984.
E.B.Muhima, The Fellowship of Suffering: A Theological Interpretation of Christian Suffering under Idd Imin, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Northwestern University, 1981.
L. Pirouet, Black Evangelists, London, 1978.
——–. A Dictionary of Christianity in Uganda, Kampala, 1969. (mimeographed).
J. Rowe, Revolution in Buganda 1856-1900, unpublished Ph.D., Wisconsin.
——–. Lugard at Kampala, 1969.
C. Robbins, Tukutendereza, Columbia Ph.D., 1975 (unpublished).
D. Russell, Men Without God? London, 1966.
J.V. Taylor, The Growth of the Church in Buganda, London, 1958.
Y. Tourigny, So Abundant a Harvest, London, 1979.
——–. A Century of Trials and Blessings, Kampala, 1978.
Tom Tuma, Building a Ugandan Church, Nairobi, 1980.
Tom Tuma & Phares Mutibwa, A Century of Christianity in Uganda, Nairobi, 1978.
J. M. Waliggo, The Catholic Church in the Buddu Province of Uganda 1879-1925, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge, 1976.
——–. “Ganda Traditional Religion and Catholicism”, in E. Fashole-Luke, Christianity in Independent Africa, London, 1978.
Kevin Ward, “Catholic-Protestant Relations in Uganda” in African Theological Journal, Makumira, Tanzania, 1984.
——–. A History of Bishop Tucker Theological College 1913-1986 (unpublished, xeroxed commemorative booklet).
F.B. Welboum, East African Rebels, London, 1962.
——–. Religion and Politics in Uganda 1952-62, Nairobi, 1963.
——–. Some aspects of Kiganda Religion, in Uganda Journal, 1962.
G. Van Rheenan, Church Planting in Uganda, Passadena, 1976.
M. Wright, Buganda in the Heroic Age, London, 1971.

This article originally appeared in From Mission to Church: A Handbook of Christianity in East Africa, ed. Zablon Nthamburi, published by Uzima Press (Imani House, St. John’s Gate, off Parliament Rd., P.O. Box 48127, Nairobi, Kenya) in 1991. Used with permission.