Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Luwum, Janani Jakaliya (C)

Anglican Communion

Janani Luwum

Janani Jakaliya Luwum was the archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. He was one of the most influential leaders of the modern church in Africa. He was murdered in 1977 by Idi Amin or by henchmen under his orders.

Luwum was born in 1922 in the village of Mucwini in the Kitgum District of Northern Uganda. His parents were Christian.

In this area (East Acholi, now Kitgum), Christianity was making very little progress. Luwum had the advantage of having a church teacher for a father, so he was constantly exposed to the principles of Christianity.

He attended Gulu High School and trained as a teacher at Boroboro Teacher Training College near Lira in Lango District.

“Although he came from a Christian home and attended a missionary training college,” writes Margaret Ford, his personal secretary at the time of his death, “He was not at this time a converted Christian.” His Christianity was only nominal. But “…on January 6, 1948…through the preaching of an Acholi couple who had been radically changed through the influence of the East African Revival, Luwum felt convicted…and confessed Jesus Christ as his Lord and in tears, repented of his sins, crying aloud before God and men so that the villagers came running to see what was happening.” [1] Convinced God had called him to preach the gospel, in 1949 he went to Buwalasi Theological College to train for full-time pastoral ministry.

He was ordained a deacon in 1953 and made a priest in 1955.

He served in what was then called the Upper Nile Diocese of Uganda and in 1962, after a one year course in Britain, he was appointed vice-principal of his alma mater, Buwalasi Theological College. In 1965, he was made principal of the same college after two years of further theological training at London College of Divinity. In 1966, he was called to serve as provincial secretary at a time of national uncertainties and tensions.

On January 25, 1969, Luwum was consecrated and enthroned as the bishop of Northern Uganda. Ford explains, “This was a period of great trial in his ministry. Church contributions were poor and the pastors could hardly get paid so they spent most of their time cultivating small gardens in order to feed their families, and failed to minister to their flock. There were really few committed leaders in the church in Northern Uganda.” [2] Luwum invited a German group that initiated an agricultural project which he hoped would help to train local farmers and boost church income.

On January 25, 1971, Idi Amin staged a successful coup d’état. Right away, he began to murder many people belonging to the tribe that formed the Northern Uganda Diocese. He expelled all the British and foreign nationals from the country so the German missionary group also had to leave without finishing their task. In spite of all these difficulties, Luwum maintained a calm and firm conviction of his faith. He organized evangelistic missions and encouraged pastors.

In May 1974, he was elected third archbishop of the Province of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. He was consecrated on June 9, 1974. As head of the Anglican Church in four countries, Luwum worked tirelessly as the voice of the church in the region.

Conditions in the nation under Amin continued to worsen. Individuals and society as a whole were in a state of insecurity. Luwum felt there was a need for unity so, in order to address this situation, he initiated a meeting with all religious leaders (Christians and Muslims) to speak out with one voice against human rights abuses. At that meeting, they resolved to request a meeting with President Idi Amin. As Luwum was chair of this meeting, Amin marked him as his archenemy and began to monitor him.

Luwum continued to be the voice of the voiceless. He also encouraged and challenged pastors to take the risk of being wrong rather than staying silent and safe. His elder son, talking about how he saw his father, said, “As a pastor, he was involved in Bible translation, fully involved in evangelism, built schools and encouraged parents to take their children to school, and fully encouraged development. He was a nationalist and patriotic. He spoke out for the rights of all Ugandans. No wonder lost his life for the sake of the nation.” [3]

As a true and faithful servant, Luwum devoted his life to full-time church ministry. He spent himself to such an extent that he had practically nowhere to lay his head; and when he died, the church had to find shelter for his widow and children.

Luwum cared for all people and carried them in his heart. For example, he started a warfare relief program for those families and individuals who were affected by the regime. Many feared going back home (e.g. students who were at school at the time their parents and relations were killed by soldiers) for fear of being abducted. To this day, the program still exists.

Luwum was a leading voice in criticizing the excesses of the Idi Amin regime as he came to know more and more of the brutality of the regime, and as the people looked up to him for moral support and material assistance. He presented a formidable force which Amin, who could not stand any challenge, determined to have checked.

On February 5, 1977, to protest the policies of arbitrary killings and unexplained disappearances of the educated individuals from the Christian faith, mainly Protestants, Luwum and fellow bishops of the Church of Uganda issued a pastoral letter addressed to President Amin which in part read:

Furthermore, we are made sad by the increasing forces that are setting Ugandans one against the other. While it is common in Uganda for members of one family to be members of different religious organizations, there is an increasing feeling that one particular religious organization is favored more than any other. So much so that in some parts of Uganda members of Islam, who are in leading positions, are using these positions to coerce Christians into becoming Muslims.

Secondly, members of security forces are sons of civilians and they have civilians as brothers and sisters. When they begin to use the gun in their hands to destroy instead of protecting civilians, then the relationship of mutual trust and respect is destroyed.

The gun, which was meant to protect Uganda as a nation, the Ugandans as citizens and their property, is increasingly being used against the Ugandan to take away life and property. [4]

Luwum personally delivered this note of protest to dictator Idi Amin. Shortly afterwards, the archbishop and other leading churchmen were accused of treason.

Consequently, on February 16, 1977, Luwum was arrested together with two cabinet ministers, Erinayo Wilson Oryena and Charles Oboth Ofumbi and a few other suspects, paraded forth to read out “confessions” implicating the three men. The archbishop was accused of planning to stage a coup. The next day, Radio Uganda announced that the three had been killed when the car transporting them to an interrogation center had collided with another vehicle. However, when Luwum’s body was released to his relatives, it was riddled with bullets. Henry Kyemba, Minister of Health in Amin’s government, wrote in his book A State of Blood, “The bodies were bullet-riddled. The archbishop had been shot through the mouth and [had] at least three bullets in the chest.” [5] Time Magazine stated that “some reports even had it that Amin himself had pulled the trigger, but Amin angrily denied the charge, and there were, of course, no first-hand witnesses.” [6]

Why did Luwum get involved in all this? The truth is he had a high sense of responsibility as a leader and as a committed Christian–a Christian leader whose faith in Christ made him love justice and obey his Master’s call to lay down his life for others. He dared to challenge evil and in doing so, he laid down his life for the Ugandan people.

Luwum was survived by a widow, Mary Lawinyo Luwum, and nine children. He is recognized as a martyr by the Anglican Communion.

John Kateeba Tumwine


  1. Margaret Ford, Janani: The Making of a Martyr, p.21-22.

  2. Ibid, pp.22-27, 32-33.

  3. Ben Okello Luwum interview.

  4. Pastoral letter of the Bishops of the Church of Uganda to Amin, Feb. 5, 1977.

  5. Henry Kyemba, A State of Blood.

  6. “Amin: The Wild Man of Africa,” Time Magazine.


Kyemba Henry. A State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin. New York: Ace Books, 1977.

“Amin: The Wild Man of Africa,” Time Magazine. March 7, 1977. Church of Uganda Archives, Uganda Christian University, Mukono.

Ford, Margaret. Janani: The Making of a Martyr. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1978.

Kivengere, Festo. “Uganda Recovering from Amin” in The Indianapolis News, May 7, 1980, p. 57, Indianapolis Newspaper.

Craig, Mary. Candles in the Dark: Six Modern Martyrs. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1984.

Ben Okello Luwum (first born heir), interview by author, February 16, 2010 during the memorial service at All Saints Cathedral, Kampala.

Pastoral letter of the Bishops of the Church of Uganda to Amin Feb. 5, 1977. Church of Uganda Archives, Uganda Christian University, Mukono.

This story, received in 2010, was written by Rev. Canon John Kateeba Tumwine, who was director of Global South Institute at Uganda Christian University, coordinator of regional theological colleges in the Church of Uganda, and member of the DACB Advisory Board, East Africa at the time.