Rwakaikara Kaijamurubi Yonasani was born on June 18, 1918 in Bugungu in the present day Masindi district to Ibona and Kaikara. Of the many children born to this couple, Rwakaikara was the only survivor. At the time of his birth, the Christian church was flourishing in Masindi but as his parents were not Christians, he was dedicated to the spirit Kaikara. This explains the origin of his name Rwakaikara which means “belonging to Kaikara.” His father Ibona died when Rwakaikara was only five years old. His mother, Kaikara, remarried and from then on the stepfather took over the responsibility of looking after Rwakaikara.
Rwakaikara was a well behaved and hardworking child and his parents and the entire village were proud of him. In 1931 his stepfather sent him to Kabalega Native Anglican Church School (the present day Kabalega Primary School) to begin his primary education. In contrast to other students, his immediate goal was not to be converted to Christianity but, instead, to learn to read and write–a desire which had attracted him to the school in the first place. But as time passed he soon realized that the goal of the school was not only to provide an education but also to persuade the students to convert to Christianity. While a student at Kabalega Primary School, he was baptized at St. Matthew’s Church and took the name Yonasani.
After his baptism, even though Rwakaikara was torn between the African traditional religion of his parents and Christianity this did not prevent him from practicing his newfound faith with joy. During his school holidays, Rwakaikara spent a lot of time talking with his village friends about the Gospel, attacking traditional customs such as polygamy, the ritual drinking of alcohol, and ancestral worship which were contrary to Christian practices. His attacks on traditional customs did not make Rwakaikara unpopular among his tribesmen. On the contrary, every young man in his village wanted to emulate his way of life.
At Kabalega Primary School, because Rwakaikara excelled both in character and in academics, he was awarded a merit scholarship in 1937 to go to Nyakasura High School. In 1940 he began studies at Makerere College towards a diploma in education. After graduating, Rwakaikara was posted to Nyakasura High School where he proved to be a very good teacher of Christian Religious Education. Referring to one of the Christian Religious Education lessons Rwakaikara used to teach, Charles Kanyarusoke, one of his former students said, “The Reverend Mr. Rwakaikara (later Bishop Rwakaikara) gave us a very enlightening presentation of religious education.” 
Although he was an effective teacher, Rwakaikara’s time at Nyakasura High School was very difficult, being a single young man torn between the demands of his culture as a Munyoro and that of the Christian church. In his culture at the age of twenty-five and with a good job Rwakaikara was expected to be living with one or two concubines-behavior which he, as a Christian, considered evil.
At this time Rwakaikara found refuge in the East African Revival Movement, which had begun to influence the church in western Uganda. In 1946 Rwakaikara committed his life to Jesus Christ and became an active participant in the revival movement. While at Nyakasura, Rwakaikara spent nearly all his weekends preaching throughout Uganda. The message of the East African Revival Movement was centered on the personal experience of the power of the Holy Spirit. This new experience was to guide Rwakaikara’s teaching career and church ministry in subsequent years.
On January 10, 1948 Rwakaikara married Dinah and they later had nine children. Throughout his life, Rwakaikara was dedicated to his family. He and his wife Dinah forged a partnership that was a constant inspiration not only to their family but also to other families in Uganda. In various seminars, Rwakaikara always taught that spiritual awakening in Uganda could only come through renewed families.
After working for a few years at Nyakasura, Supervisor of Schools Philip Ridsdale asked Rwakaikara to transfer to Bunyoro where he was appointed organizing teacher of the Native Anglican Church Schools. This appointment indicated that the missionaries of the Church Missionary Society were adopting a progressive approach to African education and welfare. Africans were no longer being trained only for subordinate posts but for key positions in the life of the emerging church as well.
As an organizing teacher, Rwakaikara made sure that teachers were paid on time, that professional discipline was observed, and that bright teachers were sent to Makerere College for further studies. Under Rwakaikara’s leadership, schools in Bunyoro set standards that other schools in Uganda sought to emulate in the areas of academic excellence and discipline.
In 1950 Rwakaikara was offered a position as head of Duhaga Junior Secondary School. After working there for five years, he left in 1956 to pursue further studies at Exeter University in the United Kingdom. While abroad, Rwakaikara had the opportunity of preaching throughout England about Jesus who had done so much for him.
When he returned to Uganda, Rwakaikara was made supervisor of schools, a position he held for nine years. As supervisor, Rwakaikara traveled widely throughout Bunyoro encouraging people to improve the physical infrastructure of their schools and urging students to set higher goals. He emulated this through the example of his family when all nine of his children got university degrees.
Although Rwakaikara had a busy schedule as a supervisor of schools, he always combined his work with preaching about the love of Jesus Christ to his staff, to students and to other people. One of his letters, found in the Uganda Christian University archives, reads: “I received an invitation from the Sudanese brethren…for a three weeks mission work [sic] in Sudan…for mission work in Kigezi from April 12-17, 1957. The Rev. Philip Ridsdale has kindly accepted to act as the school supervisor during my absence.”
From 1960, Rwakaikara felt that he should take on full-time church work and approached Philip Ridsdale to ask him if there was such an opportunity. But his projects were frustrated because Ridsdale felt he was doing better working as a layman and a school supervisor than he would if he became a priest. Nevertheless, in 1963 the Uganda Education Act abolished the position of school supervisor, leaving Rwakaikara without a job. Rwakaikara interpreted this turn of events as God’s answer to his request to go into full-time church work. He therefore went back to Ridsdale to renew his request. Ridsdale consented but thought that Rwakaikara would serve God better if he had some theological training and recommended him to Bishop Erica Sabiti for a study program.
In 1965, Bishop Erica Sabiti of Rwenzori diocese sent Rwakaikara to Clifton Theological College to study for the ordained ministry. On his return in 1966, Rwakaikara was ordained a deacon, and later that year he was ordained a priest. On April 10, 1967 he was consecrated assistant bishop of Rwenzori diocese. After serving as assistant bishop for five years, he was enthroned as the second bishop of Rwenzori diocese on June 25, 1972.
As bishop, Rwakaikara’s priority was to continue the programs initiated by his predecessor, Bishop Erica Sabiti, who had been elected archbishop. Rwakaikara continued Sabiti’s work with Christian Rural Service, a self-help program in which church workers went to parishes to teach simple methods of agriculture and hygiene while spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He continued the Young Farmers Scheme program, intended to encourage young people to develop the land for agriculture, rather than going to live in towns and cities in Uganda. He also made the preaching of the Gospel his priority. Not having an assistant bishop, he valued teamwork and made use of contributions from every active member in the diocese. Rwakaikara was well loved in Rwenzori diocese because of his policy of teamwork.
As a rural diocese, Rwenzori faced many financial challenges. Rwakaikara therefore drew up a long-term program with the aim of increasing Sunday church offerings and creating income-generating projects. He began with the clergy because he believed that parish priests should not look to the parishioners for their daily needs. Through the Christian Rural Service program, the clergy was introduced to modern methods of agriculture. In this way, parish priests could improve their standard of living and stop complaining that their parishes failed to support them. This was a unique innovation in the entire Church of the Province of Uganda where parish priests had a reputation for begging.
Rwakaikara became a bishop as a highly educated man. Unfortunately most of the priests in Rwenzori diocese were not highly educated. But Rwakaikara made it a priority to see that as many clergy as possible acquire adequate qualifications in various fields. As a result, many priests became tent-makers during his tenure as bishop. While other bishops concentrated on sending church workers away for theological studies, Rwakaikara’s vision of training for his clergy went beyond the confines of theology because he believed other ministries were also from God. Although Rwakaikara placed theological studies before studies in secular fields he held the latter in high respect when they served to extend the ministry of the church.
In 1981 he became the second bishop of Bunyoro-Kitara diocese. His predecessor Bishop Ruhindi had been very popular and many people thought that since Rwakaikara was an older man, he would not be able to manage the responsibilities ahead of him. But Rwakaikara quickly proved to be an able and powerful leader. He transferred the same programs he had initiated in Rwenzori to Bunyoro-Kitara diocese.
One of the most important innovations he introduced in Bunyoro-Kitara diocese was the role of the laity in the leadership of the church. He had always believed that leadership in the church was not limited to the clergy, but also included certain lay persons with the gift of leadership-a concept which many bishops and clergy find very hard to grasp even today. His argument was that just as ordinary Christians leave church on Sunday and go out into the world to represent Christ, in the same way the task of carrying Christ’s message is not limited to the clergy but falls to the laity as well.
In the two dioceses where he worked as diocesan bishop, Rwakaikara is remembered as a holy and visionary man. He was a gifted teacher and preacher, and a faithful pastor to people of all age groups. His desire was for all people to come to the Lord. Rwakaikara traveled widely and was well known as a preacher, pastor, and friend to many people including his fellow bishops.
In addition to being bishop of Bunyoro-Kitara diocese, Rwakaikara was appointed dean of the Church of the Province of Uganda until 1989 when he retired from being a diocesan bishop. From 1989 on, Rwakaikara’s preaching ministry became increasingly limited although his influence continued.
He died peacefully in Hoima hospital in 1994 at the age of seventy-six.
- This quote is from Dr. Charles Kanyarusoke’s personal Web site at www.kanyarusoke.com/academics, accessed on October 9, 2005.
Kyamanywa, Nathan. Ebyafaayo by’Ekanisa ya Uganda omu Bunyoro 1895-1995. Kampala: Earnest Publishers, 1996.
“Minutes of Rwenzori Diocese,” [compiled by] diocesan secretary 1973-1974.
“Minutes of Bunyoro-Kitara Diocese,” [compiled by] diocesan secretary 1972-1995.
Dinah Rwakaikara, wife of Bishop Rwakaikara, interviewed by author, January 2004.
David Mugisa, son of Bishop Rwakaikara, interviewed by author, February 2005.
This article, received in 2005, was researched and written by Rev. Dr. Christopher Byaruhanga, 2005-2006 Project Luke fellow and Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Uganda Christian University, a DACB Participating Institution. He is also the liaison coordinator at UCU.