By Simon Ssenyonga
Having abolished the religious policy in 1986 which President Idi Amin had put in place in 1976, the office of the President has returned to drafting the same religious policy which it had discarded.
I am still shocked that President Yoweri Museveni could tolerate such proposals and consultations about instituting a religious policy in his office without any legitimate religious problems at national level that have not already been handled by existing laws and policies.
If the President could handle terrorism inspired by Islam religion which killed many people without instituting a religious policy, then how can pastors who don’t have theology degrees suddenly become such a threat?
If Museveni has been able to deal with worse problems caused by non- pentecostals such as child sacrifices, women ritual sacrificies, financial exploitation by traditional tribal spiritualists without employing the help of sectarian religious policies, why now believe that government needs the opinion of theologically qualified Reverends to help him prevent certain un-named pastors from allegedly exploiting innocent followers?
Without any cases to justify the policy and no policy impact assessment, why would a sectarian religious policy be allowed to creep into a non- religious security and political system after 30years proof in the NRM legacy that govt works better without a policy on religions?
I wonder why President Museveni has forgotten the failures of President Idi Amin which he worked so hard to correct? For example in President Idi Amin’s legacy who established a religious policy with machinery of a ministry religious affairs in Uganda shortly after Jews had been rescued from Entebbe Airport in July 1976 by Israeli commandos.
The policy required all religious groups to be aligned to either the Catholic, Muslim or Anglican setting or face discrimination and persecution.
The purpose of the policy was to increase government control over religious leaders and their groups by regulating their freedom of expression and association.
The first victims to this policy were the mushrooming pentecostal groups, whom anyone would ignore when many of them were arrested.
When Archbishop Janan Luwum of the Anglican Church wrote to President Amin condemning the rampant arrests and disappearance of people suspected to oppose government policies, the security organs invaded his house in search for weapons in January 1977. Later on 16-17th February 1977 the state security interrogated and murdered Archbishop Luwum the only vocal religious leader against Amins actions, with two other cabinet ministers.
This all happened even when Amin’s religious policy recognised Anglican church and the President had direct communication with the Archbishop Luwum, whom he used to consult before the religious policy was established. This history is likely to be repeated if Museveni and his cabinet embrace the views of some theologians to regulate religions.
Initially it will not seem like a major threat to the integrity and strength of the state just like it did not appear obviously to threaten Amin’s government and power after the religious policy was established in 1976. But history shows us that when you start to see Men of God arrested or interrogated for challenging government leaders and their policies , then it is a clear sign that history shall be repeating itself to end a regime from within and not from without.
If you allow pentecostals and some of their leaders to be targeted through arrest, interrogations, false accusations because they challenged the state policies, it will open a Pandora box, that will inspire leaders in the army, politics and civil service to shift their internal disagreements from any other principles to religious principles when dealing with their same-party political opponents and competitors based on their religious affiliation.
President Museveni has so far managed to keep the politics and military of Uganda away from officializing religious biases when making public decisions in the last 30 years which he started by abolishing Amin’s policy to regulate religious organisations using religious standards, but something is strange when you hear religious leaders debating about a religious policy when the NGO Act 2017 and URSB (Uganda Registration Services Bureau ) Act 1998 are effectively regulating the religious organisations like any other organisation on secular standards of best practice without without qualifying any religion’s biases and standards as part of national interest.
In fact when you visit any military barracks today that was built by President Amin you will see that each religion recognised by government had a shrine built within the barracks premises, which was later abolished by President Museveni’s regime to emphasize that the state shall not make an opinion of preference in favor of any religious beliefs, norms or groups over other groups whether an old or new religion adopted by citizens.
UPDF soldiers are free to exercise their freedom of worship by going outside the barracks, in order not to allow religious norms to be officialised as government policy. This liberal approach to freedom of worship has kept Museveni’s military and NRM party united to agree or disagree along principles and ideologies of governance and leadership without baptising such ideas or opinions with official religious names. So why is President Museveni turning back to what he rejected over 30years ago after doing better than his predecessors in this area?
Another example of best practice was when Museveni having abolished President Amin’s Ministry of religious affairs to prevent religious opportunists from participating in government power struggles.
He went on to establish a Ministry of Ethics in the president’s office to coordinate the fight against corruption using universal ethical best practices without any one or two religion’s theology.
Museveni knowing well that clergymen from organised traditional religious groups have a history of being custodians of corruption within their own ranks to protect their reputations, chose his first Minister appointees to head the national ethics body from among non-clergy leaders (eg. Hon Maria Matembe and Hon Nsaba Buturo) whom he deemed to exhibit high ethical and moral standards on personal basis instead of the idea of employing individuals based on religious theology qualifications to be a basis for moral and ethical standards in someone’s career life.
Unless the legacy of peace and social stability was of a small price to those who struggled for years to remove President Idi Amin and later to remove President Milton Obote whose governments failed to address national strife along tribal and religious lines when they implemented sectarian policies using state machinery to persecute either dominant religious groups or mushrooming religious groups to their own detriment which resulted in unexpectedly cutting short their regimes. Perhaps if the military generals who sacrificed alot to put an end to religious sectarianism in Uganda’s government woke up to their memories of previous regime persecutions, they will speak against the religious policy being proposed by the President’s office and maybe the spell cast on President Museveni will be broken and he will terminate the employment of such sectarian clergymen in government with immediate effect.
The writer is a lawyer and a minister of Prophet Elvis Mbonye ministries