By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
What could happen if other religious leaders joined him in calling for the President to quit?
When Catholic Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga gave his homily at celebrations of the 57th birthday of Kabaka Ronal Muwenda Mutebi II on April 13, he unusually quoted elaborately from a book written by Anglican Church of Uganda Archbishop Luke Orombi. It was a strategic message.
“Life is tough, the streets are not safe; Lord remember the streets of Kampala,” Lwanga read from Orombi’s book, “ Today, as you pass, no one seems to have joy; instead they have anxiety and frowning, hunger and some depend on just a bottle of water”.
Lwanga has recently caused uproar for writing a pastoral letter asking President Yoweri Museveni to quit power by the 2016 elections. Before him, Church of Uganda Bishop Zac Niringiye had launched a campaign to restore term limits, which has been picked on by members of parliament who have already drafted a private members Bill on it.
Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga last year wrote a pastoral letter to President Yoweri Museveni asking him to restore term limits and consider leaving office. During Easter celebration this year, Lwanga repeated the message in the pastoral letter.
Such pastoral letters have influenced politics in other countries like Kenya again st former President Daniel arap Moi and Zambia against former President Kenneth Kaunda who all quit after very long stays in power.
Observers say, therefore, the pastoral letter presents a bigger threat to Museveni’s grip on power because Lwanga heads the biggest Christian denomination in Uganda, while Niringiye is a retiring assistant archbishop whose boss, Archbishop Luke Orombi has refused to join other religious leaders calling for Museveni to quit.
In a country where up to 75% of the population is either Catholic (41%) or Anglican (35%), the views of priests are important and often easily sway their followers. While the Restore-Term-Limits Bill can be easily defeated in parliament, opposition by church leaders can easily cause an upset against Museveni at the polls if he insists on standing in 2016.
Therefore, it is important that Lwanga makes a connection with Orombi. If Orombi had joined forces with Lwanga, Museveni would be under more pressure but with the Church of Uganda leadership divided on the issue, attention is focused on Lwanga.
Lwanga’s homily and Niringiye’s restore term limits come at a time when a poll has shown that most Ugandans believe Museveni is leading the country in “the wrong direction”. Of the respondents, 88% identified themselves as Christians and 12% as Muslim.
The Muslim leadership is as divided as the Anglican on the Museveni succession question. Although some Muslim leaders have joined the Christians in calling for Museveni to retire, their leader Sheik Ramathan Mubajje, remains a staunch Museveni backer.
In any case it is unlikely that Museveni, who will have ruled Uganda for 30 years by 2016, will heed the religious leaders call.
Government officials are once again repeatedly warning religious leaders against making utterances against the President.
Although many assume he has successfully elbowed all competition out of the way to succeeding Museveni, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is leading the pack opposing the clergy.
“It would be wrong for a doctor to assume a role of a teacher,” he told reporters as he advised religious leaders to focus on social service delivery.
But Niringiye says the interplay between religion and politics has impacted on the turbulent history of this country. “Just as politics should be about the welfare of the people, religion is about the wellbeing of the people. In that sense, you can’t say one thing is religious and the other is political,” he told The Independent in an interview.
“This country has never had a peaceful power transition from one president to another … (The President) has been in power for 26 years… Now we are talking about being ready for a peaceful transition of power…The term limits are good for all of us.”
Other religious leaders, like Pastor Joseph Serwadda, the chairman of the Born Again Christians, who are perceived as being pro-Museveni, have also surprisingly joined in the chorus of those saying it is time for Museveni to leave power.
However, others in churches and mosques are silent and cautious. For them, it is better to stick to religious matters and leave politics to the politicians. The Uganda Joint Christian Council, where Orombi is the rotating chairman now, has in the past called for the restoration of presidential term limits having argued against their lifting in 2005. This time, however, Orombi has cautioned his clergy to stick to their line of call, while Mubajje is quiet.
As long as the Inter-religious Council which brings together all established faiths in the country has not committed itself on whether they support Museveni retirement and handover of power, the President can remain assured of support in the mosques and churches. It could be a different story if more bishops, pastors, and sheiks turn against him.