Until May 10, Martyrs Day 2019 at Namugongo looked set to be quieter than usual. But on that day, the church made an announcement that created the biggest buzz ever around the annual June 03 celebrations.
Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | The Chairman of the Episcopal Conference, Bishop Joseph Antony Zziwa of Kiyinda-Mityana Diocese, announced that starting this year, the Uganda Martyrs Day celebrations “Will no longer welcome Kaveera.” Pilgrims are encouraged to carry items in reusable cloth, palm satchels (Kikapu) or paper bags.
Zziwa said the Catholic Church in Uganda has been inspired by the deep reflections and appeals made by His Holiness Pope Francis in his Encyclical “Laudato Si” (Praise You Lord) in which he reiterates the duty humanity owes towards the environment.
“The Pope appeals to our conscience as believers and people of good will to protect mother earth and planet from destruction.
“As for the faithful, we call on you to make this call part of your witnessing to the Gospel as well as the responsibility given to man in Genesis Chapter 1 verse 28,” he said.
Zziwa was flanked at the launch of the “Tuve ku Kaveera, Relieve Our Environment,” campaign by partners in the campaign from Vivo Energy, NBS Television, and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). These are old players in the anti-polythene bag fight. Only the invoking of God in the fight was new. And the call has been embraced in ways they possibly never imagined.
Bashir Twesigye is not a Christian and would possibly not be excited about Martyrs Day. But as executive director of Civic Response on Environment and Development, a Kampala-based non-profit, he is now excited.
He told The Independent that considering that NEMA has used laws and governance but all have failed to curb kaveera— the single use disposable polythene bags, “it is probably the right thing to turn to God.”
“Kaveera is not only an illegal product, it is also an immoral one since we are not only endangering ourselves but we are also endangering the lives of the future generation.”
Dr. Tom Okurut, NEMA’s executive director, captured the significance of linking the anti-kaveera fight with God and the annual pilgrim to Namugongo Martyrs Shrine on June 03. Okurut said the thousands of pilgrims who come from all over the world to Namugongo will now become “ambassadors for the protection of the environment.”
“The Uganda Martyrs Shrine is a sacred international tourism destination which must be protected from environmental pollution,” he said, adding that the campaign is an opportunity for educating and recruiting ambassadors for the protection of the environment.
Okurut said NEMA is counting on multiple effects of pilgrims carrying back the message of the abolition of the use of the kaveera to galvanize implementation of laws outlawing the use of polythene bags. Although not verified, it is estimated that over three million pilgrims thronged the shrines last year from Kenya, DR Congo, Nigeria, and South Africa.
Many of them carried or used ‘Kaveera’; the local name for disposable polythene carrier bags that retail shop and supermarket workers use to pack products for customers.
Kaveera overwhelms church
Francis Muwonge, the Administrative Secretary at the Uganda Martyrs Catholic Shrine says the sheer amount of garbage the pilgrims leave behind, most of it, disposable polythene bags, is overwhelming.
Muwonge is in charge of one of the two venues which attract millions of pilgrims from around the world every year. Although June 03 is the day of the celebration, many pilgrims often arrive days or weeks earlier and leave later. Many live rough around the shrine as they perform acts of penitence. Muwonge says by the time they leave, the amount of garbage they leave behind is “astounding.”
Muwonge told The Independent on May 23 that NEMA and the Catholic Church have declared the Shrine a “Kaveera-free zone” this year.
“When you look at the sheer amount of Kaveera that the workers at the Shrine have to pick following the end of the Martyrs Day celebrations, it is astounding,” Muwonge told The Independent in the late afternoon of May 23 as he worked on protocol details for staff and invited guests.
“If you are to gather the polythene garbage, I don’t know how many tonnes you would get,” he said.
On normal days, the Shrines have their own cleaning staff, but for Martyrs Day clean-up, they have to get help from the local Kira Municipal Council. And the clean-up takes days.