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Janani Luwum gets national celebration

By Patrick Kagenda

Church of Uganda has, after 38 years since the martyrdom of Archbishop Janani Luwum, reached an agreement with the government to celebrate his life and honour his martyrdom.

Effective this year, the day he was murdered – February 16 – is to be marked with a national celebration.

2015 marks the lift-off year for annual pilgrimage, prayer and thanks giving for St. Janani Luwum and sets off February 16 as a major national and international occasion of remembrance.

This remembrance will take place at Wii Gweng Mucwini; 23kms north of Kitgum town, which is the resting place and birth of the martyr.  On Jan. 12, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of the Church of Uganda officially launched the Janani Luwum Memorial Charity at Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala. Before this, Luwum has all along been celebrated in low key events every February 16 in some churches in Uganda.


But while Uganda is only now getting to recognise the martyred archbishop, the West Minister Abbey Cathedral in the United Kingdom, which is the parent to the Church of Uganda province has for the last 37 years celebrated his life and martyrdom.  A chapel was named after him right from when he was martyred.

Archbishop Janani Luwum was on February 16, 1977 murdered together with two other high profile Ugandans; IGP Erinayo Wilson Oryema, and former defense Minister Oboth Ofumbi. They were murdered allegedly on the orders of then-President Idi Amin.  Oryema was last year 2014 recognised and honoured as part of celebrations to mark the Uganda Police 100-plus years at a function presided over by President Yoweri Museveni at Tangi Village, Parombo sub-county in Nwoya district.

Archbishop Stanley Ntagali while launching the Janani Luwum Charity highlighted its historic significance.

“From the very house where I live today, Janani Luwum was removed and brutally shot and killed by the Amin regime. Since that tragic day the church in Uganda as well as the global church has remembered the life of Archbishop Janan Luwum as a martyr for the Christian faith,” he said.

Archbishop Ntagali said President Yoweri Museveni will on Feb. 16 officiate at the St. Janani Luwum celebrations.

While Archbishop Ntagali will be the main celebrant of the day, other main celebrants will include the Catholic Archbishop John Baptist Odama who will be the chief intercessor, and Church of England Archbishop of York John Sentamu who will be the preacher.

Three bishops; including South African retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, are the patrons of the St. Janani Luwum Memorial Charity.  Its board of directors is led by Prof. Emanuel Tumusiime Mutebile (chair), Justice James Ogola , Hon. Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, Hon. Senator Prof. Peter Anyang’ Nyong`o , and Dr. Martin Aliker as (vice chairs).

The memorial charity will also encourage research and publications on the life of St. Janani Luwum and construction of appropriate memorials to his life.  Officiating at its launch, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, said President Museveni has endorsed the Janani Luwum Day.

“The government and the church are together and the people of Uganda are together in immortalising this great son of Uganda, Africa and humanity,” he said.

“While Janani Luwum was killed for refusing to accept the brutality that was being committed by the Idi Amin regime and died as a saint, for many of us who are active on the political scene, we regard him as well as being a political icon.”

“He was a political icon in the sense that his death in 1977 galvanised all the Ugandan patriotic forces against the dictatorship of Idi Amin. Even those who had question marks asking themselves whether things were that bad in Uganda, the brutalisation and death of Archbishop Janani Luwum closed all that and the country united and indeed the following year the people united and joined the liberation forces of Tanzania and within a period of a year the regime of Idi Amin who had murdered so many was brought to an end,” said Rugunda.

He further said that the death of Janani Luwum was in a way a sacrifice that was made to make Uganda politically free.

“It is therefore only prudent that this extraordinary individual who has impacted so heavily on religious, spiritual and political life of Uganda, the region and the world be immortalised, be recognised not just once but continuously.”

The effort to have Luwum immortalised has been spearheaded by the president of the opposition Uganda Peoples Congress, Olara Otunnu and Rugunda thanked him for it.  “I salute all those that have really put this all together and that our younger brother Olara Otunnu has gone out of his way to ensure that this mobilisation takes place but he quickly admits that he has not been alone but has been backed by a strong team from Kitgum, the Acholi region, Kampala and other areas and I was very happy to see a number of representatives of the community from Acholi, keep up the good work you are doing,”Rugunda said.

Olara Otunnu said celebrating his day “is the natural and right thing for government to do because St. Janan Luwum is a hugely important spiritual national political figure in our history”. “He is a national and international celebration and government cannot be absent and it needs to be centrally in it and I am happy to say that government is engaged.  “This is one project, one issue from which we should keep away politics, divisions and name it. St. Janan Luwum should bring all people together regardless of their ideology. He is a rainbow of the country and international community and we should all come in the spirit of humility to celebrate him.”Commenting on the developments, Sabiti Makara who is a senior lecturer in the Department of Political and Public Administration at Makerere University said it is a “two pronged” event.

“In the first instance it could be taken as being reconciliatory to the past and President Museveni wants to gain from the historical past which in a way could heal the nation.  “On the second front it could be extended patronage as we have seen him rehabilitate  soldiers from the Amin regime and other groups that have tried to fight him in the past because today  what he is using  is part of a system of patronage.”

In the Church of Uganda circles, St. Janani Luwum apart from being remembered as a martyr is also remembered for his developmental projects; the most prominent being the Church House on Kampala Road opposite the Bank of Uganda which he initiated in the early 1970s.    As a memory to his developmental ideas the church provincial assembly in 1988 unanimously resolved to name Church House the Janani Luwum Memorial Centre.

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