By Julius Odeke
The Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) is an ecumenical organisation founded in 1963 as a platform for leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican church of Uganda, and the Uganda Orthodox Church who, together, constitute 78% of Uganda’s population.
UJCC will, on May 31, this year mark 50 years of existence. The Independent’s Julius Odeke spoke to its Executive Secretary Rev Fr. Sylvester Arinaitwe.
How did the idea of forming Uganda Joint Christian Council come about?
It was in 1963, immediately after Uganda attained independence from the British colonial masters when the three different faiths of Christianity; that is to say the Roman Catholic Church, The Anglican Church of Uganda and Uganda Orthodox Church with its top members of the clergy who included Most Rev. Joseph Kiwanuka, Rev. Leslie Brown, and Rev.Theodore Nankyama agreed to set it up after having witnessed confusion and divisionism among Ugandans that was brought by the colonial masters who divided Ugandans on religious and political party basis.
What were the pertinent issues that led to the formation of UJCC?
There was total disunity in the country that arose from the colonial powers that were mostly Anglicans meaning those who were from the Anglicans faith were more privileged than others. Even on politics, government favoured those politicians who were from the Anglican faith, and that is why Catholics thought to start the Democratic Party (DP) so that there voices could also be heard politically, in that case the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) which was in power worked together with the Anglican church.
The end result at that time was churches were not doing much to have people united and work together as they were supposed to do. The colonial powers did not want Anglicans to have unity with the other Christian faiths due to their political reasons. I remember in 1962, a document was written by the colonial government on unity without human freedom. So UJCC said that one will not build peace.
Where does UJCC derive its funding?
From the three agreeing Christian faiths; each member faith in Uganda contributes. We also have the World Ecumenical Council of Churches (WECC) that is based in Europe which gives us some funding.
Uniting these three Christian faiths looks difficult, what challenges does UJCC face in its operations?
The biggest challenge is lack of self-sustainability, just like what many African countries face. Then, there is trying to convince Ugandans that we must be proactive, and that we are responsible for our country. We try to sensistise the masses to love their country through making policies and laws that will work for the development of Uganda.
But the biggest monster that is eating up the morals of Ugandans is corruption. This has damaged the reputation of our country world over. We are also seeing that unity, even among Christians themselves, is quite difficult to practice. People are individualistic in nature. Many churches have come to join UJCC but we are not realising this unity in the body of Christ.
Reverend, homosexuality has become an issue and some Ugandans are demanding gay rights. What is your take on that?
The church has to stand up for what the Bible teaches us to do. The Bible outlaws these practices. UJCC shall continue sensitising the populace on the need to stick to the biblical teachings to curb such practices. T
here are certain things, like our culture, that teach us that the issues of the gay are not part of us. While some who practice it or who sympathise with the practice say its orientation; that it’s the urge of the person basing on how they were born, we need to learn from animals. Whether wild or domestic, animals do not do that and that is a big lesson that we need to learn.
God did not create animals to do that, and the same happened to Adam and that is why He created Eve as a woman who would play that role. Why then do men want to do it contrary to our culture and to the nature that was ordained to us by God? And how shall we then fulfill God’s word that multiply and fill the world. So as a church we don’t support it.
Father, Recently, the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda has been hit by the Fr. Anthony Musaala’s revelation about most priests being hypocritical and that they should be allowed to marry, what is your comment on that?
I want to put this clearly to the public; celibacy is a discipline that was put and embraced by the Roman Catholic Church for those who want to serve the church. It’s not imposed as some say. During training that priests and the nuns undergo in the seminary institutions, it’s always made clear for everyone to make a choice before they are ordained whether to live celibate life or to marry.
Nobody is forced to live a celibate lifestyle on behalf of the church. What came out from Fr Musaala was very unfortunate and it needed to have been treated with care. He would be encouraged to marry because that seems to be his wish at the moment and continue doing the work of God but not to tell people that everyone should marry.
It is possible some people are living a hypocritical life because these are human beings. But there are priests who are living a church life. I personally, I am living a celibate life and I am contented with it.
UJCC on many occasions is involved in the activities of election monitoring and you have been at the centre of it. In your own assessment is Uganda a democratic country?
Democracy is a process and I am seeing our country Uganda growing and maturing to that. Back in 2001, the elections were a dispensation of one political party system of the Movement where people were elected on merit, it had some fighting.
In 2006, when multi-party system came in it was something that was totally new to many Ugandans. On campaign trails other supporters were being attacked with lots of abuses and name calling. The candidates never came up to sell us their manifestos.
However, in 2011, much as there were some personal attacks from some elements, candidates focused most on issues compared to the previous elections. And that is why many people never voted for some of the past MPs because some of them never performed. Yes, it should be noted that even the presidential candidates, issues were fronted together with personal attacks. This indicates growth and with time we shall be a fully democratic country.
Having monitored the March 4 elections in Kenya what lessons did you learn?
Uganda’s Electoral Commission (EC) needs to undergo reforms because of it’s the pivotal role in what happens at last. The EC should look at the legal framework, ensure that our national register is cleaned and give enough voter education.
The EC should be applauded because almost all polling stations are now near to their voters and this has created enthusiasm among the voters to vote. As UJCC and other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), we audited the national register whereby I noticed that the national register is 76% okay but there were some elements that needed to be removed like the dead, and transfer cases had not been implemented.
One could find a voter who registered in Arua sometime but left for Kampala but the name is still in the register. The Kenya national voter register of 2013 was clean compared to the one of 2007 but there wasn’t enough voter education. That is why there were a big number of invalid ballot papers cast.
In Uganda, during election times, security agencies tend to beat up people mostly those in opposition, does this mean to say Uganda is sliding to be a failed state?
Not all security agencies are doing that. I want applaud the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF). They are doing a good job when compared to the past armies. There are some cases like it happened on Women’s Day on March 8, in Luweero where a soldier shot some 10 people dead.
Such cases should be handled properly to eliminate a repeat. UPDF should outlaw their personnel from going to public bars to drink while armed since they can easily pick a quarrel with civilians and because they are armed they can easily end up by shooting at people.
While some police officers are good, I am not happy with the arrests that they carry out selectively. It has portrayed an inhumane way of handling suspects most especially when they are handling arrests on opposition leaders. Police should handle Ugandans with dignity because we are all Ugandans. It is police’s cardinal role to protect, keep law and order not in a violent manner.
What would be your last word to Ugandans?
I urge Ugandans to work together for the development of this nation. And I call upon the leadership of this country, civil society, community, and the church as well to ensure that we work up to achieve development and unity.
Those who misuse public funds which could be used for public good should stop it. It’s the corruption in our country that has cost us good social infrastructure like roads, hospital and schools. They have all been run down because we do not have funds to build them. Corruption is a poisonous thing that has eaten up many people even in church. We should fight it.