By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Outspoken Church of Uganda Kampala Diocese Assistant Bishop, Zac Niringiye, spoke to The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati about his crusade for the restoration of presidential term limits.
There are people who think you are a politician putting on a cleric collar. What do you think?
Religion and politics interface in the common life of the people. 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. However, there should be a line between the political and religious offices. In the structuring of political power, those who contest for political office are contesting to have the authority to create, distribute and to be in charge of management of public resources and public space. The religious leadership also has the responsibility of a different kind: to help the same people to able to lead lives that are responsible, just, and social and empowered, loving God and neighbour. You therefore cannot separate religion and politics. We should also remember that religion has political dimensions and politics has religious dimensions.
In this country the process of holding a political office is now through political parties. If the question is Can religious leaders take a political party position or occupy political office? The answers are varied depending on the religious traditions. In my church, the Church of Uganda (Anglican) if a religious leader decides to vie for political office he has to resign his religious office; in fact the Church even requires him or her to remove ecclesiastical garb, such as collars, because he or she is now taking a partisan political position. But if the question is as to whether those of us who occupy religious offices as religious leaders should engage political issues – issues that affect the welfare of the people, then the answer is clear. Political discourse is about issues that affect the lives of the people and therefore we, their leaders have both the religious responsibility as well as being responsible citizens, to participate in the discourse. Please remember that religious leaders are citizens. We are affected by political decisions in our ordinary lives.
Where our president has made these statements of religious leaders to keep out of politics, it is sometimes interesting because he is the same president who has appointed a reverend father as his minister of ethics and integrity. If they should not be in politics, why hire them? So what is he really saying? The president has supported Rev Bakkaluba Mukasa in his election bids. It is difficult to see what our president means; whether he is saying I do not want religious leaders to take part in political party decisions or whether he really means that religious leaders have no say in anything about nodding disease, healthcare, water, electricity, education, etc. These are political matters and everybody has a right to talk about them. In fact religious leaders have the responsibility to address these issues.
As to whether I am interested in running for a political office, let me be clear: My primary and indeed only concern is our country and the people. The history of our country is full of violence. The country faces an un-certain future. The quantity and quality of delivery of social services has reached crisis levels. My passion is for a peaceful country.
Why are you preaching about presidential term limits now?
I am not really preaching them. It should be clear, that they are not the good news that saves! However, the restoration of presidential term limits is a critical step that should be taken in order to ensure that the country does not continue to slide in its leadership and governance. I should also point out that I am not the first person to speak about term limits and neither will I be the last person. This has been talked about for the last seven years. The reason why this is important is because it is good for our country. It is also good for the incumbent. It is human that those who hold political power face the temptation to hold on to it. It is good for governance. The problem with political power in Africa is the way it is exercised; where by tribal, religious, regional and other sectarian considerations bias the management of public resources. Secondly, this country has never had a peaceful transition from one president to another. This time round we want our president to be the first in our history. Restoring term limits will provide him a less tenuous way to do this. No doubt, this is not the sole solution to Uganda’s political power structuring; in fact there are many things that need to be done to improve leadership and governance in Uganda. But having concluded that our president has made his contribution, it is time for him to finish well. He has been in power for 26 years. By the way if he has not done what he wanted to do in those years then he will never do it. So, we are talking about being ready for a peaceful transition of power.
But religious leaders like you have been accused of drumming for the President, receiving brown envelopes and other gifts like cars from him, where do you get the moral authority to call him to transfer power?
I have never argued that religious leaders themselves should not be held accountable for their words and actions. What we say is no attack to anyone. It is not even suggesting that we the religious leaders do the right things all the time. It is simply to point out what we need to do as a country together to secure a peaceful future and prosperous future for our children.