News and Views

Stand-off: UK Journalists “Arrested” At Pastor Robert Kayanja’s Church

By  | 

Hell broke loose a few days ago when a journalist with British tabloid Daily Mail was briefly “arrested” by Pastor Robert Kayanja’s aides at the Rubaga Miracle Centre in Kampala.

David Jones and his photographer were seized as they entered the church during an investigation on the controversial Pastor’s lavish lifestyle.

In his well researched report published by Daily Mail Monday, Jones recounts his horrible experience: “Back in Uganda, my own welcome to the Miracle Centre was somewhat disquieting. First, I was ushered through an airport-style security scanner while the undercarriage of my taxi was swept for bombs.”

Jones further states: “Then when the Mail’s photographer attempted to take a shot of the cathedral, all hell broke loose. As one guard grabbed her and demanded her camera, another leapt on the car and snatched the keys from the ignition.”

The miserable journalist notes a spiked metal girder was subsequently jammed beneath the front wheels “so we were effectively impounded.”

He adds: “The stand-off ended only when a junior pastor emerged from this most unlikely cathedral, a Bible tucked beneath his arm, to call off our captors.”

Jones, however, confirms Pastor Kayanja later sent him an email “explaining that it was his duty to protect parishioners from the threat of terrorist attacks, but while one accepts East Africa has become the target for Islamic fundamentalists, they tend not to come disguised as pin-striped suited Englishmen.”

The popular preacher, whose church is ever under tight security manned by heavily armed guards and sniffer dogs, Kayanja is well known for his love for a lavish lifestyle.

Below is the full story:

Machine gun guards, the Archbishop of York's millionaire brother and a very troubling allegation

With John Sentamu front-runner to lead the Church of England, the Mail travels to Uganda to trace the rise of this brilliant charismatic man – and stumbles on a troubling family scandal

 This is a tale of two remarkable, though very different brothers who have risen from humble  beginnings in a poor Ugandan  village to positions of power in utterly contrasting Churches.

Having fled to Britain as a young man, one has risen through the ranks of the Church of England and is now the bookmakers’ favourite to be its first black leader following the recent resignation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The other has remained in East Africa to establish a hugely successful evangelical ministry with its own TV channel, a 10,500-seater auditorium and some of Uganda’s most powerful people among his vast following — only to find his reputation tarnished by a series of allegations (all unproven and strenuously denied) including a lurid gay sex scandal.


Royal approval: Dr John Sentamu, far left, with the Queen after the Royal Maundy service

One despises the modern scourge of materialism, famously adapting Descartes’ dictum to proclaim Britain’s new motto as ‘Tesco ergo sum’ (I shop, therefore I am); the other wears designer suits, lives in a fabulous mansion overlooking Lake Victoria and unashamedly preaches the virtues of wealth.

And this weekend, one brother will lead a quintessentially English Easter service at York Minster while the other will preach fire-and-brimstone and purge demons amid the hysteria of a Kampala cathedral called the Miracle Centre, where armed guards patrol the barbed wire perimeter fence.


Indeed, while tracing the extraordinarily divergent paths of the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, 62, and his 50-year-old brother, Pastor Robert Kayanja, there are times when it is difficult to believe they are brothers at all.

Their story begins in a ramshackle six-bedroom farmhouse in the village of Masooli, ten miles from Kampala, where, with their seven brothers and four sisters, they were raised by devoutly religious parents whose forebears were converted by British missionaries.

John, the sixth youngest, was born in 1949, when Uganda was still a British colony, while Robert arrived in 1962, the year it gained independence.

However, time marches so slowly in these parts that little has changed in the village since those days.

At the family’s smallholding, with its banana grove, jackfruit trees and scrawny tethered cows, I saw just how far they have come.

For many years the family subsisted on the crops they grew and the meagre wage earned by their father, also John, who was a teacher and farmer before becoming an Anglican priest. His wife Ruth assisted him as a lay preacher.


Encouraged to work hard and make the best of their abilities, most of the 13 children were, in their way, high-achievers. While some became nurses, teachers or priests, one son was an opposition politician and a daughter, Margaret, once managed Idi Amin’s favourite hotel.

(Though she despised the murderous dictator —  like the rest of the family — her brother told me how Amin awarded her a special medal because she was his ‘favourite manageress’.)

Even among his talented, hard-working siblings, however, Dr Sentamu stood out. By all accounts, he took it upon himself to care for his family and would use what money he had to provide for them.

When he attended university he would sell his college books to pay for his six younger brothers’ education; and he gave Robert Kayanja his shoes as a confirmation present. But he had a mischievous sense of humour and gave amusing nicknames to everyone in the village.

He was also a keen member of the local amateur dramatics club and loved sport. He is remembered for his prowess at rugby and football (he is a lifelong Manchester United fan, but also watches his local team, York City).

For many years, his father wanted him to become a doctor. He was certainly bright enough, but there was not enough money to provide good schooling. However, when Sentamu was 15, teachers at the prestigious Kyambogo College spotted his potential, took him under their wing and offered him lodgings. Their generosity transformed his future.

At university he read law, and on graduating was immediately pressed into service as a magistrate, for so many intellectuals had fled the country or been killed by Amin’s henchmen that they were in short supply.

Sentamu has related how he became an Oskar Schindler-type figure who would jail defendants brought before him on trumped-up charges, knowing that if he released them they would be murdered. He has also described how he was detained for 90 days and ‘kicked around like a football’ after convicting the dictator’s cronies (he jailed Amin’s cousin for rape, despite being warned to find him innocent).

He escaped almost certain execution by defecting to Britain in 1974 when he was granted temporary leave from Uganda to study for a theology degree at Cambridge University.

Such grim experiences undoubtedly underpin a determination to fight injustice that once saw him undergo a week-long fast while camping outside York Minster in solidarity with victims of the Middle East conflict and to cut up his dog-collar, live on TV, in protest at Robert Mugabe’s atrocities.

They might also explain the fierce patriotism for his adopted country that has moved him to defend aspects of colonialism and champion British values more proudly than many who were born in Britain.

However, when it comes to the key issues that will test his unifying powers to their limits should he become Archbishop of Canterbury — such as whether female bishops and gay church marriages should be permitted — Sentamu is very much a traditionalist, like most African Anglicans.


This makes the protracted, tawdry — and utterly unproven — homosexual abuse scandal that has tarnished his brother’s reputation all the more ironic.

What is this unedifying saga about and how does Robert find himself embroiled in it, to the point where for three years he has been fighting to clear his name in the Ugandan courts?

Well, it is first necessary to understand the bitter divisions between the vast number of independent Churches and their self-styled pastors in Uganda, where religion is a cut-throat business that thrives on the blind devotion of followers, many of whom would otherwise be without hope.

Nowhere is the rivalry fiercer than in the Pentecostal movement, which attracts millions with the promise of life-changing miracles.

In their determination to lure new members, its pastors frequently make damning accusations against rivals — and in a country where a law is being debated in parliament that would make certain homosexual ‘crimes’ punishable by death, any claim involving gay sex is the most damning of all.

According to Robert Kayanja, Uganda’s most powerful pastor, with more than 1,000 churches and the president’s wife at one time in his congregation, this is why he has been targeted so relentlessly and unjustly.


Kayanja's Miracle Centre Cathedral regularly attracts thousands for sermons

Several years ago, he was accused of smuggling crates of alcohol worth thousands across Lake Victoria, from Kenya, and stashing them in his palatial mansion, but the authorities accepted his explanation that his security guards had staged the scam without his knowledge.

Then, last year, he reportedly issued a bounced cheque for 300 million Ugandan shillings (about £79,000) to a Ugandan Asian businessman who had claimed to have loaned him the money to fund a rally featuring the leading American evangelist Benny Hinn.

A photograph of the cheque featured in a Ugandan newspaper (though it failed to explain why a man as wealthy as Kayanja would have insufficient funds in his bank account), but the matter was resolved amicably.  

The sex scandal has proved more enduring. The first allegation was made by Samson Mukisa, a teenage boy who claimed Kayanja had procured him from the Miracle Centre’s Never Again home for street children. But others followed.

The boys are said to have sought help from four rival pastors, who were already on a crusade to root out alleged impropriety in the evangelical movement. They went to the police and later gave graphic TV and newspaper interviews discrediting Kayanja.

Within weeks, however, the tables were well and truly turned. Five of the six ‘victims’ were said to have recanted their statements, and the police not only cleared Kayanja of any impropriety, but laid charges against his accusers for tarnishing his reputation.

For the past three years the case has been grinding through the courts. It is being presided over by a new magistrate, the first having been removed amid allegations by the boys’ lawyers, again unproven, that he was bribed with a house and car.

There have been so many other murky allegations —that the boys were also bribed or coerced to change their stories; that one of Kayanja’s aides was kidnapped and forced to testify against him; that he bought off the police by paying for their HQ to be renovated — that the affair has become Uganda’s ‘Pastorgate’.

When he gave evidence, Kayanja drew on his considerable powers of oratory to proclaim his innocence, and even a defence lawyer concedes that his speech was ‘electrifying’.

‘Your worship, I don’t sell bananas or cows — I deal with human beings,’ he declared. ‘A man’s name is all he has, and when someone deliberately, relentlessly desires to destroy that name, he has destroyed everything you stand for.’

Just so, but Kayanja’s audacious style of preaching and jaw-dropping predictions (he once warned — wrongly — that a presidential candidate would die during a general election campaign) made him many enemies. He has told how his mission began in 1983, when he was 20 and met a witch who warned him he would die within three days.

‘Instead the witch died. They found his body in the middle of the road, his severed head by the roadside,’ he said, adding he had dreamt the previous night that God had handed him a sword with which to slay the enemy.


At his Miracle Centres, stories such as this are common parlance and believed without question.

Indeed, when I mentioned that I was writing this article to a waiter at my hotel, he became moony-eyed and said he had landed his job after beseeching Pastor Kayanja to pray for him to find work.

As the word spread, wealthy entrepreneurs, senior police and military officers also joined his Church, enabling him to build the huge £4.5 million auditorium, boasted to be the biggest on the continent. Funding for its huge, reflective windows reputedly came from a South Korean Buddhist woman who emerged from a coma after Kayanja asked God to help her.

As his popularity soared, he acquired a fleet of London buses to ferry followers to the cathedral from outlying towns and villages. When I asked an aide how he came by them, he smiled. ‘The Lord provides,’ he said enigmatically.


Dr John Sentamu's brother has been accused of dubious relations with young boys

While many of his devotees can barely afford to eat, his popularity has made him, by Ugandan standards, fabulously rich. He jets around the world first-class to spread the Gospel on a diplomatic passport granted, he says, because he is ‘an ambassador of Christ’.

At times, however, his performance last Sunday at the Miracle Centre — entertaining as it was — seemed more like a get-rich-quick seminar than a religious service.

‘Be the first one in your family to buy a new car! Be the first one to take a flight overseas! Go and buy a new apartment!’ he cajoled his followers, as they stuffed their weekly donations into several huge raffia baskets besides the altar platform. ‘Mobilise yourselves! People don’t get rich because they were born rich. They invent something and mobilise the market!’

He also pledged to open bank accounts for the scores of followers who raised their hands to indicate they were without one, and urged them to visualise amassing ‘a million dollars’.

His glamorous wife, Jessica, chief executive of their company, is evidently of a like mind, selling her books and CDs at a stall inside the cathedral. One book, entitled Girl Power, urges women to make the most of their attributes and do all they can to please their husband.

In another she describes how, with God’s help, she and her three children overcame the sex allegations against her husband.

She is in stark contrast to the Archbishop’s wife. Sentamu met Margaret at Makerere University in Uganda, where she was studying English Literature, and they married the year before fleeing to England.

She has done various jobs in the church and is now a freelance diversity management and recruitment consultant and patron of various charities. The couple have two children of their own, Geoffrey and Grace, and two adopted children.

Back in Uganda, my own welcome to the Miracle Centre was somewhat disquieting. First, I was ushered through an airport-style security scanner while the undercarriage of my taxi was swept for bombs.

Then when the Mail’s photographer attempted to take a shot of the cathedral, all hell broke loose. As one guard grabbed her and demanded her camera, another leapt on the car and snatched the keys from the ignition.

A spiked metal girder was jammed beneath the front wheels so we were effectively impounded.

The stand-off ended only when a junior pastor emerged from this most unlikely cathedral, a Bible tucked beneath his arm, to call off our captors.

Pastor Kayanja later sent me an email explaining that it was his duty to protect parishioners from the threat of terrorist attacks, but while one accepts East Africa has become the target for Islamic fundamentalists, they tend not to come disguised as pin-striped suited Englishmen.

Just what the Archbishop of York — who preached at the Miracle Centre in 2005 and officiated at Robert’s wedding — would make of all this, one can but imagine.

This week, his Press office would say only that he was ‘aware’ of the slurs been levelled at his brother, but declined to discuss them.

‘As a matter of Christian discipline he does not comment on or criticise other Churches,’ his spokesman added pointedly.

This is precisely the sort of diplomatic response one would expect from a distinguished churchman who stands on the threshold of epoch-making greatness. And who is, in so many ways, worlds apart from his controversial brother.



You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.