News and Views
Strong opposition good for governments – Ssentamu
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Ssentamu is in Uganda on a visit that has seen him join Muhabura diocese centenary celebrations, visit friends and family and also inspect some of the projects that he is a patron of. Stephen Ssenkaaba and Goodluck Musinguzi caught up with him
It has been a while since you last visited Uganda, how do you feel about your return home?
It is a great joy. Every time I come home, I must have Matooke, groundnut paste and other foods. I feel good. It feels like I have never gone away.
How has Uganda changed since the last time you were here?
Many things have changed here: Places look different and lots of new buildings have sprung up in the city. I wonder whether there is adequate infrastructure to sustain these new buildings and sufficient sewage systems to support the new structures. Plus the traffic is a nightmare. The Government should consider making the streets light operational like it is in Rwanda.
You have been tipped to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Do you feel ready to take on this mantle?
I cannot say much about Canterbury; in England it would be considered campaigning. I will be able to speak about it after the end of the process. All I can say is that people should pray and seek God’s will.
In Uganda, we are witnessing the spread of Christianity alongside the growth of witchcraft under the guise of traditional African religion. How would you explain this?
In Uganda, Christians easily believe in the word of God without actually getting truly converted. That is why, you find that so many people claim to be Christians while still practicing witchcraft and other evil acts like corruption. It is important for people to live up to what they believe.
Many young people are leaving the traditional Anglican/ Catholic Church to join the Pentecostal church. Do you think the mainstream church is losing its appeal to the younger generation?
Not necessarily. What is happening now is what happened 100 years ago with the advent of the East African revival. The Holy Spirit cannot be confined to one single church or denomination. The mainstream church has to accept that. If young people are leaving one family (Church) for another, all that church should do is bless them. They should rejoice that these people are still going to church. Very soon the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches will become established churches. All churches should seek to uphold unity instead of worrying over who has more believers.
Uganda has a high rate of HIV especially among married couples. Do you think the church has done enough in its role to preach faithfulness?
I remember that it was the church that supported the ABC strategy against HIV/AIDS. The late Bishop Misaeri Kawuma did a great job in encouraging this campaign. Over the years, however, it seems people relaxed and abandoned the message. AIDS is a sexual disease. It is on the rise because people have become more promiscuous. The church, doctors, government, all need to double their effort in stamping out HIV/AIDS.
What is your appraisal of Uganda at 50 years since independence?
It is fantastic that Uganda will be celebrating 50 years of independence. I was a teenager in 1962. It is a good thing that it has come with a major victory, Stephen Kiprotich’s gold medal win at the London Olympics. It is a great victory since Akibua’s in 1972 and since the great athlete had a road named after him, I hope Kiprotich will have a street named after him. Uganda used to have some of the best boxers.
It is a challenge for us to improve all things that we are good at. This victory also speaks about sport as a uniting factor for a nation. It is an important call for all of us to work together for development and as our motto suggests: For God and My Country. This means, no single person, politician or otherwise should possess the country as if it is their own. We are servers of this nation, not owners of it. It is for all of us to benefit. In the next 50 years Uganda needs to take this message and the element of God very seriously.
You have most recently said that the church leadership should become less middle class. What does this mean in respect to Uganda where church leaders are increasingly becoming affluent?
Religious leaders need to be down to earth. That way, they will be able to identify with the people on the ground. They have got to be people who speak the language of the man on the street. They will be able to identify people in their church with the right talent and work with them to disseminate the word of God.
What is your position on homosexuality?
My views are known world over and I have not changed. I have posted my views on my website. CLICK HERE TO READ HIS VIEWS
What are your views on female Bishops?
I am in favour of it. Women priests serve like us men.
Sentamu speaks out on politics
In Uganda, Church leaders have been asked to keep out of politics. What do you have to say about that?
I firmly believe that all aspects of life, including politics, should be a concern of religion. I would like to remind President Museveni of what he said to a spiritual leader who discouraged him from discussing a protest against Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, during a Scripture Union meeting we both attended, in Mwiri, in the mid-60s.
Museveni said to the leader: “The Bible says that if people are unjust, they have got to be challenged.” Indeed Museveni led a protest walk out on this conference over this issue. He now cannot turn around and say that clergy should keep out of politics. I believe that the God of the Bible, is a God of liberation. What I oppose is religious leaders getting involved in party politics.
What is your message to political leaders?
Good governments govern well only when there is a strong opposition. Without it, the government in power assumes the attitude that they are the only ones that can rule. This brings about dictatorship.
The practice of having the ruling party with a dominant majority in parliament is also not good for democracy. This was the case in Britain under Margaret Thatcher and Tonny Blair. Good governance requires strong opposition and fair representation.
I pray that the country remains in peace and love. Whatever divides us, we should remember we are one big tribe of Jesus. Jesus calls for unity of purpose. Let’s tolerate each other’s views and respect one another. Politicians must keep remembering that Ugandans want peace.
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