21 September 2017

Uganda: Religious Leaders After Years of Eating Free Lunches Confront Dangerous Truth

Photo: Alex Esagala/Daily Monitor
Security officers deployed at the main gate of Parliament.

It is an understatement that the sober statement by the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda on the pending amendment of the Constitution has come too late. The religious leaders reading the same cut the figure of half-belief, hesitancy when they came out with a sound statement challenging both the removal of presidential term limits in 2005 and the pending removal of 75 years as the upper presidential age limit coming up before Parliament.

In 2015, Pope Francis I made an ill-advised visit to Uganda just before the general elections of 2016 whose motives unfortunately were directed at shoring up the political fortunes of a certain political group. It was an accident of grace that the Pope as was widely anticipated did not name new Cardinals at this time. Uganda's only cardinal, Archbishop emeritus Emmanuel Wamala of Kampala is now 91, is in retirement.

A Cardinal is not only an administrative or executive leader; he is also a spiritual leader of the faith. Catholic bishops have had a hard time explaining to the faithful why they must line up for "executive" donations that blur the separation of church and State and created an impression that their very existence relies on government.

The Daily Monitor of Tuesday, September 19 captures this conflict well.

In a widely acclaimed statement, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, states that the two constitutional issues are so fundamental they should be or (should have in the case of term limits) have been subjected to a referendum. In the inter-regnum period since 2005 when the amendments to term limits were procured and now, they have been mostly ambivalent on this topic failing to appreciate that man-made laws like the Constitution rely on God-made law or natural laws for legitimacy. In fact, sections of the Constitution like Chapter "4" on fundamental human rights are restatements of natural law and tenets like "entrenched", "non-derogable" or in current language "togikwatako" are value statements by society handed down over the years in major texts like the Magna Carta, the American Bill of Rights all right through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are declarations of "humanness", "empathy", and love for God and man that are the bulwark of civilised society.

Some of the responses by the clerics in Tuesday's paper are disappointing. There are some who have said it is the issue for the people rather than fundamental values of society to decide. This is similar to Pontius Pilate's abdication of his duty as a Judge in the Bible to assent to the execution of Jesus. In recent and more embarrassing times, this has been blamed for the rise of fascism in Europe in the interwar period where the churches were accused of complicity in the rise of National Socialism, Fascism and Nazism in Europe.

Traditionally, religious leaders were the most highly educated in society, schooled in the classics like the history of civilisation, ancient languages like Greek and Latin, philosophy and dialectics and jurisprudence. In the high priesthood (ordinary Christians serve in the lay apostolate), there were even more specialisations like propagation of the faith, canon and ecclesiastical law and the foundations of spirituality. Each of the world's major religions save for the younger offshoots of the older religions, has a similar set up.

Going by the responses of some of the high priests afraid of stirring the waters, their responses made minced meat of the IRC statement. There is a risk that in the coming days as the debate becomes even more heated, some leaders will disown or rubbish the statement.

It goes without saying that it is the Sabakristu of Parliament, an ex-seminarian Raphael Magyezi, who is spearheading the latest motion. This is not a very good day for the republic. It is worse for the religious leaders who find themselves in a Gordian knot.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.

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