17 February 2007

Archbishop Janani Luwum, d. 17 Feb 1977

Janani Jakaliya Luwum (1922 – 1977) was the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda from 1974 to 1977 and one of the most influential leaders of the modern church in Africa. He was murdered in 1977 by either Idi Amin personally or by his henchmen.

He was ordained a deacon in 1955 and a priest in 1956. He served in the upper Nile Diocese of Uganda and later in the Diocese of Mbale. In 1969 he was consecrated bishop at Gulu in northern Uganda. After five years he was appointed archbishop of the Anglican Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Boga (in DR Congo), becoming the second African to hold this position.

Archbishop Luwum was a leading voice in criticizing the excesses of the Idi Amin régime that assumed power in 1971. In 1977, Archbishop Luwum delivered a note of protest to dictator Idi Amin against the policies of arbitrary killings and unexplained disappearances. Shortly afterwards the archbishop and other leading churchmen were accused of treason.

On 16 February 1977, Luwum was arrested together with two cabinet ministers, Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi. The same day Idi Amin convened a rally in Kampala with the three accused present. A few other “suspects” were paraded forth to read out “confessions” implicating the three men. The archbishop was accused of being an agent of the exiled former president Milton Obote, and for planning to stage a coup.

The next day, Radio Uganda announced that the three had been killed when the car transporting them to an interrogation center had collided with another vehicle. The accident, Radio Uganda reported, had occurred when the victims had tried to overpower the driver in an attempt to escape. When Luwum’s body was released to his relatives, it was riddled with bullets. Henry Kyemba, Minister of Health in Amin’s government, later wrote in his book A State of Blood, “The archbishop had been shot through the mouth and at least three bullets in the chest.” According to the later testimony of witnesses, the victims had been taken to an army barracks, where they were bullied, beaten and finally shot. Some reports say that Amin himself pulled the trigger.

“Archbishop Luwum was an exceptional leader with a holistic vision, pastoral compassion and evangelistic fervor. He had a well-integrated theology of church and mission that acknowledged with gratitude the work of western missionaries who brought the Gospel to Africa. At the same time, he also challenged the Church in Africa to inculturate the gospel so that Christ would incarnate African cultures. He went beyond the limited evangelical understanding of church and mission of his generation and spearheaded a holistic political, socioeconomic and integrated development of church and nation. He was a charismatic and evangelical leader who was equally ecumenical and at home among liberal Christians; animated for the cause of world evangelisation as much as he was passionate for theory and praxis of liberation and justice in Africa.”

Find out more about Janani Luwum here and here.

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