BOOK REVIEW: Complicated church-state relationship

Saturday January 13 2018

The Ugandan Churches and the Political Centre was released in September 2017. PHOTO | GAAKI KIGAMBO

The Ugandan Churches and the Political Centre was released in September 2017. PHOTO | GAAKI KIGAMBO | NMG 

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The war of words over the festive season between President Yoweri Museveni and his supporters on one side and faith leaders mainly the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church on the other, has stirred debate over the delicate relationship between church and state in Uganda.

This is the subject of a new book, The Ugandan Churches and the Political Centre by the Ngoma Ecumenical Publishing Consortium in partnership with the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide. 

The 308-page book by an eclectic selection of Ugandan academic researchers, seeks to highlight the role of the church in Uganda’s political life.

The Catholic and Anglican leadership has been cosying up to state power in order to win support, as both seek to entrench their influence over the people.

“Church leaders are often like moths to a lamp, drawn to the political centre, performing a fluttering dance of attendance, only to fall out of the lamplight with singed wings. The shared language of national development, the offer of a vehicle at consecration, donations by politicians for church building projects, can both advance Christian mission and ensnare church leaders in patronage networks,” writes Dr Angus Crichton; the book’s co-editor. 

The book was released last September.

President Museveni’s unwillingness to leave power is essentially what has set him at loggerheads with the clergy, notably of the Catholic Church, who consider it an unnecessary uncertainty over transition of power.

Five of its 11 case studies are dedicated to Museveni’s regime. 

“It is an open secret that since the NRM government came to power, there is always behind-the-scenes lobbying by the Roman Catholic Church for political appointments. That is why in the majority of cases, the vice president of this country has always been a Roman Catholic…The government likes it that way. Once the political appointments are made on religious grounds, it gags the religious leaders from that denomination,” writes Prof Edison Muhindo Kalengyo.

This form of co-operation and co-option, the book notes, has been the major Christian response to state power throughout the country’s history.

As such, contrary to Museveni’s constant demands that religion separates itself from politics, the two have been inseparable. The book is available in all major bookshops in Uganda.