By Spy Uganda
Kampala: Uganda celebrates Archbishop Janani Luwum Day on the 16th of February each year, commemorating the life of the second African Archbishop of the Church of the Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga Zaire. From 1974 to 1977, he also served as the second Bishop of Kampala Diocese.
While in his position, Archbishop Luwum was a leading voice in criticising the excesses of the Idi Amin regime 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, that “The bodies were bullet-riddled. The archbishop had been shot through the mouth and at least three bullets in the chest. The ministers had been shot in a similar way but one only in the chest and not through the mouth. Oryema had a bullet wound through the leg.”
According to the later testimony of witnesses, the victims had been taken to an army barracks, where they were bullied, beaten and finally shot. A local report then said, “Some reports even had it that Amin himself had pulled the trigger, but Amin angrily denied the charge, and there were no first-hand witnesses”.
According to Vice President of Uganda Mustafa Adrisi and a Human rights commission, Amin’s right-hand man Isaac Maliyamungu carried out the murder of Luwum and his colleagues.
Janani Luwum was survived by a widow, Mary Lawinyo Luwum and nine children. He was buried in his home village of Mucwini in the Kitgum District and ever since then, he was declared as a martyr by the Church of England and the Anglican Communion and his death is commemorated on 17 February as a Lesser Festival. His statue is among the Twentieth Century Martyrs on the front of Westminster Abbey in London.
In 2016, President Museveni declared February 16 a public holiday in Archbishop Luwum’s memory. In addition, the ministries of Education and Gender, Labour and Social Development were ordered to erect a statue in Kampala in his honour.