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Good Governance and the Role of the Church

Good Governance and the Role of the Church
Governance in the Face of Political Issues
(Country Report - Uganda)
By Sr Specioza Kabahuma


Every society and every community needs good governance based on the effective leadership, guided by moral principles of the social order and in accordance with the Divine plan. Good governance therefore needs to be seen as a service to the growth and development of the social community. ‘Church’ as will be used in this sharing, means both the individual believer and the corporate body of all the baptized and the institutional entity, all of which are part, and partial of the social community. The church therefore, according to this sharing is taken to be “a living, dynamic community which is part of society and which shares in all the challenges society experiences.”[1] Put at the center of the service if His people, the Church continues with the implementation of the manifesto of Jesus Christ her founder as stated in Lk. 4: 18
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me
He has sent me to bring Good news to the poor,
To proclaim liberty to captives,
And to the blind new sight,
To set the down trodden free, and
To proclaim the year of favor”
This is the vision and mission of the church in which every baptized participates. It is a clear and non-refutable mandate that summarizes the role of the church in the process of ensuring good governance that builds the earthly city according to the divine plan.
The Ugandan Case
In the political history of Uganda, the church, began with a kind of passive attitude on the suffering of the people at the hands of dictators, opposed to the military action, without any practical solution but insisted on prayer and waiting for God’s miraculous intervention. The local Christians had a different view. They prayed as they fought for their rights until they convinced the missionaries to join them as moral and spiritual advisors. Later as things advanced and situations worsened the church, in general and the Catholic Church in particular started to spearhead revolutions at most crucial moments of the country’s developments. However it can also be admitted that neither the Anglican nor the Catholic churches have developed a clear theology or a practical strategy to challenge dictatorial regimes that Uganda has suffered or may suffer in future. This is a challenge that needs to be addressed if the church has to advance education for good governance alongside some practical implementation for the same cause.

Period Before 1986 and the Church’s Role

It has been recorded that between 1885 and 1887, when king Mwanga challenged the practice of Christianity in Uganda, he went ahead and executed the political rebels, now the Uganda Martyrs. The Church started what is known as ‘passive resistance revolution’[2] in which verbal and written protests were registered. It looked a timid action over the tragic event of the killing of Christians but had some impact and in the process King Mwanga was overthrown and deposed.
It can also be said that in the struggles to survive and carry out her work the church has made some mistakes that most times would overshadow her clear role and mission towards good governance. Sometimes the church could stand by the people while at times on h side of the oppressors - the colonialists threatening excommunication of any catholic that would join the opposition despite the sufferings of the people. For example in the anti-foreign domination revolution that took place between 1897 – 1899 the institutional Catholic Church sympathized with the colonialists, fought alongside the oppressor and having worn the war was awarded land for the victory and given more freedom to evangelize but at the expense of peoples rights.
“This historical instance shows clearly how the institutional church may use its influence and other means at its disposal successfully to oppose any revolution whole objectives or vision it does not agree with or suspects. The religious factor has been important in Uganda for the success or defeat of any revolution both during colonial rule and in the post-independence era’.[3]
It is very surprising that throughout the colonial period there were so many open injustices but the catholic bishops of Uganda in defense of peoples rights or condemning the injustices issued no pastoral letter.

At Independence

The catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter entitled “shaping Our National Destiny (1962) in which they provided some guiding principles for the relationship between Church and state. This was done under the leadership of out-spoken Archbishop Kiwanuka.
“Therefore whatever is in human things is of a spiritual character, whatever pertains to salvation of souls, whatever pertains to the worship of god, whatever pertains to the human conscious, pertains to the power and judgement of the Church”[4]
“… We are members of the two-fold society – a spiritual society, the church and the temporal society the nation. The two societies complement and help one another. They are not in opposition”. The authority of both the spiritual and temporal societies comes from God – that of the Church directly from God and by Divine Institution; that of the nation indirectly through people’s vote. Both having the same source, they cannot be in contradiction, both come from God, though differently and God cannot contradict Himself.[5]
Uganda went into crisis that started in 1966 the year when Archbishop died and the whole situation became silence itself. Fear ruled everywhere only a few press releases and individual speeches from some bishops were the order.

Idi Amin’s Dictatorial Regime: (1971 – 1979)

After the above struggles comes Amin’s dictatorial regime. Fear and silence dominated the church leadership while the people suffered tyranny, extrajuditial killings, murders, suppression of human rights, illegal detentions without trials etc. The liberation war was then planned by the bitter exiles and it removed Amin. In 1979 that Catholic bishops of Uganda started the commission for Justice and Peace, which started, exposing the atrocities and abuse of human rights. The hostility on the church leadership forced the commission to operate underground until 1986 after the ‘bush war’ when it was officially established and started to operate openly. At this time both Anglican and Catholic churches realized the need for moral rehabilitation and guidance to the nation.
The catholic bishops produced a pastoral letter “Reshaping Our nation” (1979) aiming at restoring hope in the people and calling upon the people to take action each in his/her own capacity. The atrocities worsened with a lot of massacres and torture of innocent civilians in West nile region by Government armies. The bishops came out with another pastoral letter “I Have Heard the Cry of my People” and then again another letter calling “Be Converted and Live”(1981) calling upon government to desist from killing and torturing innocent people. This is the letter where the bishops vowed to act as a voice to the voiceless. Almost nothing happened then they wrote another letter “With a New Heart and A New Spirit” (1986) After the bush war the bishops felt that the root cause of the crisis in Uganda was partly due to peoples lack of participation in their own governance, development and decision-making processes. Another letter “Towards a New National Constitution” (1989) was issued calling upon all people to participate in this noble exercise. This speckled off church’s active participation in civic education of the people, mobilizing them for education on decision-making processes, sensitization programs on issues that affect them, etc.
On account of all atrocities and abuse of human rights the bishops made a strong submission the constitution assembly echoing their voice and they had this to say:
“We believe Jesus Christ redeemed all people, making person was created with the gift of rationality and freedom which must be respected by whatever power that be. There is an entire Catholic Social Teaching on the dignity of persons, their freedoms and rights. This is the teaching we proclaim to all people, Christians and non-Christians alike. It is from this teaching that nations have drawn and continue to draw rights and freedoms of people throughout the ages. Since our political independence we have constantly Insisted on the respect of human dignity and human Rights in all our joint Pastoral Letters and in the letters of individual Bishops. We have protested openly and in the strongest terms possible whenever and wherever human dignity and human rights have been abused by people in leadership positions, the security forces and by ordinary people. We believe the foundation of any healthy, just and Democratic nation is the respect of human dignity and Human rights of all people living it.”[6]
In their consecutive annual plenaries the bishops’ recommendations gave birth to some fruits and contributed to good governance. Such as:
  • The withdrawal of child soldiers and mothers from the armed forces after the 1986 bush war
  • The establishments of some constitutional bodies like the Uganda Human Rights Commission, the Inspectorate of Government (IGGs) office and the ministry of Ethics and integrity are all fruits from the roles the church has played.


  • As may be seen the catholic Church in Uganda has done more writing on paper that doing practical saving actions and in a process lives and property have been lost and destroyed. Peoples lives traumatized and poverty striking many. Although credit may be given that something was done but there is a lot to be desired.
  • Applicability of some of the local social teaching especially when all peaceful means to overcome injustices have failed still remains a big problem.
  • The times when bishops have failed to have a collective voice on some issues that need quick action to save the lives of the people has created gaps I the confidence the people have in the church that is perceived by many as voice of the voiceless.
  • The theological aspect I the pastoral letters need to be critically examined so that some practical application strategies may be drawn from there.
  • Failure to empower the people and involve them in most decisions of church’s approach leaves a lot of gaps that renders ineffectiveness in the roles church plays.
  • The continued exclusion of women in most crucial decision-making processes of the church robs it of the fruits of the continued action of the mystery of incarnation that gives a continued birth of new life in the church, part of which explains ‘limping’ nature of most of the Catholic Church’s decisions.

The Way Forward:

The response of the church leadership need to be timely and be clear enough to give direction and excite people into practical action for their own liberation. This should be in the spirit of being pro-active other than reactive. In addition preventative measures with clear strategies should accompany the roles of the church in such situations.
The people should be empowered to meaningfully play their roles in as far as fulfilling each ones responsibility towards the church’s mission and vision are concerned. The people need to be consulted before bishops come out with any guidance to society so that participation touches the beneficiaries – the people leading to the owning of the message from the time of inception up to the output product of the whole exercise. However this may not be possible when the people still feel that hopelessness and helplessness before injustices and oppression. Therefore the role of the church should first and foremost be to liberate them from such evils that make them vulnerable to any manipulation.
According the Ugandan experience the church has tried and should continue to play her role as:
  • Prophetic witness: Church as analyzer of Society: Church is expected to carry out a critical analysis of society to identify areas and issues which may cause conflict if not prevented or solved in time. This is a requirement on the Church always to read and correctly interpret the signs of the time and take the necessary preventive action. The prophetic witness of the church need to be felt whereby the leadership warn people and society at large to do whatever possible to prevent any likely conflict which may cause divisions, disunity, insecurity and suffering to God’s people. This constant critical analysis of society and the correct interpretation of the signs of times is still very weak in our Church and society as a whole.
  • Guidance role: The Church has the message of Jesus Christ, the message of God. This message is offers to society at all times and especially during conflict situations so that it may guide us all in reaching the necessary consensus or compromise. This message is based on the Kingdom values: values of justice and peace, human dignity and equality of all God’s people, forgiveness and reconciliation as people of the God, the Father of us all.
  • Church is Conflict Preventor
  • The Church as an attentive and impartial listener
  • The Church as a mediator
  • The Church as civic educator
  • The Church as defender and Promoter of Human Rights
  • The Partnership Role


While there is no doubt that the church has a role to play in good governance, the first part of it is for the church is to realize that it she has that role and the obligation to play and fulfil it. Not forgetting the fact that the church is both Human and Divine, mistakes are to happen in the process of fulfilling her role. Let the mistakes be lessons from which to learn while roadblocks are opportunities for re-thinking and laying new strategies for better performance.


[1] Rev. Dr. John Mary Waliggo, "The Church and Politics in Conflict Resolution," A paper presented for discussion at the national workshop on conflict resolution FES and UJSC, Mandela Sports Hotel, Namboole, 12th March 1999, Kampala, Uganda.
[2] E.J Brill, The Christian Churches and the Democratization of Africa, New York, Koln, 1995, pg.206.
[3] Opcit, pg. 209
[4] The catholic bishops of Uganda, Shaping Our National Destiny, Kampala, October 1962.
[5] Opcit, p.34
[6] Bishops’ Memorandum to Uganda Constitution Commission, pp. 14-15