Tuesday, February 17, 2009

His Excellency, the President for Life and the Archbishop

Idi Amin proclaimed himself, for two whole years, 1977-1979, as "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor, Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular."  If anyone still remembers him, it's most likely as the Butcher of Africa, responsible for, conservatively, 100,000-500,00o deaths over an eight year period, 1971-1979.  He was forced out of office and banished from Uganda in April, 1979, fleeing first to Libya and then to Saudi Arabia.  Amin attempted a comeback to Uganda in 1989, but was turned back to Jeddah, where he died August 16, 2003 and was buried in a simple grave.  

The relationship of Idi Amin with Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum, who is commemorated by the worldwide Anglican Communion today, ended in tragedy.  The two men stood for intrinsically opposing moral values.  Amin obviously had and used his worldly power to arrest, imprison, torture and eventually kill Luwum.  The former tender of sheep, goats, and cattle never aspired to titles, such as Amin arrogated to himself.  He was content to be a devout Christian, a married man, the father of nine children, an Anglican priest and teacher, a bishop, then Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Boag-Zaire.  He distinguished himself as a man of God, a negotiator, reconciler of people and groups, both political and religious, and a fearless spokesman for truth, even towards a man like Idi Amin who could not come to terms with truth.  Luwum said, well before his death, when friction first started between Amin and him, "...I live as though there will be no tomorrow...While the opportunity is there, I preach the Gospel with all my might, and my conscience is clear before God."   

The clash between their two idealogies came to a head in February, 1977.  There are conflicting details of exactly when and how Janani Luwum died at the order of Idi Amin, but his bullet-riddled body, eventually released to his widow, Mary Lawinyo, said all that needed to be said.  Janani Luwum was also buried in a simple grave, in his home village of Mucwini (also Mussini) in East Acholi, northern Uganda.  For many years before this I'd heard the oft-repeated phrase: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."  In a section of the book on Church History in the former Church's Teaching Series which spoke of Luwum's martyrdom just two years before, I think that quote was repeated and it particularly stuck in my mind.  I'd just come into the Episcopal Church, and the concept of martyrs in my own lifetime was relatively new to me.  How that has changed since then!

More recently, I've been wondering what happened to Archbishop Luwum's wife and family in the ensuing 32 years.  I found only one article, written by Ben Moses Ilakut in The Monitor (Uganda), February 15, 2003.  At the time of the article, Mrs. Luwum was still alive and strong, living in Kampala, and still tilling the soil in Mucwini.  The second born and heir, Ben Okello Luwum, now 58, took over many responsibilities for keeping the family together.  Of the nine Luwum children, two have died. The surviving siblings include:  Emima Lakar, the eldest, married; Ben Okello, a CPA and married; Irine Abalo, a nurse in the U.S.; Julie Ojwiya, a civil servant; Andrew Okot, a motor engineer in the U.K.; Phoebe Aber, pursuing a Master's degree in the Netherlands; and Amos, a businessman.

Ben Okello Luwum expresses the spirit of this family, of his father, Janani Luwum: 

"These injustices have hurt many families.  I wish one day we could have a sober regime, probably the best thing would be a referendum on what should be done to people who have committed crimes against humanity.  Should they be pardoned or should they be prosecuted.  But of course I would go for forgiveness."



No comments: