A hired mob attempted to lynch the archbishop and bishops of the Church of Uganda on Tuesday, but were foiled when police arrived and drove off the attackers.
A hired mob attempted to lynch the archbishop and bishops of the Church of Uganda on Tuesday, but were foiled when police arrived and drove off the attackers. On 23 August 2016 the Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, Archbishop of Uganda and 34 members of the House of Bishops were inspecting a parcel of church owned land in Ntawo in the Mukono District when the attack occurred.
Sources in the Church of Uganda, who asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the bishops, reported that at the House of Bishops’ Meeting held before the start of the 23rd Provincial Synod the bishops discussed a ten-year development plan for the church. One of the issues under discussion was the status of a one square mile parcel of land donated to the church in 1940.
Held by the church in trust for Uganda Christian University, a portion of the land has been leased to the government’s National Agricultural Research Organization, with the bulk of the land remaining undeveloped. Under former Vice-Chancellor Prof. Stephen Noll, the university proposed building a commercial housing estate on the site to provide income for the church as well as an agricultural research station for the university.
However, squatters had moved on to the land in recent years and built informal settlements. Church officials have been working to move the squatters of the land, but not all of the 800 new residents are landless peasants. Several walled compounds have been built on the church land with multi-story homes occupied by senior government leaders, including the state water minister Ronald Kibuule and Brigadier Proscovia Nalweyiso, the senior presidential advisor on defence and security.
A Church of Uganda source told AI the bishops decided to inspect the land for themselves, so as to better understand the situation. The members of the House of BIshops and the vice-chancellor of UCU were driven to Ntawo in a university bus. Before they left their meeting, local government officials were notified of the trip in order to provide security for the bishops.
However, no police were present when the bishops arrived in Ntawo. AI was told a mob formed round the bus and began to pile wood and flammable materials under it to set it and its passengers on fire. Using his mobile phone, the Bishop of Mukono, the Rt. Rev. James Ssebaggala, called the District Police Commander Fred Ahimbisbwe who rushed to the scene to break up the mob. One man was arrested in the melee.
On Wednesday Mr Ahimbisbwe addressed the provincial assembly, apologizing for the incident. He explained his superiors had prevented him from providing security. “It is true I received the letter from UCU requesting us to accompany the bishops. We were supposed to give you security but I was in a meeting so I did not know that you had gone to the place,” Mr Ahimbisbwe said, according to the Kampala Monitor.
Following his remarks to the synod, Archbishop Ntagali rose and addressed Mr. Ahimbisbwe, saying he and his fellow bishops forgave him and their attackers. “We have forgiven them but they must repent,” he said, adding the attack underscored the breakdown of the rule of law in Uganda. “We want to protect our land from encroachers which is part of corruption in Uganda and has to be avoided.”
Ugandan church leaders declined to speak on the record about the incident, pointing to the archbishop’s public remarks. However, concerns have been raised in the Ugandan press and are rife among church leaders that the withdrawal of police protection was not a careless oversight, and that a mob had been hired to attack the bishops.
“This is not the first time residents are attacking us. The last time we came here, they damaged one of our vehicles,” UCU vice chancellor Dr John Ssenyonyi said, explaining why the university had asked for a police presence during the inspection.
He told the Monitor, “How can a powerful official in the army and government be among those trying to grab church land? They have money to buy land elsewhere but they are also acting like they are poor and want to get free land.”
State water minister Mr. Kibuule was defiant. He told the Monitor the church was to blame for the incident for not respecting private property rights. The minister said he leased the land from an individual where he had built his home. “The bishops disguised themselves by travelling in a bus which confused people to mistake them for land grabbers,” he said.
The bishops were “hiding in God’s name to steal land. We shall resist such an attempt. The church cannot evict tenants illegally.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said the government would investigate the incident and take appropriate action.