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Brave new world of Uganda religion – gun trotting pastors, preachers, prophets

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Every country has its bad guys. Even the orderly Switzerland and welfare-loving Scandinavia do, otherwise there wouldn’t be any jails in such countries that seem to have figured out answers to most societal problems.

The problem with Uganda is that the bad guys are increasingly found in the churches.

Right now the Kampala Capital City Authority has declared war on street preachers, who have become something of a menace. KCCA says these guys are blocking traffic and are committing noise pollution.

This may be true, but don’t assume the fellows will leave soon – they will appeal to the politicians and be given a grace period “to allow consultations with all stakeholders” as an “alternative venue” is being identified to relocate them.

Encroachers on forest reserves, protected wetlands and road reserves have been protected by politics as they abuse the public good because they are voters, as are the preachers.

In any case, the street preachers are a minor menace compared with some bigger “pastors” who have caused so much grief in Kampala and Uganda in recent years. Again, Uganda has many criminals in all walks of life – they are in the civil service, in business, in all sectors. But their getting refuge in churches is what defeats expectation.

There was a pastor who had been conning and defiling his congregation all over the place, until he felt so powerful he started toting a pistol to enforce compliance from his flock.

He became an embarrassment to his protectors and was arrested for one of his numerous sins, jumped bail and went to another African country but forgot to leave his criminal habits behind and last we heard he was serving time there.

Becoming an overnight success as a pastor in Uganda is not hard, all you need is to make a few educated predictions and when they come to pass, believers will flock to your church. You don’t even need to make the prediction, you just claim that you did when a big event happens. And of course you don’t call it a prediction, but a prophecy! You then get your title of “Prophet” or “Apostle” and you are in business.

The problem with Uganda is that some of our pastors fail to launder their habits when they win recognition. So instead of going straight and concentrating on preaching the Word and collecting offertory and tithe, they still play money games.

You regularly hear about money fights within the higher ranks of the church, and then the ugly accusations between pastors start coming out. Inevitably, accusations of dabbling in witchcraft are traded. The cycle is actually becoming repetitive and predictable.

The question that begs to be asked now is, who qualifies to be a pastor? The country has so many good pastors preaching the Word. But why is it becoming so easy for crooks to pose as pastors and even get many people – especially women – following them?

If you can’t practice as a lawyer unless you go through law school, can’t practice medicine unless you go through medical school, why should anyone practice preaching without being a qualified preacher? It is a question Uganda may have to answer soon.

Joachim Buwembo is a social and political commentator based in Kampala. E-mail:


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