Two weeks after Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga spoke angrily about the state spying on him, President Museveni fixed a meeting for the two to meet at State Lodge Nakasero on April 8.
To Nakasero, Lwanga went with a group of priests but Museveni later scaled down the meeting to just the two of them, and it is during this one-on-one meeting in the gardens of the State Lodge that they agreed on a follow-on visit to Rwakitura, Museveni’s country home in Kiruhura district – where a common position seems to have been shaped.
It was during the Rwakitura meeting last weekend that a seemingly softened Lwanga took the significant step of inviting Museveni to be Uganda’s chief pilgrim to the Vatican when Pope John Paul II will be canonised in October.
He invited the president to use the church and other religious institutions in his poverty alleviation fight, channelling money from the national budget for this purpose.
The president was also asked to sponsor joint trips for heads of the different religious faiths in Uganda to their respective spiritual homes: Saudi Arabia where Islam’s holy sites are found; the seat of the Anglican Communion in Canterbury, England; the Catholic’s Vatican city and to Egypt where some orthodox Christians pay homage.
A source close to the archbishop has intimated to The Observer that Museveni asked Lwanga to Rwakitura after the prelate told him his criticism of government policies does not mean the archbishop is undermining the government. Lwanga reportedly told the president about his frustration at the rampant corruption in government.
Corruption, Lwanga reportedly told Museveni, is the reason why money injected into anti-corruption campaigns had failed to create an impact in the communities. He proposed that Museveni should change strategy and channel such funds through religious institutions.
Museveni then invited Lwanga to Rwakitura to see how people have transitioned from poverty to wealth. Lwanga accepted the invitation but asked the president to allow him come along with some other people who included the principals of the Inter –Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) and key figures from Kampala Catholic archdiocese.
Apart from Metropolitan Yonah Lwanga of the Orthodox church, the rest of the IRCU principals joined the entourage to Rwakitura which also included deputy Bank of Uganda governor Louis Kasekende, Centenary bank MD Fabian Kasi, former Makerere University vice chancellor Prof John Ddumba-Ssentamu, former East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) Speaker Margaret Nantongo Zziwa and her husband Francis Babu.
They reached Rwakitura on Friday, April 13. They were driven to Ibanda district where they toured farms belonging to tycoon Patrick Bitature and state minister for Karamoja affairs John Byabagambi, before retiring to Bitature’s palatial home where they spent the night.
The following day, they were taken to visit one Kamugisha’s farm which is stocked with boran cattle before heading back to Museveni’s residence. They got to Rwakitura at about 4pm – two hours late for Museveni’s appointment.
“I’m sorry I can’t meet you, you are late. I expected you at 2pm; I have other engagements in Entebbe, you can eat and go back, I will meet you on May 4 in Kampala,” the president said.
As the group settled down to enjoy lunch under the tents, Museveni suddenly returned and made a short speech.
He said he wanted the religious leaders to support his fight against poverty, a campaign he has been on since 1986.
“Working with you, we shall transform the countryside and improve our people’s income even as we continue to deal with those in urban centres who have no jobs and no land,” Museveni said.
He then extended a second invitation to the group to return to Rwakitura and tour the communities around his country home and see how he has transformed them from nomadism to dairy farming.
“What we did here was to teach people to keep a few cattle that have high milk yields instead of keeping a herd of the indigenous Ankole cows that had low milk yields,” Museveni said.
And when it was time for Lwanga to speak, it was clear that his frosty relationship with Museveni had improved significantly, and it was now time to beg from Museveni.
Lwanga first asked Museveni for a special budget allocation off the national budget for religious institutions for social development. Religious institutions, Lwanga said, have a direct connection with the people and are, therefore, better placed to lead the fight against poverty.
Lwanga also told Museveni that the various religious groups were not at war with one another but desirous to further cement their togetherness. It was at this point that he asked the president to sponsor the heads of the various religious groups to take trips to the Vatican, Canterbury, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
“I also ask you to be the chief pilgrim from Uganda to the Vatican for the canonisation of Pope John Paul II due in October. It will be good if you sponsor the religious leaders to take that trip,” Lwanga said.