Why country is suspicious Archbishop Lwanga “did not simply die”

President lays a wreath on Archbishop Lwanga's casket

President lays a wreath on Archbishop Lwanga's casket

Yes, death is natural. We don’t question it when it strikes. Indeed, as Muslims, to cite what I know best, Allah tells us, “Every soul will taste death. Then to Us will you be returned.” We believe this to be true and final.

But scripture goes further and tasks the living to take stock and offer accountability over the cause of death of the departed. Lest it happens again and take more lives. Wasn’t this the entire point of the Covid-19 lockdowns and monies: to make sure no life was lost without accountability?

It is in this context that all over the country, people are ‘talking in whispers’ over the sudden death of our beloved Archbishop. I come here not to explain his death — I have no evidence — but to explain the general condition of perpetual suspicion in which his death occurred. We have become a country ‘talking in whispers.’

There is no smoke without fire, the English said. The English must have copied this truism from many traditional African communities. The saying is never invoked to capture good moments but, rather, as an investigation into grief and tension.

It is invoked in the presence of suspicious behaviour. Yes, there is a lot of smoke in Uganda. There should be a fire somewhere. And fires, as we know them—with the exception of lighting volcanos—do not light themselves.

So, who is lighting the fires from whence this thick smoke is coming? Knowing the source of this smoke is key to putting it out; otherwise, once the fires spread everywhere, we will be burned indiscriminately.

The main question for this nationwide suspicion is this: why is that only Museveni’s significant political critics — especially among the clergy, are passing on —from “sudden deaths,” “heart failures” and with inconclusive post-mortem reports? 

Dr Sheikh Anas Kaliisa did not wake from his sleep. Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga did not wake up either. We could be sitting on an epidemic of heart failures for which we might need to have nationwide campaigns. 

For the entire period of his short illness, Sheikh Nuhu Muzaata Batte was inaccessible to members of his family, senior members of the Muslim community, and even the family doctor, Dr Hasib Takuba Kabuye. Security operatives closely guarded his ward. Yes, this would make sense if he were a Covid-19 patient. He wasn’t. 

Yes, death occurs all the time. I recently lost a friend, who was a close Museveni ideologue, Col Shaban Bantariza (RIP). I had debated with him plenty of times on Next Media’s different platforms, and good friendship was growing.

He once told me how he had to confirm the pugilist on the other side, and upon learning it was me, he was more than excited to come.  The Muslim community recently lost veteran politician and NRM ideologue Ali Kirunda Kivejinja (RIP). May their souls rest in eternal peace. But these deaths are rather explicable. The country received comprehensive post-mortem reports, and their families members were in agreement. 

What is bothering Ugandans is that only Museveni’s most solid critics [not the lousy opposition politicians, and itinerant commentators like myself] are dying of “sudden deaths” with controversial post-mortem reports. And more talking in whispers.

In an environment where young men and women are picked by security forces, for their political positions, and if not found in the bushes dead, are only returned with broken bones, the suspicious deaths of senior members of the community, especially regime-critical clergy, puts us on a terribly uncertain course.

See, the country is not even keen on asking for answers over VIP deaths from government, as would be expected from civilised governments.  Who should we ask? Ofwono Opondo? Don Wanyama? Dr Diana Atwine? President Museveni? That we can trust neither of these PRs and the institutions they represent is actually scaringly worrisome.

For many across the country, Archbishop Lwanga is a personal story.  I spent four years at Bishop Cyprian High School (BCHS), Kyabakadde, one of the many developmental projects that will define Lwanga’s legacy.

In the mid-1990s, it was the only secondary school to stand between St Joseph Naggalama SS, Naggalama Islamic Institute SS both on the one hand, and Namasumbi UMEA SS on the other—about 25km apart. 

In the middle, there were poor children finishing primary school and knocked out of the education system – especially girls – by the distance to either of these schools. This school offered us affordable quality and nearby education. There was even a project where children from needier homes earned their tuition by working in the school garden.

Even with this proximity, we walked or rode bicycles about seven miles to and from school every day. Archbishop Lwanga’s name became the impression of a village hero. Thus, physically meeting the bishop was simply memorable.

Once in a rare while, Bishop Lwanga presided over Wednesday mass at BCHS. It was during one of those occasions that I got the chance to shake hands with this hero – a memorable and inspiring moment. 

Despite being Muslim, I was constant in taking readings. One Wednesday, with Bishop Lwanga in the house, he called me on the side to confirm whether I was the son of a close childhood friend of his. I wasn’t.

But he would say to me, “you read well, young man, keep reading.” He then asked about my class, and encouraged me on. That single moment remained imprinted in my little heart, and I live with it to this day. We will continue mourning our loss. All death is natural, but the living have to take stock and offer accountability.


The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd