Today marks 40 years since Anglican archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered by the Amin Regime. In 2015, February 16 was declared a public holiday by President Museveni. We bring you Luwum’s life story.
On January 6, 1948, a young school teacher, Janani Luwum, was converted to the charismatic Christianity of the East African Revival, in his Acholi village. At once he turned an evangelist, warning against the dangers of drink and tobacco, and, in the eyes of local authorities, disturbing the peace. But Luwum was undeterred. He was determined to confront all who needed to change their ways before God. It is this trait that was to lead to his death when he confronted Amin later in life.
Luwum was born in the village of Mucwini in the Kitgum District in 1922. He attended Gulu High School and Boroboro Teacher Training College, after which he taught at a primary school.
In January 1949, a year after his conversion to charismatic Christianity, Luwum enrolled at a theological college at Buwalasi, in Eastern Uganda. A year later, he returned as a catechist attached to St. Phillips Church in Gulu. In 1953 he returned to Buwalasi to train for ordination. He was ordained deacon on, 21 December 1955, and priest a year later.
After two periods of study in England, he became principal of Buwalasi. Then, in September 1966, he was appointed Provincial Secretary of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. Three years later, he was consecrated bishop of Northern Uganda, on 25 January 1969. The congregation at the open-air service included President Milton Obote, and army Chief of Staff Idi Amin.
Amin sought power for himself. Two years later he deposed Obote in a coup. Atrocities, against the Acholi and Langi people in particular, were perpetrated time and again. The Asian population was expelled in 1972.
It was in the midst of such a society, in 1974, that Luwum was elected Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. He pressed ahead with the reform of his church in time to mark the centenary of the creation of the Anglican province.
Luwum was a leading voice in criticising the excesses of the Amin regime. In 1977, Archbishop Luwum delivered a note of protest to Amin against the policies of arbitrary killings and unexplained disappearances. Shortly afterwards the archbishop and other leading churchmen were accused of treason.
On February 16, 1977, Luwum was arrested together with two cabinet ministers, Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi. The same day Amin convened a rally in Kampala with the three accused present. A few other “suspects” were paraded forth to read out “confessions” implicating the three men. The archbishop was accused of being an agent of the exiled former president Milton Obote, and for planning to stage a coup.
The next day, Radio Uganda announced that the three had been killed when the car transporting them to an interrogation centre had collided with another vehicle. Radio Uganda reported the accident had occurred when the victims had tried to overpower the driver in an attempt to escape. When Luwum’s body was released to his relatives, it was riddled with bullets.
Henry Kyemba, minister of health in Amin’s government, later wrote in his book A State of Blood, that “The bodies were bullet-riddled. The archbishop had been shot through the mouth and at least three bullets in the chest. The ministers had been shot in a similar way but one only in the chest and not through the mouth. Oryema had a bullet wound through the leg.”
According to the later testimony of witnesses, the victims had been taken to an army barracks, where they were bullied, beaten and finally shot.
His body was buried near St Paul’s Church, Mucwini. Luwum was survived by a widow, Mary Lawinyo Luwum and nine children. He is recognised as a martyr by the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. His statue is among the Twentieth Century Martyrs on the front of Westminster Abbey in London.