Bid seen to use plague as cover to regulate Uganda faith community
Following the full-blown spread of COVID-19 early this year several governments imposed measures to curb the virus — the most common being general shutting down of economies, commonly referred to as lockdown.
In Uganda the lockdown was imposed on March 18, resulting in the suspension of all public and religious gatherings. This followed a meeting between HE Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and the Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), which rubberstamped the president’s decision to suspend religious gatherings for a fortnight. This suspension morphed into an indefinite ban that left worshippers with one option — to embrace online service arrangements.
Two and a half months later, in June, as the pandemic regressed, and with Uganda displaying great management of the pandemic, having consistently registered over 95% recovery of the mild to moderate cases and zero deaths, President Museveni announced that there would be easing of the nationwide lockdown.
Not only were downtown markets reopened to the public, but so were shopping malls, public and private transport — all on condition that they followed established basic preventive guidelines to safeguard the public — included requiring people to wash their hands, sanitise, wear face masks, and have a temperature gun check before entering premises.
Silence on churches
However, the president conveniently remained silent on the issue of churches and other places of worship. But later, following a general public outcry, he addressed the continued ban on religious gatherings. He deferred the reopening of places of worship on grounds of a need for further consultation with the IRCU. Interestingly, 99% of Uganda’s population is religious.
The move to retain the ban on religious gatherings, however, was not the first attempt to gag the faith community –especially churches. Six years ago, a crafty piece of legislation – the Religious and Faith Organisations (RFO) Policy and later the Religious Societies and Places of Worship Bill, 2017 was birthed in Uganda by the IRCU — with little or no consultation with relevant stakeholders. The sole intention of this legislation was to put the faith community under the armpit of the state.
Whereas the proponents of the policy argued that it was needed to protect unsuspecting members of the public from fraudulent characters masquerading as religious leaders, the opponents believed that there were sufficient existing laws that have in the past ably been applied to deal with this issue. Any replication would therefore serve as duplication of laws. As such, the policy was a tool that state intended to use to dictate acceptable ways of worship – thus occasioning religious suppression.
Moreover, Uganda is a secular state as per its constitution. Among other things, the policy required religious leaders to obtain permits from the IRCU in order to continue operating places of worship, obtain mandatory theological degrees, submit sermons for perusal before preaching to congregants, and to account to the IRCU and government for all funds received and spent – as is the case with public servants.
Much to the shock and dismay of the perpetrators of these sinister regulations, the policy was met with enormous backlash from religious leaders, religious and legal advocacy organisations, politicians, influential societal leaders and faithfuls across the country. This resulted in the bill, in early 2019, being thrown out of parliament over its ambiguity and the RFO policy being shelved for further consultation with relevant stakeholders in parliament after a wealth creation meeting hosted by President Museveni where he invited a select category of religious leaders, some of whom, brought to his attention their dissatisfaction with the draft RFO policy.
As a matter of fact, Joseph Kabuleta, a current presidential aspirant for Uganda’s top seat in the upcoming 2021 elections, and a former sports journalist turned preacher, sued the attorney general and minister of ethics and integrity over the said RFO on grounds of its illegality and discriminate nature contrary to the right of freedom of religion, belief and conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly provided for in the Bill of Rights embodied in the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995.
Interesting to note is that the IRCU is actually not a body established by law, but a mere organisation registered under the laws of Uganda as an NGO and yet the government relates with it as if it were established by law. Moreover, despite the fact that a large cross-section of believers in Uganda do not subscribe to it, they are being forced to submit to whatever it proposes – a classic case of what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Nevertheless, a well-calculated move to mudsling and character assassinate renowned religious leaders has been orchestrated through mainstream media. This media campaign has swayed emotions and increasingly prompted members of the public to demand some kind of regulation of religious leaders.
The opportunity to present a modified RFO Policy was presented by the Covid-19 lockdown and deferral of resumption of religious gatherings contigent on consultation with scientists and IRCU.
That said, in consultation with the ministry of health, the IRCU drafted a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for churches to be implemented if places of worship were reopened by August 30. Key among these were that children and elderly persons are forbidden from accessing places of worship, religious leaders are required to obtain certificates of worth from the ministry of health and attend Covid-19 training workshops conducted by fellow religious leaders before the resumption of prayers in their places of worship.
Ambulances and medical personnel
Furthermore, in addition to what is required of other public places, places of worship must have standby ambulances and medical personnel available during services, laying of hands on sick people is prohibited and a maximum of 70 people can attend a prayer session.
Failure to comply with any of these requirements merits suspension of permission for a particular place of worship to convene its believers. All these regulations bear a striking resemblance to the spirit and purpose of the shelved RFO policy.
Unfortunately, approaching a month after the promised date to reopen places of worship, they still remain closed and more than 18 000 preachers have succumbed to the whims of Coivd-19 training. Worse still, there has emerged a creeping move by Uganda’s communications sector regulatory body to further regulate cyberspace platforms, which could create unease among the public due to being perceived as a move towards media censorship of select groups.
Unlike leaders like HE John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania who took a firm stand in acknowledging the sovereignty of God Almighty over the plague by ensuring that churches did not close — since they are the lifeline of the nation — Uganda’s story, follows the script of a number of other nations, which in their human wisdom thought it best to seize the opportunity to muzzle the church further.
It is grieving to see that the Ugandan government and leaders at large have absolutely little or no regard for the tremendous divine protection the nation has enjoyed — and continues to enjoy — from God Almighty throughout this period, well knowing that the containment rate of the virus cannot largely be attributed to the failing health care system.
To add insult to injury, the rights of believers to manifest their religion and belief practices simply continue to be violated. It is quite appalling to see that certain religious leaders, in a desperate attempt to have places of worship reopened, have given in to pressure to glorify fear and Covid-19 at the altars, rather than the Jesus Christ they profess, who they previously praised for His supernatural healing feats — even in their own churches.
That notwithstanding, some spiritual leaders and believers, as well as legal advocacy organisations like Crownel Co Ltd, have strongly expressed their discontent at discrimination exercised against churches and other faith-based entities over the past six months. Crownel held an extensive webinar discussion this week on the issue of an apparent globalist agenda behind sugar-coated Covid-19 faith community guidelines,
Some of these leaders are convinced that the current attack on the Church under the cover of Covid-19 regulations, foreshadows a hidden agenda being rolled out in phases, aimed at persecuting the Church globally and implementing a New World Order system. This New World Order, they say, seeks to establish a one-world religion whose groundwork has already been laid with the establishment of Inter-Religious Councils/Inter Faith Committees in Uganda and various other parts of the world.
From the foregoing, it is apparent that there is a coordinated, subtle move to curtail religious freedoms, and in particular the Gospel of Christ, worldwide under the guise of carefully-worded guidelines which on the surface purport to protect people, yet actually, are tools of religious suppression and oppression.
Countries have suffered worse pandemics in the past like the Spanish Flu that claimed millions of lives in a much shorter period without lockdown instituted, let alone shutting down.
It, therefore, goes without saying that it is of utmost importance and urgency that people are awakened from the fear and lie that has been sold to nations and deliberately take a stand for their faith, and their God-given and unconditional right to freedom of worship!