The Most Reverend Janani Luwum was the sitting Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga Zaire when Dictator Idi Amin murdered him on February 16, 1977. He exercised exceptional and courageous leadership when he opposed Idi Amins regime of tyranny, gross human rights violations and "islamisation" agenda in Uganda. The vibrant Anglican Church of Uganda under his leadership was on the verge of centennial celebrations of its birth through the seed of the blood of the Ugandan Martyrs. Thus Luwum became the first martyr of the second century of Christianity in Uganda. The Church of England, the mother church of the Anglican Communion, has recognised and honoured him among 20th century martyrs as Africa's Martyr. His death is commemorated on the 17th of February, his statue stands on the front of Westminster Abbey in London and a chapel has been dedicated to him in Canterbury Cathedral.
Archbishop Luwum was an exceptional leader with a holistic vision, pastoral compassion and evangelistic fervour. He had a well-integrated theology of church and mission that acknowledged with gratitude the work of western missionaries who brought the Gospel to Africa. At the same time, he also challenged the Church in Africa to inculturate the gospel so that Christ would incarnate African cultures. He went beyond the limited evangelical understanding of church and mission of his generation and spearheaded a holistic political, socioeconomic and integrated development of church and nation. He was a charismatic and evangelical leader who was equally ecumenical and at home among liberal Christians; animated for the cause of world evangelisation as much as he was passionate for theory and praxis of liberation and justice in Africa.
Born in 1922 at Mucwini in the Kitgum District of Uganda, Janani Luwum spent his childhood and early youth tending goats, but earned a reputation as a quick learner when opportunities arose. He became a teacher and, on January 6 1948, was converted to Christianity. At once he turned evangelist, warning against the dangers of drink and tobacco, and, in the eyes of local authorities, disturbing the peace. In January 1949 Luwum went to a theological college at Buwalasi, in eastern Uganda. He became a deacon in 1955 and was ordained a priest in 1956. He served in the upper Nile Diocese of Uganda and the Diocese of Mbale, and was consecrated Bishop of Northern Uganda in 1969 and Archbishop of Uganda in 1974, three years after Idi Amin came to power in a military coup. He participated at the Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelisation (LICWE) in Switzerland in 1974, the year he was elected archbishop, even as he had also been a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
For his Christ and Lord, Luwum reached out to the grassroots as effectively as he touched the highest and best in society. He secured opportunities of vocational training for school dropouts, humbly educated girls and cared for the rural and urban poor. He also identified and sent highly educated and talented young people into church ministry. He challenged young university educated Christians to become, and take the best, in science, art, theatre, literature, cultural dance and song, etc., and
"make Christ known"
through African idioms. He was as innovative and entrepreneurial as passionate for the African Anglican Church to be empowered economically in order to overcome its dependency on external support to contribute equally to ecumenical partnerships in mission. Ghanaian born Methodist (now Anglican Canon) Kodwo Ankrah who worked with him as the founding Coordinator of the Planning, Relief and Development arm of the Church of Uganda testifies of his vision and entrepreneurial leadership:
"Luwum made it abundantly clear that the Church itself must be educated to move away from its continued dependence on external support, and be able in a reasonable period of time, to contribute equitably to the ecumenical mutual schemes and programmes. So he requested that all incoming students to Mukono Theological College should be taught Development Studies... to broaden the understanding of the future Church workers and leaders in matters of the economy and in factors contributing to economic decline in Africa, and in Uganda in particular... Luwum in his thinking was almost two decades ahead of many Church leaders in East Africa."
Luwum has left an outstanding track record in Uganda and beyond in his long career from deacon, priest and college principal to provincial secretary, bishop and then archbishop. As Provincial Secretary in the 1960s, he not only welcomed Rwandan refugees into Uganda and found scholarships for some of their youth but he also pioneered the first 10-year development plan for the Church of Uganda in 1967. The plan included his vision for a multi-storey Church House commercial real estate venture located on prime property on Kampala Road, downtown of Uganda's capital, opposite the Central Bank of Uganda building! His aim was to empower the Church of Uganda to become self-sustaining, especially towards pastors' welfare and pensions scheme. He was killed after he had laid the foundation stone for the Church House and dedicated its site.
While he was bishop of Northern Uganda Diocese, Luwum welcomed and re-settled Southern Sudanese refugees, including an Archbishop of the Sudan's Episcopal Church. He also developed a modern church dairy farm in Gulu, the diocesan headquarters, and a rental house in a wealthy lakeside suburb of Kampala City with the support of German (Lutheran) Christians to improve the welfare of the people of Northern Uganda and generate income for the Church. As bishop and archbishop, Luwum would frequently lead evangelistic missions as chief missioner. His oratory and skills in blending African stories and imagery were spell binding and vintage narrative!
Easily the best demonstration of Luwum's abiding legacy could be the many young leaders he identified, developed and mentored to become global leaders today. Two stand out prominently: The Most Reverend Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda and Ugandan-born first black full bishop of the Church of England, The Most Reverend & Right Honourable Dr. John Sentamu, Lord Archbishop of York. Archbishop Orombi was a schoolteacher and lay preacher in Lira, present day Lango Diocese in Northern Uganda, when Luwum, then bishop, spotted his talent and brought him to work in the diocese as Assistant Diocesan Religious Education Advisor/Youth worker in 1973. He then sent him for theological training to Bishop Tucker College, Mukono after which Orombi got a scholarship for further studies at St. John's College, Nottingham. He was enthroned Archbishop of the Church of Uganda on January 25th, 2004, "co-incidentally" the same day Luwum was enthroned archbishop thirty years ago.
Lord Archbishop Dr. John Sentamu was Chief Magistrate in Gulu, Northern Uganda, and Luwum's Diocesan Chancellor. They worked together on many programs including the resettlement of Southern Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda. Janani Luwum recommended him for theological training in the UK and wanted him back for ministry and leadership in Uganda. But Dictator Idi Amin changed everything for both of them: he killed Luwum and ran Sentamu out of Uganda. Today Lord Archbishop Sentamu is making a global impact thanks to Luwum's farsighted vision.
updated & expanded 2005. Garry B Walker