By Hope Mafaranga & Chris Mugasha
A bitter row erupted in the Church of Uganda’s West Ankole Diocese prompting the Police to deploy heavily to protect the Bishop from a section of Christians.
Bishop Yona Katonene, who started a tour of the archdeaconries of Rwabutura and Kabwohe on Sunday was on Monday locked out of one of the churches in Sheema by Christians.
The Christains accuse the Bishop of attempting to relocate the church-founded Ankole Western University project (AWIST) from the area to Bushenyi district.
He started his visit at Ngoma Church before travelling to Nyakabira Church. He is due to visit Rwabutura Church today.
A section of Christians on Monday locked up the church at Nyakabira, but the Police helped to break the padlocks to allow the service to go on.
“We broke the padlocks and the area Reverend did not know who had locked the church. We had no choice but to break the new padlocks before the arrival of the Bishop,” a Police officer said.
The Sheema district Police commander, Ezekiel Emitu, told New Vision that: “We got intelligence information that people had planned to block the Bishop from entering the church and had organised stones and tomatoes to throw at him along the road.”
Speaking to a handful of Christians at Nyakabira Church, Katonene said the Christians were intimidated by selfish people, who are fighting him for no good reason.
“Even if I find only two people, I will preach the gospel of God to those few,” he said, adding that he had been ad vised not to go to Nyakabira as his life would be in danger.
“I don’t fear for my life because I was chosen to do this job and I will not run away,” the Bishop vowed.
Katoneene criticised the aggrieved Christians for blocking children from getting confirmed.
“If you do not want to attend church, then you should not stop children from seeking for God’s blessings,” Katoneene said.
Twenty archdeaconries make up the West Ankole Diocese and seven of the archdeaconries are in Sheema district. These include Kitagata, Kabwohe, Bugongi, Ryakatsinga, Rweibaare, Masheruka and Rwabutura. Protestants make a bigger percentage in Sheema district.
The Bishop was expected, among other things, to confirm children into the faith. But a big number of Christians shunned the service, refusing to take their children for confirmation.
Genesis of the conflict
The AWIST was started in 2005 by the diocesan council. It is affiliated to the Uganda Christian University through Bishop Barham University college in Kabale.
The project was conceived during the tenure of former Bishop Yoramu Bamunoba, but it kicked-off during the time of Bishop William Magambo after a long disagreement over its location.
A section of Christians in Sheema is accusing the Bishop of scheming to shift the university from Sheema district to Katungu in Bushenyi district.
They argue that he is trying to shift the university while claiming he is establishing a branch.
“We are struggling to get a licence to operate as a university and you talk of establishing study centres,” David Kiiza, one of the Christians, wondered.
They claim the university does not have a land title, which makes it difficult to get recognition.
Can. Yowasi Makaru, a church elder, said; “The issue is not for Sheema alone, but the diocese. We want accountability of funds that the church generates from us (Christians) and other diocese projects.”
Some Christains said they want the archbishop of the church of Uganda to hold a meeting to resolve the issue.
According to sources, Chris Rwakasisi and the Sheema resident district commissioner, Willy Turyamubona, have tried to reconcile the aggrieved Christians with the Bishop in vain.
Some Christians in other archdeaconaries in Bushenyi, Buhweju, Mitooma and Rubirizi are accusing the Sheema group for being selfish.
“We have all been contributing towards our university project and the university is for the diocese, but not Sheema,” said Can. Yorokamu Batuna from Kyamuhunga archdeaconary.
The Bishop, however, denies the accusations.
“The university they are fighting for has a Board and a governing council, where they are supposed to take their issues,” he said.
“I am not shifting the university, I only want to set up a branch and I will ensure that courses taught at Kabwohe will not be in Katungu. And those saying that I have not signed the land title of the university are liars because I have signed it,” he said, displaying documents he signed.
He said people behind the conflict are former Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) Party members, who use “dirty tactics to tarnish other people’s reputation.”
He said the diocese has an international firm of auditors called Tim and Company and advised those that want accountability to contact the auditing company.
He said he wants the land title to be in the name of the university; Ankole Institute of Science and Technology, which people are resisting.