It will be 18 years on Monday, since Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga died. The former Catholic prelate who succumbed to bone cancer at 76 years was an opponent of human rights abuses, especially under the military dictatorship of President Idi Amin. Reading from Msgr. Charles Kimbowaâ€™s book, Emmanuel Cardinal Kiwanuka Nsubuga Still Lives With Us, Juliet Lukwago narrates some of the confrontations the one time East Africaâ€™s sole cardinal had with the powers that were.
Nsubugaâ€™s heart for the sick, the grieved, the poor and the marginalised was thought to come from the fact that he almost lost his vocation because of sickness. So he was later to stand for those peopleâ€™s rights.
As an archbishop, Dr. Joseph Kiwanuka wrote a 26-page pastoral letter to his faithful. A pastoral letter is a communication from a Bishop to his followers on matters of great importance.
In his writing, he called for the church and the government to work together. In it, he also warned the Kabaka: â€œWhen a king supports a political party, he shows himself as being no longer a king of his people...I do not like slogans of Kabaka Yekka...because it will spoil our royalty.â€
The Baganda political activists said the letter downgraded the kingdom and the archbishop should be called to order. On summoning him, Mengo was informed that he was out of the country. The Vicar General, by then Msgr. Emmanuel Kiwanuka Nsubuga, was out on a pastoral tour. Mengo spoke to Msgr. Joseph Ssebayigga who was the laison person between Mengo and Rubaga hill at 8:30pm. Ssebayigga was detained at the palace and released past midnight.
Nsubuga a guerilla supporter?
On February 17, 1979, the Catholic church held centenary celebrations for the Catholic faith in Uganda.
When the celebrations were over, the people around Rubaga hill asked Nsubuga to house them because they feared the Tanzanian forces that were approaching Kampala from Masaka. People came every evening for the night.
At the time, schools were closing in fear of the war. Nsubuga would accompany lorries going to schools to fetch students, sometimes even driving through danger zones or between cross-fires.
Because of the many people who sought refuge at Rubaga every evening and because of the archbishopâ€™s movements to rescue people from danger, he was labelled a guerilla supporter by the Amin goverment. The cardinal was also accused of giving training ground to rebels at his farm in Kyankwanzi, Kiboga, allegations he strongly protested.
Nsubuga against Obote return
Before the 1980 disputed elections, the late Fr. John Mary Waliggo, a witness of the events, said, Nsubuga, along with other religious leaders, met the then Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere.
At the meeting, the religious leaders told Nyerere that it was detrimental to support the return of his close friend Milton Obote to power. Obote had previously been deposed as President of Uganda. But the elections later in December were rigged in favour of Oboteâ€™s Uganda Peopleâ€™s Congress party. According to Waliggo, the 1980 pre-election period was marked by an incident in which residents of West Nile had been evacuated and taken to neighbouring DR Congo.
They were facing accusations by the Uganda National Liberation army of â€˜supporting Aminâ€™s regimeâ€™. For this, Catholic bishops under the Episcopal Conference resolved not to remain silent.
If there was any man Obote was afraid of, it was Nsubuga who was critical of human rights abuses and opposed dictatorial rule.
Cardinal Nsubuga warned that the involvement of Buganda kingdom in active politics would become disastrous, and it came true. He then warned that the return of Obote as President after Idi Amin would be grievous and this came to pass.
Nsubuga meets Amin, but?
An unpublished hand-written note attributed to the late Msgr. Stephen Mukasa tells of an exclusive meeting that Nsubuga had with Amin on March 7, 1974. That evening, Mukasa wrote, the government media gave a story that the archbishop thanked Amin for expelling the Asians in 1972.
Nsubuga called a press conference and put things right. The question of the Asians, the archbishop said, never came up in the meeting. The President too issued a statement saying the archbishop was simply denying what had transpired between them. In doing so, Amin argued, Nsubuga had gone as a spy bribed by the British.
Their relations strained that many people wondered what would befall the prelate.
But not even the 1977 murder of Church of Uganda Archbishop Janan Luwum would silence Nsubuga.
Cardinal Nsubuga opposed despots