Soundbites and sacrifice

The Honourable Joseph Mugambe, head of the science and technology committee in the Ugandan Parliament is one of the first politicians I have met that I really enjoy listening to. In the past three days I have heard him speak four times and I'm quite disappointed that he won't be coming to speak again during the workshop. I'd never have believed that I could be sorry when an MP had to stop speaking!

He's a tall man, with a wry sense of humour and he makes speeches that are peppered with a host of wonderful idioms.

Every now and then as he speaks, he drops his voice to almost a whisper and leans forward across the podium so that each member of the audience feels that they - and only they - are privy to a very special secret.

"People say you can take a horse to a well but you can't make him drink," he said. "But why do you want to take him to the well? You need to make the horse thirsty and then he will go to the well for himself."

The early Christians in Uganda were certainly thirsty for the religion the missionaries had brought them, and they were prepared to pay the ultimate price for their faith. Their legacy is an overwhelmingly Christian country where even the most unlikely of shops have names that reflect the faith of their owners: God's Gift Beauty Salon, Praise God Meat Market, Holy Mother laundry...

We had a little time for sightseeing today, so we were taken to visit the Ugandan parliament and the Shrine of the Martyrs, built to commemorate the sacrifice of 22 Ugandan Christians who died horrible deaths in 1887 at the order of the Buganda king. The 22 commemorated at the shrine were the last to die in a concerted campaign which had begun three years earlier.

One of the problems was that Christianity changes people. The converts began to view many of their traditions as heathen and satanic, and their rebellious abandonment of their tribal customs was not met with much approval from the young king Mwanga who saw his power base disintegrating as his subjects transferred their allegiance to a different King.

We were shown round the basillica by a sweet faced Kenyan-born nun who told the stories of each death as if she had witnessed them herself. It was a litany of horrors as the converts were killed in disturbingly imaginative ways.

I took the coward's way out after a while and stopped listening. But I certainly won't forget the 22 men who died at Namugongo and I am intensely grateful for the religious freedom that we enjoy in many countries today.

If you want to know more about the Namugongo martyrs, the official website is here


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