The Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among has urged leaders of the Church of Uganda in Kumi Diocese and the Reformed Anglican Church (RAC) in the Upper Nile Diocese to promote unity among their congregation so as to curb on-going conflict.
“I understand and believe that there is a problem to solve especially pertaining to who should own some of the properties. We must co-exist and drop every grudge that we harbour against each other,” said Among.
She made the call while chairing a conflict resolution meeting between the two churches held at Parliament on Wednesday, 26 February 2023.
The Speaker said the Constitution provides for freedom of belief, the right to practice and promote any religion and the right to belong and participate in the practices of any religious organisation, which should be done in a manner consistent with the law.
“Religious leaders should be a force that brings people together rather than dividing them along lines of faith, property or politics,” said Among.
“I want to give you our commitment as political leaders that if you have a challenge of a place to worship, just tell us and we shall support you. If you told me to build a church for a team that does not have one, so long as they do not have fights, I will do it,” the Speaker added.
The Speaker tasked Members of Parliament to engage the conflicting communities so as to find a lasting solution to the impasse.
“I am directing Members of Parliament from Bukedea, Ngora and Kumi to have meetings with the leaders of Church of Uganda and Reformed Anglican Church. We will have meetings at district level and get feedback,” said Among.
The Diocesan Bishop of the Reformed Anglican Church, Rt. Rev. Charles Okunya said the church was inaugurated on 24 April 2022 with 87 per cent of Christians from the Church of Uganda in Kumi Diocese joining them.
He added that owing to the massive exodus, clergy and lay readers of the Church of Uganda waged attacks on followers of the Reformed Anglican Church.
“There are churches that have denounced the leadership of the Church of Uganda for over three years now. Subsequently, Church of Uganda has high handedly dealt with them, dragged them to courts of law and some of these cases have been dismissed. In this situation, they have accused me of grabbing their churches,” said Bishop Okunya.
He called on the leadership of the Church of Uganda to amicably engage Christians belonging to the Reformed Anglican Church, who are said to be using structures belonging to Kumi Diocese.
“They are in conflict with their own Christians since they claim that those are their churches, yet for over three years now, they have never reached them. I suggest that you need to talk these Christians in love,” Bishop Okunya said.
The Diocesan Bishop of the Church of Uganda-Kumi Diocese, Rt. Rev. Micheal Esakhan, attributed the conflict between the two churches in the districts of Bukedea, Ngora and Kumi, to wrangles over property.
Bishop Esakhan said members of the Reformed Anglican Church have continued to forcefully occupy the properties with the aim of taking over their ownership.
“How can a church that has struggled for 115 years and acquired property, lose it overnight to a church that came just yesterday?” he said.
He added that members of Reformed Anglican Church had taken over 100 churches belonging to the Church of Uganda in Kumi Diocese, but 60 of these have been recovered with the intervention of the Resident District Commissioners, Police, Christians and local community leaders.
“We are now working hard with these stakeholders to recover our 52 properties that are still illegally held by RAC priests and lay readers. The High Court should be helped to expedite litigation of these cases so that our church property can be restored to us,” Bishop Esakhan added.
Hon. Patrick Opolot (NRM, Kuchumbala County) urged Christians who have broken away from the Church of Uganda to leave peacefully and avoid trespassing on its assets.
Hon. Silas Aogon (Indep., Kumi Municipality) said peace will reign if the matter of property ownership is properly resolved in line with the law and called on government to render support to diffuse the conflict.
Kapir County MP, Hon. Abraham Isamat commended the Speaker for leading the initiative and reiterated the call for unity as a paramount factor in ensuring peace in the communities.
Kumi District Woman Representative, Hon. Christine Apolot appealed to courts of law to determine the owners of the 52 contested premises which she said will quell the on-going conflict.
Chris Obore, the Parliament Spokesperson said the conflict has made it difficult for public servants in the conflicting areas to deliver on their roles, and made a call that security agencies are not influenced in executing their mandate.
The Deputy Inspector General of Police, Gen. Geoffrey Tumusiime said efforts to engage the leaders of the two churches revealed that the conflict is attributed to property wrangles.
“I will not tolerate anybody involving themselves in any form of criminality. If we find you trespassing or inciting violence, we shall take action. The Bishops should prevail on their followers to follow the law and avoid malicious damage on property,” said Gen. Tumusiime.