Bishop Doctor Edward Muhima is a leading community and church figure in Uganda and East Africa, with a fascinating personal history and breadth of experience and responsibilities in the Diocese of North Kigezi.
The Anglican Diocese of Armidale shares a very special relationship of mutual support and encouragement with Bishop Edward’s Diocese, and his May visit to Armidale and the wider New England seeks to further strengthen the bond. Bishop Muhima is highly regarded throughout Africa and in many countries as an extremely colourful and engaging speaker, noted for his wisdom, humility and integrity and a fascinating personal story.
Uganda in the post-Colonial years (1963 onwards) was plagued with a series of conflicts, civil wars, coups and tyrants (most notable of these being Idi Amin Dada, famously known as ‘The Butcher of Uganda’. Estimates of the number of Amin’s opponents who were either killed, tortured, or imprisoned vary from 100,000 to half a million).
> Bishop Muhima, please give us an insight into the dictatorship of Idi Amin and the civil war years in Uganda?
Amin overthrew our elected Government in 1971 in a bloody coup detat. Bloodletting went on behind the curtains throughout 1972. In 1973 it became open; we witnessed the first public execution of our people by a firing-squad. Protesting the execution of one of my students at the high school where I taught (and was chaplain) put my life in danger.
When my Bishop sensed this, he sent me to the United States, where I remained until two years after the ‘Pharaoh’ was thrown out of the country in 1979 by a combined force of Tanzanian soldiers and Ugandan fighters.
> You fled Uganda to America for some years. What did you achieve there?
I took advantage of my being in the States for so long (8 years) to study and acquire the M Div, MA and PhD degrees, a Diploma in Christian Education, and a Higher Certificate in African Studies (Edward’s PhD thesis ‘The Fellowship of Suffering’ draws upon his experiences during the Idi Amin regime).
> What prompted you to return to Uganda?
Well, much as I appreciated the easy and convenient life in America, because of my love for my country and its people, I prayerfully promised myself that I would return to Uganda after Idi Amin to serve my people from within.
Rural Uganda is poor and dominated by subsistence farming, as well as massive population growth. There has been widespread clearing of the natural environment, resulting in land degradation and soil erosion. Here, as elsewhere, the Church must take the initiative to generate solutions …
> You have been involved in development. What projects has your Diocese undertaken?
In the North Kigezi Diocese, where my wife and I are serving (I as Bishop and she as Mothers’ Union President), we preach the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ both in ‘word’ and ‘deed’. In the ‘deed’ aspect we are involved in counselling, healing and development.
With development in the Diocese, we have projects such as water and sanitation (Watsan), micro finance initiatives (NOKIDES), a medical and health care centre with an operating theatre, providing houses for the poor and water tanks for those who are far away from good water sources, and giving goats and/or cows to the poor so they can be more self-sustaining and have a source of milk.
We are also developing our Prayer Mountain site (at the highest point of the diocese), because we believe prayer is the lifeline of a church and its mission.
Good Deeds – safe drinking water is essential.
> What other development initiatives are being taken to improve living standards in Uganda?
For a long time Uganda’s peasants have engaged in subsistence farming. Enough food on the table, but plenty of poverty in the same household! In recent years, we have been teaching and helping our people to move from peasant farming to commercial farming such as growing food stuffs, coffee, vanilla etc – and growing these on a large scale.
To go this way requires much capital, which our people don’t have. We as a Diocese wish we could help more, but we do not have the financial capacity. This is one of the areas where we need and would appreciate external support.
Subsistence farming in Uganda means hard work for the whole family.
Uganda’s population has boomed in recent years and is the youngest in the world, with 60% under 20 years of age. This is due largely to the impact of AIDS on the adult population, coupled with a high birth rate. The population is set to double to 60 million over the next generation. This has enormous implications for the country in environmental, social, economic, educational and health terms.
> Apart from economic development, what other ways might your country deal with issues like population age and growth?
Well, without going into great discussions about the economics of development, one thing among many others is that we need to extend the current retirement age from 60 years of age to something like 70 years, so that we retain a higher percentage of reasonably mature Ugandans in leadership.
Another option may be to recruit more mature professionals from other countries for some time. It is a challenging situation!
(The obvious importance of education in the economic development of Uganda sees Bishop Muhima’s Diocese working as the main provider of education in the region, with over 100 schools within his oversight).
> AIDS has devastated the whole African continent. How have you combated the AIDS epidemic in Uganda?
Our war against the AIDS epidemic in Uganda was and continues to be combated with our emphasis on educating the population in what we call the ABC approach: Abstinence, Being faithful, and the use of Condoms.
We believe that abstinence is the 100% safe method for those who are not yet married. As for the married, it is being faithful. And as for those who cannot abstain or choose not to be faithful, we tell them to use condoms, but hasten to let them know that condoms do not prevent HIV, but only reduces the risk of infection. Recent findings put condom safety at 69%, implying a 31% risk!
Wall of Orphans – Compassion Uganda has registered more than 58,000 children – many made orphans through AIDS.
Like many Africa countries, Uganda has a chronic shortage of trained medical personnel. For example, Uganda has 1 doctor to 10,000 ratio while Australians enjoy a 1 to 400 ratio, not to mention availability of facilities and supplies. This is another area where the Church’s input and leadership is crucial.
> Your Diocese operates a growing medical and health-care centre. What progress is being achieved with this work?
As I mentioned earlier, our mission in the Diocese of North Kigezi is to preach the Good News of our Lord Jesus in word and and deed, and the Medical and Health Care Centre is another example of the ‘deed’ aspect of our ministry. We believe that a healthy spirit dwells within a healthy body.
This is in line with the teaching approach of our Lord Himself. He went about teaching, preaching and healing. The Medical and Health Care Centre is our small contribution towards improving the health of our sick.
It is still small, but with the new operating theatre in place, its impact will continue to grow. We will need a good surgeon and a good general physician.
Currently we are training two medical students with the help of our partner Diocese of Armidale. We will also need a good administrator as well.
I pray there might be someone from Australia with skills in this area who will come forward to be the administrator of our Medical and Health Care Centre!
> Thank you Bishop Muhima.