Uganda, a religion safe haven
Article 29 of Uganda’s constitution declares ‘freedom of religion’ as one of the fundamental rights for all Ugandans to enjoy. This has definitely made her a safe haven for different religious associations to flourish –a spiritually diverse nation.
The most commonly recognized religions in Uganda are the Roman Catholics, Anglicans (also called Protestants) and Muslims. The reason for the existence of these three religions can be traced back to the history of Uganda when foreigners made their way into the country. Before their influx, Ugandans were traditionalists and believed in indigenous gods. Islam was introduced and popularized by the Arab traders who settled at the coast of the Indian Ocean. Christianity on the other hand was established by the missionaries with the British introducing the Anglican faith and the French, Catholicism.
The three major religions aside, other Christian denominations have sprung up, a few of which include: Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, the Unification Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nonetheless, independent religions are now in existence and these comprise: Hinduism, Judaism, Baha’i faith, Buddhism and others.
Most non-Christian religions belonging to the minority denominations also have foreign origins like India, China, and others. Hinduism for example, is a dominant religion in India. This implies that Uganda is open to a miscellany of cultures, as long as they do not pose any risk to her people.
According to the last population census carried out in 2002, 85.4% of the entire population is Christian and 12.1% is Muslim. The remaining percentage (about 2.5%) is occupied by other religious groups, including 0.9% who of people who profess to no religion.
While the incidence of Christianity is felt countrywide with several churches in all regions, the percentage of Islam is highest in central and eastern Uganda, with Iganga District having the greatest number of Muslims.
One of the most astounding facts is that in the face of all these religions, there is a peaceful coexistence among all Ugandans. Occasions of inter-religious conflicts have been so minimal. On top of that, there have been a number of instances where individuals from different religions get married to each other.
Regardless of the fact that the national policy on religion encourages freedom of worship, all religions are required to register with the Government in order to keep cults at bay and thus ensure the safety of all citizens.
A case in point was in the year 2000 in the course of the Millennium excitement when 1,000 people, members of a supposed cult, Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments of God led by Joseph Kibwetere, perished in an inferno.
Religion as part of the Ugandan culture has to a greater extent shaped the lifestyle of the people. International holidays like Easter, Christmas and Eid are also honored in Uganda as public holidays. Religious carnivals like Diwali (Divali), an Indian festival of light and the Chinese New year are some of the foreign celebrations that Uganda recognizes.
While freedom of religion is greatly demoralized in some countries, Ugandans are lucky to practice their worship with minimal restriction, making her a sanctuary that has preserved religion.
By Enid Karen Nabumati