Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

Pope Francis arrives in Uganda at the end of the month on his first African trip. The church is taking advantage of the visit to make money from the poor faithful. And Ugandan authorities are doing everything to present a false image of the country during the visit. It is all hypocrisy.

It is just a couple of weeks before the holy pontiff touches the ground in Uganda for his maiden visit. However, far from his trademark presentation as a pope for the poor, down in Uganda folks are soliciting for money day and night in an apparent drive to ensure a pompous image on the occasion of the pope’s visit. One wonders whether we actually need to create an impression before the pope of what we actually are not.

A clip is often played on TV of the Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, presented as the chairman for the committee organizing the pope’s visit. Cyprian’s message in that clip is a call on Christians to contribute money, money, and more money. In other words, he is calling upon believers to give all they can in preparation for the pope’s visit. Not so bad an economic strategy, because traditionally believers have always been asked to apparently give back to God - and who wouldn’t want to give money for the pope if that should accrue reciprocal blessings? What I never hear is actually the clarification that ideally our God DOES NOT need money.

In my view, if the pope’s visit is to have any spiritual meaning, the archbishop should concentrate his energies on calling upon people to renew their Christian vows, rather than have folks part with the little money on them in the name of supporting the pope’s visit. I believe that the government of Uganda as host has enough resources to fund the pontiff’s visit without putting pressure on individual believers.

I also know that the Uganda National Roads Authority is currently working day and night to fix the roads leading to the Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo- and I heard Allen Kagina even saying that they would literally wash the roads to ensure that by the time the pope arrives, they would be sparkling clean. Thank you very much, Allen, but I do not think that Francis will even notice that anything was recently done - and so what if he comes to Namugongo and finds it sparkling, when much of the city where the believers will be filing in from is engulfed in mud? This kind of hash-up development was witnessed in 2007 ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and soon after the dignitaries had flown out of the country, much of it started crumbling one by one because there was no proper sustainability plan - the lights stopped functioning, pavements were run over, and roads developed potholes all over again because they were haphazardly done.

I very well understand the usual temptation to construct roads based on their likely economic benefit or tagged to momentous events like the pope’s visit; but I dare say that even the poor people living in lesser economically viable locales, deserve to live decently. It is not even good enough to repair only main roads while ignoring feeder roads within and around the city, because in the end, vehicles and humans carry mud along with them which later ruins the main roads.

If protocol allowed, and assuming Pope Francis had the time, I would have loved for him to visit places like Kikubamutwe in Kibuli or Bunamwaya in Wakiso or even Mpala in Entebbe. These are places where feeder roads are grossly neglected and poor innocent Ugandans drive and walk on muddy roads….In the capital city of all places! Meeting the poor at Kololo Airstrip or even at the newly face-lifted Namugongo will simply give the pope a false image of the real situation.

I so strongly believe that if the pope’s visit is to have any spiritual nourishment for Ugandans, it must in one way or another cause some visible change in the lives of especially those that need God’s intervention the most. Otherwise Papa Francis will visit and thereafter board the plane back to the Vatican, and life in Uganda will remain unchanged.

The best that our current leaders could offer to Ugandans in appreciation of the pope’s visit is to craft a strategy that ensures that majority of Ugandans in the class of the poor or needy, have reason enough to be proudly Ugandan…at least they should have decent basic infrastructure and utilities. It is for such that the pope should be coming to Uganda and not the already well-to-do.

Recently, our daughters staged a protest. Their issue of discontent was in the fact that we always buy chicken whenever we have visitors, yet we only occasionally buy the same when the visitors are gone. Yes, most people normally reserve the nice things for visitors, even when they do not have any for many a month. What we forget is that everyone deserves decency. And after the children’s protest, we granted their desire all-round and now they can enjoy everything that we’d otherwise provide for our visitors.

And, needless to say, Pope Francis is as human as you and I. So if we wash roads for his visit because we’d love to showcase Ugandan decency, let’s set up a road-washing department, for every Uganda deserves to move on a clean road; and no one else other than the most ordinary Ugandan deserves to enjoy such a level of decency as a matter of priority.

At the end of the day, we should not merely count ourselves lucky for having hosted three popes in the past few decades, but should sternly reflect on the practical dividends that result from such visits.

I wish at this point to welcome Pope Francis home. Home, because no matter his color or nationality, he, I and you, are children of the same God; and wherever we are, we must feel at home.

* Tumusiime K. Deo writes from the Ugandan capital, Kampala.


* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.