Festo Kivengere and Idi Amin


I am often amazed by the “thing” we call “church”. In some cases, the church is an embarrassment because of the atrocities that are attributed to the “church” for centuries. The real church of Jesus Christ, however, has a hidden built-in compass, a default: the Bible. As soon as a church starts to read the Bible, believe its message, and start to practice it, begins to reach out with love, compassion, grace and that brings hope and healing to people.

An example of a Biblical church is the church in Uganda. The church in Uganda was born in suffering – when the gospel was preached for the first time in Uganda in die 1800s. Through the following more than 100 years, it experienced suffering time and again. As soon as Christianity gained a foothold in Buganda in the nineteenth century, King Mwanga II martyred forty-five Catholic and Anglican converts. Some of them died for refusing the king’s homosexual advances. On the eastern border of Buganda, he had British missionary James Hannington killed apparently fearing he would act as an agent for the British conquest of Uganda.

In the twentieth-century, the church faced an even more severe crisis. Idi Amin seized power in a 1971 coup against President Milton Obote. Amin began to ruthlessly slaughter opponents, killing probably 300,000 Ugandans (although estimates are as low as 100,000 and as high as 500,000). The church retreated into the forests and mountains and prayed. They prayed desperate prayers. Spiritual revival came to Uganda.

Perhaps it was the memory of the brave martyrs who preceded them, that helped Uganda’s bishops speak out against Amin’s brutal behaviour. In Uganda Bishops and “normal” Christians began to read the Bible and to apply its message in their own lives and in the life of the church. On January 30, 1977, Anglican Bishop Festo Kivengere, once a worshipper of evil spirits, but now a man of God, objected to the killings done by Amin. Preaching on “The Preciousness of Life” to high government officials, he rebuked the state for abusing the authority given it by God and denounced the persistent butchering of people.

Before becoming a bishop, Kivengere had been a successful evangelist,  large rallies that resulted in revivals which caused traditional animosities to be resolved. He was a translator for Billy Graham and the two became close friends. A few days after Kivengere gave his “Preciousness” sermon, Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum delivered a similar protest directly to Idi Amin. Within hours he was tortured and shot. Friends warned Kivengere that his own arrest was imminent. “One dead bishop is enough,” they said. Kivengereand his family fled in a vehicle and then on foot, crossing into neighbouring Rwanda. They soon moved to Kenya. There he published the book I Love Idi Amin. He said, “On the cross, Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.’ As evil as Idi Amin was, how can I do less toward him?” 

After Amin was ousted by neighbouring Tanzania, Kivengere returned to Uganda, preaching love, forgiveness and reconciliation to the bruised nation. “A living church,” Kivengere had written, “cannot be destroyed by fire or by guns.” He remained active in reproaching civil rights abuses by the restored Obote regime. Although it is not so well-known, Obote was even worse than Amin. Many Christians died horrible deaths. They went back to the forests and mountains to pray. Revival came and peace was restored to the country. 

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About the author

Bennie Mostert
By Bennie Mostert