August 23, 2004
Uganda: Growth and Conflict
Martin E. Marty
Decades ago two of the seven boys aged nine to fourteen at the Marty table were Bugandan, brothers displaced from Uganda. One is now a Pentecostal pastor and evangelist. His being there helps me focus Sightings on that nation as a case study for sub-Saharan African Christian growth and destiny. What happens there affects us now, and will reach us more and more.
Andrew Rice writes a "Letter from Uganda" in The Nation (August 30) and "Enemy's Enemy" in New Republic (August 9). Rice, the busy Institute of Current World Affairs Fellow, keeps one eye on the mainly secular side of President Yoweri Museveni's Uganda and his other on the religious, the very religious, side thereof. In The Nation, he writes that, to many Americans, Museveni "is a godsend," since he is an African leader who tells America and other wealthy nations what we want to hear, even to the point of signing on to our Iraqi adventure. Signing on to joint ventures with us and others, however, has not benefited most Ugandans, and nothing but trouble lies ahead. Paradoxically, the better off Ugandans feel the most cheated and are rebelling and being fired. All this serves as background to the spiritual drama.
In "Enemy's Enemy," Rice writes from Kampala, reporting on the booming, bustling Pentecostal churches, whose growth shames all wimpy Northern world Christians. Evangelist Martin Ssempa shouts and gets shouted responses with "America, here we come! Asia, here we come ... Africa, here we come!" The movement does not have to come to Africa. It rules, as Uganda becomes "one of the most devout nations on earth." Rice claims: "The continent today is in the throes of its own Great Awakening." In 1970, 17 million Africans attended Pentecostal churches; now over 125 million do. This is "the most important social movement ... since postcolonial independence." Polls find Ugandans thanking American Christians and identifying with the U.S. to a degree almost no one elsewhere does.
Problems? Yes, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Persian Gulf monarchies are pouring money into Africa for Islamic conversions. "The investment is huge," and there is an upsurge in fundamentalist mosques and schools. Two proselytizing faiths compete, creating "a dangerous cocktail." The "born again" there support the U.S. because they think we are fighting their wars against Islam. The greatest attraction of the Pentecostals is the "community fostered in congregations," which is matched by similar community appeal among Muslims. Pentecostal converts are also attracted to a "miracle-working God." They watch Pat Robertson and other televangelists offering so much spiritual and material gain and they think some of the latter will be theirs. Ssempa says, "99% of our support comes from the U.S."
Uganda's Christians remember the horrible dictatorship of Idi Amin and identify his violent style with Islam everywhere. Sectarian violence, not yet overt in Uganda, spreads elsewhere and threatens there. In Kaduna, Nigeria, such sectarian war led to 1,000 deaths in 2000, and 200 deaths in recent riots. In Africa, "where there is too much poverty and too many guns, tensions quickly turn lethal." Christians and Muslims accuse each other as each conflict escalates. Voices of growth are strong. Voices of conciliation are weak and few.