Janani Luwum (1922-77)

17th February

A Ugandan goatherd who became an archbishop and was killed for protesting at inhumanity and political excesses in a harsh regime.

Janani Luwum, sculpture by Neil SimmonsBorn in 1922 at Acholi in Uganda, Janani Luwum spent his childhood and early youth tending goats, but earned a reputation as a quick learner when opportunities arose. He became a teacher and soon after was converted to Christianity and was ordained in 1956. He became Bishop of Northern Uganda in 1969 and Archbishop of Uganda in 1974, three years after Idi Amin came to power in a military coup.

On behalf of the church and others Archbishop Janani took a leading role in criticising the new regime for its undemocratic and harsh rule, and in particular for abuses of human rights. In 1977 the bishops sent a letter protesting at what they believed to be systematic state murder carried out on behalf of the government. Soon afterwards Janani and two of Amin’s own ministers were found dead following a car accident, but is was quickly established that this was arranged on the instructions of President Amin.

Clearly living his faith, and with great enthusiasm for Jesus and the gospel message, the Archbishop was no doubt aware of the risks he took in leading the prophetic voice of the church. In protesting against inhumanity he declared his willingness to stand up for the gospel message - and for his beliefs paid the price with his life.

Janani Luwum is recognised as a martyr by the Church of England and, depending on local custom, his death is celebrated as a "Lesser Festival" on 17th February. His statue is among the "20th Century Martyrs" on the front of Westminster Abbey.

Jim McLean

St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 29th January 1999