By Bellah Zulu, ACNS
A Zambian priest has challenged Christians across Africa to stand up and fight corrupt practices that are “soiling the fabric” of many countries on the continent.
The Revd John Kafwanka, currently Director of Mission at the Anglican Communion Office, was speaking following the recent arrest of Ugandan anti-corruption activist and retired Assistant Bishop of Kampala Diocese the Rt Revd Zac Niringiye.
Niringiye and eight other campaigners were arrested on Monday by the police at Uganda's Makerere University for distributing pamphlets calling for an end to high-level corruption. The group was later released on bond.
The police who arrested Bp Nirigiye claimed the pamphlets contained “false and subversive language”. The documents in fact highlighted the millions of shillings lost from the country's coffers because of corrupt officials.
Mr Kafwanka said that speaking out against such wrongdoing was something all Christians everwhere should consider their responsibility: “We need more Christians to stand for what Bishop Zac stands for, to speak against wrongdoing, which always impact the poor most of all. Where corruption is found, God's people should stand up and speak up from a position of integrity.”
Mr Kafwanka and Bp Niringiye once worked together at the Anglican mission agency CMS (Church Mission Society). Mr Kafwanka recalled the retired bishop’s character and personality: “He has always had a high belief that leaders both in church and in government should have integrity. He loves to see proper leadership in the continent of Africa."
Mr Kafwanka also acknowledged that the Bp Niringiye had a "forthright nature" saying "He is quite critical of issues that may affect proper leadership such as corruption."
The retired bishop has been a long and strong critic of corrupt practices within the country and has been at the forefront of advocating for transparency and accountability. He returns to answer the charges on 14 February, the others on 11 Feb.
The arrests cause consternation particularly among civil society organisations and have caused some commentators in Uganda to question the government's attitude towards church leaders.
Mr Kafwanka said: “The corruption activities that the bishop has been advocating against are the same issues that every progressive leader should be fighting against.”
The executive director of the Ugandan National NGO Forum Richard Ssewakiryanga told a press conference: "The Police high-handedness in arresting the Bishop and other volunteers was not necessary because they were not inciting violence but only fighting corruption."
While many people may not clearly see the cost of corruption in this relatively thriving economy, the 2005 World Bank survey revealed that Uganda loses about US$200 million a year through corruption but the Global Integrity Report of 2006 pegged the figure at about twice as much.
In the light of the corruption allegations that have rocked the country in the recent years, the World Bank Group last year began reviewing its development assistance to Uganda while also strengthening its own measures to ensure that its funds are used for their intended purposes.
Bp Niringiye once proclaimed: “Corruption in Uganda is a leadership problem. It requires political solutions. The President should not fear to disappoint some of his friends by throwing them out when they are embellished with corruption.”