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Uganda -- Religion

According to estimates in the late 1980s, 66% of Uganda's population is Christian; Protestants and Roman Catholics each make up half of this total. Approximately 15% of Ugandans are Muslims. 19% adhere to local religions or identify no religious affiliation. World religions and local religions have coexisted for over a century, and many Ugandans combine elements of the two. With few exceptions, world religions have generally been viewed as compatible with local beliefs and observances.

Indiginous Beleifs Roughly 19% of Ugandans profess belief in local religions. Bantu speakers in southern Uganda adhere to a variety of local religions characterized by belief in a creator god, usually known as Ntu (or a variant of that term, e.g., Muntu). Most of these religions involve beliefs in ancestral spirits. Prayers and sacrifices are offered to these spirits, denoting respect for the dead and the importance of proper relationships among the living. Ancestors also play an important role in the lives of the Lugbara people of northwestern Uganda. Ancestors are held to communicate with the living and influence their fortunes. The ancestral dead can be appeased by those in power; a lineage elder is said to "own" an ancestral shrine, and this ownership reinforces his power to communicate with the ancestors. Elders are said to be able to curse relatives; those stricken with illnesses often consult diviners to determine which elder might have caused their illness. Secular functions of religion are also evident in the Ganda belief system, in which spirits reinforce the institution of kingship. While the kabaka is not considered to be descended from the gods, his skill as a leader is partly judged by his ability to defend his people from spiritual danger. Religion in the Tepeth society in northeastern Uganda also reinforces political values. Authority is concentrated in the hands of a small group of priests and clan elders. They admit men judged capable to a cult known as Sor. Sor initiates make sacrifices to enhance fertility, ensure adequate rainfall, and avoid disease. Men can also become members of a society of mediums or priests. Women receive spiritual communications regarding social ills, such as crimes, but are held to be incapable of seeing the spirits who communicate with them.

Christianity The largest Protestant denomination in Uganda is the Anglican (Episcopal) church. In 1989 about 4 million Ugandans (roughly 22% of the population) worshipped in the nineteen dioceses of the Anglican Church of Uganda. Other Protestant churches, including Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, together claim fewer than 1 million members. About 5 million Roman Catholics (roughly 28 percent of the population) are members of the thirteen Catholic dioceses in Uganda. The Catholic and Anglican churches are headed by Ugandan archbishops. The first Christian missionaries, who arrived in Buganda in 1877, represented the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS). Roman Catholic priests from the Society of Missionaries of Africa, a French religious order, arrived two years later. These and subsequent missions competed for converts in southern Uganda, often becoming embroiled in local politics. British and German military commanders called on Protestant and Catholic converts to defend imperial interests against each other and against indigenous Muslim armies. Many early converts to Christianity were persecuted by local rulers. Several nineteenth century martyrs are commemorated in shrines in southern Uganda.

Islam In 1989 Islam has an estimated 2.6 million followers in Uganda, which represents roughly 15% of the population. Islam arrived in Uganda in the mid-nineteenth century by two routes: from the north and through the inland networks of the East African coastal trade. Some Baganda Muslims trace their forebears' conversion to the nineteenth century, when kabaka Mutesa I was converted to Islam. When Idi Amin, a Ugandan Muslim, became president in 1971, his ascendance was seen as a victory for Uganda's Muslim community. Then, in 1972, Amin expelled Asians from Uganda, reducing the Muslim population significantly. As his administration deteriorated into a brutal and repressive regime, Uganda's Muslims began to distance themselves from their Muslim leaders. After Amin's overthrow in 1979, Muslims were the victims of a backlash directed primarily against the Kakwa and Nubian ethnic groups, which had supported Amin. Yusuf Lule, who served a brief term as president from 1979 to 1980, was also a Muslim. Though he was not a skillful politician, Lule was nonetheless successful in reducing the social stigma attached to Islam. In 1989 President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni appealed to Uganda's Muslim community to contribute to the nation's reconstruction, at the same time warning other Ugandans not to discriminate against Muslims. This admonition was directed at all Ugandans, the Islamic community as well as other ethnic and religious groups.

Millenarian Religions A number of millenarian religions which promise a "golden age" or millennium, existed in Uganda in the 1980s. Such religions often arose in response to rapid culture change or to calamities, and often sought to overturn the political order held responsible for the crisis. Many millenarian religions are cults led by charismatic prophets who promise followers relief from suffering. Such prophets often make extraordinary demands on believers and succeed in winning new converts when political upheaval is compounded by natural disasters or epidemics (including the spread of AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s).[1]

[1]Byrnes, Rita M. (ed.) 1992. Uganda A Country Study , Library of Congress: Washington D.C. pp. 70-76

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