Uganda indeed deserves visit from the pope

Pope Francis will be in Uganda in November, and plans and fundraisers for the visit are in high gear.

There is, for instance, a New Vision effort in which we are all invited to buy a souvenir rosary and, for non-believers like journalist Bernard Tabaire, an invitation to participate in a special Pope Walk on October 31.

I have read somewhere that the pope’s visit will cost Shs 5bn and that is why it has been necessary to constitute a committee in a public-private partnership, led by the prime minister, to organise the visit and raise funds.

Seeing that this is a high-profile committee and that President Museveni has already been invited to a fundraiser in addition to other ventures including New Vision’s, it is most likely that planners of the visit have taken some time to study the character of this pope. It is also true that for one to become a pope or any other position of global leadership, they must have very special attributes.

However, history may show that Pope Francis is/was a most unusual pope!

Soon after taking up office, Pope Francis rejected the traditional papal mansions, leaving that for the retired Pope Benedict and opted for a small apartment. I admire this and kind of liken it to omuzigo in my mind because of the mental image I have of the very frugal pope.

Next, he refused to take the official car and bought himself a used five-year-old Ford Focus and later accepted a gift of a 29-year-old Renault that he now keeps and occasionally uses as his personal car. Some commentators have said that indeed he is a man of faith because such an old car requires great patience. He advised priests to avoid luxuries, keep in tune with the poor and to buy humble cars.

Consequently, it is unsurprising that he recently nipped out of a meeting and went to an optician’s surgery where he insisted on reusing his old frames. He also paid the bill! Pope Francis usually travels very light; just one small suitcase will do for him. And he usually carries it himself! So, I wonder how he will cope with our Ugandan opulence on arrival at Entebbe airport.

I can see him refusing to board the awaiting posh Land Cruiser with, of course, the attendant VVIP convoy plus decorated police motorbikes blazing their way through the messy traffic of Entebbe road.

Will he spend a night at the fancy Serena hotel in town or seek out a tree under which Kizito or Mukaajanga rested just before they were burnt alive for their refusal to denounce Christianity?

The pope’s visit’s committee must be very wary; he could very well use the dead flight time reading reports of Chogm finances or other corruption cases and demand accountability for the Shs 5bn during his trip.

The pope is certainly a star celebrity who is loved by many. He has very strong opinions on many issues, including opposition to capitalism and socialism, which he believes are not pro-Christian! No wonder it is not just the Christians looking forward to his visit. Many other African countries must be looking at us enviously for hosting the pope this year.

He has spoken out in support of refugees and immigrants right from when the boats first hit the waters way back in 2013. At the time, he chastised Europeans for sending away poor people yet they had plenty.

Recall that when the Europeans adopted a silent policy of abolishing rescue missions, Pope Francis spoke out against it. Rescue missions were resumed because the Europeans were beginning to look ‘ugly’! Thankfully, the Italians stuck to it even at that time when no other country wanted to help.

Right now, the situation has exploded and the pope has urged European Catholics to take in refugees.

No one can be sure how all this will unfold. Africans from Eritrea, Somalia and Libya plus Syrians, Kurds, Afghans and Iraqis account for the large numbers fleeing their countries. Germany and Austria have now stood out for their warm welcome for foreigners.

Of course, we know about foreigners in Uganda and a lot of Africans have found refuge and made Uganda their home. Currently, we have people flocking in from Burundi and South Sudan due to instability yonder. Indeed, the 1995 Constitution recognises the Banyarwanda as one of the 56 tribes and the 2005 amendment act includes Barundi. Uganda certainly deserves a papal visit!

The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers.

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