African Christian Converts Face Increasing Violence in Uganda and Beyond
Uganda, located in East Africa, is a largely Christian nation, reflecting the faith of more than 80% of its population. But reports of anti-Christian violence there are increasing exponentially. Unlike the horrific massacres in Nigerian villages and churches or the mass beheadings in Mozambique, Ugandan attacks tend to target individual converts from Islam to Christianity. They are carried out by radical Islamists, encouraged by local Muslim clerics or terror groups like al-Shabab and ISIS-affiliates.
These emerging troubles in Uganda are especially saddening to me. I visited Uganda on my first trip to Africa in the early 1990s. Twice I lodged in an orphanage near Kampala for a few weeks while working as music coordinator for the African Children’s Choir, helping develop their concert repertoire, choreography, and recordings. The children there had come from war-torn backgrounds, yet they were amazingly joyful. We had no running water or electricity, but there was plenty of laughter, the food was good, and the children’s caregivers were a pleasure to know. We all awakened at dawn and ended each day hearing the children singing praise choruses to the beat of djembe drums.
Those long-ago visits to Africa sparked my special love for Uganda’s vibrant and generous people — a love that remains in my heart. But today, violent assaults in Uganda are surging, one attack following closely after another, as reported in a series of distressing articles in Morning Star News.
Most recently, on August 16, Muslim extremists in eastern Uganda “cut off the hand of a 42-year-old father who left Islam to become a Christian in June, sources said. Musa John Kasadah of Maumo village, Luuka District was ambushed on July 26 as he tried to flee to safety with his family who had joined him in putting faith in Christ. …The couple have six children, including two adults …”
In another incident, “Muslim extremists on July 29 came to the home of an evangelist who had held open-air events in eastern Uganda and killed him, sources said. ….The previous week, [Rev.] Sozi Odongo Odongo had received threatening text messages, including one from Nasuru Ongom, a Muslim sheikh (teacher), that read, “Please stop preaching to our people using the holy Koran, or else you risk your life.”
That same month, “Three men reviling a convert to Christianity for leading Muslims to Christ in eastern Uganda killed him on Sunday (July 3), a witness said. Simolya Latifu was slain with a sword at about 7:15 p.m. at a swamp near Molu … ” according to a witness.
In a June report we read, “A woman in central Uganda who accepted Christ at a church service on May 29 was killed later that day when her father stabbed her in the eyes for leaving Islam, sources said…” Her neighbor later described the woman’s conversion: “After explaining to her about eternal life and forgiveness of sin that comes from Jesus who came to take away the sins of the whole world, she willingly accepted Jesus for the salvation of her soul …”
Just days before, on May 26, a Ugandan youth pastor died from “an axe blow to the head sustained during an Islamic extremist attack on a church on May 20, sources said. Emmanuel Mugabi sustained deep cuts on his leg and head and lost consciousness in the attack. … Mugabi succumbed to a blood clot from the head injuries after a week of treatment. He was 32 …”
Although today’s attacks in Uganda are increasing every week, I first heard about such an incident in 2012 while I was living in Israel, where I learned that a Ugandan Christian convert had been viciously assaulted.
Umar Mulinde was born in Uganda in 1973 to a devout Muslim family. His maternal grandfather was an imam; his father a well-known Islamic leader. But as a young man, Mulinde made the decision to convert from Islam to Christianity. Before long he was preaching to thousands of Ugandans about his newfound faith.
On Christmas night 2011, a terrorist made his way through the holiday crowds, and after shouting “Allahu Akbar!” three times, he threw acid at Mulinde’s face, chest, and arm. The young pastor turned his head just in time to avoid being hit directly in the face; his right side bore the brunt of the injury.
I visited Umar in a hospital while he was being cared for by burn specialists in Israel. The acid had destroyed his right eye; his face was massively disfigured, and his years-long recovery was agonizing. But today he is home in Uganda, once again preaching the gospel to thousands. I asked him why the persecution of Christians like himself appears to be prospering in today’s Uganda.
“It’s true that the increasing attacks on Christian in Uganda seem to be primarily against individual converts from Islam,” he explained. “And even though Uganda’s constitution talks about religious freedom, Muslims have strategically positioned agents in political, legal, and security systems. They help facilitate those human rights abuses without any possibility of victims to get justice.” Thankfully, like so many other brave converts, Umar boldly continues to preach to thousands in Uganda.
Violence against Christians is sweeping across Africa, causing thousands of deaths in notorious places like Nigeria, Mozambique, Sudan, Somalia, and Central African Republic. But while we remember them, let’s also pray for lesser-known places of persecution like Uganda.
Please join us as we appeal to heaven for protection and mercy over the many millions of African believers who bravely choose to follow Christ, despite the increasing dangers.
Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council and Fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.