Fight for Souls:
Christians Take on Witchdoctors in Kawempe

Daily Monitor
Kampala, Uganda
Daily Monitor, article reprinted in its entirety.

Joe Lomongin

Concerned that too many people are going into witchcraft, Born Again churches in Kawempe have drawn the battle lines. And the witchdoctors say they will be only too happy to pay the Christians back in kind.

Thousands of solemn faces stream with tears, arms raised in earnest prayer and minds oblivious to all else around them.

At the front, aloft on a huge platform, the preacher, now done with his sermon, is booming out a prayer.

Just below him, a young man is softly touching the keyboard, producing some gentle background music, providing the perfect setting for prayer.

It is long after midnight on Friday, August 5, and we are at Mulago sports ground, Kampala, better known as the Cholera isolation centre, where cholera patients are quarantined whenever an epidemic strikes - not a rare phenomenon around these parts.

But this time the issue on the agenda is not cholera; it is something far more serious and rare.

Thousands of Christians from all the Born again in Kawempe Division of Kampala are passionately calling upon the Lord.

It is no ordinary overnight prayer; and in fact nobody is treating it as just a prayer. As far as they are concerned, this is a fight.

Concerned that the practice of witchcraft has reached unacceptably high levels, the church is saying enough is enough, it must be broken.

The brain behind this fight is Godfrey Luwagga, 37, Pastor of City of the Lord Church in Kalerwe, a stone's throw away from the scene of battle.

"It is time to pull down strongholds," he says.

"Too many people are dabbling in witchcraft," Luwagga says. "The situation is getting out of hand."

It is a classic case of the Lord and the devil competing for the souls of men.

Has the church failed in its mission, so that people are now turning elsewhere for solutions to life's problems?

Luwagga who is also regional overseer for the National Fellowship of Born Again Churches (NAFBAC), in central Uganda has an inkling this may be the case.

"Maybe it is true that we are guilty of falling asleep in certain areas. But we are now waking up and taking matters into our hands."

Kawempe is reputed as the area with probably the highest rate of witchdoctors per capita in Uganda; and while people have no statistical data to buttress their claims, it is basically accepted that the witchdoctor-client ratio is cause for concern, at least among the churches.

Bwaise and Kalerwe are the epicentres of this witchdoctor boom, inter alia, for the simple reason that they are also the most populated areas of Kawempe Division and logically present unlimited opportunities for witchdoctors.

Most witchdoctors carry out their trade in their homes and simply put up a signpost to indicate that services are available.

It is in these places that the clients, mostly women, will be found lined up or performing all kinds of rituals, the most common of which is smoking incense in pipes, known locally as okufuwa emindi.

The women do it naked or with only the thinnest wrapper around them (which makes no difference anyway), and most have no qualms being seen by the public.

"When I am seeking a solution to my problems, I really do not care who sees me. My interest is to get rid of the problem, public opinion can go hang," Topi, one such woman says as she puffs away calmly.

She says most women that visit witchdoctors have problems in their relationships - usually the husband or lover is seeing another woman and in this era of Aids, some supernatural power is needed to make him stop.

Others are barren and want children, while some want success in business.

This was no doubt the reason that during the overnight prayer, Apostle Alex Mitala of the Back to God Ministries fame, took time to pray for those with such problems, so that people may know that they can find solutions in God, rather than resorting to witchdoctors.

An evangelist by calling, Luwagga came to Kalerwe almost against his will.

"I never wanted Kalerwe; even the name sounded horrible to me. I didn't like the dirty market, the many thieves all over the place and all the chaos that is characteristic of the place," he says.

This just wasn't the place you wanted to be, if at all you were keen on doing something useful with your life. It therefore made sense to steer clean of the mess that the sprawling marketplace was.

However, the Lord seemed to have other ideas about the matter, and decided to send him right there; precisely where he did not want to be, and he opened the church in December 1997.

The conflict between the church and the witchdoctors began almost immediately, because Luwagga shared fences with three witchdoctors.

After a short while, one confronted him complaining that he was ruining his business with his prayer and preaching.

"Why don't you leave me alone? What did I do to you?" the man pleaded.

Eventually he moved his business elsewhere.

The witchdoctor on another side of the church died a mysterious death, while the third suffered a broken marriage and quickly moved shop, sensing that there was something not quite right about being too close to the church.

Like the Born Again churches, the witchdoctors are united under an association known as Uganda Neddagala Lyayo (literally referring to a fellowship of native doctors), and they meet regularly to discuss problems facing them.

Top of the agenda is often the issue of Born Again churches and their impact on the native doctors' clientele.

Anxious that their trade is in danger of collapse, the witchdoctors have decided that they will not take this lying down, as the savedees muddy the waters and steal their fish.

"Dr." Moses Kiwanda is one of the most recognised witchdoctors in Kawempe Division and he has no qualms revealing their strategy.

Kiwanda says that the witchdoctors see the church - specifically the Born Agains- as opponents that must be fought.

He intimates that they too will in the near future begin holding public gatherings to preach their message, very much similar to the gospel crusades that the Born again churches are famed for.

"And we shall also go from door to door telling people what we can do, just like these Born Agains are doing" he says.

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