Bahai News - Baha'i Community of Uganda celebrates its 50th anniversary
Baha'i Community of Uganda celebrates its 50th anniversary
KAMPALA, Uganda, 5 August 2001 (BWNS) -- In a week-long celebration that
opened to the joyous beat of African drums -- and which went on to feature a
statement by Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the Ugandan Baha'i
community commemorated in early August the 50th anniversary of its founding.
The Ugandan Baha'i community was established on 2 August 1951 when a
small group of Baha'is from Great Britain and Iran arrived in Uganda
with the intention of bringing the teachings of the Baha'i Faith to
The principles of unity and social progress offered by the Faith soon
won acceptance from individuals in every region of the country and most
of the major tribal groups. Within two years the community had expanded
to nearly 300 members in some 25 localities who represented 20 tribes.
Today, the Baha'i Faith has an estimated 105,000 members in Uganda,
organized into some 200 local governing councils and established in
more than 2,800 localities. Its members represent virtually every
tribal and religious background.
"You will find we have Baha'is in all regions of the country, in the
western, northern, eastern, southern and central regions of Uganda,"
said George Olinga, chair of the Baha'i Jubilee planning committee.
"And you will find that the diversity of all Uganda is clearly seen in
the Baha'i community and in our activities."
Praise for the Faith's record of promoting harmony and development in a
country that has often been divided by tribalism was a main message of
President Museveni's statement, which was read on 2 August 2001 by
Captain Michael Mukula, State Minister for Health, before a crowd of
some 2,000 people at the Baha'i House of Worship in Kampala.
"In Uganda we are constantly fighting against ethnic and religious
sectarianisms and our politics was played out and polarized along those
major fault lines for a very long time," wrote President Museveni,
explaining that his government has sought to "bring all the people
together irrespective of their faith, race, color or ethnicity."
"We have been doing what you in the Baha'i Faith began to do a long
time ago," President Museveni stated in prepared remarks. "Yours is a
very useful message and can contribute greatly to nation building."
President Museveni's statement went on to highlight the need to fight
the evils of corruption and the necessity of reducing poverty -- goals
which he said he and his government share with the Baha'i community.
President Museveni also said his government shares a commitment to
bring about equality between women and men. "I appeal to members of the
Baha'i Faith, who hold the equality of rights and opportunities for
women and men as an act of faith and as their basic principle, to join
in our crusade for the empowerment of women," stated President Museveni.
Among other highlights of the week-long celebration, which began on 31
July in Kampala and ended on 5 August in Tilling in Eastern Uganda,
were the presence of four of the six founding members of the community,
the attendance of various officials in the Ugandan government, and
extensive coverage of the celebration in the Ugandan media.
Among the founding members of the community in attendance was Mr. 'Ali
Nakhjavani, who is currently a member of the Universal House of
Justice, the international governing body of the Baha'i Faith. He spoke
at several events during the week, on the theme of "The Spiritual
Destiny of Africa."
Before some 2,500 people on 5 August in Tilling, for example, Mr.
Nakhjavani said that when he came to Uganda in 1951, the Faith was like
"drops of water here and there."
"Now the Baha'is are like a lake," Mr. Nakhjavani said. "They should
now transform that lake into an ocean." He added that Africans -- and
all of humanity -- are from a single lineage and that we should "see
ourselves as one family" in the world.
Philip Hainsworth, another of the six founders who returned for the
celebration, told how the fledgling Baha'i community of Uganda became
an important nucleus for the spread and expansion of the Faith to
neighboring countries in the 1950s and 1960s, through the hosting of
various international conferences and, in 1957, with the start of
construction on the first Baha'i House of Worship on the continent.
Completed in 1961, the nine-sided Ugandan Baha'i House of Worship is
now a well-known landmark in Kampala.
In recent years, the Baha'i community of Uganda has sponsored a number
of social and economic development projects. The Faith operates two
primary schools, in Odusai in Pallisa District and in Tilling in Kumi
District. With about 1,000 students and a solid reputation for
excellence, the school in Tilling is now considered to be the top
school in the district.
In the 1990s, in some 30 villages in the Kumi and Soroti Districts in
Eastern Uganda, the Uganda Baha'i Institute for Development (UBID)
undertook a project to train and support local volunteer community
health workers, whose effectiveness at improving basic health and
sanitation in the region has been documented by several outside
A Baha'i-inspired non-governmental organization (NGO), UPLIFT, has also
recently started a literacy project in the northern region of Uganda, where
literacy rates are low. Focused around the town of Packwach in Nebbi
District, the project serves about 200 people in some six communities.
Government officials present at Jubilee events commended the Ugandan
Baha'i community's contribution to the country's development. At the
opening ceremony on 31 July, the Honorable Zoe Bakoko Bakoru, the
Minister of Gender, Labor and Social Development, was the featured
speaker. Ms. Bakoko Bakoru praised the Baha'is for their unity and for
their support of equal rights for women. She urged the Baha'i community
to work harder to spread such teachings and to undertake more
development work. The Minister was also present on 5 August at the
closing event in Tilling.
At a Jubilee event on 3 August at the Luwero Community School in
Bweyeyo, Mukono, Luwero District, the guest of honor was Edward Masiga,
the Resident District Commissioner for Luwero. Mr. Masiga visited the
school, which has about 400 students and is operated by the local
Baha'i community, and urged the Baha'is to spread their principles
"aggressively," adding also that he hoped they would undertake more
development projects like the school.
At least three major television stations (CTV, UTV and WBS) carried
two- to three-minute segments on their evening news broadcasts. The
government newspapers "The New Vision" and "Etop" carried articles with
color photographs of Jubilee events. The newspapers "Monitor" and
"Sunrise" and numerous radio stations also covered the Jubilee.
Like most other Ugandans, the Baha'i community suffered in the 1970s
during the repressive regime of Idi Amin. The Faith, along with many
other religious groups, was banned in 1977. After Amin was ousted in
1979, however, the Faith was legally reconstituted and, after a period
of political instability, the community has continued its expansion.
"The time from 1977 to 1981 was a period of great trials for the
Ugandan community generally, and there are stories of many heroic feats
and sacrifices by Baha'is during this time," said John Anglin,
Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Uganda,
the national Baha'i governing council. "But the 1990s were a period of
re-building our former capacity and strength."
"Now, over the next ten years, we expect to see steady growth both in
numbers and also in capacity and maturity," Mr. Anglin continued. "The
successful conclusion of the Jubilee events is one of the signs of this
new capacity and new willingness to achieve."
©Copyright 2001, Baha'i World News Service
Page last updated/revised 083001
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