The East African Revival: Treasure of the Ankole Region

The East African Revival: Treasure of the Ankole Region

Bishop Fred Sheldon Mwesigwa

The East African Revival Movement, an evangelical spiritual awakening movement that has become synonymous with the Anglican Church of Uganda, simply described as Okulokoka, Luganda for getting saved, was birthed in Gahini, Rwanda around 1931 and spread to Kigezi in 1935 and Ankole in 1936. One of the few surviving first balokole of 1936 is the 95 year old Mr Zablon Kabaza who edits the Kishumuruzo, Runyankole for ‘The Key’, a Runyankole daily guide to the study of the Bible. The Revival movement was mainly ignited following spiritual reflection, fervour and calling to repentance of sins and the call to preach the word of God so as to win souls for Christ. The harbingers of this new spiritual dispensation included William Nagenda, father of John Nagenda, Semyoni Nsibambi, father of Prof. Apollo Nsibambi and Blasio Kigozi. An English medical doctor, Joe Church, whose grandchildren attended the 80th anniversary celebrations of the East African Revival at Ruharo from 5th to 11th September 2016, was another pillar of the Revival during its inception.

Perhaps the most recognized figure of the East African Revival the world over is the late Bishop Festo Kivengere. While the East African Revival Movement was pioneered by the laity and was initially resisted by the clergy, it has now become the overarching tradition of the Church of Uganda and, more so, the Dioceses in Ankole region.  Ankole region is generally one of the most developed regions of Uganda in terms of social and economic indicators and, in my view, the single most defining factor of this development is the embracing of the Revival Movement and some of its values even by non-Balokole. Abalokole have been known to espouse values such as truthfulness, honesty, sexual purity, love for all, irrespective of background, an abhorrence of alcohol and smoking and the shunning of witchcraft and ancestor worship. Another key value has been the promotion of good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle whereby hygiene is paramount. There has been a correlation between faith and longevity in Ankole region. Three years ago, research that was conducted by the Diocesan office revealed about 200 couples who clocked 50 years and above in holy matrimony: more than three quarters of these were Abalokole! The longest surviving couple until 10th August 2016 had made 79 years in marriage! The 104 year old Mulokole Agnes Begumisa passed away and has left behind her 107 year old Mulokole husband. Two years ago, the Church Census revealed that Ankole Diocese had 35 Anglicans who were centenarians and 23 of these were Abalokole with the other 12 ‘good practising Christians’ and none a witch-doctor! Abalokole have been instrumental in the education of their children and most of their children, following rigorous discipline, have gone on to excel in academia, political, security, civil, and other fields of human endeavour. Notable children of Abalokole include H.E. Y K Museveni, President of Uganda, Hon. Gen Tumwine, Hon Nasasira, Justice Kakuru, Justice and Yorokamu Bamwine, Flight Capt. New Man, Hon Sam Kuteesa, Mr. Keith Muhakanizi, Canon Barnabas Tumusingize COU Chancellor, etc.

As regards economic transformation Abalokole were in the lead in embracing western culture of advancement through buying land, acquiring land titles and registering improved crop or animal variety which in turn resulted in a higher level of disposable income that enabled the majority to send their children to ‘good schools’ then. The socio-economic transformation in Ankole region is best summed by retired Archbishop Henry Orombi who on several occasions while preaching in Ankole Diocese said, ‘I never stop falling in love with Ankole where the fruits of revival are evident in the welcoming nature of the people. When I am approaching Karuma on my way home I often see men with bicycles carrying jerry cans of ajon but when I approach Lyantonde on my way to Ankole I start seeing men with bicycles carrying matooke and cans of milk!’

Rt. Rev. Dr. Fred Sheldon Mwesigwa is Bishop of the Diocese of Ankole