Religious Studies Education Becomes Political Hotbed
President Museveni carries Bunyoro's Prince. Museveni's government cannot allow the debate over stopping religous studies deter his and and NRM's political ambitions.

Religious Studies Education Becomes Political Hotbed

All levels of our education system will continue teaching religious studies... The government is aware of the place of religion in Ugandan communities - says the Ugandan government.

By Solomon Akugizibwe
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First published: June 21, 2008

Of late, a public debate has been raging over reports that cabinet had debated the banning of teaching religious studies in schools and colleges. The cabinet early this year debated the proposal to stop funding the teaching of religious studies. Among other things, some members of the cabinet argued that it was not appropriate for the government to allow the continuous teaching of religious education in schools when Uganda is a secular state. These cabinet members argued that religious teachings be left to for the home and church, given that the government could not fund teaching of all religions.

Behind this concern, the government was also concerned that faith-based schools resisted recruitment of head teachers who were not of their faiths, which suffocates government efforts in improving education in the country.

In Uganda, the majority of the most powerful government aided schools like Kibuuli Senior Secondary, Kisubi College, Namagunga Girls, Nabisunsa Girls, St. Henry's Kitovu and Nyakasura School among others were founded by religious institutions which include; Muslims, the Catholic Church and the Church of Uganda.

The idea from cabinet to discontinue the teaching of religious studies in schools and colleges has received a lot of criticism from religious groups, the opposition and some sections of the public. The major reason advanced by such people is that banning religious studies in schools will lead to moral degeneration in the country.

Namirembe Christian Fellowship leader, Pastor Simeon Kayiwa says banning religious studies would drag the country into immorality.

"Religious education in schools helps to build a God- fearing nation," Pastor Kayiwa told journalists recently. "Any person who suggests that it should be removed from the syllabus, may plunge this country into immoral dangers," Kayiwa adds.

Pastor Kayiwa attributed dishonest acts, such as corruption and embezzlement among others, to lack of God-fearing hearts.

The remarks followed those of Bishop Samuel Balagadde Ssekadde, the Bishop of Namirembe Diocese, who said those pushing for the abolition of Religious Education should be investigated. Bishop Ssekadde wondered the kind of children Uganda would produce if they are not taught religious values in schools.

The immense criticism forced the government to come out and state that although the cabinet had hotly debated the issue, the government did not adopt any proposal to ban teaching of religious studies in schools.

On May 5th, the minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Dr. James Nsaba Buturo told journalists at the Media Centre in Kampala, that the proposal was never endorsed by the Cabinet.

"Some members in Cabinet raised this matter but after debate, it was rejected and all levels of our education system will continue teaching religious studies," Buturo said. The minister said religion was important for moral development in schools which is good for promoting stability in the country.

"The Government wishes to disassociate itself from the reports. The government is aware that the place of religion and its teaching in Ugandan educational institutions is the bedrock of our stability and harmony among communities," Buturo said.

The Ministry of Education Permanent Secretary Xavier Lubanga in a statement to journalists on May 1st said that Christian and Islamic religious studies are still taught at primary, secondary and teacher education levels. He says that religious studies teachers are still on the government payroll and not about to be removed.

In Uganda the Christian Religious Education (CRE) and Islamic Religious Education (IRE) are the only two religious subjects taught in government schools depending on the founding body - Christians, Muslims or the government (where both can be taught).

According to the Uganda population census of 2002, Christians made up about 84% of Uganda's population. The Catholic Church has the largest number of adherents (41.9%), followed by the Anglican Church of Uganda (35.9%). Muslims represent 12% of the population.

Other religions include traditional religions (1%) and 'Other Non-Christians,' including Hindus and Judaism at 0.7%.

If the figures are added it shows that by 2002, 96% of the people in Uganda were either Muslims or Christians. With the opening of the political space to allow for elections only 60% can vote out a government of President Yoweri Museveni incase he went against their wishes (banning religious studies in schools).

Besides, the different religious groups, especially Muslims, Catholics and the Church of Uganda, have strong networks up to the parish level with capacity to influence their believers to take a particular political direction. This was witnessed during the 1980 where religion played a major role to make the Democratic Party (DP), headed by Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, the strongest party in the country because it had received the support of the Catholics who were the majority.

DP also received the blessings of the Catholic Church leaders because it was founded along religious lines by Ben Kiwanuka, to promote the interests of the Catholic Church during the colonial era.

During the 1980 elections DP's flag bearer Ssemogerere is widely believed to have won the elections which was rigged in favour of UPC's Milton Obote.

But aside politics, some people have questioned the constitutionality of spending tax payers' money to teach religious studies, when Uganda is by constitution a secular state. Others have pointed to the fact that because not all religions are taught, it was unfair for the government to fund the teaching of some religions at the expense of others.

Some, like Local government Minister, Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafire dismissed arguments that teaching religious studies in schools promotes morals amongst pupils and students. This brings to light the issue of whether what is taught as religious studies is for academic purposes or for promoting the beliefs of a particular religion. Does a list of criminals, corrupt or immoral people necessarily show people who didn't take religious education? It is because of these debatable facts that the issue of continuing or stooping teaching of religious studies remains a contentious one amongst many Uganda.

By Solomon Akugizibwe
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First published: June 21, 2008
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Solomon Akugizibwe is a senior journalist with Ultimate Media Consult in Kampala . He has since 2006 worked as a reporter, information officer for an NGO before embarking on fulltime journalism practice at Ultimate Media Consult.