It’s difficult to avoid religion in Uganda, mission hospitals and schools line the roads while churches and mosques split the skyline. And Born-Again Christians stand on most corners, reading loudly from bibles.
In the bustling town of Gulu in the Northern region, the streets positively bristle with signs for missionary schools, businesses and medical centres or hospitals. Some like the Comboni Missionaries at Lacor Hospital have been in the area for decades, while others have arrived since the conflict with Joseph Kony’s rebel army ended.
And whether or not you agree with proselytising, it’s hard to imagine how recovery would have proceeded without local priests and nuns powering it. Even today, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative reports twice as many people in this region live in poverty as in the south.
Back in the capital, the white walls of Kibuli Mosque stand on one of Kampala’s seven hills. The road winds up past a Muslim university, hospital and secondary school.
Abdul Sheikh sternly guards the gates, but my bright cerise scarf brought a reluctant smile. He said the mosque was built in 1941, making it the oldest in Uganda.
When I carefully emerged from the darkness of the minaret, he asked if I had ever thought about converting. When I said no, he sighed a little but another man said there was no rush, any time would do.
About 12 per cent of Ugandans are Muslim, with Catholics and Presbyterians dominating the Christian population. Atheists hold a FreeThought meeting once a month in the capital to discuss their ideas. The tagline on their website reads: ‘Promoting Reason in a Highly Superstitious Society’.
But smaller Christian sects are perhaps the most visible. At every roundabout in Kampala someone stands with a Bible and sermonises into the pollution.
And the mini-van park at Gulu is enlivened by a whole choir of singing and dancing Pentecostals. Drivers bop along as they wait for customers, customers clap as they wait for their van to fill up.
The song’s message may be serious, but it probably doesn’t hurt that it comes wrapped in such a good tune.