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All roads lead to Namugongo

May 29 • 8949 views • 6 Comments on All roads lead to Namugongo Uganda

Commemorating the Uganda Martyrs. How did the muzungu end up in Namugongo?

It always makes me laugh: the unexpected things I end up getting involved in Uganda, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when John Ssempebwa, the Deputy Executive Director of Uganda Tourism Board sent the Muzungu a message asking if I would help him do the voice-over for a promotional DVD… all about the Namugongo Martyrs.

Muzungu in Basuti gomez dress

Muzungu in Basuti gomez dress

How the Muzungu came across on film, I’ve yet to see! – but nonetheless the filming was the perfect opportunity for me to learn all about the Martyrs, one of my “blogging resolutions” in fact.

My pre-filming homework was to read Father Simeon Lourdel, Missionary of Africa, White Father, Apostle of Uganda 1853 to 1890. Despite its incredibly dull-sounding name, this account had me hooked from start to finish. Catholic missionaries aren’t normally my cup of tea frankly, but the six month journey on foot from the Indian Ocean coast, traversing Tanzania and fighting off wild animals (lions!), sickness and numerous antagonistic tribes to the south of Lake Victoria had me captivated.

Simeon Lourdel, Missionary of Africa. The White Fathers, Armand Duval

Simeon Lourdel, Missionary of Africa. The White Fathers, by Armand Duval. Beneath the dull-looking academic book cover and uninspiring name is the most fascinating historical book

The diary of a French missionary, writing in the 1870s, recalls:

“It was no joke to foresee all that would be necessary for 10 missionaries for a journey of six months across unknown land, all the food, the tools and equipment for putting up permanent settlements in an empty continent. The big headache was to go gather enough of the items to use for the bartering with the African tribes, for free and safe passage through the territories: bales and bales of calico material, boxes and boxes of glass beads, reels and reels of brass wire. The two (Catholic) fathers had also to recruit 300 porters and an escort of soldiers. They had two interpreters who spoke Kiswahili and managed to speak broken French to make sure that their orders were properly understood, and for bartering with the African chiefs on the way.”

White Fathers land Entebbe, Uganda. Namugongo Martyrs

Painting of the Catholic missionaries, known as the White Fathers, land in Entebbe, Uganda after traversing Lake Victoria. This painting can be seen at the Catholic Basilica in Namugongo

The traverse of Lake Victoria – the world’s second largest freshwater lake – in a dugout canoe must have been one hell of a journey for these weary and sick travellers. As well as recounting the subsequent tales of many of the Namugongo Martyrs, the book gives a wonderful insight into the Buganda Kingdom, describing:

“A huge palace with hundreds of courtyards, a countless number of huts and thousands of servants living in and milling around. Great dignitaries of the kingdom were the only people allowed to approach the Kabaka (King). Also admitted to the courthouse visitors were dignitaries who came from neighbouring tribes, as long as they brought presents carried by slaves.”

About the Uganda Martyrs Walk

And so, one Sunday in Kampala, I joined the Uganda Tourism Board in the inaugural 10 km “UGANDA MARTYRS WALK.” Along the route of this unique walk, professional tourist guides explained the history of numerous Namugongo Martyrs, including: Mathias Mulumba, Jean Marie Muzeeyi, Mapeera and the three Martyrs killed at Busega. These names meant nothing to me before; now I notice them every day, as I pass the churches and schools named in their honour.

I am seeing Kampala in a new light.

WHERE is the Uganda Martyrs Walk?

The walk starts at Old Kampala Secondary School and finishes at Busega Martyrs’ Church, Mityana Road. Check out the Martyrs Walk 2014 map on Google.

WHEN is the Uganda Martyrs Walk?

First Sunday in June, from 9 am

WHY is the Uganda Martyrs Walk?

This is the launch of what promises to be a big, popular annual event with people coming from all over the world. Proceeds from the Martyrs Walk will go to Uganda Heart Institute, Mulago Hospital, Kampala, to undertake life-saving cardiac operations on children and babies born with Congenital Heart Disease.

Millions of Christian pilgrims flock to Namugongo every June.

Millions of Christian pilgrims flock to Namugongo, Greater Kampala, every June. Photo courtesy of Red Pepper

In addition to the professional tour and the chance to learn more about the Namugongo Martyrs, walkers will have access to free medical check-ups.

SSENTE MEKA? How much is the Uganda Martyrs Walk?

10,000 UGX for the walk; 20,000 UGX for the special souvenir T-shirt.

HOW DO I REGISTER for the Uganda Martyrs Walk?

Registration for the walk is going on at the main Kampala Post Office and at the National Theatre. Pilgrims can also register by sending 10,000 UGX to Mobile Money tel +256 704 731 215 and +256 773 831 825. [Note these are the contacts for 2014; in subsequent years, these may change].

Uganda Martyrs Day is celebrated 3rd June every year. On this day, more than a million people congregate at Namugongo.

No-one can help but be moved by the Martyrs’ incredible stories. I’m not a religious person but I was blind-sided by these individuals’ belief, determination and the ultimate sacrifice.

Namugongo Martyrs Shrine

A model of the fire in which many of the Namugongo Martyrs were burned to death. Namugongo Martyrs Shrine, Uganda

For me, this event celebrates human survival and endurance. Every Martyr’s story is inspiring. The reality of their unbearable agonies defies belief.

Join the pilgrims travelling to Kampala on this special occasion.

For more information about the Uganda Martyrs Walk, contact the Uganda Tourism Board. The DVD story of the Namugongo Martyrs is also available from Uganda Tourism Board – [reminder to self: upload it to YouTube!]

Namugongo stained glass window

Namugongo stained glass window. Namugongo Basilica

As I write, pilgrims are walking to Namugongo, a few kilometres from central Kampala, from across Uganda and East Africa.

We hope to see you there!

Namugongo Martyrs. Basilica

Diary of a Muzungu, next to painting of martyr St Charles Lwanga. Inside Namugongo Basilica

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6 Responses to All roads lead to Namugongo

  1. Enid says:

    Webale Nnyo Nagawa, i like the Gomesi!

    • the muzungu says:

      Thanks Enid, are you walking with us on Sunday? I can’t promise I shall be wearing my Gomezi tho! A bit hot for a 10 km walk … but then I suppose there are thousands of Ugandan women walking country roads wearing them…

  2. Veronica says:

    Hi “Mzungu” I am a Ugandan living in the USA. I follow your blog once in a while . I am requesting to share this link of the Uganda martyrs on my Facebook wall if you do not mind.

    • the muzungu says:

      Hello Veronica, thanks for the feedback. I would love you to share my post. Just link it back to this page. Thanks! And we hope to see you in Uganda for the martyrs walk one year!

  3. the muzungu says:

    I wrote this blog post in 2014.
    In 2015, the Martyrs Walk has taken place in May.
    Researching this blog was very humbling. The stories I read are etched in my mind forever.

  4. the muzungu says:

    #MartyrsDay 2016 – It’s a public holiday here in Uganda today, 3rd June. I find it hard to wish anyone “Happy Martyrs Day” when you consider the unbelievable suffering of the Uganda Martyrs… Anyway, this is fascinating, posted on the Facebook page of Barefoot Lawyers – Uganda
    4 hrs · (This is not an endorsement of Barefoot Lawyers, by the way – but the below is worth reading).



    The Uganda Martyrs were executed on orders of Kabaka Mwanga for converting to Christianity between 31 January 1885 and 27 January 1887. They were canonized as Martyrs in 1964, and this day is celebrated every 3rd of June.

    This got us thinking, from a legal perspective;

    1. Was the execution of the Martyrs in 1885 by Kabaka Mwanga lawful?

    2. If the martyrs were executed today, would it be a crime?

    3. What possible crimes could Kabaka Mwanga be charged with today?



    1. Well, this is a difficult question considering people were killed simply because of their belief. But it appears like the execution were lawfully carried out.

    2. This is because the law in place at the time of their execution was customary Buganda law, which gave the King absolute powers. Including the power over life and death.

    3. The current laws applied in Uganda today into place gradually, but significantly in 1902, and 1920 through documents called the Order in Council. These allowed for the application of British laws to Uganda as a protectorate, and also created the current Court system.

    4. And since these laws came after the said execution, and the laws don’t act backwards, then acts committed before the law came into place cannot be punished.

    5. In conclusion, since the prevailing laws at the time of the execution gave the King powers to carry out order executions, then this act could be considered lawful in Buganda, at that time.


    6. This act by Kabaka Mwanga can be compared to acts in the United Kingdom where the British Kings/ Queens had powers to order for executions.

    7. One example was Charles II who is said to have ordered the beheading of Oliver Cromwell in 1661.


    8. If the deaths were carried out today, in the same way they were carried out then, these deaths could be considered to have been unlawfully caused.

    9. This is because the Constitution of Uganda says everyone has a right to a fair hearing. This means everyone deserves to first be tried by a Competent Court.

    10. In addition, no one has the right to cause the death of another person, unless this death is lawfully caused e.g death sentence and before this occurs, the person should have first been taken to Court, which then makes the order.


    ) Murder.
    b) Manslaughter.


    11. If the Martyrs were killed today, on orders of Mwanga, then Mwanga could also still be held responsible, even though he never actively took part in the killings.

    12. If you recall a case called “Uganda v Kato Kajubi”, in which Kato Kajubi was found guilty of ordering the sacrificing a child, although he never actively took part in the killing.

    Happy Martyrs Day !


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