The Tales of The Early Christian Martyrs

Christian missionaries, both Catholic and Anglican, arrived in the interior of Africa during the late nineteenth century. The first of the Catholic missions was established by the White Fathers, a missionary society founded by the French cardinal Charles Lavigerie, the archbishop of Algiers and Carthage. As early as 1878, when he was asked by Pope Leo XIII to take charge of the missions in equatorial Africa, Lavigerie began a series of annual caravan journeys to central Africa as part of the Catholic evangelization of the area. The next year, a Catholic mission was founded in what is now Uganda.


The largest and most powerful of the local ethnic groups was the Baganda, a group in which European missionaries took particular interest. Edward Rice (a friend, incidentally, of Thomas Merton) offers an overview of the importance of the region and the Baganda people in his book Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, a biography of the Victorian explorer and linguist. Rice recounts that the Baganda were among the richest and most advanced tribes in central Africa. Moreover, they “bore a certain kind of civilization that was to astound Europeans later, with well-organized bureaucracies, statesmanship of a superior order, finely developed arts and architecture, and unusual handicrafts.” Yet the civilization also had a dark side,  with both rulers and subjects having the reputation of being “unnaturally cruel.”

Martyrs One

The Martyrs Shrine As It Looks Now

Mutesa, the ruler of the Baganda, exemplified this cruel streak. When he took the throne in 1860, to ensure his own political survival he buried his brothers alive—all sixty of them. Yet he adopted a more or less  approach to the Christian missionaries. (Butler’s Lives of the Saints calls him a “not unfriendly ruler.”) In essence, Mutesa allowed his subjects to choose among any of the faiths being imported into his kingdom—Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim. In turn, each group attempted to assert its influence on the king’s court through the conversion of high-ranking officials. Mutesa, however, pointedly did not choose any one creed. In 1884 he died, still adhering to the local traditional religions.

Conversion to Christianity among the Baganda meant a rejection of the traditional religions. It also implied a setting aside of some of the traditional ways of life, an adherence to a new set of moral and religious standards, and, often, the establishment of a new set of alliances, based on religious belief. As a result, the group of new believers (called abasomi, or readers) came to be regarded with suspicion by other Baganda as a dangerous rebel faction. During the reign of Mutesa, however, these suspicions were kept under check.

With the accession of his son, Mwanga, the situation altered dramatically. As a young man, Mwanga had shown some favor to the Christian missionaries, but his attitude changed as soon as he took the throne. According to tradition, the kabaka was the center of all authority and power in the kingdom, and he could use his subjects as he wished. But the presence of the missionaries was severely diminishing his authority among the converts. Mwanga was also a practicing pedophile, and upon discovering that the young men who had converted to Christianity were beginning to reject his sexual advances, he grew enraged. As a result, the king sought to eliminate Christianity from his kingdom and began a violent persecution of the missionaries and the new Christians.

In January of 1885, Mwanga had three Baganda Anglicans— Joseph Rugarama, Mark Kakumba, and Noah Serwanga— dismembered and their bodies burned. In October of that same year the newly arrived Anglican bishop, James Hannington, was murdered along with his caravan on their way to the region. In response, Joseph Mukasa, a senior adviser to the kabaka and a recent Catholic convert, reproached Mwanga for executing Bishop Hannington without having offered him the customary opportunity to defend himself. Mwanga, furious at what he saw as Mukasa’s insolence, had him beheaded on November 15, 1885. Mukasa became the first of the black Catholic martyrs on the continent.

Among those now in obvious danger was the head of the royal pages, Charles Lwanga, who had been instructed in Christianity by the White Fathers and who was now Mukasa’s successor in guiding the young converts. The day of Joseph Mukasa’s death, Lwanga went to the Catholic mission with other catechumens (those who were receiving religious instruction), and together with them he was baptized by Siméon Lourdel, one of the White Fathers. Among the pages was Kizito, age fourteen.

The next day the pages were summoned into the royal court by the enraged kabaka. The king had learned that one of the young pages in his court, Mwafu, had been receiving religious instruction from another page, Denis Sebuggwawo. The king demanded that the pages confess their allegiance. All but three of the Catholic and Anglican pages did so. Mwanga, apparently baffled by this solidarity, put off their executions. At one point Charles Lwanga—echoing the stance of another, earlier, martyr, St. Thomas More—stated his allegiance to the kingdom of Buganda, declaring his willingness to lay down his life for the king. He would not, however, give up on his faith.

In February, a fire in the royal palace impelled Mwanga to move his court to a lodge on the banks of Lake Victoria. While there, Charles Lwanga protected several of the pages against the king’s violent sexual advances. Mwanga by this point had already obtained the consent from his chiefs to kill the Baganda Christians. Around this time, Lwanga secretly baptized five of the catechumens.

On May 26, the pages were called into the royal courtyard to hear their fate. From this point on, the story of the Ugandan martyrs closely resembles those of the early Christians. Fr. Lourdel, who had repeatedly pleaded for an audience with the king, was an unwilling witness. All of the men declared that they were prepared to remain Christians until death. In the end, Mwanga decreed that all of them—sixteen Catholics and ten Anglicans—be marched to Namugongo, eight miles away, where they would be burned. On their way to execution, bound by ropes and shackles, they were marched past Fr. Lourdel, who would later attest to their remarkably calm disposition.

They were marched to Namugongo, where, bound with ropes, shackles, iron rings, and slave yokes, they waited for one week. During that time the martyrs prayed and sang hymns; the Catholics among them recited morning and evening prayers, grace before and after meals, as well as the Angelus and the rosary, in preparation for their deaths. On June 3, before the execution of the rest of the young men, Charles Lwanga was put to death by the king’s men. He was wrapped tightly in a reed mat, a yoke was hung on his neck, and he was thrown onto a pyre. Taunting his executioners, Charles is said to have shouted, “You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body!” Before he died he cried out, “Katonda,” or “My God.”

In all, forty-five Christians were martyred at Namugongo: twenty-two Catholics and twenty-three Anglicans.

In 1964, Pope Paul VI canonized all twenty-two of the Catholic martyrs. Five years later, as the first pope to visit sub-Saharan Africa, he laid the foundation stone of the shrine to be built in Namugongo in honor of St. Charles Lwanga and his companions. The shrine was completed in 1975, on June 3, now the feast day of the Ugandan martyrs.


Rwanda Doubles Gorilla Permit Tariffs

The Rwanda Development Board has announced an increase in the price of Gorilla Permits from US$ 750 to US $1,500 for all visitors effective immediately.

The price increase will not affect tourists who had already purchased their tickets at the time of this announcement.

Uganda Gorila Safaris

The country’s investments body added a new exclusive package for tourists who wish to book an entire family of gorillas was also introduced at $15,000, and will receive exclusive personalized tour guide services.

Tourists who visit other national parks (Nyungwe and Akagera) for a minimum of three days, in addition to gorilla trekking will receive a discount of 30%. Similarly, conference tourists, who stay pre or post conference dates to see gorillas will be eligible for a 15% discount.

In line with Rwanda’s high-end tourism strategy, the price increase aims to strengthen conservation efforts and contribute more to the development of communities living around the Volcanoes National Park.

Along with the new tariff, the tourism revenue sharing rate for communities adjacent to the park, will also increase from 5% to 10%, which will quadruple the absolute revenues received by communities. Over the last 12 years, more than 400 community projects have been completed including hospitals, schools, business development centers and water supply systems to facilitate access to clean water. These projects directly benefit the people living around the parks.

Mountain gorillas are an endangered species with only around 880 remaining in the world. Of those Uganda has more than half . The other half is shared between Rwanda and Congo DRC.

Tracking Gorillas in Uganda

Gorillas in rwanda

Unlike Rwanda, Gorilla Permits In Uganda are $600 ($900 Less of that of Rwanda) and can be tracked in Mgahinga, Bwindi( four tracking points).

Why would you pay $1500 to track gorillas in Rwanda yet you can pay $1200 ($300 less)in Uganda to track Gorillas with your friend or Partner or even track them twice if yo wish so in Bwindi and then Mgahinga. Alternatively you can pay about $1500 for a 3 days, 2 nights Gorilla experience inclusive of accommodation and meals.


Visa application

Apply And Pay for Ugandan Tourist Visas Online

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has implemented a new online electronic visa application system. This is mandatory for applying for all Ugandan visas, including: entry permit (work permit), Uganda tourist visa, multiple entry visa, transit visa, East Africa tourist visa, student pass, diplomatic visa, official visa, special pass, Certificate of Residence, dependant pass.

All requests for visas and work permits (E-Visa and E-permits) should now be completed via this link on the Uganda immigration website.


Under the new application process, applicants for all immigration services such as visas, work permits and passes will be required to apply and pay online, and an electronic notification / authorization will be sent to the applicant before proceeding to the preferred Entry Point e.g. Entebbe International Airport or the nearest Uganda Mission abroad for the visa to be issued.

If you are traveling to Uganda and applying for a Ugandan visa online ?, you are advised to:

Apply at least ONE MONTH prior to travel.

Be prepared. You need to complete the online application in one sitting. The online application does not allow you to save your information and return to the screen later.  Have these ready: a copy of your bio page of your passport, a recent passport photo, and Yellow Fever vaccination certificate. You will need to upload these. For more info on the exact documents needed, according to type of visa you require, go to the Uganda immigration web site general information page.

Only PDF, JPEG, PNG and BMP files are accepted. The files you upload should not be bigger than 250 KB (that’s pretty small!)

This page of the Uganda immigration web site details the fees for applying for Ugandan visas online.

The decision taken on the online application (“yes” or “no” on whether you’re coming to Uganda) will be sent via email. Assuming you get the go-ahead, an approval letter will be sent as an attachment to the email. Print this travel authorization (showing a barcode). Keep this with your travel documents.

Make a note of your application number! You may need this in case you have to follow up.

UPDATE May 2017: You can now pay online for your Uganda tourist visa during this approval process. There is a 3% surcharge for online payment. If you want to avoid queues at the airport, you might want to do this. However, you can still pay in person at Entebbe airport.

Present the printed barcode at point of entry [read “border”] together with a valid passport / travel document of “not less than 6 months validity” and you will get your visa.

NOTE: “the travel authorization letter does not guarantee entry into Uganda. Travelers will be subjected to secondary verification where necessary before personalization,” meaning it is not 100% guarantee you will be issued a visa at the airport / border / Uganda mission (but you probably will, unless you’ve been very naughty indeed).