The topic of this chapter refers to human rights expressed in Runyoro/Rutooro (R/R) as obugabe bw’obuntu or bw’obuhangwa and in Luganda as Eddembe ely’obwebange or ely’obuntu.[i] This means in brief that the human being has been freely and absolutely given personal attributes without having applied for or been consulted; these essential and core commodities are had from creation or birth, and noone has a right to take them away.




            Needless to say, in the disciplines of life studies or religious studies, the giver of such inalienable rights is universally recognised as the most important and generous reality in the cosmos. The paper proceeds from the assumption that peace has always been a sine-qua non for the enjoyment of any type of human rights reflection on this topic and the challenges from related theological and philosophical perspectives is based on the fact that peace cannot be secured merely by philosophy, law, peace agreements or peace-keeping forces.

            It is generally known that religion and philosophy concern themselves with metaphysical and moral questions that long have occupied the consciousness of human beings in Africa. Where do we come from? Why is there suffering? For what purpose do we exist on earth? Is there life after death?  What is good and evil? Is there a Creator? These and related questions are of great concern to all human beings, no matter what their academic disciplines.[ii] This calls for is the justification for discussion of the theological and philosophical challenges related to human rights.

            Although we do know that knowledge in various fields of study interrelates, it is sad to note that all too often some modern scholars prefer to concentrate only on their own field of study. With proverbs like, amagezi murro  bagwiiha nju endi, meaning that knowledge and wisdom are essential commodities  that one gets from another house, the African traditional wisdom has some insights to offer. It advises, the joy of discovering new knowledge and wisdom that should inspire scholars to communicate their findings with love and in terms their audiences can understand. People should not hesitate to borrow useful knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment; they should be most willing to listen to others lest their knowledge  becomes superficial and imprecise.

            A related proverb in Runyoro/Rutooro and other African languages says, (akaana) akatabunga kagamba ngu nyinako nuwe acumba obunura: the child who does not visit believes only its mother cooks the sweetest dishes! In relation to this, we have some teaching from Confucius of China who said: “A gentleman can see a question from all sides without bias. The small man is biased and can see a question only from one side.”[iii]  We are committed here to seeing questions from all sides for there is no single discipline nor local prescription that can solve all the problems facing humanity, especially during this new millennium.




            Before seriously reflecting on obugabe bw’obuntu or bw’obuhangwa in Runyoro/Rutooro and on Eddembe ely’obwebange or ely’obuntu in Luganda, let us recognize the cultural impact of two alternative views concerning the topic that have influenced our understanding and practice of human rights.

            A legacy from the West for centuries has taught a high anthropology, placing human beings over all created beings. It has considered the human being to be above nature as the apex of the whole creation.[iv] Underlying this claim has been the inalienable dignity believed to have derived from the biblical assertion that “man is created in the image of God” (Gen. 1.26b, 27).

            This has been identified as the source of human rights.[v] Together with the command “have dominion” (Gen.1.28b) it has been the theological basis for the claim that human beings are superior to other creatures. Nonhuman created beings were considered inferior and, at best, fit for human use and dominion: Descartes said,Man is the Lord and owner of nature.”[vi] Some modern Western theologians have now concluded that this inherent Western anthropocentrism and the domineering attitude of humans has done much violence against the whole of creation. From the African point of view, this traditional Western theology and philosophy is not only different from the traditional African perspective, but has limitations. We want to recognise the impact these have had on African culture, which had been considered a bygone story.[vii]

            This paper argues the need to consider very seriously the alternative worldview of the African ancestors concerning obugabe bw’obuntu or bw’obuhangwa in Runyoro/Rutooro, and ely’obwebange or ely’obuntu in Luganda as indicated in the topic. In this connecting African ancestors always had, and passed on, a dual understanding of human rights: one, the understanding of Runyoro/Rutooro or eddembe human rights in relation to the rights of the whole of creation, the other is human rights in the context of human relationships.

            Concerning human rights and the rights of the whole of creation, traditional African practices and beliefs contain many values that protect and promote human rights and those of all of creation. Basic to the African understanding is an all-important eco-worldview. People claim their identity as deeply rooted in nature: the land is the peoples’ life and identity, to a point where the Baganda and some of their neighbours call a human being, omutaka.

            The root word taka means soil”: hence that the omutaka becomes the person, son or daughter of the soil is clearly understood by the people. People live and grow up with nature;[viii] they feel one with it and this closeness with nature and the whole of creation is central to their understanding of their existence. The meaning and uniqueness of being human can only be found in relation to the rest of creation.

            African traditions speak of this interrelatedness of all. These traditions include the Master Creator or God in English, the number one Mutaka, human beings and the world. The human relationship with the whole of creation is characterised by mutual respect and interdependence, accentuated by common responsibilities in caring for God’s created world. For centuries African have had this vision of a spiritual continuum within which the dead and the living, natural objects, spirits, divinities, the individual, clan and tribe, animals, plants, minerals and humans form an unbroken hierarchical unit of spiritual forces.[ix]

            With regard to the understanding of human rights in the context of human relationships, the African legacy teaches that the human self is not only an individual self, but an extended universal self, present and actively participating in all parts of the human totality.[x] Human rights are perceived as universal with different personal, social, regional or provisional conceptualisations or interpretations. Thus in African history, human rights cannot be understood apart from the rights of all of creation, including even the rights of the dead, nor can the dignity of the person be understood apart from the dignity of the whole of creation. People argue, that we do not have the right to what we have not created.[xi]

            In African society one is always a member of a community that comprises God, the living and the dead, and the entire cosmos. On the purely human level, one prominent practice has always been that important decisions are taken by the family sitting around the hearth. Many creation myths picture all creatures discussing together animatedly, consultating and arriving at consensus after having taken into account the words of wisdom and guidance from Ruhanga (God).[xii] 

            This is indicative of the universal family that requires the participation and cooperation of all its members in decision-making and in carrying out given  responsibilities according to that cultural protocol of each.[xiii] The Ganda cosmology today has the chain of authority in the cosmos ranging in descending order from Katonda (God) to Kabaka (king-human), to Mukulu w’akasolya (head of the kika clan), to ow’amasiga (head of the line of one’s great-grandfather), to ow’omutuba (head of the line of one’s grandfather’s brothers and sisters), to ow’olunyiriri (the line of one’s grandfather), to luggya (the large family of uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces) and to ekka (the nuclear family).[xiv]

            The whole of creation is depicted as one of co-workers and partners with responsibilities that involve caring for God’s created world. It is in this God given relationship among all creatures and human kind that the rights of all creation are founded. In other words, the basis of the fundamental rights of the whole of creation is God’s right.



            The above means that God owns and claims all creatures and the whole of creation. This entails, for creatures—human beings included—that rights in their true sense are gifts from God and never a privilege granted by the state or society. Moreover, human rights are community or social rights: no rights can be exercised apart from one’s relationships, service and responsibilities. Hence, the ultimate court of appeal for justice is always God, to whom appeals of justice are addressed regarding all aspects of life: political, economic, religious and social.

            However, many Euro-American nations have seriously critiqued the above point of view, and instead have enthusiastically praised extreme individualism and sexual liberation. These trends to lead to the breakdown of the family, drug abuse and AIDS. In effect, the leading ideologies in Euro-American nations such as Christianity, Marxism, Socialism and a few others have so far failed to provide solutions to the fundamental problems related to the issues of human ethics and morality. The issue remains of what should be done to prevent immorality. Many solutions have been suggested including the urgent need to reestablish conjugal love, which founds family ethics and then expand to social and state ethics.[xv]

            Additionally, cosmic oneness means all creatures are interrelated under their Creator. The kinship-family relationship refers to the African folktale that people, and all creatures for that matter, originated from the bowels of the Earth. When they come out, Kyozaire is the mid-wife and their first baby-sitter.[xvi]

            When the Earth is symbolically perceived as giving birth to people, mushrooms and other creatures, she is perceived as the most generous mother who not only gives birth to the people, but nurtures and sustains them by the produce of the land. She commands the highest respect from all creatures. This explains why issues concerning the soil, mother earth, and human mothers are among the most sensitive.[xvii]

            The closeness of Africans with nature and other created beings is further seen in the practice called totemism in English. Many blood-lineages (clans), social lineages, or even spiritual lineages trace their origins to a totem animal or plant or other creatures. In Makerere University, and reminiscent of the centuries old custom, there are members of the community known as elephants, crocodiles, spirits, rats, goats, boxers and so on.

            In the larger Ugandan society are the Baganda people with their 52 bikka, the Banyoro-Batoro with their 83 enganda, and the Luo of Uganda and Kenya with their 99 blood-lineages each and everyone of them claiming affinity with some totem. Of course, we find a number of individuals whose identity is tagged to the Creator.[xviii] In the African culture, totems command a great deal of respect because some clans trace their origin to the totem animal or plant. People do not eat their totem animals or plants, which would be tantamount to destroying their ancestors. That animal or plant is accorded a status that ensures protection.

            Hence, even today, with modern philosophy and theology in Africa, totems are accorded a status that ensures their protection, while members of a given blood-lineage recognize solidarity and oneness with the totem.[xix] To do otherwise would be highly unethical. Thus, Africans have long viewed creatures or nature as having personalities which emanate a warmth of fellowship and maintain a mystic kinship with them. This contrasts strongly with Western traditional understanding of creatures as mere commodities for human use.




            What some philosophers and theologians are saying now in Europe and Asia has long been present in African traditions; they are not new ideas. What may be new is that they have not been used for modern philosophical and theological articulation. This is the challenge to current philosophers and theologians in Africa.

            Because of the rejection of the African traditional perception of human rights and the focus only on human beings, today humanity as a whole is facing many dangerous problems. The greatest of these is the possibility of global war and nuclear disaster, which could occur only too easily amidst the struggles, confusion and conflict of ideologies, owing to the absence of a correct value system. 

            Without denying the existence of natural catastrophes like earthquakes, ghastly hurricanes and floods, the above threat results from the misuse of man-made scientific research by evil people and various political, philosophical, theological and even economic interest groups. In pursuit of their own selfish purposes they end up sabotaging human welfare and the highest ideals. Even religion, which is supposed rightly to guide the human spirit, is not fulfilling its appropriate role. Such dangers threaten the very survival of civilization.[xx]

            Who then is to solve our problems? Is it possible to integrate the African traditional perceptions of human rights and the imported perceptions? The answer from the age-old African wisdom is that no other choice is possible if humanity is to survive. There is a belief that the challenge of our age can be met only by teams of experts from a diversity of disciplines, including philosophy and theology, who can cooperate in the examination of problems from various perspectives.

            Besides, it is observed, that past African philosophies and theologies have had their own views of value, each with strong points that are still beneficial. People have nearly left them behind, because the past values and principles could not adjust to the present age. The strong recommendation is that we absorb all these strong elements from the past and redevelop them in ways that meet the needs of the modern humanity.

            Since the human being consists of physical and spiritual content, to bring real happiness, there is need to improve both the spiritual and physical life at the same time. This is a major challenge for human rights. Modern science has put its efforts into improving material life to which its horizon is limited. Hence in spite of its hard work humankind has not been able to escape distress and chaos.




            There is a vast difference between the standards of values: from ancient times to the modern age, between the Orient and the Occident, of Europe from Africa. The great challenge is to set up standards of value that will cut across lines and apply at anytime and in any place. Love at different levels and since time immemorial has been defined as one of the absolute values that is the basis of the ethics of the family system.

            After many years of the existence of African religion and philosophy, we read and understand from the history of Europe that much after the Renaissance, so-called religious people felt threat from the discoveries of science. The focus of their concern was with individual salvation without being concerned with developing the knowledge and techniques necessary to solve the problems of hunger, disease, old age, and inadequate housing and clothing. Later, there is evidence that despite the development of modern science and the prosperity of the economy, and despite the scientists’ deep desire and diligent efforts, many problems continue among nations.

            With their philosophy of communal life centred on blood-lineages or clan and social solidarity, African ancestors long developed integrated physical, social, intellectual, moral and spiritual strategies of development for their descendants. This was referred to as  obugabe bw’obuntu or bw’obuhangwa or eddembe ely’obwebange. In this light, human rights in Africa is are not something fairly new or imported as is often thought.

            In fact, there is urgent need not merely to reject whatever negative values from the past, but rather to retrieve from past wisdom the many good values and principles that will contribute to the elimination of physical, social, intellectual and spiritual poverty, illiteracy, diseases of all kinds, tensions, sorrows, pains, restlessness, anxieties, fears, wars and hostilities and other evils experienced even in the midst of luxuriously developed and highly scientific countries. Africa can contribute to the needed education of body and emotions, mind and heart regarding those values and principles that regulate humanity’s behaviour by implementing ethical and moral standards and norms of goodness.

            How can this be done? The Greek philosopher, Socrates, gave a clue when he  said “ the unexamined life is not worth living.”[xxi] Long before his time, African ancestors in their traditional wisdom taught that the ultimate giver of life and peace, called Ruhanga (Runyoro/Rutooro) or Katonda (Luo) and so many other names in Africa and God in English, has always been involved in the education of mind and heart.[xxii] No one should examine life and leave God out of the equation. The forefathers’ wisdom has always implied the need for a continuous interaction between humankind and its life context. We must follow in their footsteps by seriously examining our life situations. The spirit of the 21st century challenges us to develop a new philosophical and theological consciousness that will provide new vision for building world peace.




            Human rights is one of the dominant challenges facing the national, continental and even international community in the 21stcentury.[xxiii]  The broad philosophy of human rights is based on the view that all things should be harmonised so that people can have peace in abundance. Following in God’s footsteps, billions of people living or deadso many ancestors, teachers and leaders—develop understanding and play the role of educating others to know and practice human rights even before these are written down.

            It is on these philosophical and theological foundations that much later in time the American ancestors, in their Declaration of Independence, asserted in 1776, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with  certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

            In the same spirit that the UN in its Universal Declaration of Human rights adopted and proclaimed in resolution  217 A(iii) on 10 December 1948 states that recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. With this understanding, the nations signed the 30 articles and have ever since determined, among other things, to promote social progress and better standards of life, and have pledged universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

            Over the years, having committed herself to uphold, promote and protecting the human rights of every individual according to the UN Charter, Uganda’s signing of the charter committed all its citizens to its objectives. Currently, over human rights organisations operate in the country[xxiv] and underscore the importance Uganda places upon human rights. The Uganda Constitution recognises them and provides a mechanism for their enforcement.

            Worldwide, while there have been revived expectations for a peaceful and more secure world, sociologists tell us that since World War II there have been about 150 conflicts and wars of varying sizesthe Middle East being the most conflict-ridden areadue to religious, extreme nationalist and racial tensions.

            The reality in the third millennium then is that we are far from achieving a reasonable percentage of human rights or peace in Uganda, Africa or even worldwide. Weapons of mass destruction continue to threaten the survival of humanity. Conflicts abound and nations are struggling to adjust to drastically changed and changing political, economic, and other cultural  circumstances.

            These have given rise to a growing  sense of uncertainty, disquiet and disillusion. The question is, how best can Africa, and Uganda in particular, respond to the demands and vicissitudes of a world of deepening interdependence among countries and the globalization of ever more intricate and interlinked problems of peace, human rights, security and development.




            The role of intellectuals is to think deeply and to suggest strategies about how to tackle the multiple social, economic, environmental and other problems that militate against human rights using both traditional and modern perspectives on human rights.  What can we do to implement the good African and UN resolutions, decisions and recommendations on so many issues which have to do with human rights and the advancement of the welfare and well-being of humanity as a whole? This must go beyond mere preventive diplomacy, peace-keeping and conflict resolutions.

            The wisdom from the past proposes that we continue to do serious research and also take seriously both old and new philosophical and theological perspectives by going beyond religion and nationalism. This means that we should not leave religion behind but go beyond religious denominations,[xxv] beyond what is false in religions, beyond religious authority and dogmatism, especially where these have been part of the human problem.

            As Africans we are urged to be transnational and denounce extreme nationalism. If exported all over the world and the cosmos, the philosophy and theology of the Bakiga and the Banyoro might make a wonderful contribution. To the Bakiga, anyone designated as black by whatever reckoning is a Mukiga, whereas for the Banyoro, all people, living or dead, are Banyoro.[xxvi]

            It is gratifying to note that the United Nations Millennium Summit of September 6-8, 2000 declared the year 2000 as the “International Year for a Culture of Peace.” In the preparations for the Summit Mr. Kofi Annan, the Secretary General observed that, the founders of the UN set up an open and cooperative system for an international world; because of that we are now truly living in a global world whereby the process of Globalization has been made possible.

            He was also quick to observe that the shift to this state of affairs is a central and core challenge for world leaders (indeed for all people) today. This is because in this new (globalized) world, groups and individuals more and more often are interacting directly and across frontiers, without involving the state. New technologies are creating opportunities for mutual understanding and common action.

            But there are new dangers. Crime, narcotics, terrorism, pollution, diseases, weapons, refugees and migrants are all moving across borders faster and in greater numbers than in the past. People feel threatened by events far away. They are also more aware of injustice and brutality in distant countries, and expect States to do something about them. The challenges to human rights are real and not a monopoly of Africa, though at different levels.




            In our African context, where millions of men and women live in a world suffering from hunger, starvation, injustice, ignorance, economic disintegration, political chaos, environmental problems and moral decay, there is great and urgent need for concerted efforts from the UN which exists for, and must serve, the needs and hopes of all peoples. But for Africans, and Ugandans in particular, there is a greater responsibility for the sons and daughters of the soil, the philosophers, theologians and so on, to find solutions for these and related problems. Can we do it? We can and  we must! After all, Africans as a people have centuries of life experiences whereby they have been able to cope with whatever problems that devilled them.

            In support of this optimism, Mamdani has observed that the shaping of Africa has always gone hand in hand with the globalization processes. Several periods can be differentiated. Archaeologists tell us that human life began in Africa.[xxvii] Dr. Kihumbu Thairu has also argued that most, if not all, of the major human institutions have had their origin in Africa.[xxviii] From a truly long-term view, Africans are the original global beings. Historically, they have emigrated out of the original habitat, referred to by some as the garden of Eden,[xxix] and peopled the whole world. For Mamdani, the first and original African diaspora is humanity itself.[xxx]

            He continues to observe that whereas the first Africans seem to have set the pace for humanity for the millennia, from the Olduvai Gorge (in north-eastern Tanzania) to the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs, a medium-term view of globalization is likely to yield a different perspective. He dates the medium-term view from the Atlantic Slave trade to formal colonization and to the Cold War.

            During this span of history, Africans have been more victims than agents, more receiving than initiating. What is significant is their resilience to survive all negative forces, from the slave trade, to harsh environments, HIV-AIDs, ebola and so on. Despite such catastrophes, the population growth is comparatively high and Africans remain strong  in surviving all odds.[xxxi]

            During all the past centuries, and much before the UN adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the 30 articles) on October 10, 1948, Africans had long been practising  obugabe bw’obuntu or whatever terms the different African peoples callhuman rights.” The agenda of human rights has been a reality in Africa for millennia, especially at the levels of  survival, livelihood, participation and protection.

            My comments will now focus briefly on these four which over and above the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, are basic to man/woman’s continued existence as a rational being. They distinguish people from other beings, animate or inanimate, which have no conscience or power of reason. They also are inalienable because they cannot be alienated or taken away from the individual. They are not granted to an individual by any earthly  authority, choice or democracy, by any parliament nor head of state.[xxxii]

            Professor Mazrui has observed that, for centuries, the greatest contribution of Africa but least acknowledged is the concept of one single deity or God. Two thousand years before Muhammad (s.a.w.) and 1400 before Christ—3400 years agothe Pharaoh Akhenaton let people worship one God  at sunrise and at sunset. This worship is now taken  for granted in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This points to the historical reality that In Africa religion has always been acknowledged to be one of the fundamental and inalienable rights of a human being.

            This has been recognized by the United Nations Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 which that proclaims,” All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” In the spirit of this proposition, the constitution of Uganda includes a chapter on “Protection and Promotion of Fundamental and Other Human Rights and Freedoms.[xxxiii] Among other things, this guarantees various manifestations of religious liberty, which is universally acknowledged as one of the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person.

            The people of Uganda are deeply religious; they cherish their freedom of religion and belief.[xxxiv] Many Ugandans attribute their very existence first and foremost to the Master Creator through their ancestors whom, they believe, sustain them in this world and have power over their future.[xxxv]

            In support of the human right to religion and without a detailed analysis of its relevant components, let us but mention them. Section 29(b) of the Uganda Constitution guaranteesfreedom of thought, conscience and belief,” and Section 229(c)  affords constitutional protection to freedom to practice my religion and  manifest such practice which shall include the right to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious body or organisation in a manner  consistent with the Constitution.”

            Section 37 entrenches the right of every personto belong, enjoy, practice, profess, maintain and promote . . . creed or religion in community with others.” The Constitution, in Section 21(2), furthermore prohibits discrimination on the basis of, inter alia, creed or religion. The right to religious education is succinctly endorsed in Article 30 of the Constitution. Ugandan law thus recognizes the importance of religion to the moral development of the people and allows it to be taught without limitations.[xxxvi]

            Let it be added, however, that the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms cannot be guaranteed in absolute terms. It must be subjected to limitations that are designed to ensure that the enjoyment of the constitutional rights and freedoms by any individual does not prejudice the rights of others or the public interest.[xxxvii] Under the auspices of the public interest,” the Ugandan Penal Code empowers the president to declare any society to be “dangerous to peace and order in Uganda.”

            When so declared, it becomes unlawful, and it is an offence to manage, assist in the management, or be a member of such a society. Religious societies engaged in subversive activities under the cover of religion can be declareddangerous” under these provisions and some have been so declared in other countries.[xxxviii]

            As mentioned above, the agenda of human rights has been a reality in Africa for a millennia, especially at the levels of survival, livelihood, participation and protection. I will now turn to these with brief remarks.

            1:  The human right of survival is the current greatest preoccupation for the majority in Africa and particularly in Uganda.[xxxix] In the broadest sense, these include aspects of population, health, food and nutrition, water and sanitation, shelter and urbanisation, and healthy physical environment. Generally, one needs to enjoy these before enjoying other rights.

            Concerning population and reproductive rights, a brief look at the following sectors indicates that the infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) in 1970-1998 was between 110-84. The maternity mortality ratio reported per 100,000 in 1990-98 was 510. Those not expected to survive to age 60 in 1995-2000 were 52.2 percent. [xl]

            Uganda’s Health profile indicates, that one-year-olds fully immunized in 1995-1998, against tuberculoses (TB) were 69 percent and against measles, 30 percent. During the same period, people with HIV\AIDS between 0-49 year of age were 930,000; the adult rate between ages 15-49 was 9.51 percent.     

            The number of doctors (per 100,000 people in 1992-1995 was four, whereas nurses for the same number was 28. It is noted, whereas 49 percent of patients go for modern treatment in hospitals, 51 percent perceive traditional treatment. Because the issue of survival is core, many Ugandans are for alternative medicine, meaning they avail themselves of all kinds of healing modes, be they African, Asian, European, modern, traditional. The underlying philosophy is that when one is sick, one wants health, and will be helped to fight sickness by whoever. Health comes before dogmas, be they traditional or modern.

            2: The right to livelihood. This includes rights to education, employment and income.

            The Education profile indicates an adult literacy rate at age 15 and above in 1998 of 65 percent; that of youth age 15-24 in 1998 was 77.5 percent. Public education expenditures in 1995-1997 was 2.6 of GNP and as a percentage of total government expenditure was 21.4. Access to information includes the number of televisions in 1996-1998 26 (per 1,000 people); personal computers, one and internet hosts 0.01.

            The human poverty index concerning the sharing of income in 1987-1998 indicated the poorest 20 percent at 6.6 and the richest 20 percent at 46.1; the ratio of the richest to the poorest being 7 to 1. The population below the income poverty line (percent) in 1987-1997 was 55.0. A central concern in this sector is unemployment because there are many young graduate end up unemployed. The following picture indicates that problem.

            Primary Leaving Examination Candidates (the picture for two years)

            1980                                         129, 510

            2000                                         330, 044

            Secondary School Admissions    I-Level             A-Level

            1980                                         20,157               4,290

            2000                                         95,000               42,000

            Makerere University enrolments of first years

            1983/84                                    5,042

            1999/2000                                 20,995

            Enrolment in new universities

            Bugema                                    362

            Mbale                                       992

            Ndejje                                       394

            Nkumba                                    305

            Uganda Martyrs                        234

            Uganda Christian                       670

            Namasagali                               15

            Busoga                                     60 [xli]


            In the case of graduates at different levels, the government is committed to the implementation of various strategies to create more employment opportunities. On the other hand, there is a challenge for all graduates to an job makers rather than job seekers.

            In rural areas, the greatest emphasis is on agriculture. 81 percent of the entire population are agricultural workers, while the rest are engaged in either an elementary occupation (7.6 percent) or are low-level government personnel (4.6 percent) craft workers (3.4 percent) and technicians (2.4 percent).

            About 80 percent of the rural population depends on subsistence farming. Only 23 percent  of households earn their living from cash crop farming. Besides, some rural households meet their needs through employment income (8.2 percent) remittances from working relatives (6.7 percent) and petty trade (3 percent). Family labour is predominant with women contributing 75 percent of the labour force.[xlii]  Generally, agriculture’s contribution to the national GDP is well over 75 percent . It accounts for 98 percent of the Export earnings, with coffee alone accounting for 65 percent. [xliii]

            To ease the problem of unemployment, both government and the private sector are working hard to boost the economy of the citizens as a whole in the areas of:

(i) Textile manufacturing                        (ii) Coffee processing

(iii) Fruit growing and processing            (iv) Fish processing

(v) Leather goods manufacturing                        (vi) Dairy products

(vii) Wood products                               (viii) Hydro power

(ix) Mining and mineral processing          (x) Export of beef and goats. [xliv]


            The world has failed to meet basic human needs by equitable sharing of human needs and the earth’s resources, both natural and those produced though human endeavour. What is happening is a world disorder, characterized by the law of  “survival of the fittest” UNICEF states that 15 million children die prematurely every year from hunger and hunger related diseases. In the case of Uganda, the president has observed 66.3 percent of Ugandans live in absolute poverty.[xlv]


            3: The Right Of Participation. These relate to the rights of association, expression and empowerment.

            With regard to empowerment, Uganda has a good record of women in government. Women in Uganda received the right to vote and to stand for election in 1962. By 1998, they were elected at all levels  at 11.2  percent, with 13.2 percent at the ministerial level as ministers, secretaries of state and heads of central banks and cabinet agencies. There were 9.8 percent at sub-ministerial levels, including  deputies and vice-ministers or their equivalent, permanent secretaries, deputy permanent secretaries, directors and advisors.[xlvi] In responding to association and expression, the government has guaranteed the security of persons and property including allowing exiles to return home. Government has also licensed up to 30 or more FM radio stations. These, together with increased telephone access throughout the country an atmosphere of freedom of expression, and over 20 daily newspapers countrywide, promote debates in many cities about cultural issues.[xlvii]

            Administrative units exist from the village to parliament, where anyone who so desires can stand for election. Marginalized  groups (women, youth and people with disabilities) are recognized and have been brought into the social and political mainstream. They are represented at all centres of political decision-making. From October 8,1995, a new Uganda constitution that was promulgated as the supreme instrument to guide all citizens.

            4. Rights To Protection. These refer to protection from violence, exploitation, discrimination and to one’s identity. 

            Evidence shows that compared to past decades, the government has re-established the rule of law, observance of human rights, constitutionalism and freedom of the press, following a time of high criminality and corruption when judiciary killings and looting took place that were state inspired. Now are efforts to eliminate them absolutely are in place.

            Unfortunately, the present study does not have statistics to do with people incarcerated for juvenile convictions, drug offenses, rape, homicide and others. The government tells citizens that the way forward in fighting corruption is to utilize the existing institutions to teach morality, starting  with the family and other cultural units, through national to universal institutions. In the case of Uganda, initiatives continue to strengthen the offices of the Inspector General of Government, the Auditor General, the Criminal Investigation Department, the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament. Members of the public make it their duty to teach morality and reject and report corrupt practices.[xlviii]

            The guidance from the Constitution article 23 is clear. Generally, it articulates  the right to personal liberty. Countrywide, evidence shows that  the conditions in prisons are not conducive to proper exercise of human rights.[xlix] Major experiments are needed in the detention cells, prisons, prisoners clothing, overcrowding, dietary habits, sanitation, death row, length of periods on remand, failure to have regular sittings at the High Court,  and so on.




            It has been indicated that human rights in Africa remain the greatest pre-occupation is for survival. Freedom of speech, assembly, worship and vote mean nothing to those who are starving and homeless—freedom of the press is meaningless to the illiterate.  The rights to survival take precedence.  As to the question of why people stand up for human rights risking harassment, torture and even death, there are two possible answers. One, philosophically, because people have great faith in the dignity of the human, and two, theologically, because people decide to follow in the footsteps of God who has manifested that the highest value is that of sacrifice for the welfare of His children. The Bible cites God’s values thus: Greater love has no man that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 3:16).

            Despite their many setbacks, religion as teacher has played the noble role of enkindling in the hearts of many the fire of love for others, even to the point of death. (Even such other creatures as mother chickens, antelopes and so on, have been known to die while fighting in defence of their children.)

            Human rights at the clusters briefly indicated above—promote that survival, livelihood, participation, and protection (i.e., peace)—are interrelated and mutually dependent. If there is justice, it means human rights are recognized, thus ensuring peace and prosperity in the land where all citizens are enabled to live without fear in harmony and healthy interactions. Through participation people are enriched by their differences; in dialogue and discussion they forge common goals and objectives.

            The paper has employed a holistic approach to human rights in order to address the two challenges. The philosophical challenge is at different levels to evolve strategies towards the attainment of the necessary balance between the many different clusters of human rights, and the total eradication of material poverty. The theological challenge lies in providing holistic guidance towards the attainment of the rights to holistic survival in such areas as food, unpolluted water, air, suitable housing, clothes, employment and medical care in addition to the social, cultural and spiritual values essential for individual and social life.

            The paper argues that human rights violations can never be understood apart from rights of the whole of creation. That is why the dignity of a human being can never be understood apart from the dignity of the whole of creation. This inter-relatedness or symbiotic relationship that humans maintain is what makes them human. In such relationships, one’s actions or deeds affect the rest of the members, as when one cell in the body feeling pain, engages the whole body.

            Human rights violations in this sense are nothing but disruptions or distortions of the peaceful coexistence of human beings and of the whole of creation as a universal community. The question of human rights is inseparably linked with the question of rights in justice to the protection of life, social equality, economic justice, political freedom, rights of participation in the overall decision-making processall these together constitute human rights for Africans.

            In this sense, rights are indivisible and interrelated. Africans have affirmed this for centuries, the religions. In the final analysis, human dignity can be found only in relationship with fellow human beings and the whole of creation.


            [i]. Obugabe b’wobuntu rundi Obugabe bw’obuhangwa (Runyoro-Rutooro), Eddembe ly’obuntu (Luganda). In these two languages of Uganda, the terms are meant to convey the meaning of “human rights”. In Runyoro/Rutoro kugaba means to give or to provide with. The Legacy talks of God at creating human beings giving each and everyone love, life, lineage, conscience and creation facilities without charge, choice, application, democracy, or consultation. Once given, they cannot be wished away or removed. Eddembe is a matter of peace. Literal translations are difficult.

            [ii]. Theologically and philosophicaly, Ugandans and Africans generally believed in the existence of Ruhanga/Nyamuhanga (the Master Creator-God) as a Muzaire (a parent) (Runyoro/Rutooro) with all people living and dead as His children (not in the biological sense). The chief characteristic of his personality is Engonzi (love); thus has the attributes of Kyozaire and Ngonzi or Kugonza. He empowers human beings to share physically in His parenthood and to transmit his eternal love, life, lineage and conscience. Communism as an ideology or system of thought that denies God’s very existence and with its fundamentalist atheistic view of life damages peoples’ minds and hearts. It cannot argue for true human rights.

            [iii]. Analects, 2.14.

            [iv]. Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (London, SCM Press, 1975), p.144.

            [v]. Jurgen Moltmann, On Humanity: Political Theology and Ethics, (London, SCM Press, 1984), p. 9.

            [vi]. For Descartes the causation of creation can be understood through the theory of physics. John David Barton’s Ph.D. “Causality in Africa and the West,Chapter 5, shows the adequacy of this theory being challenged by members of the Vatican Observatory Project whose aim is to balance the physical and spiritual realities.

            [vii]. Kihumbu Thairu, Utamaduni ya Kiafrica (African civilization), (Nairobi, East African Literature Bureau, 1975).  His whole book is about the negative impact of foreign cultures  on Africa. He argues that out of ignorance they condemned African culture in toto.

            [viii]. Kabazzi-Kisirinya, S. (oral information December 20, 2000), clarification on the teaching of the bataka, (ancestors) about creatures having been created and reproducing within the principle of duality (i.e., men and women, stamina and  pistil in plants, and positivity and negativity in other lower creatures molecules, atoms, particles).

            [ix]. A.M. Lugira, African Religion (USA: Facts on File Inc.,1999), p. 62. (On the evidence from African culture concerning the educational value of rites and rituals).

            [x]. M.M. Thomas, “Primal Vision and Modernization,” National Seminar on Theological Implications of the Primary vision (India, Madras, September 9-12, 1993), p. 2.

            [xi]. Leonardo Boff, Ecology and Liberation: A New Paradigm (Maryknoll Orbis, N.Y., 1995), p. 29.

            [xii]. Harry Sawyer, God, Ancestor or Creator, (London, 1970). His entire thesis is that some Africans from West Africa also refer to God as a Parent of parents, thus qualifying Him as a grandfather or the position of Ancestor number one. God is father or mother in the spiritual sense; the issue of whether He is also parent physically is debatable. Many Africans symbolically call Him a parent in all senses, since He is the source of all life, etc.

            [xiii].  Many Africans have clear roles and responsibilities in reference to those of parents (father, mother), brother (elder brother), sisters ( elder sister) and children.

     [xiv]. Byaruhanga-Akiiki, A.B.T. (ed.), African World Religion: Grassroots Perspective (Kampala, Makerere Printers, 1995), p. 52. This chain of authority and relationship is the same for all, the living and the dead and it is important for one to know these relationships (Re-ligion). Without this one is backward both in head and in heart and could even be highly unethical. In relation to this, one could recall here some ethical value contents for “education of the heart and head” as expressed by the following terms: love, peace, happiness, justice, joy, morality, gentility, unity, freedom, harmony, respect, mercy, compassion, kindness, magnanimity, honesty, generosity, humility, faithfulness and obedience. There are other values and related terms not mentioned that contribute to peoples’ character development. Ideally they are learnt in families rather than in formal classrooms, though they should be part of the school experience. They are practised in intricate give-and-take relationships and constitute moral criteria for assessing who a good person is, whether physically or spiritually. Individuals are generously given a whole life course to practise them. The above 20 and their opposites have vernacular terms in the many (2,600) indigenous languages of Africa. People who teach and practice sabotage and do malicious damage to God, other people and creatures are often described as being dead in heart, like walking corpses. The core teaching is that people be clever both intellectually and in the heart with the former having the highest priority.

            [xv]. Dr Sang Hun Lee, paper Today’s World Problems and Unification Thought” read at the 18th ICUS, August 23,1991. Seoul Korea. ICUS is an acronym for the “International Conference for the Unity of the Sciences.”

            [xvi]. Kyozaire is one of the attributes of God in Runyoro/Rutooro. The  completed phrase is, Kyozaire tonaga, meaning, you do not throw away what you have produced (a child). The Sotho/Tswana thinking is that God is Mmabatho, the Mother of the people. Thus, it is inconceivable that Kyozaire or Mmabatho, though She may discipline Her children for their good as should every good parent—should send them away eternally. The Middle East legacy talks of eternal punishment in Hell, Gehenna, Nar, or Sheol; Kyozaire philosophy does not accept that.

            [xvii].  In Nyoro/Tooro culture, abusing one’s mother is the quickest way of bringing about a bloody fight or even death. Issues of land are at times equally bloody.

            [xviii]. Here the reference is to those thousands of Africans whose names have an attribute of God, i.e., Byaruhanga, Ojok, Were, Karugaba, Mugisa. There are thousands more in other parts of Africa. Similar hundreds more such names are found in Islam and Christianity, i.e., Abdallah (Byaruhanga or Karuhanga in Runyoro/Rutooro), Abdunoor-Nuru (child/creature of Allah who is light), Abdurashid-Rashid (child/creature of Allah who is the leader or guide), Benedict (Blessed by God), Godfrey and so on. In the broadest sense, people with such names enjoy calling Ruhanga (Allah, God), their name-sake.

            [xix]. The author is a Musiita arukweera, literally a white or morally clean one, but symbolically referring to one who should possess the values of love, honesty, justice, kindness, goodness and so on: Somehow he has two totem creatures on the father’s side, omuka (plant used for colouring palms yellow) and a sheep (humble, sacrificial animal). His mother’s totem is an antelope. Culture teaches one not to harm, touch or eat the totems of father and mother.

            [xx]. Dr S.M. Moon, paper on: Education, Peace and Dialogue among the World Civilizations.” At the International Seminar on “International Public Service and a Culture of Peace.” September 29-October 2, 2000, London, England, p. 27.

            [xxi]. H.E. Dr. Makarim Wibisono, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Indonesia to the UN, during his remarks  on the theme, the millennium Declaration of the UN, N.Y., 20, October 2000 p. 2.

            [xxii]. Intellectual education: this refers to the acquisition of all kinds of knowledge that contributes to intellectual development. The reality remains that when God created this world, He restricted the capacity of the human brain and reason. If people could know everything, they would be Ruhanga, Katonda or God and thus surpass their restricted status as God’s creatures. Education of the heart refers to the knowledge and practice that contribute to the development of one’s character or personality, without which, the Africans say, the heart dies. It includes knowledge and practice of such values as love, justice, peace, joy, morality, unity, harmony, and kindness, to mention but a few. These and others that define the holistic nature, position and status of an ethically good person, with their opposites defining  an ethically  bad person, whether on Earth or in the Spirit world.

            [xxiii].  Other dominant challenges identified at the historic Millennium summit held under the auspices of the United nations September 6-8, 2000 in New York include values and principles to do with  peace and security, development and poverty eradication, protection of our common environment, democracy and good governance, protecting the vulnerable, meeting the specific needs of Africa, and strengthening the United Nations.

            [xxiv]. See Appendix One on:” Some Human Rights Organisations in Uganda” by 2000.

            [xxv]. Since the author has not found a single word to define “Religion,” and is aware of the borrowed term El din, indigenized as Diini  in the vernacular, we shall use the term Religion” to mean life as lived in a cobweb of relationships. It concerns itself with  existence, life itself, relationships and the Master Creator who is the core reality behind all other realities which are His products.

            [xxvi]. An ancient value of educating people to have a transnational attitude to  all people found in that where the Bakiga of southwest Uganda who divide the whole cosmos as inhabited by two categories of people abakiga and n’abajungu, meaning Bakiga and Europeans. “On the other hand, their brothers in the west of Uganda refer to all people as Banyoro, i.e., omunyoro: Clinton, Babangida, Bush, Gorbachev, Sadam and so on. This labelling is for all those living on Earth and in the Spirit World.

            [xxvii]. Mahmood Mamdani, keynote address at the conference on The challenges of the social sciences in the 21st. Century,” Faculty of Social Science, Makerere University Oct. 25, 2000. p. 1.

            [xxviii]. Dr.Kihumbu Thairu, Utamaduni ya Kiafrica (African Civilization), (Nairobi Kenya Literature Bureau, 1975), chapter 1.

            [xxix]. The garden of Eden: According the Bible, Genesis 2: 8 ff., the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the East and He placed there the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at and good for food. The Lord gave man this order, “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” With the presence of so many fruit producing plants in East Africa, especially Uganda, with temperatures that are average and compliant all year around, the idea that the garden of Eden was in Uganda is credible.

            [xxx]. M. Mamdani, op. cit., p.1.

            [xxxi]. Human Development Report 2000: Demographic Trends, 226. The entire report focuses on human rights and human development.

            [xxxii]. Professor D.D. Nsereko, comment from his discussion on Freedom of Conscience.

            [xxxiii]. Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995, Chapter 4.

            [xxxiv]. Ugandans, like other Africans, have been victims of the negative teachings of foreign proselytizers, who failed to appreciate the religious connotations of their traditional way of life, and, consequently, condemned their indigenous cultures as manifestations of a pagan  belief structure.

            [xxxv]. The ancestors, through so many generations are honoured and respected in traditional African cultures as the foreparents whose love, life and bloodlineages have been carried forward through generations to the present, and whose influence on what Africans are today cannot be reasonably denied.

            [xxxvi] The following human rights organisations operate in Uganda in 2000: Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), Uganda Human Right Commission (UHRC), Human Rights Network (HURINET), Human Rights Peace Centre ( HURIPEC), Uganda Law Reform Commission (ULRC), FIDA (Association for Women Lawyers (Uganda), Human Rights and Civic Education  Forum (HURICEF), Amnesty International (Kampala Office), Uganda Child Rights NGO Network (UCRNN), Public Defenders Association of Uganda (PDA), Paralegal Movements, Penal Reform Projects, Legal Aid Clinics.

            [xxxvii]. Section 43(1) of the Constitution.

            [xxxviii]. This has happened in such countries as Angola, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, the DRC and Zambia. See D.D. Nsereko, Religion, the State and the Law in Africa, in 28, Journal of Church and State, 269-87 ( Spring  1986).

            [xxxix]. Human rights for survival, in the theological sense, are products of God which are absolutely necessary for living and without which  one is bound to die physically.

            [xl].  Human Development Report 2000, p. 189. It is noted that the use of statistics to illustrate issues of human rights is essential. Population statistics for instance, throw light on many  situations, i.e., whether men and women are healthy and in a position to procreate, the number of people to be fed and educated, and so on.

            [xli]. The above figures are from the Ministry Education, Uganda Government.

            [xlii]. Source: Republic of Uganda “Prosperous People, Harmonious Nation, Beautiful Country. A strategic frame-work for national development. Volume One.  February 1999, p. 13.

            [xliii]. Source: Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, background to the budgets. 1989-1992.

            [xliv]. Source: Statistics Department, Ministry of Panning and Economic Development.

            [xlv]. See reference no. 5.

            [xlvi]. See Human Development Report, p. 267.

            [xlvii]. Why Uganda Still Needs the Movement System of Governance, 2000, p. 52ff.

            [xlviii]. Ibid. pp. 86-87.

            [xlix]. A country Human Rights Report of Uganda. The Human Rights Reporter. Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, 1999, p. 16 ff.