Benedicto Kiwanuka

The bust of Honorable Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka unveiled in front of the Ugandan High Court Building in September, 2018 on the 46th anniversary of Kiwanuka's death .

The Blood of an Honest Judge

On the morning of September 21, 1972, General Idi Amin’s security agents broke into the chambers of Uganda’s High Court and forcibly removed the Chief Justice, Benedicto K.M. Kiwanuka. Bundled away into the back of a waiting Peugeot car, Kiwanuka was never seen alive again. To this day, his body has never been found.

Forty-six years later, hundreds of Ugandans – and a few outsiders like myself – gathered at Uganda’s High Court in Kampala to remember the man and his legacy. The occasion was the Ugandan Judiciary’s inaugural Benedicto Kiwanuka Memorial Lecture. Family members, friends, supreme court judges, and lawyers spoke of Kiwanuka as a “martyr to the rule of law” (Among other issues, Kiwanuka had crossed hairs with Amin over a legal case involving a British expatriate). A priest sitting near me spoke of Kiwanuka’s commitment to justice and his personal religious devotion; even as Chief Justice he was known for attending daily Mass and filling in as an altar server. Several speakers spoke of the importance of keeping the judiciary independent from executive overreach, raising up “many Kiwanukas” who would not hesitate to denounce state abuses. The keynote speaker, a former Chief Justice himself, connected Kiwanuka’s death to Cain’s infamous murder of Abel in Genesis 4:10-12. “Benedicto Kiwanuka’s blood continues to cry out from the ground, that his death not be in vain.”

It was hard to miss the veiled references to Uganda’s current struggles with political intimidation. As an American, I couldn’t help but note the resonance with my own country’s struggles with executive overreach and judicial independence. In Faulkner’s famous words, “The past is not dead; it’s not even past.” May Benedicto Kiwanuka’s witness continue to inspire today’s prophets of justice, integrity, and shalom.