Sunday, October 7, 2012

The untold story about the first African Cardinal... From Tanzania.


Amidst an outpouring of grief and joy at yesterday’s reburial of the late Laurean Cardinal Rugambwa emerged the portrait of a visionary who championed the causes of land ownership and women empowerment. As thousands of worshippers witnessed the catholic prelate being laid to rest at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Bukoba, The Citizen on Sunday got to know the real story behind Africa’s first native bishop, who died back in 1997. Several speakers told of a man whose private life was known to only a select few. Of his tremendous intellect however, there was not a shred of doubt.

 Cardinal Rugambwa is said to have been instrumental in helping the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere create a workable nationalisation policy in the heydays of Ujamaa in the 1960s. Communications director for the Diocese of Bukoba, Father Procesius Mutungi, told the faithful how the Cardinal had advised the then-president of a newly independent Tanzania to pursue a policy that would allow asset owners to retain a portion of their property in the wake of the Arusha Declaration in 1967. It is believed that Mwalimu Nyerere requested that Cardinal Rugambwa be transferred from Bukoba to Dar es Salaam to be part of his team of advisors on nationalisation, according to Fr Mutungi. 

 The Cardinal, he said, had warned Mwalimu that stripping wealthy citizens of all their productive assets would have reduced them to absolute poverty and may have fomented dissent. On Cardinal Rugambwa’s counsel Mwalimu Nyerere saw the wisdom in giving back a portion of what government had taken away, according to Fr Mutungi. Several religious institutes benefited from government’s largess, including the Diocese of Bukoba which got back parcels of land on which several schools now stand. One of these is the eponymous Rugambwa High School

The Cardinal’s advice, said Fr Mutungi, had proven valuable for institutions and organizations that had felt short-changed by an overreaching nationalist government. The Catholic prelate will also be remembered for championing women empowerment, according to the official biographer for Cardinal Rugambwa Father Thomas Rutashubanyuma.

 The Cardinal’s passion for education pushed him to found a girl’s secondary school and he initiated a training scheme that saw 300 rural women taught to use sewing machines. These projects kick-started the push towards greater empowerment in an era when women were expected to show deference to men. 

Fr Rutashubanyuma writes that the sewing centre founded by Cardinal Rugambwa became a home craft school that morphed into a women’s health clinic which later became what is now known as Missenyi District Designated Hospital

The late prelate, who was the first Tanzanian Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Dar es Salaam, will be remembered as a pioneer because when he started Rugambwa Girls’ High School, most African countries had not made education for women a national priority. Independent studies done in Tanzania have also shown that Cardinal Rugambwa played a key role in the introduction and propagation of Savings and Credit Cooperatives Societies (Saccos) during his lifetime.

 Research for St. Clement’s University in the Turks and Caicos Islands of the British West Indies by Tanzania scholar Mr Stephen Mwakajumulo shows that Cardinal Rugambwa latched on to the Saccos idea when he visited Michigan Credit Unions in the late 1950s. 

In his 2011 doctoral thesis, Mr Mwakajumulo says Cardinal Rugambwa shared the lessons he learned with members of the catholic clergy and laymen, some of whom went on to run the Savings and Credit Cooperatives Union League of Tanganyika (SCCULT). Another study for the University of South Africa supports Mr Mwakajumulo’s assertion.

Doctoral candidate Mr Faustine Karrani Bee writes “It was, however, the Late Cardinal Rugambwa of the Roman Catholic Church who spearheaded the promotion of SACCOS.” The scholar argues that the Cardinal’s efforts facilitated the creation of savings societies in the poorest and the most-deprived communities in pre-independence Tanganyika

Cardinal Rugambwa’s remains were moved from Kashozi Parish Church, where he had been interred since his passing on in 1997, to the cathedral in Bukoba in a solemn ceremony attended by a multitude of worshippers. Dignitaries included over 23 bishops from all over the world and a selection of government officials, including the Minister for Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development Professor Anna Tibaijuka. 

Perhaps Cardinal Rugambwa’s lasting legacy is seen in the likes of Prof Tibaijuka, who spent her formative years at Rugambwa Girls’ secondary school, and who went on to become the first and only African woman to achieve the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.


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