Celebrating the life of Mzee Kazimili, the father of Mungu-Mwema

On June 14, 2018, Bishop Casimir Daniel Nyirimbirima, fondly known as Kazimili, peacefully went to live with his Master.

He breathed his last from the land of his ancestors in Bicumbi, Mwurire Sector, Rwamagana District.

Like many Rwandans Kazimili lived in exile for long, specifically in Uganda.

When Uganda’s Idi Amin’s regime expelled foreign missionaries in early 1970s (over allegations that they were working for the America’s CIA), Kazimili was a  young head deacon in the Apostles Church of Christ Jesus.

He immediately responded to the call to head the church.   

During their fellowships, Kazimili and his fellow worshippers sang a common chorus, Oh God is Good (Kiswahili for ‘Mungu yu mwema’, from which the phrase “Mungu-Mwema” was later coined.

New born-again converts were consequently branded Mungu-Mwema followers.

Persecution, incarceration by feared State Research Bureau

The Amin regime banned Pentecostal churches and a presidential decree only recognised the Anglican Church, Roman Catholic Church, and Islam. Non-compliance was treasonable with consequences including summary execution.

Born-again churches started operating clandestinely.

On one Sunday morning in 1978, a State Research Bureau (SRB) agent tricked Kazimili with an offer to help the latter secure a licence for his church to operate freely. On arrival at the SRB headquarters, the officer in charge, a one Adam, on seeing them he bragged that they had finally found the stubborn head of a CIA group that had infiltrated Kampala, the Ugandan capital.   

Kazimili was roughed up and arrested.

The SRB had a list of purported CIA collaborators allegedly led by Kazimili. The rest on the list were members of the church’s council of elders that included Paul Mugasa (RIP), Mathias Kyaruhinda, Cleophas Serufirira (RIP), Francis Gideon RwomushanaTuratsinze(RIP),  John Rugyema, David Mutesa and others. After thorough beatings he was driven to Kisugu in Kampala to identify his “accomplices” during a Sunday service.

Life in Nakasero dungeons

They were subsequently detained by SRB in Nakasero, a Kampala suburb, and were treated to all manner of humiliation and torture. While there, they witnessed death. They later spoke of an officer who would eat internal organs of his victims. They saw prominent personalities die cruel deaths. Victims were ferried in alive and out dead on a daily basis. They could see light only when they carried a dead prisoner or disposed their excreta. Many prisoners died of disease, hunger, torture etc.

When they were lucky they would feed on leftovers.

One day, in unexpected turn of events, President Idi Amin ordered that Kazimili and co. be brought to meet him in person at his home in Cape Town Villas on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Face to face with Amin

When they arrived at the presidential palace, Amin was having a break after a long cabinet meeting and playing the accordion for his guests. It was during the same meeting that he would declare war on Tanzania.

Amin informed them that he had thoroughly investigated their case and concluded that they were not engaged in subversive activities as alleged. But he demanded to know why they did not adhere to his decree nonetheless and asked them if they knew who he was.

Kazimili replied that he knew him. The president then challenged him to say who he thought he was. Kazimili recited all of Amin’s self-bestowed titles and awards. Speaking in Swahili he told him that, “You are "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular, African Hero…etc”. By the time he completed the full description of the dictator, Amin was already on his feet clapping and cheering him.

Amin then declared that Kazimili was a wise man who should convert to Islam to make better use of his wisdom. He promised to send him to an Arab country of his choice to learn about the teachings of Islam. He claimed the Holy Bible was designed to spread imperialistic and Zionist propaganda. In response, Kazimili cautiously told Amin that he’d pray about it and God’s will would prevail.

The president then asked Kazimili to pray for him so that the God he served could protect him from his enemies. Kazimili requested Amin to kneel down, which he dutifully did. Kazimili prayed while Amin was on his knees!

While they were still in custody, rumours had spread that Kazimili and his colleagues had been beheaded and their bodies dumped in Namamve forest near Kampala. It was, therefore, a mixture of surprise and joy when Christians and well-wishers saw them on national TV with the president.

After their release from the dungeons of SRB, Kazimili formed a team of prayer warriors composed of women and men, known as the ‘Abatume’ (Luganda for Apostles). They included Kazimili (their leader), Mathias Kyaruhinda, Paul Mugasa (RIP), Cleophas Serufirira (RIP), Francis Rwomushana (RIP), David Mutesa, Miriam Rukata, Esther Mbabazi, Deborah Kisakye and later George Kurandema (RIP).  This group soon went into a secret location from where they prayed and fasted for months until an alliance of Tanzanian armed forces and Ugandan armed exiles overthrew Amin’s regime on April 11, 1979.

Amin would later die in exile in 2003.

After Amin’s fall, the ‘Abatume’ preached the gospel in all corners of Uganda and beyond, walking long distances, enduring the sun and the rain, hunger and thirst.

They were a poor lot!

Persecution under Obote government  

Around that time, Uganda had a record number of presidents in two years: Amin, Lule, Binaisa and the Military Commission under Paul Muwanga. The contested general election in 1980 brought Dr Milton Obote to power.

When the NRM/A launched its guerilla war against the Obote government, some of their key commanders were young Rwandan refugees. This increased hostility of the pro-government youth and Obote supporters who targeted Banyarwanda leading to many violent deaths and disappearances. Many members of Kazimili’s family were murdered. His brother Pastor John Rwakiyonga was killed and his property in Kashari-Mbarara confiscated while his cousin Gatete was also killed in Luwero.

There were incidents when Kazimili’s life was in real danger. But he had God’s promise that his earthly life would end in his motherland Rwanda.

On July 27, 1985, the Obote government was overthrown in a military coup. Some soldiers loyal to the now-deposed government retreated to Makindye (where Kazimili lived with his family) with the intention to reorganise and recapture power. Instead they went on rampage pillaging and terrorising civilians. On the same day, a stray bullet hit and killed one of Kazimili’s evangelist guests known as Epimaque.

An intoxicated soldier walked into the compound of the mourning family. He was shouting and screaming obscenities and claiming that Banyarwanda were the cause of Obote’s downfall. He swore to kill the family head if he did not get the money he demanded. Unfortunately, the money available could not satisfy him. He started kicking Kazimili and forced him to lie on the ground and shot at him. People cried as the evangelist rolled on the ground. The soldier then walked away possibly thinking he had killed him, leaving the family wailing.

So it was great relief for family and friends when Kazimili suddenly got up and brushed off the dust, his body unscratched! He was alive!

His day had not come, it had to happen – peacefully – in Rwanda.

Obote died in exile in 2005.

Returning home…

Unfortunately, Mzee Kazimili’s return to Rwanda was met with immense sadness! By the time the Genocide against the Tutsi was halted by the RPA liberators in July 1994, almost his entire family in Bicumbi had been wiped out.

The majority of them are resting at Mwurire memorial in Rwamagana.

Interestingly, shortly after returning to his motherland, Kazimili had a rare stint in politics when he served in the Vice Mayor’s office responsible for Social Affairs in Kicukiro between 1996 and 1997.

Bishop Kazimili served God with honour and loved his country and compatriots. He will be remembered as a loving father and faithful Christian, who enthusiastically spread the word of God at a difficult time. His lifelong preaching saw many across the region (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda…) embrace the gospel while he groomed and anointed so many ministers of the church.

Fare thee well great man of God, the father of Mungu-Mwema.

Geoffrey Shyamba Kirenga, a humanitarian worker with Save the Children in Iraq, is the son of the late Bishop Casimir Daniel Nyirimbirima, alias Kazimili.