Bishop Balya’s Footprints: A Tale about Tooro’s Son that became the First African Anglican Bishop in East Africa

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Africans have a saying that a warrior fights with courage and wisdom, not with anger. Bishop Balya’s legacy leaves footprints that are monuments of definite heroism demonstrated by service beyond self.

The Rt. Rev. Bishop Aberi Kakyomya Balya Abwooli, was born in 1877 in Rwahunga Village, Mpara Sub-County in Kyaka County, Tooro. He was consecrated the First African Anglican Bishop in East, Central and Southern Africa on Sunday, 26th October 1947, a remarkable day to remember in the history of East Africa.

It is 75 years down the road since Bishop Balya was consecrated and enthroned as Bishop of Western Uganda and Mboga-Congo at Namirembe Cathedral. He acted as Bishop of Uganda when Bishop Stuart retired in 1953, until he handed over to Archbishop Brown and he retired.

The legacy that Bishop Balya built still lives and is fresh to many Africans.

St. John’s Cathedral Kabarole is one of the tremendous places of worship he worked tirelessly to build. After being opened in 1939, many have turned their lives to Jesus and been groomed in the way of the Lord during its existence to date.

True Son of Africa

Balya was not only a spiritual shepherd who in 1903, started a journey of preaching the gospel in Uganda and across borders of Congo and Sudan, but also participated in translating the Bible into Runyoro-Rutooro language in 1910.

Away from his spiritual life, Balya and his father Kebisingo fought alongside King Kabaleega during the resistance war against the British from 1890-1899, and later crossed River Nile and Lake Kyoga to Lango. He then returned to Tooro through Bunyoro in 1900 where he was later baptised in 1901.

Balya worked as an in-charge of the King’s treasury store, servants and guards– a domain known as the Egalian, which position he worked in diligently before joining the church service. He attained the position and took up the responsibility after being appointed by King Kasagama. Since then till today, his contribution still stands apart in Tooro Kingdom.

His contribution to this country through establishment of schools and Church Missionary Society (CMS) hospitals, promoting moral values, girl education as well as encouraging good standards of living and productivity has left an indelible mark on all classes of people.

Aberi Balya was a teacher who began his teaching work at Kabarole Mixed Primary School located in the heart of Fort Portal Tourism City along Balya Road (named after him).

Institutions named after Balya

There are over 12 institutions that he facilitated in their founding, which have been named after him.

Bishop Balya Theological College Bukuku located in Kabarole along Bundibugyo road is one of them. The name was proposed by students by then under Principal Andrew Bowman and Ordinand Douglas Kamanyire in 1973. Many clergy men and women have been seen go through the college and consecrated to serve the Lord.

Other places that were named after him are Bishop Balya Parish in Bunyonyi, Balya House at Kyebambe Girls Secondary School next to St. John’s Cathedral, Balya House at Nyakasura School, Balya House at Uganda Technical College Kichwamba, Balya Road at Fort Portal town, all located at the heart of Kabarole District and Bishop Balya Social Centre, Kyenjojo.

Away from Tooro, Balya House at Bweranyangi Senior Secondary School in Bushenyi, Balya House at Lweza C.O.U Training Centre Kampala and Balya House at Bishop Stuart University, Mbarara are in his commemoration. Because of his enthusiasm, he received several medals from the Government of Uganda and Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from Her Majesty the Queen of Britain.

Bishop Balya’s outstanding temperament    

Bishop Balya is remembered for having a unique personality. He respected church as a holy place of worship that he used not to put on shoes, just as it is reflected in the Bible when God told Moses to remove his shoes before standing at the holy ground. His etiquette deemed it fit to have sandals for home and gumboots for the farm.

One of his close acquaintances put it into account that Balya woke up to sound the drum for prayers by 5:00am every morning, saying that “birds should not praise the Lord in the morning” before him.

He despised alcohol consumption, saying it undermines good judgment and decision making, but also weakens the body. One time at St. John’s Cathedral Fort portal, he rebuked the King for engaging in soft life hence affecting his performance, and urged him to avoid it and do his work which sent the whole church in silence but welcomed the timely counselling.

Late Bishop Balya alongside his children with only two surviving including Brig.Gen. Ronnie Balya and Mrs. Elizabeth Mayombo Balya Abwooli.

Balya’s close relative also confirmed that he loved the truth and feared God. When one visited him, he would offer him a cup of tea. He would simply say “no, no drink, it won’t make you drunk.”

Balya was blessed with 12 children, but only two are still living. One being Mrs. Elizabeth Mayombo Balya Abwooli and Brig Gen. Ronnie Kihumuro Balya Ateenyi who is currently the Ambassador of Uganda to South Sudan.

Brig Gen. Ronnie Kihumuro Balya Ateenyi, the son of late Bishop Balya currently the Ambassador of Uganda to South Sudan.

Bishop Balya spent his life fulfilling God’s purpose on earth as a spiritual shepherd until the Lord called him on 26th November 1979 at the age of 102 years. He was accorded a State Funeral which was presided over by President Godfrey Binaisa accompanied by Speaker of Parliament (NCC) Prof. Edward Rugumayo, Cabinet Ministers (including Gen Yoweri Museveni), Members of Parliament, Army Commander Gen Tito Okello, the Chief of Staff Maj. Gen David Oyite Ojok, Ambassadors, Bishops and thousands of mourners from Uganda and the region. His inspirational and extraordinary contribution to development will forever be remembered in Africa.

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