President Yoweri Museveni has commended the Muslim community in Uganda for their spirit of tolerance, co-operation and their contribution to the country’s development.
He described Muslims who comprise over 12.5% of Uganda’s population as ‘a formidable force in nation building.’
He also hailed the Muslim community for shunning extremism, saying such behaviour had no place in today’s society.
Museveni made the remarks on Friday at a symposium to commemorate 170 years since Islam was first introduced in Uganda. The event held at Hotel Africana in Kampala, was organised by the Muslim Centre for Justice and Law, and the Uganda Muslim Network (UMNet), a conglomerate of Muslim civil society organisations.
The President, who was represented by the Vice President, Edward Sekandi, congratulated Muslims for the milestone and urged them to take advantage of the opportunities before them.
He explained that previous governments did not encourage Muslims to advance in society, and used them to serve selfish political ends.
“It is surprising that a community that is held together by pillars of Islam was so divided for flimsy reasons of leadership. A conflict was created amongst Muslims that was so intense and yet unprincipled,” Museveni said.
He said under the National Resistance Movement (NRM), the Government has made efforts empower the Muslim community by bringing Muslims to the centre of Uganda’s social-economic and political structure.
“The NRM government aided the reconciliation process and took some bold steps to empower the Muslim community in the country. Among the things we have done was to give the title of the Old Kampala land to the Supreme Council,” he said.
Museveni observed that there has been an increasing understanding of the needs of the different religious communities. He said Muslims and non-Muslims have learnt to tolerate each other, as seen through admission of Muslims in secular schools and vice versa.
The President called for unity beyond religious and ethnic differences, saying this helped Africa to get rid of colonialists on the continent.
He said the co-operation among Africa’s pre-colonial leaders was based on legitimate interest, which helped Africa to attain freedom.
Museveni attributed the underrepresentation of Muslims in national issues to disunity, which organised groups had manipulated.
He encouraged Ugandans to shun extremism and promote unity, which he said existed in Uganda even before the establishment of new religions.
“While Ugandans have embraced these new religions, we still have to learn from the inherent progressive values of our old religions, especially unity. Extremism, egocentrism and chauvinism have no place in modern day society. Co-operation and symbiosis are paramount,” he said.
He warned the public against using religion to promote selfish political ends.
“Religion should not be used as a political tool because this is a private matter between an individual and God.”
Dr Salim Simba, the head of the political science department in the school of social sciences at Makerere University, said Muslims were grossly underrepresented in several government departments.
Of the 19 heads of departments in the foreign affairs ministry, none is a Muslim, Simba disclosed. Out of the 29 cabinet ministers, only one is a Muslim, while only 13 of the 277 employees of the finance ministry are Muslims, Seven of whom are drivers.
Sekandi promised that the Government would examine the proposals of the Muslim community to guide future recruitments.