African rabbi in bid to become first Ugandan Jewish MP
By Jennifer Lipman • The Jewish Chronicle
A Ugandan Jew who grew up under the Idi Amin regime is hoping to become the first rabbi serving in a national parliament outside of Israel.
If Gershom Sizomu is elected he will also be the first Ugandan Jew elected to national office.
The African country goes to the polls in February 2011 and this week Rabbi Sizomu will find out if his application to stand for the parliamentary seat of Bungonkho North, in the city of Mbale, has been accepted by the electoral commission.
He has already received the backing of several Ugandan politicians and the official endorsement of the main opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change.
Rabbi Sizomu has been working for several years to improve medical standards in Mbale by providing residents with mosquito nets and clean water. Last June he helped open a healthcare centre in Mbale.
On his Facebook page Rabbi Sizomu has described himself as “an experienced leader who has brought health care and economic development to his region.”
The rabbi, who gained semicha in America with the help of Jewish organisation Be’chol Lashon, is a member of the Abayudaya Jewish community of eastern Uganda.
The 1,000-strong community was founded 91 years ago by a military chieftain Semei Kakangulu, who felt a strong connection with Jewish scriptures. He circumcised his sons, began studying with an American Jew and instructed his tribe to adopt the teachings of the Hebrew Bible.
Under the dictatorship of Idi Amin, the so-called “butcher of Uganda”, the Abayudaya were severely persecuted. Many were forced to convert to Christianity or Islam.
Just 21 years after the regime fell, Rabbi Sizomu’s campaign is being managed by a Muslim leader.
But in July he told supporters that the campaign was already becoming “tough”.
He said: “Some fanatics are ‘scaring’ the Muslim population using the Israel- Palestinian conflict and [suggesting] that a politically empowered Jewish leader could convert many Muslims to Judaism.
“This propaganda arises from the fact that most of my supporters including my campaign manager are Muslims.
He added: “My supporters are aware of my commitment to peace and development.”
Diane Tobin, director of Be’chol Lashon, said: “His bid for parliament brings respect to the Jewish people of Uganda, Africa, and the entire Jewish world.
“He deserves our admiration and support for his vision, determination and courage.”