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Uganda megachurch criticized for choir tour as children stranded by Covid-19

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THE GUARDIAN website reported the Watoto church investigated over the decision not to pull out as 48 children are among those stuck abroad due to border closures

The Ugandan government has launched an investigation into the activities of a megachurch in Kampala after seven members of its internationally renowned children’s choir were diagnosed with Covid-19 following an overseas tour.

The country’s child affairs minister, Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi, told the Guardian the Internal Security Organisation was investigating Watoto church for allegedly breaching child labor laws, taking the children out of the country without permission and putting them at risk by not canceling the tour as coronavirus cases escalated and countries closed their borders.

The church has not responded to the Guardian’s requests for comment on the allegations.

The children, aged between seven and 10, were diagnosed shortly after returning from a UK tour on 20 March. They, along with seven adults on the tour who also tested positive for the virus, have all now fully recovered, the church said.

However, more than 80 members of the choir, including 48 children, reportedly remain stranded in the US, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Brazil as they were unable to travel back to Uganda before the country closed its borders on the 23 March.

As of Tuesday, Uganda had 83 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Watoto church was founded by Canadian missionaries in 1984. It has an average congregation of around 27,000 people. As well as regular services, it supports women and children in Uganda through its sponsorship programs. In 2018 it reported an income of £13.3m.

The church launched the choir in 1994 to support “the millions of children across Africa who have been orphaned as a result of HIV/Aids”.

The church now has six choirs, each made up of children and adults. The choirs travel and perform all over the world, often for six months at a time. Members have performed in front of US President George W Bush at the White House and before the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Choir members are selected from the 3,000 orphans and vulnerable children who mostly live in three “Watoto villages”. All the money raised from touring goes directly to the church, including the orphanages it runs.

Nakiwala said Watoto did not receive authorization to take the children out of the country for the recent tours, which she says is required under the 2016 Children’s Act.

The minister said management “should have cut down the singing sessions because many activities were being cancelled worldwide”.

“Children are not supposed to be so much into fundraising activities. They fall short of education, they fall short of their time to play,” she said.

“I thank them [the church] for the work they’re doing for the country,” said the minister. “But I have noted that there are anomalies and I demand an answer.”

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