Bishop and key Ugandan HIV advocate dies of snake bite

The recent death of Bishop Illukor, retired Anglican primate of Soroti District, Eastern Uganda, from a snakebite was a tragic event that shocked the community.

The recent death of Bishop Illukor, retired Anglican primate of Soroti District, Eastern Uganda, from a snakebite was a tragic event that shocked the community.

One month on from his burial, the community has been shocked to learn that attempts have been made to steal the coffin as it is believed the Bishop was buried with gold. Police are now guarding the coffin until it can be made more secure.

Bishop Gershom Illukor, who died in Mbale hospital on 1 September, was a popular advocate against HIV. He preached about HIV, and advised children to protect themselves against infection. He launched many HIV activities and was chief guest at every HIV function in Uganda.

Bishop Illukor was born in 1935 to Jacob Opolot and Yuleri Akol from Akibui village in Atutur Sub County. He is survived by ten children and many great grandchildren. He trained as a priest in the UK at St John’s College, Nottingham, and was first appointed Bishop in 1976 at St Paul’s Cathedral, Kampala. He retired in 2000 after 25 years as a primate.

Support for young people

His popularity as an advocate endeared him to many, especially for his support for young people. He used to say: “My children life is sweet but short. Please study hard because education is the key to success. Beware of catching HIV because it cuts your life short.”

He also gave general advice, such as the need to increase economic income or cautioning the public to stop extra marital affairs; a risky behaviour that increases HIV risk. He also raised awareness on the dangers of domestic violence.

At the time of his death he was presidential advisor on religious affairs. He was exemplary in his work and excellent in all sector duties including HIV advocacy. He was also a personal friend to Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, who, speaking in Kumi district shortly after the Bishop’s death, mourned him as a good friend and a great loss to the people of Uganda.

Speaking before a memorial service held for Bishop Illukor on 6 September, Agnes Akiror, minister of state for tourism described him as: a peacemaker, peace builder, negotiator and fearless Bishop.

The danger of snakes

His daughter, Jane Aarkit, speaking at Mbale hospital, describes events on the day of his tragic death. He was bitten by a cobra hiding in his store of sorghum and at his home village in Chodong Parish, Kidongole Sub County in Bukedea district.

After being bitten, he was given first aid by members of his family before being rushed to Mbale hospital for further treatment. For a short time he seemed to improve but he remained in the hospital and died three days later.

The nature of the Bishop’s death prompted much debate about the need for effective treatment following snakebites. According to the Mayor of Kumi town, Stephen Omaido, the relatives had delayed for six hours before treating the Bishop’s snakebite. Had they acted more quickly, the Bishop may not have died.

A university lecturer based at Makerere University, Matthias Mugisha Balengera, cautioned: “15 per cent of the snakes in Uganda are poisonous and they sometimes hide in houses looking for rats to eat.” He said people should not live with rodents in their houses, and should cut the branches of trees nearby their houses.

Bishop Illukor’s legacy

Bishop Illukor was finally laid to rest near St Stephen’s Anglican Church on the 6 September 2013. The ceremony, attended by nearly 1 million mourners, was officiated by lieutenant general Angina amid tight security.

Minister Muruli Mukasa, chief mourner, and accompanied by the lieutenant, said it will not be easy to replace the Bishop. The nature of his death has generated much speculation around the possibility of a spiritual dimension – did an ‘evil spirit’ lead the snake to attack?

Whatever caused Bishop Illukor’s tragic death, he will be greatly missed. According to Bishop John Eyitu, from Global Harvest Church, he was a hero of religious leaders, a unifier, and an investor.


  • comment-avatar

    the back ground of the scene looks safe from such a huge serpent,but for what has happened to the bishop, may his soul rest in eternal peace and the mourners, family members and friends, churches begin a new live without him.
    writing from Juba south Sudan.

  • comment-avatar

    The snake is very big
    The snake was very long
    It has a very dark colour with a dangerous poison
    it should have been any person to d that work not the bishop
    had the bishop delayed to enter the store the snake would have gone away
    May his soul rest in eternal peace.

  • comment-avatar
    ODEKE ROBERT 4 years

    The bishops death was the first of its kind in Uganda to be beaten by a mere reptile whereas the flock needed his services the more.
    May the good lord rest his soul in eternal peace. AMEN.