This is a gripping personal story written by Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions at Office of The Director of Public Prosecutions Mr. Charles Elem Ogwal Agea.This ranks as one the best and thrilling brief biography of this talented brother,i pray a publisher will be knocking on his doors pretty soon.
And this is a story of 40 years ago. A story that rekindles raw emotions and reflects on resilience that saw a journey of triumph over adversity and the cruel later days of a relentless campaign to sensitise an evil that was. It is my story of a great and life changing tragedy in a teenager’s life.
This is my story.
My story begins in February 1977. The background to my story, however, starts in the early 1960s when I was born to the Late Charles Dundas Ogwal-Agea and his wife; Gertrude Joyce Awelo.
Charles Dundas Ogwal-Agea was popularly known as CD and to the immediate family as Idon. He stood 6 foot 5 inches, was light skinned and had very long hair that was always well-kempt. He was a member of the Luo speaking Lango tribe of Northern Uganda and bound together by language with the Luo speaking Acholi tribe that neighboured them to the North.
Having started as a teacher, he upgraded and joined the civil service, was promoted through the ranks and in early 1974 being District Commissioner, Kampala, was promoted to the Uganda Civil Service rank of Undersecretary and posted to Fort Portal as Provincial Executive Secretary, Office of the Governor, western Province.
And I had done my Primary Leaving Examinations in November 1973 and been admitted to Senior One at Kololo High School. And I was looking forward to joining this school dreaming of being chauffeured to studies every morning since my father was the District Commissioner, Kampala.
But having been posted to Fort Portal, my father tagged me along with him and my admission to senior one was transferred to Nyakasura School in Fort Portal. I had never heard of Nyakasura School and resented the idea of moving from Kololo to what I then considered some unknown Backwater.
The regrets were short lived. Nyakasura turned out to be a splendid school and the cold Fort Portal weather was one of the best things to happen to me. Here the weather allowed easy mental work as opposed to the debilitating heat of Northern Uganda.
My father had a policy of keeping all his children to study at the nearby Canon Lawrence College Demonstration Primary school, Boroboro, just a stone’s throw away from the family home he had constructed. That meant just him and me from the family; just the two of us travelled to this foreign land while the rest of the family remained put in Boroboro, Lira District.
And in Fort Portal, the Governor and immediate boss of my father was Colonel Joseph Ozo. Remember him? He of the infamous interview; and that due to his modest education when introduced by the journalist interviewing him as a Lieutenant- Colonel objected to the apparent demotion and clarified that he was not a mere Lieutenant colonel but a full colonel. His heavy accent amused the moderator who ‘agreed’ with him and quipped; “Oh Yes. You are a Fool, Colonel!”
And my father was an easy going friendly person who spoke at the loudest of his voice, had a deep infectious laugh and liked to party. So on most Saturdays Ozo and other friends would come for barbeques and whisky swigging at our home in Boma, Fort Portal town.
Ozo was a short thickset obese man who reminded me of a toad sitting down because of bee stings. His face was puffed up as if the bees had left him for dead. Ozo was also a man conflicted with his own life story and the story of Armoury Sergeant Okwera.
And Ozo would sit with my father and say; “Ogwal, am happy we are sitting here with you and enjoying ourselves regardless of our tribes because targeting a tribe for elimination does not work at all. We tried it in Moroto but only ended in pain and suffering to us the perpetrators as well”.
And the story of Moroto was very bloody…
And here is part of that story as told to me by the Late Captain Sam Ongom-Enin, who was a brother-in-law of Idi Amin Dada. He was the elder brother of Mrs. Nora Amin. Ongom and his sister were from the Lango tribe that was also the tribe of the overthrown President Apolo Milton Obote. Though largely recruited by the British colonialists who believed the Northern tribes made good soldiers, the Acholi and Langi continued with their dominant numbers throughout the 1962-1971 reign of Milton Obote.
Amin however, came from a society west of river Nile in Northern Uganda composed of the Kakwa, the Lugbara, the Madi and Aringa boosted by Nubians and other ethnic tribes from the Present DRC and Southern Sudan. Luo speaking Alur tribe though physically located in West Nile remained on the periphery. These tribes save for the Alur did not share any relationship with the Acholi and Lango tribes that they saw as supportive to the ousted Milton Obote and posed an existential threat to the incoming regime.
The final solution to this perceived threat to the new government was simple, straight forward and brutal; Kill all Acholi and Langi soldiers.
And this is the story of goings on at Moroto Barracks, Late January 1971 as narrated by Captain Sam Ongom Enin;
“A bugle call was made following an army coup of 25 January 1971. We all fell in line and stood at attention in the military parade. However a feeling of uneasiness developed when orders were made at the parade that all Langi and Acholi officers and men be disarmed, separated from the rest and to stand on one side while the other tribes were to remain in the main parade. And to await further instructions to come from the Commanding Officer who was on his way from Kampala. The commanding Officer was then Lt. Colonel Joseph Ozo, a son of the new ruling clique from West Nile.
Most soldiers were puzzled at this unusual order but took it perhaps that they would only be ordered to be vetted for any dangerous connection with the overthrown regime of Milton Obote, their tribes mate. Officers and men from the two tribes stood obediently in line and waited for orders to come from Ozo, most of them appeared bemused.
Soon in the distance, there appeared the army-green Mercedes-Benz that was the official car of the commanding officer. It was going faster than usual, the Uganda Army Moroto flag colours flapping rapidly on its fender.
It came to a screeching halt in front of the assembled men. Out of it leapt the squat toad like figure of Ozo. He glared with rage and hate at the Langi and Acholi tribes mates grouped to one side, then spat forcefully on the ground and asked menacingly; “what are you still waiting for? Kill all of these scoundrels!”
And army colleagues from the other tribes set about bayonetting and subduing the Acholi and Lango as members of their families housed in the barracks wailed uncontrollably in the background. However, Ozo suddenly appeared to have remembered one thing and issued a command to stop. For he had orders that in his haste to blood let, he was about to violate. And this was because the orders were to be obeyed strictly. And the other was; “Kill All Langi and Acholi soldiers in Moroto except my muko, Sam Ongom-Enin.”
And now when the order to spare Ongom-Enin came, all the Langi and Acholi soldiers started shouting, each and every one of them claiming to be Ongom-Enin. It took some effort to identify Sam. Eventually this was done. And the gruesome orgy of death resumed leading to the entire population of Langi and Acholi soldiers in Moroto barracks being massacred in cold blood.
But not really all of them perished for one man remained alive, that was Okwera. Because armoury sergeant Okwera, an Acholi tribesman who spoke little had smelt a rat immediately after the coup due to what he had heard had taken place in Jinja barracks; that a massacre of Lango and Acholi tribesmen had been orchestrated there. He did not therefore fall-in line as ordered.
And because Okwera was a loner who kept to himself and never socialized, it was assumed that he was a member of the other Luo speaking tribes not yet targeted at that time; tribes like Alur, Kumam, Jo Phadolla and Jabwor. So the perpetrators of the murders let him be.
And because Acholi and Langi soldiers were the majority in the barracks, an empty eeriness filled the barracks as transportation was arranged to convey the recently widowed women and orphaned children back to their birth places. And as well to create space for new recruits to be brought in from the new president Idi Amin’s ethnic communities.
Unnoticed and unsuspected, Okwera had a plan for the new recruits that largely came from the lands of West Nile and beyond the borders. And he watched them curiously as they were brought to fill in the empty voids caused by the massacre of his brothers and then he set his plan in motion.
One fine morning as all the recruits were assembled in the dining hall for breakfast, Sergeant Okwera locked and secured the armoury and carried to the hall at least three chain-fed submachine guns, as much ammunition as he could carry plus numerous side arms and grenades. As quite as his nature was, he entered the mess and deliberately locked the door behind him, set on a revenge massacre. And at the end of it all, no recruit was left alive.
Okwera then retreated to Mount Moroto into a cave that he had set up and its approach rigged with explosives while the entrance was made into machine gun nests; and he settled down and waited for whoever would dare pursue him.
And the men from Moroto barracks followed him but were taking too many casualties in trying to neutralize him from his vantage point that it was found necessary to enlist the bomber squads from the Uganda air force that flew in to pulverize the defensive cave of armoury sergeant Okwera.
Traumatised Lieutenant Sam Ongom-Enin was eventually promoted to captain and posted to Uganda’s embassy in Cairo as military attaché.”
And the story of Sam Ongom-Enin for the moment is taken up by Colonel Joseph Ozo.
“Wuyu Acholi Okwera alikuha asikari mbaya saana…” he says in Kiswahili meaning ‘That Acholi Okwera was a very bad soldier…’ And Ozo continues; in every community there are bad people willing to do bad things to those who do bad to them. For such people will not believe in turning the other cheek. Ozo, now reformed, went on to lecture about the futility of genocide as a means of subduing a group for it seems only to make them stronger and more determined. He had learnt his lessons. Obviously this attitude was not good for the regime he served, and he was soon relieved of his duties to be replaced by Supedritnedent of Prisons, Owori, a man from Tororo as Governor.
And in Fort Portal, there was Major Juma Aiga from West Nile who was the District Commissioner. Aiga was a bespectacled, lean man of extremely dark complexion who seemed to shiver perpetually from the coldness of Fort Portal. He suffered from a very painful condition of the feet that with my experience, I now believe was gout. He would limp crying like a baby to Dr, John Peter Ayeni, a Lango medical doctor who was our immediate neighbor in Boma, Fort Portal.
And on Friday 11 February 1971, five days short of my 16th Birthday, the news came late in the evening. And the news was that the deputy governor, the lame man had been abducted from his office by state operatives riding in a Volkswagen Kombi.
My father had a motor accident in 1972 in which he broke his leg. Though the operation was successful, his shattered bone could not be restored to its full length. He thus walked with a limp. And the people that did not know him believed he was lame. And since he was second in hierarchy in the Governor’s Office, it was also assumed that he was the deputy governor.
Fellow students started streaming to commiserate with me; saying ‘Kyaali’ a Lutooro word for sorry. But I was in denial. How could this tall strong handsome man just disappear like that? Surely my father would somehow charm his way back to us. It was all so incredulous. Leaving home and studying hard to take a good report to an adored parent but instead comrades are saying; ‘sorry, you have lost him!’
And the next day, Saturday 12 February, I went home. As I walked through town, everything was so normal and tranquil. In one shop blared the vinyl musical record hit Baluti by Ochestra Veve, a hit song I had asked my father to buy and that I was looking forward to play repeatedly on the family record player at home. Those days we used vinyl record discs and this was one of the hits from the famous Congolese musician, Verckys Kiamungana popularly known as Veve with his series; editions veve.
Fort Portal was at peace with itself as the tales of people being kidnapped and their heads chopped off to let then Zairean President, Marsall Mobutu construct a palace out of the skulls died down. Those who were barricading themselves in the houses at sunset in fear had become bolder.
The town seemed oblivious to my turmoil. Life appeared routine and peaceful except for my suffering soul. When I reached Boma, reality hit me afresh.
My father had indeed been abducted and his personal effects including a wrist watch, wallet, personal car keys, socks and shoes and the tie he wore were all brought back home by his office secretary. Since all my siblings and mother studied and resided in our hometown, Lira and I was the only person living in Fort Portal with him, these personal items were handed over to me.
And then the bombshell of reality exploded, giving me no time for self-pity but launching me into a self-perpetuation mode. Neighbours advised me to immediately disappear; for the district commissioner, Major Juma Aiga had sworn that at the end of the exercise that commenced with the killing of my father, no Lango or Acholi tribesman would be left in ‘his district’.
And they told me of the fate of my father’s driver. David Etii, from Lango who resided in the neighboring boys quarters of our neighbor, Dr. JP Ayeni, also from Lango.
This is the Doctor who was always on hand to treat Juma Aiga when the excruciating pain from his feet condition visited him. He would run to Dr. Ayeni any time, day or night crying for the alleviation of his pain. He knew where to get Dr. Ayeni at his work place. He knew where the good doctor socialized and even knew the window of his bedroom to call him at night when the pains came.
That Friday afternoon, Major Juma Aiga looked for Dr. Ayeni in all those places and did not find him. And the anger inside him welled up for this time, along with a section of soldiers, he was not looking for him to alleviate the pangs of probably gouty arthritis. Major Juma Aiga was hunting down Dr. Ayeni to be killed along with all the Langi in ‘his district’ of Fort Portal.
And when Juma Aiga checked in all the nooks in the magnificent two story residence of the modern medicine man and did not find him, he turned his attention to the boys quarters where he found David Etii the driver. When David could not produce the doctor, the poor innocent driver was bayoneted to death. Major Juma Aiga could not find the man of healing because the good souls in Buhinga Hospital where Dr. Ayeni worked, having learnt of the nefarious, evil plan to murder him had smuggled him out of the hospital then to Zaire and eventually to end up plying his medical trade in the United Kingdom.
And the fear escalated in my little heart. Major Aiga had rounded the Langis and Acholi civil servants, army, police and prisons officers and killed all he got. And as the hunt for teachers commenced, teachers like Moses Otyek escaped from Kyebambe Girls’ School to later end up, much much later after Amin had long gone as a commissioner in the Ministry of Education.
And it is incumbent upon Apwony Moses Otyek to tell his story…
And then Major Aiga the District Commissioner set his sight on secondary schools and we were told any time they were coming for us. Teachers organized for us to be hidden in the Dark Room; a room meant for developing camera films given the technology of the day.
And among us was Julie Acio, now a Registrar at the High Court whose brother, the late Olugo was also murdered together with the late Lakayana Acika, secretary, Hima town board and a great friend of my father at the same time.
Threatened and cowed, we persevered till the killing wave passed.
And when Juma Aiga tells his story, he will be reminded of the story of Colonel Joseph Ozo and he must tell his story in the context of his actions in Fort Portal and in relation to post 1979 violence in West Nile region when militia from Lango and Acholi walked armed in his homeland…
And probably, the futility of ethnic or tribal targeting will become at once exposed as only sowing seeds of cyclic bloodletting.
Much as I understand fairly clearly the raw emotions involved, I personally had to reflect in the same period the base nature of human beings, which in a large measure has shaped my attitude not to look at people with a tribal or ethnic lense.
Subsequent to my father’s abduction, my mother eventually came to Fort Portal to gather the remains of his property, a Mutooro businessman named Balinda who claimed to be one of his tight buddies tricked her that he was going to put fuel in my father’s beloved Peugeot 504 car to enable transportation to Lira and disappeared with it to date.
And a Lango colleague and supposed friend of my father, who had escaped, somehow tricked and convinced her to give him for safekeeping, the AKAI family music system and the Phillips record player which he would deliver to Lira. He ended up stealing these most treasured objects in a teenager’s life.
And I am glad the people in his constituency refused to give this low-life scoundrel a chance to represent them in Parliament. Oh Yes; he stood as a parliamentary candidate!
And yet another now high profile Lango with whom they shared a land title swindled his beneficiaries out of their inheritance.
Ethnicity and tribe is really but just an identity illusion that may temporarily be used against a community or individuals that usually have little in common within themselves.
But the Lord works in mysterious ways. When circumstances thus forced me to relocate to my home district to continue with my studies and to abandon Nyakasura School, I received a letter post-marked Fort Portal.
And the letter was from Violet, my first love who hails from Toro. And the later said; “Charles you made me pregnant in January and we have a son… “God is Indeed Great.
The year he took away my father is the same year he gave me the present I least expected; a son in apparent replacement.
And the son I named after my father is looking great and doing great, just like his grandfather. In the civil Service he is just one step before the rank of Under Secretary/Commissioner. And myself, orphaned that early in life, have already surpassed that rank
And the mystery that is life continues