Last Sunday, was special for the Woman Representative for Dokolo District, Cecilia Barbara Atim Ogwal and her husband Lameck Ogwal, a farmer. It was the day the couple chose to renew their wedding vows at All Saints Cathedral in Nakasero. They used the opportunity to replace the wedding bands they lost during the 1985 coup d’état that ousted president Milton Obote.
In the afternoon, they hosted their guests to a reception at Silver Springs Hotel in Bugolobi and also used the opportunity to celebrate Mr Ogwal’s 80th belated birthday, since it had been on June 30. The couple danced, ate and mingled with their guests until about 9pm, when they retired to their home in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb.
This is where I met them for the interview after failing to sit down with them the previous day because of the tight schedule they’d had.
The Ogwal’s is a modest home. The sitting room is dominated with maroon-coloured sofa sets arranged around a white coloured wooden table. Opposite this section is the dining room, and behind it a door that leads to the kitchen. The accessories in these different sections from the family pictures hanging off the walls, the table cloth covering the dining table to the furniture, are simple.
My attention shifts to a tall elderly man who walks into the room and is offering me his hand in greeting. “Good morning. I hope we have not kept you waiting for so long,” he says in a calm and collected tone. This is Lameck Ogwal.
As he took his seat, his wife, Cecilia Barbara Atim Ogwal walked into the room. She is more energetic in her greeting and manages to flash a wide smile before finally taking a seat beside her husband. After we are all seated comfortably, I inquire from them if I can start the interview and when they both reply with a polite yes, I ask them to start at the very beginning.
How the Ogwals met
Ogwal says he first met Cecilia in 1965 at Makerere University where a dance event had been organised for various secondary schools. “When I first saw her standing in that hall, I told a friend how composed she was. Later on, he encouraged me to go and ask her to dance, which I did,” he recounts.
At the time, Cecilia was a Senior Five student at Gayaza High School while Ogwal worked as a community development officer in Lango and Teso region. Ogwal had gone to the event with a few friends.
After the event, the two parted ways and met again during one of her school holidays. “She had an uncle, a police officer at the time, with whom she normally spent holidays. He was my friend and whenever I paid him a visit, Cecilia and I would talk. We eventually became good friends,” Mr Ogwal says.
The two officially started dating in 1966 and married in 1970 at Christ the King Church. She was 24 while he was 36 years old, but the 12-year age gap was not an issue because they loved and adored each other. “What I loved about Lameck was the fact that he was never pretentious like other men. He was a real gentleman,” says Cecilia.
“I liked her from the very beginning because of her gracefulness, frank nature and most importantly, stunning beauty,” counters Ogwal.
Building and growing their family
The Ogwal’s first child, a daughter, was born in 1971. All together, they have seven children, the youngest aged 34. Among their children are a set of twins, Andrew Opio and Phillip Ocen, brought forth in 1975.
“Looking after these children was not easy during those years because of the political turmoil at that time,” says Cecilia. Ogwal states that soldiers often looted and searched their home in search for his wife because of her affiliation to Dr Milton Obote Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) as assistant Secretary General then.
Her work in UPC also put the lives of her husband who worked as a Principle Youth Organiser at the Ministry Headquarters in Kampala, and children in danger.
“We eventually fled to Nairobi, Kenya in 1977. Life became very hard. Lameck tried to make ends meet through import trade while I remained at home looking after the children,” recounts Cecilia.They returned in 1980 and started once again rebuilding their lives from scratch. This was the most trying time of their marriage according to Cecilia.
Living to tell the story, 44 years later
Throughout the interview, Cecilia does most of the talking in her loud high-pitched voice. Her husband only speaks when asked a direct question, only in few calculated words.
Cecilia credits this contrast in their personalities for the success of their marriage. “He is very slow in doing things and this at times helps me to contemplate and reflect on things before making very crucial decisions,” she explains.
Ogwal’s peaceful nature also often prompts him to be apologetic, according to his wife, another thing that sustained their relationship.
Ogwal, however, insists that it is his wife’s vocal ability that at times keeps things together at the home. “I just love her personality. For instance, it is her openness and assertiveness that made it easy for her to discipline the children,” he says.
The couple say they are a perfect fit for one another and this is why they have stayed together for years.
Supporting his wife’s political career
As an MP, Cecilia is constantly in the public unlike her husband who spends most of the time on his farm in Kiryadongo District where he, among other things, does bee keeping and goat rearing .
“I have no problem with her involvement in politics. It is what she loves doing and I always try as much as possible to support her whatever way I can, including financially,” he says. “She can be in the spotlight, which is very fine with me but I do not enjoy it personally. I love being on my own, achieving my goals quietly and not being out there constantly scrutinised by the media.”
Cecilia for 1969 beauty Queen
In 1969, Ogwal saw an advert calling for entries into the Miss Uganda beauty pageant and thought of her then fiancee, Cecilia. “I encouraged her to enter the pageant because I thought it would boost her confidence and avail her with more opportunities,” he says.
Indeed, Cecilia came up at the top, though not the very top. “I was not the official winner of that pageant that was held at Apollo Milton Hotel (current Sheraton Kampala Hotel). I was the first runner up. It was a certain girl from Tooro, Fort Portal who won,” recalls Cecilia.
However, word then and now is that she was the winner. None of this fame meant anything to Cecilia though, as she says her life did not change in any way. She returned to school and concentrated on attaining her Bachelor of Commerce degree at the East African University in Nairobi.
With the exposure from the pageant and a university degree, she was able to venture into many things afterwards, including a political career for which she is most known, with the help of her husband and children whom she says have always been supportive of her.
What has been the most embarrassing moment in your life so far?
Lameck: Some years back while I was jogging with the children in the morning, a dog attacked me and I fell down. I was ashamed because instead of feeling pity towards me, they decided to laugh.
Cecilia: During a welcoming party that my husband had organised for me, I got drunk and started saying all sorts of things, including dying and going to be with the angels.
Why do you think that most marriages are crumbling today?
Lameck: It is because most individuals rush to settle down without fully doing a thorough background check of their partner.
Cecilia: Probably because of the different eras. We respected traditional norms very much back in the day. A girl would only go and live with a man after getting married but nowadays, it is a whole different case where girls are even giving birth before marriage.
Cecilia, are you retiring from politics in 2016?
Cecilia: No, I am not. I want to stand again and represent my people.
Mr Lameck Ogwal
Age: 80 years.
Place of birth: Aloi subcounty in Lira district.
Parents: Juliet Alwoc and the late Enock Otyeki
Education: Acul banya primary school in Kole District formerly Apac district and Busoga College Mwiri.
In 1954, he joined Makerere University and studied a Bachelor of Arts in History, political science and English Literature. He completed in 1958.
• 1959 to 1964: Worked as a community Development officer in Lango region
• He then worked as a senior youth organiser at the culture and community development Ministry Headquarters in Kampala in 1965.
He was then promoted to the position of principle organiser in 1968 before finally being appointed as the Deputy Commissioner at the same Ministry Headquarters in 1975.
• 1981: Ventured into personal business which included importing domestic ware and animal feeds.
• 1986 to date: Went into farming.
Mrs Cecilia Ogwal
Place of birth: Aduku, Kwania County in Northern Uganda
Parents: Rosemary Apio and the late Opio Boniface
Education: Sacred Heart in Gulu district, Gayaza High School, and East African University in Nairobi where she graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Management and International trade in 1969. She was among the first four pioneer girls to do Commerce in East Africa.
• 1979-1980: Uganda embassy Liason officer Kenya for returning refugees.
• 1981-1982 Founder, Uganda Women Finance Bank.
• 1981-1986 Chairman, Uganda Development Bank.
• Acting Secretary General for UPC.
• 1992-1996 Chairperson of the Presidential Policy Commission for UPC. Member of Parliament for Legislation and constituency work (1996 to 2011) .