Sunday January 5 2014

Welcome to the New Year, the centenary of World War I

By Harold Acemah

Time flies, as the saying goes; despite all the ups and downs we experienced in 2013, the old year is gone forever and the New Year is already five days old; one hopes that 2014 will bring good tidings for all.
One hundred years ago “the great patriotic war” broke out in Europe and soon spread across the globe and entered into the annals of history as the First World War.

The causes of that devastating war (1914 – 1918) continue to intrigue scholars of history and political science. Many lessons were learnt from World War I, but unfortunately, it took another more destructive war from 1939 - 1945 before mankind learnt some basic lessons about the folly of war. The UN is a product of the lessons learnt.

Current events in our continent indicate that Africans have a long way to go before our leaders wake up to realise that Africa’s political problems can only be solved by political means, not by intimidation or by military force! The might of ideas is always preferable.

The Sunday Monitor of December 29, published a tribute by fellow columnist Timothy Kalyegira titled, “What caused Gen Oyite-Ojok’s helicopter crash?” which was informative and incisive, but contained some errors which I would like to correct in order to set the record straight for posterity.

Let me at the outset thank Kalyegira for his relentless efforts to educate Ugandans about events in our post-colonial history at a time when the powers- that-be have attempted to rewrite the history of Uganda in order to hoodwink and mislead the younger generation of our country. They have paved a rosy picture of the period from 1986 - 2013 and denigrated virtually everything that happened from October 9, 1962 to January 24, 1986! Well, nothing could be further from the truth.

On December 2, 1983 when Maj Gen David Oyite-Ojok died in a mysterious helicopter crash, former president Milton Obote was in Mumbai, India, en route to Uganda from New Delhi where he had been for about two weeks to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm). He was not on a State Visit to India as Kalgyegira’s article claims.

This was the second time for President Obote to visit India in 1983. In March, he was in New Delhi to attend a Summit Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement; both conferences were chaired by the prime minister of India, Ms Indira Gandhi - daughter of the first Indian prime minister - the suave and intellectual Jawaharlal Nehru.

The Ugandan delegation to Chogm 1983 led by president Obote included First Lady Miria Obote, ministers Shafique Arain, Chris Rwakasisi, Picho Owiny and Peter Otai; the Senior Officials included Henry Barlow, Chief of Protocol Daudi Taliwaku, Martin Orech, Dr Opiote, Ralph Ochan and myself as head of the department dealing with Chogm at the Foreign ministry.

President Obote left New Delhi on December 2, 1983 aboard a Uganda Airlines Boeing 707 aircraft and made a two-day stopover in Bombay, now called Mumbai, to hold meetings, inter alia, with the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; the Chamber hosted him to a grand dinner that evening at the Taj Hotel where the President stayed. The senior officials stayed at the Oberoi Hotel.

On the day president Obote was due to return to Uganda, we assembled early in the morning at the Taj Hotel for transport to the airport; on arrival, I noticed that the mood of the delegates who had been there before us was somber and it was due to the tragic news of Gen Oyite-Ojok’s death which was soon conveyed to us. President Obote, the ministers and all the officials were shocked beyond belief. Some delegates were in tears!

The Uganda Airlines plane flew direct and non-stop from Mumbai to Entebbe and hence there is no truth whatsoever in the story that; “Even after Oyite-Ojok’s death, President Obote did not immediately fly to Uganda but travelled to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, then to Uganda”. I am a witness who was on that flight together with others who can confirm the fact.

On arrival at Entebbe, the usual formalities such as inspection of a guard of honour were cancelled and the entire delegation drove straight to State House, Entebbe from where the officials departed for Kampala and left the president holding a closed-door meeting with ministers and senior military officers.

Gen Oyite-Ojok’s death was, with the benefit of hindsight, the beginning of the end of the second UPC administration (1980-1985) and the delay in appointing his successor made a bad situation worse; when Brig Smith Opon-Acak was eventually appointed as UNLA Chief of Staff, the dice had already been cast. The rest is history, as they say!

I first met Gen Oyite-Ojok in 1969 through my uncle Lt Col Michael Ombia (RIP); they were friends, based at army headquarters and neighbours at Mbuya. I got to know him more during the 1980s as a gallant soldier and an amiable person. May his soul rest in eternal peace!

There are many individuals who are knowledgeable in the post-colonial history of Uganda and for the sake of our country, I encourage them to share what they know with Ugandans so that the truth may set us free from half-baked stories and outright lies.
May the LORD bless Uganda in 2014 and grant our humble requests.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.