Kampala. The Dutch police yesterday began inquiries into the circumstances surrounding the death of Micheal Odong, a commissioner in Agriculture ministry, who collapsed and passed on at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Odong headed Agro-pesticides work and was travelling for official duties in Switzerland when he reportedly collapsed and died at the airport terminal on Sunday.
Mr Tarsis Turyasingura, the second secretary at Uganda’s Embassy in Brussels and head of Consular services, citing Dutch authorities, said investigations were underway to establish the cause of the commissioner’s death. He was 53.
“Information [we have got] from Amsterdam is that on Sunday at 16:05 hours (local time), he was found dead at the (Schiphol Airport) terminal as he waited for his connecting flight to Geneva, which was his destination. Until the investigations are complete, they (Dutch authorities) cannot release any information,” Mr Turyasingura said on phone last evening.
Odong was due to represent the Uganda government at a Geneva conference themed on regulation of chemicals’ use in agriculture.
It is a theme more pertinent to Uganda where unprotected workers at Dutch-run flower farms in Wakiso and Mukono districts have since last week been variously hospitalised or treated after inhaling noxious chemicals at their workplace.
Odong’s death brings to three the number of senior Uganda government officials who over the past 13 months have died on the plane or while in transit.
In September last year, the then Internal Affairs minister Aronda Nyakairima was found dead on a plane during a return flight from South Korea. Government pathologists attributed his demise to heart failure.
Just last month, Ambassador Najuna Njuneki flying back from Sweden after meeting Ugandans living in the Nordic countries, collapsed and died in South Africa as he reportedly attempted to disembark from a plane.
Odong’s family expressed shock after learning of his death first from posts on social media.
He complained of no health problems prior to the ill-fated trip, his brother Dr Ben Watmon said. “I last talked to him on Saturday morning when he was in Jinja and he had told me about his flight and connecting through Amsterdam. He was healthy,” Dr Watmon said.
Senior Agriculture ministry officials were last week camped in Jinja for a three-day conference.
The ministry’s Crop Resources commissioner Okasai Opolot told this newspaper yesterday that he was shocked and saddened about his colleague’s death because they were together in Jinja and he seemed to be in good health.
“I closed [the conference] and he travelled to Kampala and proceeded for the trip, which even the Permanent Secretary cleared,” Mr Opolot said.
The deceased, relatives said, preferred to stay in his Gulu home district although he was attached to Kawanda Agricultural Research Station.