Friday January 24 2014

My family paid the highest price for the war but now is forgotten

Deo Ogal lost his parents during the

Deo Ogal lost his parents during the bush war. Courtesy photo 

By Ivan Okuda

“My name is Deo Ogal, I am a second year student of law at Kampala International University (KIU). I lost my father and mother in the National Resistance Army (NRA) liberation war in the Luweero Triangle. Mine has been a life of 33 eventful years.

A life of self-discovery, a life of emptiness and a life of self-liberation from the trials and tribulations that come with being a forgotten child of the revolutionaries. It is a hard life. Harder when you have no one to turn to and hardest when your parents’ formerly close bush war comrades deny you that ear and eye of a caretaker.

You can imagine I only discovered my true biological roots at the age of 25.

As a small boy staying with a loving and caring lady in Abim District in Karamoja, I later discovered was only an adoptive mother, I received countless confrontations with insults such as ‘you were bought from the shop like a bicycle.’ But my mother constantly stood up for me.

I went through several bouts of emotional torture that got me figuring out where I could have come from.

The emptiness of life took its toll on me and I was even entertaining suicidal thoughts. My mother did not tell me about my situation until December 2012 when she felt I was finally ready to be told the story of my life.

When she did so, I got a strong impulse to trace my roots. I discovered that my birth name was Richard Lumala (my adoptive parents gave me the name Ogal meaning companion.
She shared with me the adoption papers from Sanyu Babies Homes which became my compass for the long journey of discovering my true parenthood. I found myself at Semuto in Nakaseke District where I met Mzee Micheal Sebabi, my paternal uncle, who narrated to me everything as he saw it.

At the village I learnt that my father and mother, together with seven other family members, were killed in 1983 when the government forces attacked the village and killed people whom they suspected to be harbouring the guerillas.
What was particularly frightening to learn was how my parents, Livingstone Sebugwawo and Topista Nakamate of Nsaka Village, Semuto Sub-county in Nakaseke met their death. Dad, according to uncle Sebabi, was only 23 and mummy was 16-years-old. They met in the bush and what followed was history, as it is said.
My mother, the veterans told me, was shot right in the throat by Obote soldiers. The bullet slightly injured my eye, just below the eye lashes and this scar was easily recognised by Sebabi. When she was shot, I was tied on her back and we fell at once, leaving me in a pool of blood. I am told I was later transferred to the Red Cross camp where I was handed over to Sanyu Babies Home.

Intriguingly, my father had met his death a day or two earlier. He was a militia whose work mainly rotated around guarding the camps, carrying food for the soldiers and transporting some of them on bicycles, especially the ‘big men’.

That was how I lost touch with my family and got adopted in Karamoja.
I am now struggling to find a footing in my true family as it has never recovered from the impact of the war. My 64-year-old uncle now lives in a squalid mud-and-wattle house with barely enough to drink and eat. Children in the home have not gone to school, except a Grade 5 teacher who is also unemployed.

However, perhaps we are stuck because my parents died in the tender days of the struggle. That I can understand but not the fate the government has subjected my uncle to.

The President personally knows Mr Sebabi. So does Afande Salim Saleh, Brig Prossy Nalweyiso. Most of the senior army officers know him closely. One time during a rally in Luweero, the old man was deep in the crowd and you can imagine the President saw and recognised him and excitedly called him out. He asked him why he was not doing well and advised him to approach Gen Saleh with a view to helping him.

Uncle’s plight
This is a man who sacrificed his chunk of land and donated it to the struggle where upon the second largest camp (Lule) was set up. Perhaps because the likes of Sebabi did not have flowery academic credentials or for other reasons best known to the liberators, they were left behind while the rest came to Kampala.
But for Christ’s sake, even meeting the President has proved impossible as I have been tossed left, right and centre by the Office of the President and other political leaders.

Interestingly, my maternal grandfather, Ephraim Mutumba was responsible for coordinating all food collection in the Lule camp. He died during his work of food collection and we never recovered the body. That side of the family too has been neglected.

My passionate and heartfelt message to President Museveni is that his comrades and particularly people he was close to are rotting away in Luweero. It is as if they are paying the price for participating in the war yet this is something they went into with conviction and sacrifice.

They should at least be recognised, even if by way of a medal. But more importantly, support their families, and restore hope in their lives.
Personally, my future now hangs in balance as my adoptive mother is ageing and can no longer take care of my university fees.

The other children in the same family have not even gone to school. Their only hope is for the government to remember them.”

Michael Sebabi, Ogal's uncle, explains his participation in the bush war

“I was convinced to join the armed struggle by a one Mpanga from Namasinda Village, who retired as a captain. At the time I joined the struggle, I was a teacher at Kijaguzo Boys Primary School.

At Mundrana camp, I was under the command of Yoweri Museveni. The other officers in the camp were Salim Saleh, Fred Rwigyema, Afande Musinguzi, David Tinyefunza and Moses Kigongo.

I participated in the establishment of Lule Mobile camp under the command of Salim Saleh and others like Henry Tumukunde and Afande Kanyankole. I donated the land where the camp was built.

I was instrumental in collection of food for the soldiers. I would request for it from the villagers and later direct them (rebels) to pick it at a secret location with the help of the committee responsible for running the camp. I was in charge of defence in this committee.

The chairperson was Salongo Mandevu (RIP), the vice chairman was Musisi Lwanga, secretary was Christopher Lubega and welfare was handled by Rwabunene.

Later they increased the number of the committees to nine members on instructions from the overall council led by Mr Museveni.”
My brother, Livingstone Sebugwawo joined the struggle in 1982, he was persuaded by Musisi Lwanga and trained as a militia.
He carried food to the camp and transported some of the officers like Afande Kagwa on his bicycle. He guarded the roadblocks day and night.”