I am cool and a bit laid back - Alur King Olarker

Sunday November 17 2013

I am cool and a bit laid back - Alur King Olarker

Ubimu Philip Olarker (C) makes a point during the interview. Photo by Rachel Mabala. 

By John K. Abimanyi

Back in the mid-1990s, in the green plains, north east of Arua Town is where the famed St Joseph’s Ombaci Secondary School, finds a home. A clique of teenage students got out of the school gate, into the nearby town, that is only 500 metres away. There is a local discotheque and the boys set out to catch a bit of its action. An entrance charge of Shs100-Shs200 is demanded of each student. The students refuse and are barred from entering. However, it takes the unwavering mettle of an elite military squad to scatter the boys back to the school.

A decade or so later, one of the students, is a finance and economics professional, an esteemed banker, working with one of the most prestigious and largest banking brands. A few years later, that man steps up to sit on a throne on which his grandfather reigned over a people with a deeply buttressed culture.

The ordinary royal
Rwoth Ubimu (King) Philip Olarker Rauni III is a royal whose making has been cut from the same cloth of ordinariness. The 19th king of Alur kingdom, was not specially raised for royalty, if by that you mean fancy schools and a life of spoon-in-mouth privilege. When his name is summoned, those who know him talk about the cool dude living next door.

On the day we met, the dark Mitsubishi Pajero cruised into the Dolphin Suites driveway in Bugolobi. Two gun-toting UPDF soldiers jumped out. The door flung open and hand salutes made. He walked slowly, while adjusting the breast buttons on a bistre-coloured suit. He greeted his Prime Minister (PM), Dr Edwin Wathum, who officially received him to the interview. You can only get to the king through the Premier.

He sat back, and, flanked by his PM on one side, Principal Private Secretary on the other, the king went about attending to his journalist guests, in the way only kings do, when they attend to their courts. For the next hour and a half, he gave us his time and took us through a journey charting around his life, family and kingdom.

“I was born in 1981,” he says. “I have lived in and grown up in Bugolobi.” At home, his mother was strict.


“I grew up with my mum, and, whereas we knew at the back of our minds that grandfather is king at home, I’d say that we were grounded. My mother was a disciplinarian. So, we didn’t really get out of hand. So, whereas we grew up knowing our royal lineage and all that, it wasn’t something that really changed much about us,” he says, adding, “We were brought up to be responsible, respectful and social.”

“We did chores at home. I always tell my friends that I was so naughty in primary school, that I think there was a time when I was in P4 or P5, I probably got caned every day. I wasn’t caned at school. I got caned at home.”

Listening to King Philip speak at this point, you got to appreciate the inner man, away from the king. He sounded very affable, a man who knows how to keep a conversation going with a cheeky laugh and wacky anecdote out of nowhere.

Did his friends at school ever know he was a crown prince? “Yeah. My friends knew of my royal lineage but I wouldn’t say that it was really a big deal for them at the time,” he says.

“In O’ level, in Ombaci, Arua near where I am from, my friends knew about it. They used to tease me. At university, when I was abroad, I didn’t mention it to my friends. I must have been in my third year when they got to find out. My brother posted something to do with the kingdom on Facebook. One of my friends said, “hold on, all this time you are a king and you never told us!””

King Philip opens up on how he struggled with accepting his slow change in size during adolescence. “In O’ level I was a short boy, and every holiday, I’d come home and my friend is an inch taller. In a way, that made me feel a bit reclusive,” he says. This influenced him to play volleyball in the place of basketball or football.

On his tastes
When it came to talking about his tastes in music and the arts, he chuckled for a while. King Philip is up to date with modern music taste. “I like all genres of music,” he says. “I’m pretty young, so, I like different things. Alright, it depends on my mood. I like House music. I also like, if I may use the word young people use, riddims, be it Konshens, Kronic; just say I like those,” he says. But we were not yet done. When asked about his favourite song, he chuckled again. “I don’t really have a particular song. I have mixes. If I want to listen to House Music, there is a House DJ, called DJ Protégé, from Kenya. So, right now, that is what I am listening to.”

How about Congolese music? “Ah. Don’t get me there. I was brought up on Congolese music. What self-respecting Alur from West Nile does not like Congolese Music? Ah, I mean, while I was in Ombaci, FM radio had just started and it had not yet reached West Nile. So, all we listened to was Congolese music, from Wenge Muzica, Awilo, you name it. If I could go back maybe 15 years ago, I would probably dance for you Congolese music like they do it themselves.”

Regard for culture
We told King Philip that people describe him as a young, cool king. “Ah! I don’t know,” he said. “If they say that in a nice way, thank you.” Did it, in any way cause for conflict with his kingdom’s culture?

“Culture is not something that stands still,” he said. “It evolves over time. And whereas we want to keep certain fundamental points of our culture, and promote our culture, we evolve and adapt. The world is changing and we cannot stick to rigid methods and formulas. It is not just being cool; it is also about making the culture identify with the people of the future- the young people. You are not going to get many young people if you are rigid and do not see or think like them.

And, when did the king plan to give the Alur people, a queen? He chuckled hard, and then said. “I will be honest. It is one of those things that I do not want to rush. I do not look at it as being an eligible bachelor. There was someone in my life but it’s complicated.”

The king describes himself as an active person. He prefers to keep simple. “If I was home, you probably even get me wearing shorts and t-shirt,” he says. He supports Liverpool FC and the 2005 night when the team beat AC Milan in the Champion’s League final, remains in his memory.

He strives to stay in the loop of what is going on. “I am an ardent newspaper reader,” he says. Pushed to point out which newspaper he reads most (in the hope that he will pick this one, he says, “In terms of impartiality, I will say that I read all newspapers.” But at least he confesses to enjoying the works of former Managing Editor, Daniel Kalinaki.

The development of his people is a key concern for King Philip. He says he cringes when he reads in the papers that cholera has broken out in Nebbi. “For things like that, you do not need someone to come and show you what to do in terms of drinking clean water, or primary health care,” he says.

It is such headaches that you sense royals and monarchs like him were made for. King Philip, though young and urban, understands the gravity of these problems, faced by a largely rural-people who make up his kingdom. When the interviews were done, his UPDF boys were back at their regal thing – saluting left, right and centre. And when he sat back in the safety of his car, the king removed his cap, revealing a small mass of oiled hair. There went, a king of the modern times.

- Born in 1981.
- Attended St Kizito Primary School in Bugolobi, St Joseph’s Ombaci Secondary School for O level, Uganda Martyrs School, Namugongo for two terms in A’ level then St Xavier’s College in the UK.

- He studied a Bachelor of Science in Economics with Geography at Loughborough University.

- Worked at HSBC as a business banking manager, and then worked at Heathrow Express as well, all in the UK.

- Enthroned as king in May 2006.

King Philip’s plans for Alur Kingdom
We want to make people realise that they can go to the kingdom when they have a challenge because it understands their current dilemmas.

Unemployment is high. In Zombo, Nebbi, or even in Congo, there is a lot of general apathy among youths. You find people at the age of 15 to 60, 70, seated at the trading centre, drinking all day. As a kingdom, we want to bridge the gap between investors who want to come and provide jobs for people on the land, sensitise the locals in different government projects or programmes and educating them on basic things.

To be more self-sustaining, we have organised over 10,000 local people in the community to be smallholder farmers in a tea project. Hopefully, next year, it will be on the ground running, and, in the future, generate income, not only for the kingdom but also for the locals. They will own 70 per cent of the project.

Kingdom Challenges
For the past three years, we have been trying hard to find resources to build it and have an administration block, where it is easier to coordinate all our activities as a kingdom. Right now, we have a small block we are using that we got from the Local Government; but in the long run, we will need our own. The official residence of the king is not available. It was destroyed two years ago. We are also waiting for the government to deliver on its promises. The official car has never been delivered. I find it hard to go do my mobilisation work, see my subjects, or talk to them without an official car, or an escort vehicle.

What you did not know about the Alur Kingdom
-Between 1966 and 1993 when kingdoms were abolished, the Alur kingdom kept on operating.

-The Alur kingdom dates back to 1390, when Nyipir separated from Nyabongo.

-In Alur culture, the Prime Minister is the king’s brother. The current PM is a first cousin to the king.

-With its seat at Kaal Atyak Wi Nam, the Kingdom covers the two districts of Nebbi and Zombo in north western Uganda; and stretching far beyond the Ugandan border to the eastern DR Congo. Majority of the Alur live in the Congo. They are about 600,000 in Uganda.

-King Olarker Philip Rauni III succeded his late grandfather King Keruyoma Valente Jobi II 1978-2000.