I was born in November 1923 to Erieza Olwol and Cakaya Akulo who later became Atat Loi Akulo when she became baptised. I grew up in Loro Sub-county, Atura County, present day Oyam District.
By the time of my birth, my father was working as a clerk to Yosia Omara a gombolola chief of Loro. The chief had given his sister to my father as a wife in appreciation for his loyal service to him.
In 1931, my education journey started at Loro Preparatory School from where I joined Loro elementary S chool from 1932 until 1935. From there I went to Boroboro Central School from 1936 to 1938, this was the only academic centre in the whole of Lango District, with only two classes.
From Boroboro I joined Kabalega Junior, now secondary school, in Bunyoro until 1941 for Junior One to Junior Three, were I was among the first students to sit for Junior III national exams which were known as Junior Leaving Examinations.
Having passed well, I was admitted at Kings College Budo in 1942 to do Senior Four. I was in Budo for three years until 1944 when I finished Senior Six.
At Budo I was with the late king of Buganda, Edward Mutesa, while former president Yusuf Lule was one of our teachers. From Budo I went to Mukono Teacher Training College from 1945 and a year later left as a qualified primary school teacher.
Through my school times I had very much admired teachers and I had made a resolve to become a teacher. At the end of World War II, the government set up a rehabilitation centre in Lira, which is now Lira Technical Institute; that was where I taught for one year soon after my training in Mukono.
A year later, the Church of Uganda posted me to Aboke Primary School from 1948 until 1949. From Aboke, I was posted to Boroboro Teachers’ Training College for three years where I was being paid Shs8 a month. I decided to give up teaching and do other things.
I was hired by then Lango African local government at the beginning of 1953 as a clerk to the Lango District council. I was a personal assistant to Yakobo Adoko, the district’s chief executive officer then. In 1957, the district recognised my service by sponsoring me for a one-year diploma course in Social and Public Administration in the United Kingdom.
When I returned, I was appointed the district council secretary, and at the same time the independence mood was gathering steam across the country. I was elected on the delegation from Lango that attended the two constitution conferences in London. That is one of my most proud moments in life; I played a part in attaining independence for my country.
After independence, new laws were enacted and among them was how the local governments were administered. Districts were given more powers over health, education and social services.
In the same spirit the post of the district executive officer was replaced with that of the chief executive officer and I was appointed the secretary general of the Lango District administration. By then the whole of Lango was one district with seven counties and 42 sub-counties.
I was moved from Lango to Kitgum in August 1963 as an assistant district commissioner for Kitgum before replacing Oboth Ofumbi as district commissioner for Acholi. Ofumbi had been transferred to Entebbe as secretary to the cabinet.
From Acholi in 1966 I was promoted to the post of principle assistant secretary in the Ministry of Local Government, working as local administration inspector. I was there for a year and joined the president’s office at Entebbe as an administrator. But one year later, I was promoted to secretary to administration in the president’s office which is currently the post of permanent secretary, a position I held until 1972 when I was retired by the Amin government.
Life under Amin
Following retirement, I went into private business in Lira Town, but like elsewhere, most of the Indian-owned business had been transferred to Nubians in the area, which made doing business very hard.
After the death of the Archbishop Janani Luwum and the two ministers Oboth Ofumbi and Erinayo Oryema, next on line were the prominent people from Lango and other regions who were thought to be supporters of the ousted UPC government and those thought to be close associates of former president Milton Obote.
I was on the hit list, and one day a group of men raided my home in Amac Corner in Lira, looking for me. They went on to arrest late Omara Obua, owner of Northern Province Bus Company, and Otim Obinu, both businessmen from Lira. The two were arrested and I survived because I was in Kampala on a business trip when they raided my home.
Besides ransacking and destroying my house, they took everything they wanted including the millet in the granary. The news of my failed arrest found me having lunch, I left the food there and went to hiding at a neighbour’s place.
One thing I never wanted was going into exile. The suffering I had seen Congolese refugees go through at Acholipii camp when I was in Acholi District was an eye opener for me not to live in exile.
I left Kampala and went to hide in Anaka on the Gulu–Arua road at friend of mine, Yovan Ochan’s place. Every morning, armed with a short gun, I went to hide in the Murchison Falls National Park. Sometimes I was faced with the wild animals like elephants and buffalos; fortunately I never had any encounter with lions.
After a month word leaked around that I was hiding at Ochan’s house. One night he drove me on his tractor from Anaka to Loro which is my birthplace where I hide at Fenekansi Angole’s home. During this time, I managed to inform my late wife Alice in Kampala where I was and she made plans to get me from Lira.
She persuaded me to go to Kenya though I had decided not to go into exile. We stayed in exile until after the 1979 liberation war.
Life in exile was not as bad as I had thought. I first settled in Nairobi before my wife and family joined me later. We then moved to Bungoma in western Kenya. The money we were getting as refuge up keep was supplemented with the income I got from my pick-up truck which I was using to transport people and goods around.
While in Kenya, I kept in touch with Dr Obote in Dar-es-Salaam. When the preparation for the liberation war started, I contributed by recruiting some Ugandans in Kenya to go and join the group. One such a person I recruited was Maj Ogole.
The presidential commission
After the war I returned home to private business, and in May 1980, I was appointed to join the two justices P. Nyamuchocho and Saul Musoke, as members of the presidential commission which handed over power to Obote in December 1980.
At the commission our role was to oversee the day to day running of the government ministries, sign legal documents the executive arm of the government had to sign. We only sat in the president’s office when we had documents to sign or meet State guests.
Other times we stayed in our respective places of work. The only thing that we had was security that was given to us. We never received any salary for the time we worked at the commission. It was not until when the new government came in that they gave us a token of appreciation.
Life After the commission
The new UPC government brought me back into civil service. I worked in different capacities as chairman Uganda Advisory Board of Trade until when it was dissolved in 1986.When the NRM government came to power, people like me and others from the UPC government did not have a smooth sailing at the start, most especially those hailing from the Lango region.
I teamed up with people like Henry Makmot, Omar Ojungu and Omara Atubo to start a Lango community association to help resettle some of the people who had fled the country and were coming back home.
However, in 1990, I was appointed to serve on the board which was to reorganise the public service and I served on the same board until 1994 with the public service. When I retired in 1994, I decided to retire home and do private business. But now I’m too weak to keep working after the brain surgery last year.
Joel Wacha Olwol, former member of the presidential commission
Background: He was born in November 1923 to Erieza Olwol and Cakaya Akulo who later became Atat Loi Akulo when she became baptised. He grew up in Loro Sub-county, Atura County, present day Oyam District.
Education: His education journey started at Loro preparatory school from where he joined Loro elementary school from 1932 until 1935. From there I went to Boroboro Central School from 1936 to 1938.
From Boroboro he joined Kabalega Junior until 1941. He was admitted at Kings College Budo in 1942 to do Senior Four and Senior Six. From Budo he went to Mukono Teacher Training College and later did a diploma in Social and Public Administration in the United Kingdom.
Early work experience: He begun by teaching at a rehabilitation centre in Lira, which is now Lira Technical Institute. After quitting teaching, he was hired by then Lango African local government at the beginning of 1953 as a clerk to the Lango District council. After returning from the UK, he was appointed the district council secretary. He was later elected on the delegation from Lango that attended the two constitution conferences in London.