Tribute to Francis Ayume,an illustrious son of Uganda

Sunday May 25 2014

By Harold Acemah

May 16, 2014, marked 10 years since a great and illustrious son of West Nile and Uganda, Francis J. Ayume, died in a mysterious motor vehicle accident on Masindi-Kampala road. For me and for many Ugandans of goodwill, it feels like yesterday!

I thank God for Ayume’s exemplary life and for comforting his wife, Ms Elizabeth Ayume, the family and all of us who were his friends. May the Lord continue to watch over and provide for the family.

Since 2004, the relevant authorities of the Government of Uganda have, to the best of my knowledge, not yet released a police report on the alleged accident in which former Attorney General Ayume lost his life, despite a promise made in 2004 by then Minister of Works, Transport and Communications, Eng John Nasasira. The people of West Nile would appreciate the release of the promised police report and any other relevant report without any further delay.

The Weekly Observer of Thursday, June 3, 2004, published a frank, incisive and touching opinion by Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda titled: The mystery of Ayume’s death which captures accurately the mood, feelings and contradictions of the times; it is as pertinent today as it was 10 years ago. The burning and intriguing issues which Ssemujju raised in 2004 have remained unanswered which is incredible, unethical and unacceptable in a civilised society!

I would like to express heartfelt gratitude to Ssemujju for his illuminating article and would be grateful if The Observer could reprint the said opinion to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Ayume’s tragic death. As Ssemujju lamented: “So who will tell us the truth and what is the truth”?

One day the truth will, by the grace of God, be revealed and the truth will set us free.

In this connection, I request one of the only two survivors of the accident, Mr Anthony Butele, to tell Ugandans everything he knows about what happened on that fateful day and night in order to set the record straight. As a Christian, I hardly need to remind him of what the Holy Scriptures command: “So then, the person who does not do the good he knows he should do is guilty of sin.” James 4:17 (GNB)

Ayume was my friend, a fellow Old Boy of Busoga College Mwiri, a fellow West Niler and a fellow citizen of Uganda. He was born on August 18, 1940 and, like me, he believed in the unity of the people of West Nile and was against the fragmentation of our region into several mini districts which are not economically viable, but created primarily to divide and rule.

I first heard of Francis Ayume in 1959 from George Okayi, a classmate at Ombatini Junior Secondary School; he was from Terego County and often boasted about his elder brother who was at Mwiri. His father, Misaeli Onale, was headmaster of Nyangilia Primary School in Koboko which Ayume attended and he was an outstanding pupil.

When I enrolled at Mwiri for A-Level in 1965, Ayume was reading law at the University of Dar es Salaam; he graduated in 1967. I first met him during vacation in 1966, but got to know him closely in 1970 when I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Third Secretary; that was when I came to realise that Ayume was in fact a Kakwa from Koboko, but an adopted son of Misaeli Onale whose only biological child George Okayi fled into exile to the Sudan from 1980 to 1986.

When Misaeli died in 1984 after a long illness, it was Ayume who took care of him and also buried him; Ayume lived up to his obligations as a son of Mzee Onale and for this he will never be forgotten in Terego. He will always be remembered by us.

During the 1990s, when Ayume stood for elections for the first time in Koboko, I am told some of his opponents teased him, saying they thought he was a Teregite, i.e. from Terego, but he won all the same. Truth be told, Ayume was a Kakwa, a Teregite, a West Niler and a Ugandan.

Ayume was a gentleman par excellence; an avid golfer; a distinguished legal scholar, a great parliamentarian and one of the best Speakers of Parliament. He was a decent, kind and jolly good fellow endowed with a keen sense of humour. Unlike most of my friends, Ayume always called me by my surname.

I last met Ayume on July 4, 2003, at a reception at the American Embassy to celebrate the 227th anniversary of independence of the United States. (The photo seen here was taken at that event).

A few days after that encounter, I left on posting to the Embassy of Uganda, Brussels and returned in 2008.
When Mr Tom Buruku called me early on May 16, 2004, to break the sad news about Ayume’s death, I was devastated; my memory instantly recalled, inter alia, our last meeting at the US Embassy. May his soul rest in eternal peace!

As part of events to mark the centenary of West Nile, I propose that we immortalise this great and illustrious son of West Nile by naming a major street in Arua Municipality after him; a school could also be named in remembrance of him.
Let me conclude with some words of comfort for Elizabeth and the family taken from Scriptures. “Say to those with fearful hearts; be strong, do not fear, your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution, He will come to save you.” Isaiah 35:4 (NIV)
May the LORD have mercy!

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat. [email protected]

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