August 18 marked 15 years since a dear friend and distinguished son of Uganda, Brig Gad Wilson Toko, passed on. Willy, as we fondly called him, went to be with the Lord on Sunday, August 18, 2002. It was a dark and painful day. His untimely death at only 59 years old was a national tragedy and big loss for Uganda.
Toko was vice president and minister of Defence of Uganda at a difficult time in our country’s history, from July 1985 to January 24, 1986. Prior to that he was general manager of Uganda Airlines from 1979-1985; director general of East African Airways Corporation from 1973-1976 and commander of the Uganda Air Force from 1971-1973. He served Uganda and East Africa honestly and selflessly with distinction.
After guerrillas of the National Resistance Army (NRA) stormed Kampala and grabbed power on January 25, 1986, Toko was forced to go into exile with his family for almost 10 years until he returned to Uganda in 1995.
On his return, Toko decided to retire from politics and devote his energy and skills in business. He decided to operate a regional airline to serve East Africa. Toko prepared a comprehensive business plan which he shared with me; he contacted Bombardier Corporation of Canada which was willing to lease or sell a medium-size aircraft, but for the venture to take off he needed support from Uganda government as a guarantor.
I am advised that he submitted a request to this effect to the relevant authorities, but the support he was promised had not materialised by the time he passed on. This commercially viable initiative was Toko’s pet project which regrettably did not see the light of day.
It goes without saying that as a landlocked country, an affordable, efficient and reliable air transport sector is critical and essential for Uganda. Toko was well-equipped to play a major role in this sector. Toko also planned to write a book on the 1985 Nairobi peace talks which concluded with a still-born agreement.
Brig Toko’s enduring legacy
As a person who was committed to peace and good governance, Toko played a key and constructive role in the peace talks held in 1985 between Uganda government led by Gen Tito Okello and NRA led by Gen Yoweri Museveni.
Toko was appointed to head the Ugandan delegation to the peace talks which were originally scheduled to take place in Dar es Salaam under the chairmanship of president Julius Nyerere, but to the chagrin of the government of Tanzania, the NRA side which promised to attend the first meeting on August 12, 1985, did not show up; reliable sources told me that the leader of the NRA delegation did not offer any apologies.
According to my good friend, ambassador Daudi Taliwaku (RIP) who was among officials who attended the abortive Dar es Salaam talks, during a meeting with the Ugandan delegation at the Ikulu or State House, Mwalimu Nyerere cautioned Gen Tito about the dangerous and difficult road which lay ahead of him.
Mwalimu almost prophetically predicted and expressed fears about matters which have come to pass and haunt Uganda since 1985. Toko who was present confirmed the story to me.
If Mwalimu Nyerere had been a malicious, vindictive and unforgiving person, like many African leaders, he would have shunned those who snubbed him on August 12, 1985. The venue of the peace talks shifted to Nairobi at the insistence of NRA. President Moi of Kenya, the mediator, was with benefit of hindsight, not an impartial and unbiased moderator.
As a patriot and a nationalist, Toko struggled relentlessly for peace, unity, prosperity and security of all Ugandans. He was an exemplary leader who discharged his duties with compassion, commitment and dedication. Since charity begins at home, he played a leading role in efforts to promote unity of the people of West Nile which is a multi-ethnic region.
In appreciation for his tireless efforts to unite the people of West Nile, wananchi from all walks of life gathered at Arua on August 18 to honour and celebrate his life. On August 19 a memorial service was held at Emmanuel Cathedral, Mvara, to thank God for his life. The main celebrants of the well-attended service were Bishop Charles Andaku of Madi & West Nile Diocese and Emeritus Bishop Joel Obetia.
Toko was always conscious of the fact that power belongs to God, as Scripture teaches; he believed that power must be used for the good of the people and not for personal gain. He went into exile in 1986 almost empty-handed. I would like to thank all friends and well-wishers who supported him and his family during their stay in England.
Toko’s Christian upbringing and strong belief in God shaped his outlook, guided and empowered him as a soldier, minister and vice president.
Toko has left an enduring legacy of dedicated and selfless service to Uganda which people of goodwill should emulate. He was a courageous and honest man of integrity. Toko did not shy away from making difficult and tough decisions. Uganda needs such leaders who will always do what is in the national interest of our country and who cannot be compromised or corrupted with money and material things.
May Brig Toko’s soul rest in eternal peace!
Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat. firstname.lastname@example.org