One of Acholi’s illustrious sons and celebrated old boy of Busoga College Mwiri and Makerere University embarks on his last earthly safari today. Anania Akera breathed his last at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital on Friday afternoon, August 16, at an old ripe age of 105 years, with his multiple organs having run their course and coming to rest.
Born the eighth child of Rwot Andrea Olal and Ejang Yokomoi of Bobi Paidwe on September 22, 1914, Akera was to gross unsurpassed wealth as a farmer, celebrated teacher and politician.
Having joined Busoga College Mwiri from Gulu High School as a star student, Akera quickly registered his leadership skills, becoming the defender of bullied students. He soon rose to serve twice as head prefect in 1939 and 1940, and first non-Musoga to assume the office, an unmatched feat at Mwiri then.
To date, his name remains etched among head prefects in the school main hall.
On leaving Mwiri, Akera joined Makerere College In 1941 to study Education, but was also tapped for Makerere College Cadet Core. Among his peers was a one Olei from Teso and they were to be groomed as army captains.
But his father, Rwot Andrea Olal, would have none of the offer. He insisted young Akera should pursue Education, which he argued offered more dividends for his community, the Acholi.
And his dad, one of the first Acholi to be baptised in 1906, and one of few Ugandans to be knighted Member of the British Empire (MBE), had read the signs of times correctly for young Akera.
Akera meets Nyerere
At Makerere University (1941-1943), Akera had the privilege to receive young Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika, whom he tutored English. Nyerere returned the favour by coaching Akera both German and Kiswahili. Nyerere had joined Makerere after Tanganyika was transferred from German East Africa to British East Africa, following defeat of Imperial Germany in World War I.
Akera and Nyerere shared a room and Akera says he was instrumental in convincing Nyerere to take up Education, for which Nyerere became famed as mwalimu (teacher), and philosopher.
Akera remembers Nyerere as a humble man who, even as president, hosted him as an esteemed guest whenever he visited Tanzania. Akera says he studied Nyerere’s Ujamaa collectivist system of production, but judged it unworkable for Uganda. He reckoned Ugandans were more free-spirited and democratic.
Stamp on education
At Makerere, Akera proved diligent. He would wake up to read from 5am, take a bath at 6am, and dash to class. And Akera was to stamp his mark on Uganda’s education system.
In 1944, Akera was tapped by the British to found a high school in Kitgum, East Acholi. But only one secondary feeder school existed, the Anglican Kitgum Primary School at Lamit, on the outskirts of the town. Instead, Akera joined it as headmaster to train a new crop of students in the district to join secondary school.
Akera later moved with some of these students to Gulu High School, where he also taught later-to-be preeminent Ugandans, among them twice Ugandan president Apollo Milton Obote, martyred Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum, former Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) chairman Semei Nyanzi, and former minister Wilson Lutara.
For his love to boost primary education, Akera moved onto Buwalasi Teachers Training College in Mbale, to train more teachers. He was quickly tasked to draft an acceptable curriculum to promote primary education with case studies from Kenya and Tanzania. The curriculum was adopted and used in Uganda and other schools in East Africa. Akera also helped facilitate the first consultation at Mukono for the first syllabus for Teachers Training Colleges (TTCs).
Despite his love for education, Akera also felt sorely the poor pay for teacher and fat pay for medical doctors, veterinary and agriculture officers. While the doctors, veterinary and agriculture officers were paid Shs270 monthly, a teacher received only Shs90, three times less.
By the end of World War II, Akera had crossed the Rubicon, the point of no return to education. He had to go against his father’s advice of “bed lapwony wek lobo wa odong [Choose a teaching career to develop our country].” Akera calculated he could do farming to make more money and empower his people.
In 1945, Akera quit teaching and found another love and fortune – farming.
He then used the next two years to chart his path as a farmer.
By 1949, Akera had readily bought tractors and had more than 700 hands on his Lakwatomer farm. The workers came from as far afield as DR Congo and South Sudan.
Akera also introduced tractor hire services throughout Acholi, Lango, West Nile, and the lost counties of Bunyoro. His flue-cured tobacco was only comparable in standards to those produced on White farms in Northern Rhodesia [Zambia] and Southern Rhodesia [Zimbabwe]. So progressive was Akera that he posed a big threat to some White farmers who relied on mules to farm.
For these unique achievements, Uganda’s colonial governor, Sir John Hawthorne Hall and his successor Andrew Cohen, saw Akera as one with unsurpassed interest in farming in the entire British Empire.
Governor Cohen visited Akera’s farm in Gulu twice and Akera was crowned top tobacco farmer in Uganda.
His efforts were boosted by Governor Cohen, who encouraged African cotton ginning and stopped price discrimination against African-grown crops, and encouraged cooperatives.
At the height of his farming career, Akera produced the bulk of Middle North Tobacco and raised more than 33 per cent of total production of Uganda’s tobacco. Akera also helped set up five big ginneries and centres for cotton production, among them at Puranga in East Acholi, and Koro in West Acholi.
Encouraged, Akera became the first African to own a maize mill in Acholi and supplied South Sudan bush war fighters, the Anyanya movement, the forerunner of Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M).
So profitable was his farming ventures that Akera made more money than any single individual, stashing his pockets with huge sums of money; more than Shs1,000 monthly! By then, the East African Shilling was at par with the British Pound Sterling. Akera now earned three time more cash than vets, doctors, and agriculture officers, and 10 times more than his salary as a teacher!
But Akera’s fat bank account, second only to the Roman Catholic Church, soon attracted suspicion.
The Protectorate Government police instituted an investigation into his source of money! But his enterprise spoke for himself.
So rich was Akera that he says he had grossed so much wealth that he didn’t know what to do with it. “Lonyo ma onongo pe angeyo tic kwede,” he says with nostalgia. He splashed some of this cash on a beautiful Zephyr Six (or Zephyr Mark I), a 4-door saloon estate car, which he says only Governor Cohen owned another. The fanciful Zephyrs, produced between 1951 and 1956, then went for Shs6,000, translating into nearly Shs27 million today.
Akera the philanthropist
Akera, the philanthropist, also offered some of his riches to pay salaries of all civil servants in Acholi District, while secondary students from Kitgum [East Acholi] enjoyed free schooling for one year for his largesse.
Similarly, his old love for education saw him found Lakwatomer P7 School for his workers children and he paid salaries of the teachers.
Akera the politician
As Independence approached, Akera turned his attention to politics. He joined Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) party, but ran for the national assembly seat for Acholi as an Independent candidate. He ended as first runner up, losing the race to fellow UPC party man Peter Labara Oola, but coming ahead of big rivals as Antonio Opuwa (DP), and Tiberio Okeny Atwoma.
In the same year, his leadership skills were tapped, becoming the first chairman of East and West Acholi.
Again in 1964, he was appointed finance secretary of Acholi District, and first secretary general of Acholi District in 1968. He also served as chairman, Northern and Eastern Uganda Town Board. He was also member, East African Population Committee responsible for overseeing rise of population and its impact.
Akera also served as board chairman, Uganda Development Corporation (UDC), which laid the foundation for Uganda’s national development in the 1960s.
But Akera never quit his love, farming. By 1970, Akera had introduced exotic breeds of cattle on his farm. Even through the brutal Idi Amin regime, Akera continued farming. And for his achievements, Akera became the first chairman of Uganda Farmers Association.
He also ventured into construction, creating Akera Construction – ACTIL (U) Ltd and built roads and put up buildings in Gulu Town. But the widespread killings in 1977 under Amin forced him into exile in Juba. He acquired land and produced vegetables for sale.
For his stellar track record, after the ouster of Amin, Akera was appointed vice chairman of the Electoral Commission, the last public office he was to hold.
Nevertheless, Akera revived his farming fortunes, once more forcing visits to his farm by Obote’s agriculture minister Samwiri Mugisha in the 1980s. But the final blow to his farming career came in late 1980s when the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels looted bare his farm of cows, stock, and agricultural machinery.
In all, Akera lost 525 exotic cows, a cattle dip, 10 tractors, 36 huge tobacco barns, and a residential house.
But Akera will be laid to rest today with his Shs1.5 billion war debt claims compensation unfulfilled by the government.
Although Akera did not restore the glory of his Lakwatomer farm, he leaves an enviable legacy. He leaves behind two of his eight wives, 50 children, most of them girls. His 102 grandchildren and 500 great grandchildren will surely carry on his torch.
May he join the heavenly choir, having accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his saviour.
Fare-thee-well Rwot Anania Kerwegi Akera, son of Rwot Andrea Olal, and grandson of erstwhile British colonial chief and military general Okello Mwaka Lengamoi.
You have run a great race and accomplished what was humanly possible.
What the say about Akera...
Ambrose Olaa, Acholi Culture Institution prime minister. “Mzee Akera will forever be missed as an elder, not only in Acholi sub-region, but the entire country. He played a very big role in the education sector of this county.”
Arthur Mbalule, head teacher, Busoga College Mwiri. “By the time one becomes a head prefect for two years in a row, it means one has charisma. And for him to hold such a portfolio shows that Mwiri is a national school, not just for the Basoga.”
Kitgum Bishop Emeritus Macleord Baker Ochola II. “Mzee Akera was a very straight forward man at all times. He was open in whatever he was doing, especially at the time when he was the secretary general Acholi.”
Northern Uganda Bishop Johnson Gakumba. “Acholi community has lost an icon in education and farming. We should start a memorial farm or scholarship scheme in his name to remind us of his legacy and to benefit the new generation.”
Born: September 22, 1914
Died: August 16, 2019
1919: Joined Odongo Lapole Primary School, completing at Bobi Primary School
1933: Joined Gulu High School, scoring First Grade for O-Level exams.
1937-1940: Joined Busoga College Mwiri for A-Level, serving two terms as head prefect, with his name etched in the school Main Hall among notable students.
1941-1943: Joined Makerere College, meeting fellow student later-to-be Tanzanian president Julius Kambarage Nyerere.
Career: In 1944, before completing degree, the colonial government dispatched him to Kitgum, East Acholi, to initiate a high school. But abandoned mission since only one school, Kitgum Primary School at Lamit, existed. He became headmaster to train students to join high school.
He taught at Gulu High School, among his students were to be prominent Ugandans, including former President Apollo Milton Obote, Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum, Wilson Lutara, and Semei Nyanzi.
For his love of Education, he joined Buwalasi Teachers Training College in Mbale.
After World War II, resigned from teaching in protest over low pay.
In 1970, he started commercial farming at Lakwatomer and introduced exotic cow breed.
Exile: In 1977, fled to Sudan from the brutal Idi Amin regime.
Back to Uganda: After 1979, Uganda National Liberation Front/Army war that ousted Amin, he was appointed vice chairman, Electoral Commission to oversee December 1980 General Election.
He was also chairman, Northern & Eastern Uganda Town Board.
He was board chairman, Uganda Development Corporation (UDC).