What you need to know:
- Denish Ojok’s father died before he was born and his mother followed before he could understand the concept of death, forcing him to learn how to fend for himself at a tender age.
The cause of a helicopter crash that claimed Maj Gen David Oyite-Ojok’s life might remain shrouded in mystery, but there’s some clarity—even unanimity—about his marital problems.
A solemn utterance that his wife reportedly made is widely referenced. Jennifer Lamunu was one of the reasons why Bechi put a curse on her husband, declaring he would “not come back” when he left his marital home on the morning of December 2, 1983, never to return.
Lamunu had reportedly been carrying Oyite-Ojok’s child for three months by the time the Bell 412 plunged into Luweero Triangle.
My relative died in Ojok copter crash
On June 20, 1984, Lamunu gave birth to a bouncing baby boy she named Denish Ojok. Much like his father, Denish has no recollection of his mother as she passed away when he was too young. To date, he has no idea where her final resting place is.
Dirty little hands
Denish was raised by his maternal grandmother—Ventorina Anena—who passed away in 2019. He had to learn how to fend for himself at a tender age. He remembers being employed as a garbage collector for several restaurants and “earning at least Shs1,000 a day.”
At the garbage dump, he would always be struck by his school-going contemporaries. He wished to be like them, and did indeed when he joined Holy Rosary Primary School in 2001. Denish had never sat in front of a blackboard before, but lied that he was a Primary Four pupil.
“I was a big person,” he said of his physique, adding, “I could not go to Primary One. I thought I would catch up really quick.”
He also needed money to pull off his dream of getting an education—Shs1,500 per term, as well as Shs3,000 for uniform. To make ends meet, he had to divide his time between school and getting his hands dirty at the garbage dump.
Denish became the butt of all jokes among his fellow pupils because of this ‘hustler’ lifestyle. He could only manage two terms at the school before switching to Laminluka Primary School in present-day Amuru District.
At his new school, Denish made another leap from Primary Four to Primary Six. He lasted only one term at Laminluka before joining Cwero Primary School, where he wrote his Primary Leaving Examinations in 2003.
En route Kampala
When a friend told Denish that he could “earn millions” picking rubbish in Kampala, the long bus trip to the capital was always on the cards. After saving enough money to afford a ticket, Denish lied to the bus attendant that the purpose of his trip to Kampala was for studies.
Denish travelled to Kampala with his friends, but was soon abandoned when the bus made a stopover at Buganda Bus Park. He sought sanctuary at a newly-constructed water channel.
“I found a gang of street children there as well,” he recalls, adding, “They beat me up and stole from me.” A fellow Langi sprung to his rescue and took him under his wing. He was oriented into a gang and asked to pay Shs20,000 as membership fee. The money might have bought him protection, but he remained largely unhappy. Moses Kayongo, a Good Samaritan, noticed this one day when he saw Denish near Cham Towers. But when an attempt at adoption seemed to take forever, Denish opted out and returned to Buganda Bus Park, where odd jobs awaited him.
“During riots, we would burn old car tyres to make the situation worse so that people would run away from their property, and that was our looting opportunity,” Denish recalls, adding that such actions became quite risky when security forces were given shoot-to-kill orders.
“A friend who we had gone with to throw burning tyres in the road was shot on the spot,” Denish says of one of the running battles in 2006. “I don’t know how, but I last remembered entering a sewerage pipe and ending up at Fang Fang Hotel.”
Dropping like a Stone
Inside the hotel, he found other security personnel who—despite being civil—ordered him off the premises. Covered in filth, Denish had no idea where the hotel’s exit was. On what he thought was his way out, Denish ran into a White woman, who was overwhelmed by the sheer size of her luggage. He had to offer a helping hand.
After putting the luggage in the car, Denish was handed $5 (about Shs19,000) by the tourist he would later learn went by the name Emiline Stone.
The tourist had mistaken Denish for a hotel employee. When Denish set the record straight, Stone asked him if he could direct her to Jinja. Denish answered in the affirmative even when he had no idea where Jinja was. En route to Jinja, Denish confided in her. She was moved by the account to the extent that she offered to take Denish back to school.
Denish chose to go to Seroma Christian High School because “I always desired to be in a Christian institution.” Stone paid his tuition upfront for a full year. When the school broke off, he spent his holidays at her neat apartment in Kira, Wakiso District.
Lightning strikes twice
All seemed fine until Stone died in a plane crash in 2007. The episode was eerily similar to what happened in Luweero in 1983. Denish’s very livelihood was put in doubt by an aviation accident. Even so, the school administration would not let him continue to the next class.
“Feeling sorry for me, the headmaster gave me Shs300,000 and told me to start from there,” Denish told this publication.
Left alone in Stone’s apartment, Denish decided to sell all valuables. He raked Shs6m and spent Shs1.2m of it paying fees upfront for a full year at his new school—Apas Senior School, Nsambya in Kampala. He banked the balance. This is where he got his Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE), albeit with a fourth grade.
A Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) was within touching distance, but tuition threatened to be an insurmountable challenge. Denish would later multitask as a student and cook for a scholarship. After his Senior Six, idleness led him to making a trip to Mulago National Referral Hospital. The number of floor patients he encountered overwhelmed him. Their destiny was cast in stone by a lack of funds.
With the help of an interning nurse, Denish decided to launch a personal campaign geared at helping some of the patients he thought did not have caretakers. The campaign attracted donor funds, and Denish was commended for his social working skills. He was intrigued by the term “social work” to which he assumed a purposeful life.
“I vowed to do social work if I ever got a chance to go back to school,” he noted.
His service was short-lived by the renovation of the hospital in 2015. He was soon off to Kenya to undertake a certificate in physical training. Four months later, he returned to Kampala Serena Hotel in Uganda as a gym instructor. He would later be appointed by current Disaster Preparedness minister Hilary Onek as manager of Boma Hotel in Gulu.
“People would undermine me because I couldn’t speak the managerial industry language, so I quit,” Denish revealed.
Shot at politics
In 2016, Denish contested for the post of Northern Youth MP. He threw in the towel after noticing that “the son of the then Brig Otema Awany had much influence.”
He channeled his efforts in pursuit for a diploma in Social Work and Social Administration at the East African Institute of Management Science, Gulu. After graduating in 2019, Denish immediately upgraded for a Bachelor’s degree in the same field at Uganda Christian University.
Denish had not completely quit his gym services as he founded the Rock of Ages Fitness Gym Club, Gulu. He also started Food Processors, a company from which he would “earn some upkeep.”
“I was very happy,” the former street child recalls, adding, “Many did not even make it the way I did.”
When he graduated this July, Denish declared that “I had achieved my life’s desire.” Unassuming, the 38-year-old doesn’t have much to say about Oyite-Ojok (pictured). His maternal grandmother was sparing with details about him. This publication attempted to reach out to the Oyite-Ojok family for a comment, but we were met with a dead bat.
“Linda Agnes Auma, the [Lira Woman] MP, is my sister from another mother,” Denish said, adding that the two “rarely talk because I don’t want to seem to people like a beggar.”
A Uganda Peoples Congress stalwart, who admitted that Oyite-Ojok had “a rather colourful lifestyle,” said the striking resemblance Denish has with the latter hints at a blood relation. Mr Tom Oree, who resides in Gulu, also describes Denish as a replica of Oyite-Ojok’s.
“Very many people know him,” Mr Oree told this publication , adding, “Go to Acholiland, his maternal area, they speak of him. He is a true son of the late Oyite-Ojok.”