During the funeral service for former city engineer George Akol at St Luke Church Ntinda on February 19, Rev Can Dr Samuel Opol from Uganda Christian University Mukono, who was the main celebrant, posed a question to the mourners: “Into whose hands, are we entrusting the ateker (nation) before we die?”
Rev Can Dr Opol’s question was prompted by the rate at which Uganda is losing eminent elderly persons of integrity, who shaped the destiny of the country to where it stands today, but whose leadership skills have not been passed down to others. He noted that, it is sad that politicians have set the agenda for the younger generation where both the young and old, today hold them in high esteem.
“Nearly every day, we lose men and women of substance dying in their 80s and 90s. These were icons of success, influence and power, people who set an example as role models of our society,” he says.
Whereas the older generation of men and women cared to groom the next generation of leaders, by imparting their knowledge and skills to the younger generation, today, the politician have made younger people think their lives depend on them.
The clergyman’s concerns seemed to stem from how society failed to pick extracurricular and life skills from the fallen engineer.
Among the incredible things he will be remembered for, was translating the Uganda National Anthem and English hymns into Ateso. The Rev Can Opol described hymns as a bridge connecting Iteso to God. Churches in Teso praise and worship using the translated hymns every Sunday.
Pastor Stephen Ogwang who led the choir during the service, told mourners that in 2012, Akol who had lost his voice due to an operation, approached him in his recording studio in Wandegeya.
“The ‘voiceless man’ also a fine pianist, recorded hymns at the studio, while my choir provided the vocals,” he relates.
Akol joined Kampala City Council (KCC) in 1965 as the assistant city engineer and later became the chief city electrical engineer.
Karuma Kagyina who deputised him, has fond memories of him. In 1973, things at the city hall started going south that by 1978, all expatriates in KCC had left but were never replaced. Kagyina roughly recalls that Akol was appointed chief city engineer between 1986 and 1988.
“These were tough times in Kampala because services had broken down and insecurity was at its peak. Some parts of Kampala such as Nsambya Estate, Wakaliga, Lukuli-Nanganda, Parts of Old Kampala, Makerere Kinoni, were impassable after 3pm,” Kagyina recalls.
“Lugogo Bypass and Sir Apollo Kaggwa road were impassable because they had turned into garbage skips.”
Particularly in 1989 when he was headhunted by Amanya Mushega from Nairobi to join KCC to deputise Akol, Kagyina says the economy was in shambles.
A bag of cement cost Shs 4,300 and as city engineers, their salary was Shs5,000. Worse still, this was the time of rebellion in Teso during the Uganda People’s Army insurgency.
Akol’s family lived in Kamwokya, his home was packed with relatives who took refuge there but what awed Kagyina was that while most spouses of KCC staff opted to open kiosks to eke a living, Akol did not entertain his wife running a kiosk.
“Akol lived like a mzungu and besides, he considered such business unethical,” he said.
He says for the 30 years that Akol worked in KCC, he never spoke Luganda and yet it was more less the official language there. Some colleagues always called him “Akoro” but he always corrected them saying, Akol (read A-call).
In 1990, they started renovating city hall and restored some services to give the city some semblance of organisation. They set up the Kitezi dump fill to clear the garbage which littered city roads, and the city hall started gaining a heartbeat, intrigue from politicians started rearing its head.
The two engineers were transferred to the Ministry of Local Government. In the ministry, Akol embarked on a street lighting project which extended to Jinja. Kagyina says since 1965 when street lights were introduced in Uganda, none of them functioned well until Akol engaged his brain.
He remembers a man called Wanyama, who would be commissioned every evening to run around Nakasero and Kololo to manually switch on the street lights.
Among results expected to deliver was improving city drainage,
solid waste collection and disposal, institutional building such as schools, health centres, and create environment friendly services. However, in 1994, Akol opted to retire.
Patrick Adengo who studied with Akol at Ngora High School in the 1950s, says: “Akol inspired me to join school because of the English he spoke with the Whites. I yearned to join Makerere University because there were only 20 people from Teso who had attended Makerere University.”
Akol’s eldest son, Paul Ikopit, says besides engineering, his father was the church organist and choir master at St John’s Church, Kamwokya.
“Also he was an avid lawn tennis player and became the founding chairman of the Uganda Lawn Tennis Association,” Ikopit says.
At Omatenga in Kumi District, Akol and the late Kanuti Akorimoe, the Ugandan who lowered the Union Jack and raised the Uganda flag when the country gained independence in 1962, established Tenga Football Club in 1954.
Even in their retirement, the two spared part of their pension money to encourage young boys and girls to participate in sports activities. Tenga FC is derived from Omatenga the village. On the day of the engineer’s burial, the team was distraught that their only remaining funder, was no more.
The family members will keep Akol’s legacy by supporting the sporting activities of both Tenga Football Club and Tenga Netball Club which keeps more than 60 youths active. The engineer was buried on February 20, in Omatenga Village, Kumi District.