How eerie silence greeted Jacob Oulanyah’s final days

Deceased: Speaker Jacob Oulanyah. PHOTO | ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • As Speaker of the 11th Parliament, and before that as two-term Deputy Speaker, Oulanyah’s social media handles blazed with information; political news and commentary on salient national and international affairs. 

In life, Jacob Oulanyah was celebrated by friends and foes alike as ebullient, dapper and brilliant.

As Speaker of the 11th Parliament, and before that as two-term Deputy Speaker, Oulanyah’s social media handles blazed with information; political news and commentary on salient national and international affairs. 

With a press team at his call, no regular update on twitter, facebook and WhatsApp platforms, among others, was unusual.

However, his play in the social media spaces began to atrophy at the onset last year of news about his declining health.

This was shortly after he was elected Speaker of the 11th Parliament on May 24 following an acrimonious and polarising campaign.

After a hiatus, during which it was eventually confirmed he had a break for medical care abroad, the Omoro County Member of Parliament returned to Parliament looking enervated.

There was an aura of power around him as he toured the House in the glare of camera, but not much energy in himself.

He chided publics that gloated over false reports of his alleged death, and challenged all to bend the moral arc to compassion for the sick.

“What is wrong with us,” he asked, sounding frustrated and referring to rising cases where random Ugandans pronounce particularly indisposed public officials dead before their time.

His characteristic burst of energy and flair were visibly petering out. Oulanyah looked infirm and tame, not the flamboyant spirited debater.

 The then Speaker did not just suddenly vanish from public view, but his social media engagements also staggered to a scattered trickle.

 For instance, since this year began, he tweeted 17 times, four of them condolence messages over the deaths of former Bushenyi-Ishaka MP Gordon Arinda, former Ethics minister Simon Lokodo, Bank of Uganda Governor Tumusiime-Mutebile and Teso Emorimor Osuban Lemukol.

 He also warmed up to cheers too, sending happy birthday messages to Operation Wealth Creation overall chief Gen Salim Saleh on January 14, a couple of days later to former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, and another two days later --- on January 18, 2022 --- to Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo.

 Owiny-Dollo as a close friend from childhood visited Oulanyah multiple times on his sickbed at Mulago National Referral Hospital.

He was in the delegation led by Deputy Speaker Anita Among that flew out on Tuesday, last week, to check on Oulanyah in his last moments at the University of Washington Medical Centre in Seattle, a Pacific coast US city.

The Chief Justice has publicly not spoken out about Oulanyah’s condition, while accounts offered by other delegation members; Ms Anita, Democratic Party president Nobert Mao, Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng and Oulanyah’s brother Francis Emuna, upon their return to Ugandan, differed in detail.

The actual date when Oulanyah died, the illness that caused his death and details of persons designated by the government to oversee him while in the US remained a matter of speculation in the week before his death.

For instance, his Wikipedia profile was edited repeatedly to reflect that died on March 14 against alternate edits by Ugandan Parliament and government employees that he was alive.

No one heard from him then.

Highly-placed sources said Parliament staff were gagged around the same time not to comment on the ailing Speaker.

However, Mr Chris Obore, the Parliament spokesman, told this newspaper last night that the official silence was intentional because it had been agreed that only President Museveni, Deputy Speaker Among or Dr Aceng would speak on matters related to Oulanyah.

“It was agreed that a common protocol that respects [Oulanyah’s] privacy is observed; so, you could not talk about his illness,” he said, adding: “This was to avoid a breach of his rights and disinformation because one’s health is a confidential matter.”

Mr Obore suggested that Oulanyah’s family would perhaps have been at liberty to speak about his failing health, but added that “we cannot comment because we do not know what the son told the father” in response to a claim by Mr Nathan Okori, the father of the deceased Speaker, that Oulanyah was “poisoned”.

His time in the Speaker seat that he fought hard to get was short, his public engagements even fewer, and his social media, after months of limited posts, burst with a flood of condolences messages following the Sunday confirmation of his demise.