I miss you, my friend Dr Aliker

Dr Martin Aliker’s widow Camille (right) and their children Phillip (second right), Julie (second left) and Okello during the requiem Mass at all Saints Cathedral in Kampala on April 18, 2024. PHOTO/ISAAC KASAMANI

What you need to know:

  • When work was over Dr Aliker went to play golf in the Golf Club.  I was not in Kampala in his active golf days so I never watched him play. Either in Kampala or in Nairobi when he was in exile.  

My brother–in–law, Dr Martin Aliker, died one month ago.  He was a kindly man, slow to take umbrage. But he was also a man of the people and liked to be in public after his dental times were over.  

He would go to Naguru in the days leading to Independence and crack jokes with politicians and other jovial people in the way Acholi elders and aspiring elders do, talking about past days and events, talking about clan things and things that are particular about each group.
I was far away in Gulu. But once I was in Kampala, with fellow teachers and others, I would go to Naguru and once in a while to Tivoli [Gardens] .  This watering place was a favourite of Uganda Peoples Congress politicians and Makerere lecturers. One time I met Professor of Geography Simon Ominde.

Later on, when work was over Dr Aliker went to play golf in the Golf Club.  I was not in Kampala in his active golf days so I never watched him play. Either in Kampala or in Nairobi when he was in exile.  But he later aged to become a daily flexure in the club, moving or being pushed to his favourite place where he held audience.

Some other members of his extended family became louder members of the bar in groups.  But he would wait for all those who wanted a chat or had a consultation.

I was once married in to his family.  Actually married to one of the twin sisters, the first to come out. There was the story of the marriage cattle walking back from Awongara to Bobi Paidwe. After they had reached there, and not been tethered down or put in a kraal, late in the night, Lokwende, not finding Aworanga to their taste, walked back.  

But after this length of time, walking back the 20 miles, they branched into the bush near the road.  

They were next day discovered now eating grass nearby, perhaps waiting for night to return to continue the journey from Palenga to Bobi.

When they were found by their usual herder who called them by name: Lokwende – gave them leaves; they enjoyed it and came out to be led back to Aworanga.

Perhaps using cow-sense, they were telling us a story. And we should have, perhaps, listened.  My father also stumbled on the doorsteps. But it was too late.

Now back to Dr Martin Jerome Aliker. 

Being a son of a Colonial Chief, they were taken to the Missionary Schools.  For us in Acholi, Gulu High School was for children of chiefs.  If I was not afraid at the mention, I would say the children of chief of Temajo, Lacito Oketch, were all educated in Gulu Primary School, and Gulu High School.  

Thence there was the elite of all schools for Kabaka’s children and other chiefs. And the Temajo chief embarked on them being taught in King’s College, Budo or Busoga College, Mwiri or Nabumali.  

For they were modelled on the English Public School. There came a time when my father-in-law was bent on educating all his children from different wives.  

So much so that he enrolled them at Budo and Makerere, more children than all the rest. They converged from King’s College, Budo, Busoga College,  Mwiri , Nabumali High School, any other schools.

Everybody was surprised. There came a time when Makerere had enrolled more of Lacito Oketch’s children than any other parent in East Africa. And he was respected for having achieved such a feat.  

If you came across Martin you would not be surprised that he displayed urbane manners. Now you know where it came from.  The compound was full of educated and cultured people.

In Limi, Kajokaji where we came from, Chief Welele, or his wife, in the Colonial days, did not want their children to become students, policemen, or assistants to the colonial master.  

This is what both chief Andrea Olal and Lacito Oketch defied.

In 1945, second term, the Head master of the newly constructed Bobi Full Primary School, requested Chief Andrea Olal, the chief of Omoro County, to help him recruit pupils for his school, he gladly agreed.

My father,  Iburaim Obonyo, who had taken us for vaccination and who was close gentry, was with us. The chief took me on his laps and interviewed me in my then faulty Acholi. On finding that I was bright enough, he recommended me for enrollment.

Chief Andrea told my father that I was now going to be a school boy as from Monday. He should therefore equip with school uniform.  My elder sister Anna Gune was sent to Minakulu that Saturday and bought my  uniform. 

On Monday Anna Gune took me to Lapwony Lakana Ogwany, popularly known as Chakngwech, which means ‘start running’.  This was Chief Andrea’s order to me and children recruited on that day and nobody dared to disobey.

Since 1945, apart from an absence in Parliament of South Sudan in Juba and another time when a Dutch wrote and published an article against the then Vice Chancellor of Juba University, I have never done anything but study and teach.

As a prince of Chief Andrea Olal, I studied in Bobi Full Primary School and proceeded to Gulu High School. This was where all chiefs’ children from northern Uganda studied. Martin Aliker and his brother John Peter Aba had passed through Gulu High earlier on.

Martin Aliker, like every African who went to America, got lonely because of race relationship. He felt lonely from time to time. His closest companion was a Jewish fellow student. Sometimes it was Martin who was number one and the Jew number two.  

At other times it was the Jew who was number one. That is how they sunk their loneliness in good cause that would pay off one day.

And has paid off. It has paid off.

Abe used to read his letters to us, the students of Gulu High School during English Period. Then I vowed that I will go there. And face the loneliness in the white country.

And this is how I went; one Saturday after Martin had to Gulu returned, he came to Gulu High School and, as an old boy, he extended his visit to us.

I told him that the American Embassy had invited me to alter an interview for American Universities Scholarship of African Students.  “It was Saturday” , I arrived on Monday, saw him in his surgery.  He told me to cut off those political beards.

On Tuesday I went to the embassy and with everything ready Camille was ready for the interview.  Her husband came to start the interview.

Then everything else happened. Or started to happen. I thank you Martin, I thank you Camille.

Dr Martin Aliker, the Chief of Temajo, is dead. May his spirit rest in eternal peace. 

Camille, take it easy. The children are there to bring joy.

Dr Martin Aliker.

Dr Martin Aliker’s  story started in 1928 in the village of Awaranga, south-west of Gulu where he was born to Lacito Oketch, a Rwot (chief) and Julaina Auma, a daughter of Musa Ali.

He served in government and was a director and chairman of over 40 corporate boards including Monitor Publications Limited as board chairperson.

Prof Taban loLiyong studied in Makerere  Univeristy and is Aliker’s contemporary.