OFWONO OPONDO PAYS TRIBUTE TO HIS FALLEN BUDDY AND NRM COMRADE SPEAKER JACOB OULANYAH
My first meeting with Jacob Oulanyah, the deceased former Speaker of the 11th Parliament, was 1987 when as a teacher at Trinity College Nabbingo l had accompanied my students to an academic seminar at Kololo secondary school where he was a senior six student. After the seminar, Oulanyah told me that he had earlier attended Dr Obote college Boroboro, Lira and Layibi college, Gulu, both prominent schools then. He was member Kololo S.S. debating club and requested competition with Nabbingo to which I agreed to ask our club patron Quash Ggolooba to contact him. Apart from teaching Luganda, Ggolooba was also a famous newsreader on Uganda Television at the time.
Later in 1988 as I exited Makerere University, Oulanyah joined the Social Science Faculty where upon he became very active in student politics and social life. I had been the chairman of Complex Hall otherwise better known as CCE, and derisively called Centre for Continuing Elders because it was originally meant to accommodate ‘mature’ students, majority of whom where certificate or diploma holders upgrading their academic careers.
CCE was then the only mixed students’ hall of residence for boys and girls, and Oulanyah had apparently hooked a girlfriend which made him a regular visitor in the evenings and over the weekends for parties. Those were the days when Congolese music especially Kanda Bongoman’s Kwasa kwasa was at climax to which Oulanyah always dressed in the flowing Nigeria garb, danced as if he was in competition for a trophy.
Following the strike of 10 December 1990 blamed on Norbert Mao and Oulanyah as guild president and speaker respectively, two students Thomas Okema from Gulu and Tom Onyango from Busia was shot dead by police quelling the riots. Onyango had been my dormitory locker-boy in Iganga secondary school. During that incident, Oulanyah was seriously injured and has over the years blamed it for triggering his sight defect hence the spectacles he has been wearing. He also claimed that his spleen was injured. Makerere was seeing another strike over allowances for the second year running after the one led by the previous Guild president Wilbrod Owori, now president, Uganda Bankers Association.
That incident and his background in UPC background, and being an Acholi, who the NRA/M had overthrown made Oulanyah and many students from the north and east take very abrasive positions which for long remained antagonistic against President Yoweri Museveni and NRM. In fact many of them used to refer to Museveni and NRM as aliens who had occupied Uganda and don’t deserve cooperation. Meanwhile, Amanya Mushega, Kahinda Otafire, Kale Kayihura, Sserwanga Lwanga, and Ondoga ori Amaza were drilling us to patiently plant the NRM seed in Makerere University.
With his height, high-pitched voice, and an eloquent-maverick speaking in Shakespearean style, it was hard not to notice and seek Oulanyah out from even a huge crowd, and so over the years we became close political acquaintances if not adversaries who agreed to be cordial to one another creating bondage of trust. During the 1989 guild presidential campaigns that pitted Nobel Mayombo and Mao an ally of Oulanyah, I returned to Makerere in military fatigue to support Mayombo, but we lost by a hair. But when Oulanyah became MP and chaired the parliamentary committee that processed the removal of the presidential term limit from the constitution in 2005 which NRM had sponsored, opposition groups made him a pariah which cost him the Omoro seat in 2006, and that partly drove him to join NRM since UPC had diminished. Some continue to hold him in opprobrium to-date although in death they seem to keep their peace.
During the 2001 presidential elections we were on a joint committee where Oulanyah represented candidate Aggrey Siryoyi Awori, Kenneth Kakuru (later a judge) was for Kizza Besigye, and I, for Yoweri Museveni during which Oulanyah became a useful back channel to understanding opposition game plans. Our friendship further solidified when he visited my home in Mulanda last December.
I believe that Oulanyah like many recent opposition politicians including Dick Nyai, Akisoferi Ogola, and Aggrey Awori (RIP), Omara Atubo, Cecilia Ogwal, Beti Olive Kamya, Beatrice Anywar, Betty Amongi Ongom, Mrs Joyce Ssebugwawo, and Anita Among among others realized as they age that in real politik, extremism rarely achieve much, and so compromise becomes inevitable. Unlike in the 7th parliament where Oulanyah was abrasive, he had now tamed his brutal tongue, temper and sensational politics, and measured persuasive style, and his replacement as Speaker, concluded with moderation, although hopefully not built in sand.
Their rise and rise with in the NRM provides good lessons that perhaps it doesn’t really matter at what point one joins a glorious struggle provided they mean well, ready and willing to learn its tradition. When Oulanyah ceded speakership to Rebecca Kadaga in 2011 on mutual understanding, NRM agreed to support him if re-elected MP in 2026, and didn’t disappoint him, although none knew his bright candle would burn out this fast. Adieu Comrade Jacob Oulanyah L’Okori.
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