11 November 2007

Uganda: Omwony Ojok Dies Aged 60

Kampala — Omwony Ojwok is a legendary figure in Uganda's political history. A man with glowing academic qualifications, he dedicated the greater part of his life to the liberation of his country.

Born on June 1, 1947 in Abwor, Labwor county, Kotido district, Ojwok, was twice forced into exile.

In the early 1970s, he was forced to flee to Switzerland after he clashed with Idi Amin over a press release he issued condemning the killing of two foreign journalists in Mbarara.

He returned to Switzerland in May 1980, when the army overthrew President Godfrey Binaisa.

A linguist who spoke English, French, Latin, Lango and Ateso with as much fluency as his mother tongue Acholi, Ojwok was both a lawyer and a professor.

During his first time in exile, he pursued a Masters degree in International Relations and a Masters in International Law, specialising in Third World investments, at the University of Geneva.

In 1978, half way through his Doctorate in Law in Geneva, he relocated to Tanzania to join the struggle to oust Amin. He later resumed his Doctorate course at Dar-es Salaam, where he lectured, while also taking part in the liberation struggle.

Since 2001, he has been Minister of State for Economic Monitoring. From 1999 to 2001, he was the Minister of State for Northern Rehabilitation.

Before becoming a minister, he led the Uganda Aids Commission for five years.

But he will be most remembered for his role in the "Gang of Four", a group of Ugandan intellectuals in exile, which also included Edward Rugumayo, Dan Nabudere and Yash Tandon.

The four played a crucial role in convening the 1979 Moshi Conference.

The conference, which was chaired by Prof. Tarsis Kabwgeyere, brought together all Ugandan factions to chart a way forward for Uganda in the post-Amin era.

The four later took up posts in the National Consultative Council, the then parliament under the chairmanship of Rugumayo, with Omwony Ojwok as secretary, Nabudere as chairman of the political and diplomatic commission, while Tandon held the portfolio of information.

Ojwok lectured in more than 10 universities across the world, among them the distinguished Oxford University in the UK, as well as the universities of Toronto (Canada), Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar es-Salaam (Tanzania).

Christened John, a name he rarely used, Omwony Ojwok was stung by the political bug early in life. In his early 20s, he was already involved in active politics.

His long-time friend Edward Rugumayo, who was presiding over a function in Fort Portal yesterday, spoke of his fallen colleague with nostalgia.

"I have lost a permanent friend, a friend of more than forty years with whom I shared a common political path," an emotional Rugumayo said.

He described Ojwok as committed and brilliant. "He was a person with no political, religious and personal prejudices. He was a patriot and a dedicated family man.

"He was hard working to an extent that he did not look after himself. That is the most unfortunate part of it all."

Highlights of Ojok's illustrious career

  • Born on June 1, 1947 in Labwor county, Kotido district
  • Studied at Lacor Seminary (Gulu) for junior leaving certificate and joined St. Mary's College, Kisubi in 1963.
  • He also at studied at Wauwatosa East High School in Wisconsin, USA, under an exchange programme
  • Was in Ntare High School for his A' levels, where he met President Museveni and minister Eriya Kategaya
  • Graduated with a Bachelors of Laws from Makerere University in 1972
  • Abandoned a post-graduate Law Course in the 1970s after a run-in with Idd Amin
  • Fled to Switzerland, where he pursued a Masters Degree in International Relations. Also did a Masters in Law, specialising in Third World Investments
  • In 1978, he abandoned his PhD studies at the University of Geneva and relocated to Tanzania
  • Organised the Moshi conference in 1979, which brought together anti-Amin forces
  • Served as director Uganda AIDS Commission (1994-1999), minister for northern rehabilitation (1999-2001) and State Minister for Economic Monitoring (2001-2007)

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