Kampala — On Sunday, March 10, news began trickling in about the passing on of Trade ministry permanent secretary (PS), Ambassador Julius Onen. There was doubt about authenticity of the initial report.
Then the ministry confirmed the dreaded news. "With deep sorrow, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives announces the demise of the Permanent Secretary, Amb Julius B. Onen... gone too soon... may his soul rest in eternal peace," the ministry tweeted.
Onen, known to friends as good-natured, breathed his last at the Paragon Hospital in Naguru, Kampala. He was 71. For more than half of his years on earth, Onen was in government service, initially working diligently as a foreign service officer, where he rose to the level of an ambassador.
That stellar performance would later catapult him to a permanent secretary.
Onen immersed in the warm comfort of government employment, and began relishing the perks, almost immediately upon graduating from Makerere University Law School.
He did not look at pursuing his legal career through the Justice ministry. Instead, Onen in 1973 joined the diplomatic service, with Japan as his first posting.
"I knew ambassador Julius Onen well. He joined the Foreign Service in 1973, three years after me. He was one of the first lawyers to be recruited as foreign service officer," Ambassador Harold Acemah, who retired when the deputy head of the Uganda Mission in Brussels said.
Tribute for the late PS poured in from within and outside Uganda, galvanising government leader and opponents.
Mr Ralph Ochan, a former permanent secretary at Public Service ministry, described his deceased cousin as a warm and humorous person.
"He was totally dedicated to his work and I can tell you everyone in Arusha, Tanzania, (where the late served as deputy secretary general of the East African Community) will tell you that he was a very good secretary general," Mr Ochan said.
Democratic Party President Norbert Mao said Onen's death has robbed Uganda of a public servant of sterling character. The deceased, noted Mr Mao, was "a diplomat's diplomat, a kind-hearted and generous man who served with unmatched professionalism."
Former Rwanda, Foreign Affairs Minister Richard Sezibera, who previously served as the EAC secretary general, said he was saddened to hear of the passing on of Onen.
At Capitol Palace Hotel on Katalina Crescent in Naguru sits a 26 roomed hotel where the Kampala Carnival restaurant is housed. The mood at the hotel was sombre, with workers saying they have lost their best friend. He was the proprietor.
Ms Scovia Asante, the supervisor at the hotel, said for the last three years she worked with the late Onen, he was a humble manager who loved seeing the workers happy.
"He was someone who worked well with people. He treated us like his children and would offer fatherly advice to us. He would always treat me like his own daughter and offer me advice on how to do things better," Ms Asante said.
To her, the place has lost someone who loved both the clients and employees the same way. "He was very friendly to everyone including visitors and liked cracking jokes with people," she added.
"His death is a big blow to me and to all the staff here. I feel I have lost a mentor, someone I have always looked up to for advice because he was always ready to help. We shall really miss him," Ms Asante added.
Birth. Julius Onen was born on September 4, 1948 to late Yakobo Oboo and Maria Acanda Oboo at Aber Mission Hospital in the then Lango District. Both parents were teachers who instilled a sense of responsibility in him right from his childhood.
He went to Lacor Primary School where he completed his primary. He then joined St Joseph's Boys' Junior School in Gulu District, before completing his Ordinary level at St Peter's College Tororo.
He studied for Advanced Level at St Mary's College Kisubi in Kampala and obtained grades great to enrol at Makerere University Law School from where he graduated with honours degree in 1973.