Casket of Scholar, ideologist Onyango Odongo before burial
John Onyango P’Odongo can be described in many ways, call him a hero, a pan-Africanist, a freedom fighter, a scholar, researcher, a political genius, you name it.
The late Odongo Onyango was born in a pure Acholi traditional society. He lived through three culturally different societies of Uganda. First, the pre Christian society before it was corroded by colonial rule, secondly, the adulterated society, under the British rule and thirdly under the present post-colonial society after independence of 1962.
Therefore, he witnessed all major changes and upheavals that befell Uganda into the present appalling, moral conditions we are in today.
As researcher, he wrote a number of books including: ‘The Central Luo During the Aconya (1976)’, ‘The Dawn of NRM Revolution (1984)’, ‘Why Uganda Independence Constitution Failed’ 1993’, ‘The Alternative Draft Constitution (1994)’, ‘A political History of Uganda, the origin of Museveni’s Referendum 2000-2003)’and ‘The Need for National Dialogue to Redeem Uganda (2019)’- published on Amazon.
He also left many unpublished books including;
“How Colonialism Derailed Uganda”, “Why Uganda’s Independence Constitution Failed,” “The Northern Uganda War”, “Luo Civilization and Philosophy of Life,” “Africa from Light to Darkness: A case study for Uganda’, “Uganda from Light to Darkness; An Examination of the Struggle for Democracy ‘ and “The true Biography of Jam Mile Onyango Odongo”.
OMORO-UGANDA: Onyango says he was born on March 7, 1917, but his family gives different account of his birth, saying he was born on March 7, 1928 to Odongo Lapare aka ‘TwonLlok Kaka’ of Lukwor clan, Puranga Chiefdom in Acholi and Mego Salume Acayo Lamoo of Lukee clan, also of Puranga clan. He had 9 brothers and 2 sisters. He fathered a total of nineteen children but only seven are surviving.
As a child, he witnessed firsthand the intense, often self-defeating rivalry between the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. As a result he left school after completing three elementary scheduled of education.
Being the self-made man he is, he joined the Uganda Police Force where he received various trainings and received his first ever certificate. Later he joined the East African Army Service Corps where he served in Nairobi, Kenya and received on the job accountant training, and later trained through correspondence courses.
On returning to Uganda, he started work with Edward L. Bateman Limited, a South African Engineering firm, The consultants for Kilembe Mines Project as an accountant. He was posted to work in Johannesburg, South Africa, but returned to Uganda due to the extreme racial hatred he found himself subjected to.
He continued working with the same company on a project in Uganda, but soon landed on a job with Uganda Credit and Serving Bank, the first indigenous bank in Uganda and he rose through the ranks to be appointed a bank branch manager.
By this time, he had gained interest in politics and was elected Councilor to Acholi District Council. He later became a Member of Central Executive Committee of Democratic Party and eventually Secretary to Opposition in Parliament up to the time of the 1966 Uganda crisis.
During Idi Amin’s regime he joined the underground resistance and was involved in the war that saw the end of Idi Amin rule. He was appointed Pay Master General of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), but soon disagreed with the work methods being employed by the new lot in-charge.
He then served briefly as a District Commissioner for Gulu until the 1980 elections when he was again arrested by the Obote II government, released and went into exile in Niarobi, Kenya where he joined underground movement to topple Milton Obote II government.
In 1986 after the fall of Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa junta, he was appointed a Special District Administrator for Bundibugyo and then became the first Director of Information and Mass Mobilizations in the National Resistance Movement government of Yoweri Museveni in 1988 until he disagreed with the 1995 Constitution, for which he produced an alternative draft, parted with Museveni and his ruling regime.
He was invited by the SPLA leadership to join the Juba Peace Talks’ which were aimed at peacefully ending the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Of late he served as a member of the Acholi Advisory Panel of the Joint Acholi Sub-Region Leader’s Forum and generally lived a quite private life of meditation.
Who was Onyango Odongo?
To Onyango P’Odongo the ideologist, Uganda’s public life exists, and has existed on three battlegrounds: first there were the political struggles, and then there were the military contest that came out of the failure of politics. To these was added a third one: history of what you may know about those military and political battle will depend very much we are in today.
He participated with Oceng Daudi, the then Member of Parliament in Obote I government under Kabaka Yeka MP for Mitiyana, these political straggle events of 1966. Whatever may be thought, the fact is that this is the moment around which Uganda’s post-colonial story turns.
Some believe it was a simple misunderstanding that got out of hand, others believed it was a necessary and logical next step in a long-held plan to build a socialist revolution, and others think it was a power struggle amongst power-hungry political factions.
It is neither a settled matter, not even today nor over fifty years later.
Onyango argued our ongoing political crisis can be said to be first and foremost, a result of the failure of Uganda as country to agree on a common story of how we got to this point. If we cannot agree on our past, then it is highly unlikely as we see every day that we will ever be able to agree on our future.
Mr. Onyango Odongo (1917-2021) told a story that needed to be told. He has lived it, politically, militarily and intellectually. He took us safely from before then, up to here and now.