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THE JACOB OULANYAH I KNEW

Oulanyah genuinely loved his leader Gen YK Museveni with all his heart.

By John V Sserwaniko

During his Monday stay at the home of fallen Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, political analyst Andrew Mwenda said many great things about the deceased including the fact that he was naturally a generous person. Oulanyah, the way I knew him, wasn’t materially a very wealthy person but he always shared the little he had. During the years I closely related with him as a Red Pepper political journalist (mostly between 2011 and around 2019), Oulanyah always generously shared with me the little money he had and more importantly the ideas on how to get better as a person. It, for instance, was at the instigation of friends like him that I enrolled at the Makerere Faculty of Law for my LLB.

He was supportive and always rang to ask “John how far have you gone with that course?” Quite often he sent me some money via mobile money (unasked) saying “that pocket money can help you with photocopying some of your reading materials.” Two days to big days like Christmas or even Easter, Oulanyah would (without being asked send some 200k) which he would accompany with a phone call or text message saying “please make use of that little chicken with your family.” He would explain “I imagined you may not be near to come up to Majid Musisi [the Muyenga Close where his residence is located] and opted to use mobile money.” He was always punctual and kept his word. Would equally be disappointed with people who don’t keep time. He would confront you right there saying in your face “why do you not keep time?” Sometimes he would refuse to see you asserting “I waited for you at the appointed time please come next time.” I will ring and give you a new appointment, he would say asserting it was now time for someone else.

He was a big man but who was never ashamed of his lowly friends the very reason he would stop over to say “hi” in case he saw you from a crowd as he exited public functions where he would have presided over. Oulanyah was also a super intellectual who despised mediocrity and floppy way of doing things. He believed in efficiency and always appreciated if he gave you an assignment and you delivered it efficiently. He was also emotionally not very strong the very reason he would often break down crying-and wasn’t good at controlling his emotions (also often said sorry in case it turned out he was wrong). He famously cried while presiding over a Parliamentary session in September 2013 on the day the hitherto suspended MPs (Semujju Nganda, Odonga Otto and others) were allowed back to plenary. He had expelled them for riotous conduct inside the chambers on the day MPs voted on the Public Order Management Act.

It had been demanded that afternoon that Semujju Nganda apologizes but the Kira Municipality MP declined saying he was ready to be suspended afresh. Oulanyah, who was in the chair, instead offered to apologize while saying he had realized the chaos would have been avoided if (as a presiding officer that afternoon) he had done a better job. As he explained his apology and remorse, Oulanyah broke down wailing on the microphone. Following the fracas, Oulanyah told me, he was determined to reach out and mend fences with Nganda-and he indeed did. He also didn’t believe in having any secrets being a public figure. His view was media was free to subject any public official to whatever scrutiny. As such he never took offence with journalists who wrote bad things about him even when he would initially be hurt. He sought them out for engagement and de-escalation. Even when he was a lawyer who, as speaker, endured some of the worst publicity and harsh scrutiny, Oulanyah never dragged any scribe or media house to court. Ironically, he was equally thin-skinned implying he was sensitive and feared bad publicity.

He was not an Amama Mbabazi who can withstand all manner of publicity. He one time told me “John a leader must be sensitive to bad publicity. It can’t be something you can take lightly and ignore.” And as such he encouraged being linked up to as many active journalists as possible. “Why can’t you bring him for me and we talk so that I give him my version?” He would always say regarding scribes who continued going after him personally.

A consensus builder, who believed in compromises to ensure win-win situation, the fallen Speaker was also objective and never the ruling party sycophant many people thought he was. During one of our evening interactions (around 2014) in his Muyenga compound, I asked him who he considered to be the best legislators basing on his observation as Deputy Speaker. He enumerated these to include Muwanga Kivumbi and Medard Segona who he said were eloquent and always made research-based submissions on the floor rather than merely seeking to capture media attention. You can’t believe the negative comments he shared about some of the NRM legislators who I considered excellent. Ofcourse besides Segona and Kivumbi, he named several others as good. On another occasion I asked him if he minded me confiding in the duo how highly he regarded them. “I don’t mind at all because I would repeat the same even if required to in a public forum,” he said.

Oulanyah was also a free spirit who liked to go shopping at nearby super markets and grocery shops. “We have a meeting John. Make sure you keep time. What do you like to have today because I’m going out to do some shopping?” Being one who doesn’t easily eat or drink in people’s homes, I would promise to do with whatever was available. Oulanyah, who always protested showing his resentment if someone didn’t keep time, also liked watching TV-news and documentaries. A polite host, he would ask before changing the remote if his guests were okay with him changing the channel. I also vividly remember his loud laugher (nearly sarcastic). He was an excellent story teller, witty and spiced his stories with jokes. He also spoke with extreme clarity; it was hard not to understand what he was putting across no matter how complex the subject was. Occasionally he prompted me on which books to read including one titled “Spies in the Congo” which he guided I had to get through Amazon. Oulanyah was also a very good listener and liked showing respect for those he consulted by altering or adjusting his original views once confronted with facts he originally didn’t have.

There are people he demonstrably loved, fancied and respected in life including his boss Gen YK Museveni, Norbert Mao and CJ Alfonse Owinyi Dollo. Even when he admitted he wasn’t an angel, I never heard Oulanyah say anything discomforting or bad about Gen Museveni (even in privacy). He praised and defended his record in privacy just like he did in public. This consistency he shared with the likes of Ambassador Rebecca Otengo, ex-Minister Daudi Migereko, Moses Byaruhanga, Minister Evelyn Anite, Minister Sam Mayanja, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng and a few others who, like him, never disparage Mzee even in the comfort of their homes. Despite all this loyalty, Oulanyah (naturally a restrained person) never sought to leverage on his closeness to Gen Museveni (who always called him late in the night) to seek help out of his financial and material problems. He one time told me about a bank loan relating to a mortgage he had taken out many years ago to acquire and develop his Muyenga property. “I have been repaying over the years but the thing isn’t shifting. I don’t see it reducing. Just pray for me to ever finish it one day.” I asked him: “Eeh but you are always having audience with the boss. Why don’t you share with him and he helps out the way he bails out other party and government leaders?” Oulanyah said “John there is no way I can do that. My relationship with the President is purely work-related and there is no way I can bring in such things. I can’t even imagine how to start presenting to him that sort of thing. Maybe I’m shy or something but there is no way I can do that. I imagine he won’t even take me seriously.” H.E. the President would often ring him towards mid night to catch up on official and unofficial stuff around Parliament which is one institution the man from Rwakitura never takes for granted.

Jacob Oulanyah always cracked lots of jokes in his public speeches & always left his audiences in rib-cracking laughter.

Oulanyah believed in setting standards and I got to understand there are many things he got involved into simply because he wanted to show the rest how it is done. I one time asked him what his expectations were in 2001 when he vigorously stepped forward to serve as the campaign manager for Presidential candidate Aggrey Awori. He told me many things asserting he wasn’t remorseful at all because the campaign trail gave him an opportunity to participate in what he maintained was one of the most issue-based challenge to Gen Museveni’s presidency. “Ooh man we researched and we put up some of the best issues regardless of how it ended and how voters perceived my candidate.” He told me a lot of effort and thinking went into the Aggrey Awori campaign messaging “and our overall objective was to set a standard on which future Museveni challengers would be measured.”

But Oulanyah also resented Dr. KB who he and other Awori campaigners targeted during that campaign more than even Gen Museveni. He was concerned KB became a new standard on which opposition politics was being measured to the extent the sacrifices people like him (rejecting Museveni as early as 1986) had made. Just like we sometimes see today among NUP supporters, whoever didn’t bow to Dr. KB was branded a mole working for Museveni, something Oulanyah resented. He saw it as being ungrateful for the sacrifices he and others had made before the advent of KB. It’s also true that in 2001, he only managed to become Omollo County MP after overcoming the very eloquent James Opoka who was Dr. KB’s personal assistant. In 2006 he was to be floored by Simon Toolit who rode on the Besigye key wave. Oulanyah also fell out with many UPC elders like Yona Kanyomozi or even Cecilia Ogwal simply because they kept insisting the party must throw its weight behind Besigye who the fallen Speaker mistrusted for many years.

The striking resemblance between Oulanyah and Minister Evelyn Anite’s husband (Allan Kajik) always left many wondering how the two are related. It’s something Oulanyah repeatedly made reference to in his speech during Kajik’s master’s degree graduation party that was held at Mestil Hotel Nsambya on 10th December 2019.

Norbert Mao is another person Oulanyah greatly liked and held in high regard apart from Gen Museveni. He always exhibited plenty of kindness for the DP President who he always worked towards converting into warmer relations with NRM and Museveni’s State House. For instance in the mid-2010s, when Mao became grievously ill, it’s Oulanyah who reached out to the military leadership of UPDF and secured the chopper which flew him to Nairobi Kenya. Mao, who had said he would rather die than seek help from NRM, just saw Oulanyah showing up with the chopper demanding that he jumps into it so that his life would be saved. Even the military authorities who allocated the chopper didn’t initially know Oulanyah was soliciting it for purposes of saving Mao. He one evening told me immediately after receiving a Mao-related phone call that “John we need to help Norbert. He is undergoing hardship.” He told me he and other leaders were working out something towards Mao’s financial rehabilitation which was being complicated by the former Gulu Municipality MP’s unhelpful rigidity.

The idea was to prevail on Gen Museveni to allow creating a 2nd Deputy Speaker office which would be ring-fenced for the opposition. Oulanyah’s view as of that time (mid-2010s) was that Mao, being a liberal-minded politician, would secure the backing of both NRM and opposition MPs and become the pioneer occupant of that office. “He is still very useful as you know and this is something that would enable him access official finances while contributing to nation-building as well.” Oulanyah also seemed to be tormented by the fact that he continued being misunderstood by a lot of people (within his NRM party and outside of it) yet he always meant well-wishing God’s grace to be upon whoever he came across.

He was selfless and his understanding of public office was service and never an opportunity for self-aggrandizement. He always desired positions of influence in his NRM party and Parliament-and to him the idea was to serve humanity while setting standards on which future successors would be measured. For the CEC position, he seemed convinced that Gen Museveni was still a good leader who only needed to have a great vibrant team of deputies to convert NRM into a model 21st century party that many members desired to see. He never believed talk that Gen Museveni doesn’t believe in a strengthened NRM party and that he was always working against that happening. Oulanyah believed that more effective regional deputies or vice chairpersons would complement Gen Museveni to lead better. That’s why he wanted to get into CEC and impact decision-making at that level (this he explained to me many times). You never know he could have just been naïve about the NRM chaos and would subsequently realize it was deliberate. Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to stay long enough in CEC to (through experience) come to that conclusion.

Oulanyah also was a debater who liked intellectual discourse-and also prided himself in being a gifted public speaker. He one time told me about the very eloquent speech he made when he appeared before a committee investigating strikes and murder of students at Makerere freedom square (in the early 1990s) as they protested against the scrapping of government sponsorship. He appeared and addressed the committee in two capacities-as Guild Speaker and as one of the victims having been fatally wounded that day. He had to be admitted at Mulago Hospital for 6 months and underwent multiple surgery to restore his umbrical code area which was shot. Each time we discussed those disputing his contribution towards making Uganda a better-governed country, Oulanyah would display the huge scars on his tummy. These were inflicted in the early 1990s during riots at the Makerere Freedom Square as students protested scrapping of government sponsorship.

Government instituted a commission of inquiry into that violence and the eloquent submissions student leaders like Oulanyah gave resulted into the then IGP getting fired from his job. The fallen Speaker told me one time that the Mzungu who was chairing the inquiry, reflecting on the eloquent submission he made, wondered why he wasn’t studying law already. That is how Oulanyah made up his mind to enroll for the law degree at Makerere and was sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank after he excelled in his first degree (in rural economics) at Makerere’s Faculty of Agriculture. I always asked Oulanyah what he considered to be his best public speech ever and why-and he would loudly laugh saying “I need to consult with Norbert first about that” Over time I realized he always asked Mao to rate his public speeches delivered at the different events and vice-versa. Oulanyah told me that much as most of his eloquent speech came off effortlessly, he was always mindful of how such speech impacted the audience. Oulanyah also demonstrably loved his children and always spoke well about his immediate and extended family.

Norbert Mao was, without a doubt, one of the people Jacob L’okiri Oulanyah loved or liked with all his heart.

He also believed in securing his home surrounding which is why he enthusiastically brought the idea wholeheartedly one evening when I suggested to him he needed to leverage on technology more by having things like motion sensors, CCTV camera and the like installed at home for his personal and property security. He asked if I knew an efficient service provider and I subsequently brought for him guys (old friends) representing a South Africa-based IT security company. We had several meetings at his office where he asked many clarificational questions and demanded for some literature to read more about the products and the supporting technology. “John I have consulted around and schooled myself about these products and I’m taking up. I like the technology. Please, let your friends get in touch and we arrange for the survey at home so that we get the quotation to know how much it will cost,” said Oulanyah who, among other things, was fascinated about being able to electronically monitor the goings on at his Muyenga home even when he would be away.

I don’t quite recall what came up and the Deputy Speaker (as he was then) was no longer frequently reachable. Nevertheless, we remained in touch talking occasionally via the phone. We also could stumble on each other at public functions he would be invited to preside over as a big man (someone times he would prompt you to come over and write some good story if he anticipated a great event). He would drag you to his side as he exited such public functions and say “John I still remember our issue regarding the other technology. I will get in touch when I’m ready. Let me organize my logistics first and take it up.” (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us atmulengera2040@gmail.com).

Oulanyah at the December 2019 graduation party for Minister Evelyne Anite’s husband Allan Kajik that was hosted at Nsambya-based Mestil hotel.

Oulanyah’s oldest son Andrew Ojok.

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