During the 21 years that Ochwo spent in the office of clerk to Parliament, he organised the swearing-in of six heads of state, from Idi Amin to President Yoweri Museveni.
In 1962, Ochwo was one of several Ugandan officers recruited to take over positions of administration from the British who were opening up space for the natives.
After three weeks of physical and mental drills in Kenya, similar to mchaka mchaka of today, Ochwo was posted to Bunyoro district as an assistant district commissioner. He was, however, later transferred to Busoga.
In 1693 Ochwo was posted to Mubende where he was designated the administrator in charge of the lost counties’ of Buyaga and Bugangaizi. These counties, originally part of Bunyoro, had been given to Buganda by the colonial government, a move that was strongly resisted by the mostly Banyoro residents who wanted them returned to Bunyoro Kingdom.
When some of the agitators were remanded, their supporters rioted, a move that prompted the Police to request Ochwo to calm down the angry crowds, which he did successfully, promising that a referendum on where to belong would soon be organised. The hitherto riotous crowd became wild with excitement and Ochwo became a hero.
“I was carried shoulder high back to my car,” he recalls. Two weeks later, he was promoted to the position of district commissioner and transferred to Bunyoro.
In 1966, he was transferred to Masaka to set up the first central government administration, after the Buganda crisis of 1966. Former President Milton Obote had just abolished kingdoms, disbanded Buganda’s semi-autonomous government and forced Kabaka Edward Mutesa II into exile.
“There was chaos all over Buganda as a result. People dug up holes in the middle of roads, bridges were demolished and public transport was paralysed,” recalls Ochwo.
Amid that chaos, his duty was to restore order and establish the central government’s authority in Masaka district, which then stretched from Ssese Islands to the border with Ankole.
“It was a daunting task, because I had to preach to people who had just undergone a nasty political experience, that violence was not in their best interest.”
Instead of force, Ochwo engaged dialogue with opinion leaders from the disbanded Buganda government. He visited some of the difficult areas such as Ssese Islands without Police or army escorts. This approach helped him overcome the suspicion and mistrust that existed against the Central Government.
In 1968, after a job well done in Masaka, Ochwo was promoted to the position of undersecretary and briefly posted to the ministries of agriculture and of regional cooperation.
Ochwo was then appointed Clerk to the National Assembly. The National Assembly had 82 elected and eight nominated Members of Parliament, which had only two women MPs; Florence Lubega and Rebecca Mulira.
His first challenge was when Idi Amin took over government in a coup. On that day, Amin had not shown up at the airport to see off the President who had travelled to Singapore to attend a Commonwealth conference. Instead, Amin showed up after the president’s departure, in a convoy of heavily armed military personnel.
He asked the ministers to get back into the VIP lounge while he sat on the President’s chair. The president-to-be then started narrating the story of his life to the ministers, but did not tell them he was taking over.
“There was tension in the VIP Lounge and the ministers never uttered a word. To me, that was the takeover of government,” Ochwo states.
Amin then left the VIP lounge and sped off in his jeep towards Kampala. Two days later, on January 25, the overthrow was made official.
Ochwo walked from his house on Lourdel Road to the parliamentary building with his identification card in his hands, just in case he was stopped, instead he received instructions to organise the swearing in ceremony for Amin at Kololo Airstrip.
“Two days after the ceremony, Amin summoned me to his office and he assured me that I was retaining my job.”
Whereas Ochwo’s job title did not change, there was no Parliament during Amin’s regime. Amin assigned him the duty of organising the Kampala International Conference Centre Complex, which became the centre of government activities. “I worked as the in charge of the Complex for eight years under Amin.”
One of his biggest assignments during that period was to plan for the Organisation of African Union (OAU) Summit in 1975.
“Amin called me and Paul Etyang who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and gave us directives. I remember the three of us moving from site to site to ensure everything was in order.”
Amin ordered them to introduce fruit markets on the Kampala-Entebbe road so that the delegates would see Uganda’s fresh foods. They even transplanted fully-grown fruit trees to the roadside to create an impression of a fruit-filled country.
In April 1979, when Tanzanian troops closed in on Kampala, Amin called Ochwo to his office together with the manager of Nile Hotel, Mbuga Kagwa. “He was dressed in military garb complete with decorations.
He told the two of us that he was going on a safari in Karamoja and that he would be back in a week’s time. So he shook our hands and jumped into his jeep followed by his convoy and headed eastwards. He never returned.”
After Amin’s departure, Ochwo retreated to his country residence in Kakiri near Kampala. A few days later, he saw two jeeps approaching. They parked before reaching his house. Two Tanzanian army commanders came out and walked toward him.
“One of the commanders asked me if I was Ochwo and when I confirmed, he saluted me! I wondered why I, a civil servant, was being saluted.”
The officers then asked Ochwo to accompany them to the Kampala International Conference Centre Complex, which had been the centre of government business.
“I was the first government official they were meeting and the first to receive them in the country. As we were still looking around, the Tanzanian soldier who saluted me in Kakiri said: ‘Now there is no president in Uganda. As of now, you are our president’. Then he continued: ‘Now sir, can you allow us to take positions?’ I was in total confusion.”
Ochwo then asked the commanders how long they would want him to act as president. “Three days or so”, the commander answered.
At the same time, the commander also requested him to prepare for the coming of Prof. Yusuf Lule, who would be the real president. Four days later, Prof. Yusuf Lule was sworn in at the steps of Parliament.
After Prof. Lule’s removal 68 days later, Ochwo again organised the swearing-in ceremony for Godfrey Binaisa. Soon, the new president was thrown out and replaced with Paul Muwanga, chairman of the National Consultative Council, the legislative body at the time.
Ochwo was asked to prepare an office for Muwanga even before Binaisa knew he would be kicked out.
Obote was overthrown on July 27, 1985, by the Military Junta led by Gen. Tito Okello. Parliament was dissolved and Ochwo was appointed secretary to the Cabinet.
This junta stayed in power for only six months before being overthrown by Museveni’s forces. Ochwo still recalls Okello’s last cabinet meeting one Wednesday morning, when the National Resistance Army fighters were already at the periphery of Kampala.
“The meeting ended prematurely and it was postponed to the next day. Okello urged all ministers to attend the following day’s meeting without fail. One minister whispered to me: “We may not be here”. As for me, I went on with my work as a civil servant”, says Ochwo.
The next day, at around 10:00am, Okello asked Ochwo whether the ministers were in the cabinet room. None was there. On the President’s instruction, Ochwo phoned the ministers, but none was willing to come for the meeting.
“I told Tito Okello how I had failed to convince them to come. He just murmured something and kept quiet. Two hours later, a number of military officers led by army commander Bazilio Okello walked into President Okello’s office, talked and walked out hurriedly. After an hour, Okello called me to his office and said “we cannot meet” and left.
“That evening, heavy gunfire rocked Kampala and its suburbs as Okello’s regime fell. Like in previous takeovers, a message was sent to me to make preparations for the swearing-in ceremony of the new president.”
The Chief Justice, Wako Wambuzi, administered the Oath of Allegiance. “I personally received the new President and I ushered him in his office. The Government was set up and it took two months for the National Resistance Council to commence. I continued to serve as Secretary to Cabinet until after three months when the President sent me back to the National Assembly.
Ochwo retired in 1989 and was replaced by Aeneus Tandekwire. Tandekwire remembers Ochwo as a quiet and careful man who avoided controversy.
“That is why he was able to survive during the chaotic days,” says Tandekwire, who worked under Ochwo from 1981 to 1985. Today, Ochwo lives a quiet life in Bbina, Kampala, with Christine, his wife, whom he married in 1963.
WHO IS EDWARD OCHWO?
Born on August 15, 1936, to Tefiro Oloo Alen and Ezereni Abbo in Lwala, Mulanda sub-county, Tororo district, Ochwo was breastfed by three different women. When he was one and a half years old, his mother died. His uncle’s wife and his step-mother’s sister offered to breastfeed him in turns.
Life became difficult when a year later, his father was conscripted into the army to fight during World War II. Food became a luxury. Often he walked through bushy village paths, his head barely visible above the tall grass to go to homes of relative’s to look for food.
This suffering paid dividend when in 1945, his father returned from the war and the colonial government announced scholarships for all veteran’s children.
In school, Ochwo excelled despite walking three miles daily to Mulanda Primary School. He passed external examinations for Primary Four and joined Rubongi Primary School near Tororo town.
After P6, he joined Nabumali Junior School and then Nabumali High School, where the teachers could not hide their liking for his character.
“The teachers wanted me to become a priest. They even drove to my father’s home to convince him, but I wanted to study law or public administration.”
From Nabumali High School, he joined Kyambogo School of Commerce, where he joined the Institute of Chartered Secretaries, which enabled him to get a public service job as administrative officer.