By Sam Akaki
Yesterday was National Heroes Day. In Apac sub country where I grew up in the 60s and 70s, those born after 1985 would be forgiven for thinking that their area has always been as peaceful as it is today, save for the occasional murders, mainly due to land dispute.
To the older generation, however, this Heroes Day brought back the sad memories of their loved ones, both soldiers who died in their uniform and civilians who were picked up from their homes or places of work, never to be seen again.
Sadly, their names did not feature in former President Milton list of heroes, who used to be celebrated on May 27, yet these people were also killed because of their actual or perceived support for the UPC.
It was, therefore, refreshing to see this statement, attributed to the Uganda Embassy in Washington, USA. “The Uganda National Heroes Day honours all those who sacrificed themselves to better the lives of the Ugandan people.
Unfortunately, the holiday is one of the most divisive days in the Ugandan year. What constitutes a hero, and who specifically should be honoured, are matters of debate in the country.
Many of the heroes officially recognised by the Government are fallen soldiers who died during Uganda's civil war in the 1980s.
But the scars of that war, and the memories of crimes committed by both sides against the Ugandan people, are still in evidence today.”
The scars of war are evident everywhere in Apac, not just in the form of skeletal-looking windows and orphans, but also the ceremonial empty graves, that clutter every parish.
The bones which should be in these graves are scattered on the hills, valleys and under the lakes and rivers in Uganda and Tanzania. Consider this short but not exhaustive list:
From Owang parish, Owal Awa, Okori Ogwan and his elder brother Wilson Ogwal Ogwang, a former Lango District Education Officer and later Sports Officer, were among the thousands of Acholi and Langi soldiers, who were murdered during or immediately after the 1971 coup.
From Ayumi village in Aminteng, Sergeant Adonyo, Ogwal Adoko and Adoko-Agwa also died during the 1971 coup. Private Owiny Opodo, from Akar, and Ojok-Otim, a Police Constable from Akere, were also murdered during the 1971 coup.
From Barodong, Atopi, Aplolo Aguru, a former Police Special Force officer and Ojok, a former Dar Es Salam University law student from Awir, died in Mutukula during the attempted invasion in 1972.
Others who perished in the same invasion were Odyiek, son Ogwok Ciriwano, and Ongia, son of Andria Owiny, both from Aminteng.
Christopher Okot-Etin, the first ever Makerere university graduate in Apac and former Uganda Commercial Bank Manager, was picked up from his house in Kampala in 1973 and was never seen again.
His grief-stricken young wife from Ankole committed suicide and her body was reported to have been buried in Apach town where her husband’s parents lived.
Albino Ogwal and Charles Ogwal, both pioneer businessmen in Apac trading centre, were picked up from their shops at the trading centre in 1977.
In the same year, Captain Henry Agec from Owang parish, who had been District Commissioner of Lango and later Moyo, was reportedly beheaded as he tried to flee into Sudan, and Opio Cheng-kuru from Atopi, who was an Accountant with Uganda Hotels Limited, was pulled from his house and murdered.
During the 1979 invasion from Tanzania, Ogwang Biturino and Ogwang Erifansio, both from Agulu parish, perished in Lake Victoria along with hundreds of other guerrillas when their ships capsised on their way to take Kampala. The two men had survived the 1972 attempted invasion.
Retired Sergeant, Abel Aguru, who had been trained as military communications officer in Britain, was killed by Amin’s fleeing troops in 1979.
Michael Otut-Owiny from Aminteng was another civilian who fled to join the guerrillas in Tanzania in 1971. He returned in 1979 with the other liberators and died at home a few years in 2003.
Nathan Engena, the son of Pilipo Obote from Atopi, a senior civil servant in the president Office, was murdered by Tito Okello’s solders as he tried to flee to Kenya in July 1985.
Major Ben Odiyek from Owang, a veteran of the Mutukula invasion and the 1979 war, fled to Ethiopia after the 1985 coup, and finally returned home to die in 2003.
Charles Olet, a businessman, was arrested and taken to Makindye slaughter house in 1977. He managed to escape to Tanzania and returned with other Liberators. He still lives in Apac.
Ogwali Etin and Okello-Ogwang were former senior six students, who abandoned their studies and fled to Tanzania 1976.
They took part in the 1979 war liberation. While Ogwali left the army as soon as Kampala fell, his colleague Okello-Ogwang became a Lieutenant in the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA).
He fled to Zambia with Milton Obote in 1985 but refused to come back with other former soldiers and civil servant when Museveni issued a general amnesty in 2005.
Michael Opio-Akaki from Aminteng, was another young man who joined the guerrillas in Tanzania in 1971. He survived the Mutukula invasion and came back, fighting with other Liberators in 1979. He may be dead or dying, his legs amputated because of diabetes.
John Adoko Acuda, now a pastor, was a Sergeant in the Uganda Army during the 1971 coup when Acholi and Langi solders were massacred wholesale. He retired from the army in 1975 and became a farmer.
But in 1979, he organised and commanded the local militia, which liberated Apac from Amin’s soldiers long before the liberators reached the north.
But you do not have to take up arms or be killed in the civil war to be a hero. The first ever businessmen in Apach Mzee Abenego Ogwang, Lamek Abongo and Alon Ojok as well as Erinayo Ogwang, the first person to be appointed to the greater Lango district council in 1955, and Robert Oboko, who coached Apac primary school football team to victory in the whole Lango district in 1958 are also heroes.
The issue of forgotten heroes is not unique to Apac. In Teso where I lived, worked and married in the late 70s, no one apart from their immediate families and friends remembers CC Ochen, the former Teso Cooperative Union chief, Captain Ousi, Captain Onyait, Lawyer Okurut and many others, who were dragged from their homes and murdered.
In Kitgum, Jennifer Nyeko has built a private monument by writing a book ‘The Silent Sunset’ in memory of her late father, Sirayo Nyeko, a former East African Legislative Assembly member.
As Milton Obote once said, we should forgive but not forget what has happened because it is a part of our history.
Therefore, Apac and other district authorities should erect monuments inscribed with the names of the local heroes along with the words, “We shall never betray your sacrifices with another civil war”.
The writer is a Ugandan based in London