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Fr. Okoth ousted Amin with the Bible

By Vision Reporter

Added 23rd June 2004 03:00 AM

THE events surrounding the Moshi Conference that culminated into the eventual fall of dictator Idi Amin Dada’s military regime in 1979 have been told over and over.

THE events surrounding the Moshi Conference that culminated into the eventual fall of dictator Idi Amin Dada’s military regime in 1979 have been told over and over.

By Fred Nangoli

THE events surrounding the Moshi Conference that culminated into the eventual fall of dictator Idi Amin Dada’s military regime in 1979 have been told over and over.

The power of the gun: Saba-Saba and the gun wielding troops that led the struggle have been held in high esteem but the man who provided spiritual confidence to the fighters has been long forgotten.

Very little is indeed known about Rev. Fr. Christopher Okoth, his role in the Moshi Conference, the UNLF liberation struggle and the 1980 general elections.

Fr. Okoth is currently living a quite life in the Northern Tanzanian town of Moshi, the same town where the fall of Amin was planned.
He is the parish priest of Korongoni Catholic Church in Moshi Diocese and this is his second posting to the same diocese having served in several other churches within the diocese ever since he was ordained priest in 1963. He was born in Kidera, Rubongi in Tororo district in 1930.

At 74, Okoth is the fifth in a family of nine and the only surviving member of the same family.
“All my brothers and sisters are dead. I am the only one living. I think I still have a big role to play in this world,” says the jovial but husky voiced priest in a phone interview from his Korongoni Parish in Tanzania.

The totally grey haired priest is a true apostle of Jesus, a man of the people and a God fearing person as portrayed by one of his long time friends.

Although he is silent on Uganda’s political scene, Fr. Okoth is a popular figure in Tororo, most especially at St. Theresa Church Achilet where he often takes time off from his pressing duties in Tanzania to celebrate Christmas and conduct mass to his tribesmen.
He recently celebrated his Ruby (40 years) anniversary in priesthood in his village church in Tororo.

“In Kidera, he is an icon, greatly loved for his simplicity,” says one of his friends.

When Idi Amin captured power in 1971, Fr. Okoth was two decades old in Moshi. Little did he even know that he would one time participate in a war and eventually in the politics of a country he had left years back?

With tyranny under Amin at its peak, characterised with open firing squads and all sorts of evil, several Ugandans found themselves in exile, many of them in Moshi where Fr. Okoth was stationed to receive them.
“They spoke all sorts of Ugandan languages. I enjoyed receiving them and interacting with them,” he recalls.

Plans to over throw Amin were in high gear in Moshi but no other Ugandan other than Fr. Okoth knew all the corners of this town.
“The other person living in my neighbourhood was President Yoweri Museveni. He was teaching at the Co-operative College which is to be declared Moshi University on July 1, 2004,” reveals the ageing priest.

When the Moshi Conference got under way, Fr. Okoth was appointed Chaplain to the Liberation Forces that later ousted Amin in 1979. He was also elected on the 30-member committee of the National Consultative Council (NCC), which had Prof. Edward Rugumayo as its chairman. NCC became the interim legislature on the fall of Amin.
As Chaplain, Okoth came along with the liberation forces till the fall of Kampala.

“I was the only one armed with a unique weapon, the Bible. The rest were armed with guns,” he says with laughter.

Shortly after the fall of Amin, Prof. Yusuf Lule was made president but was voted out after 68 days in office and Godfrey Binaisa was appointed the new president. Fr. Okoth was at the centre of it all.
“I was the one who counted the votes that ousted Lule. All the members present saw me as the only trustworthy person for the job,” he reveals.

Under Binaisa’s government, Fr. Okoth was appointed Minister of State for Internal Affairs.
In the run up to the 1980 general elections, Okoth actively participated in the elections as the Vice-Chairman of the Uganda Patroritic Movement (UPM) for Eastern Region.

Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) won the elections and some members of UPM waged a bush war against the new government.
Fr. Okoth, a strong supporter of UPM, was held and detained in Luzira Maximum Security Prison for nine months, as the bush war got under way.

“I was released by an order from President Julius Nyerere. It was delivered by the then Tanzanian ambassador to Uganda. On my release, I reported back to Moshi Diocese for work,” he explains. He has since chosen to live a quite life.
Hon. Omwony Ojok the Minister of State for Economic Monitoring (office of the president) who was part of the 30-member committee of NCC has memories of the ageing priest.

“It is long since I last saw him but I remember him more as a politician than a priest. He was a member of FRONASA and NCC,” he says.
Okoth went to Achilet Primary School in Tororo, Nyenga Seminary and Ggaba Seminary.

Prior to his ordination into priesthood in 1951, he got into problems with his leaders at Ggaba. But because of his quest for priesthood, Okoth set out to reach the Vatican to secure papal audience.

Travelling to Mombasa, he sadly missed the ship destined to Europe where he hopped to enter Rome.
“On my way to Uganda, I met a bishop in Nairobi, I told him of my ambitions. He told me that I could accomplish my studies in Moshi and be ordained without going to Rome,” he explains.

On March 17, 1951, Okoth arrived in Moshi and embarked on a task to learn the customs of the Chagga people before he would become a priest.

He was then enrolled into the Kiboshi Seminary in Moshi where he got papal approval and was ordained a priest in 1963.
He has served the same diocese since 1963 but occasionally travels to Tororo to celebrate Christmas and interact with his people.

Fr. Okoth ousted Amin with the Bible

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