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Farewell to a statesman who fought for unity

By Vision Reporter

Added 23rd December 2008 03:00 AM


By Titus Kakembo
To close associates, politicians, friends and relatives, it is no surprise that President Yoweri Museveni granted John Ateker Ejalu a state burial.


By Titus Kakembo
To close associates, politicians, friends and relatives, it is no surprise that President Yoweri Museveni granted John Ateker Ejalu a state burial.


By Titus Kakembo
To close associates, politicians, friends and relatives, it is no surprise that President Yoweri Museveni granted John Ateker Ejalu a state burial.

In his life he was a tough man who braved the roughest of post-independence political, economic and social hurdles in Uganda. After 69 years, he is now gone.

Ateker liked to introduce himself as a cotton merchant.

This is how he identified himself with the ordinary people.

One time I met him in what was the best bar, restaurant and discotheque in Eastern Uganda — Club 2000 on Jumabhai Road. By then as a freelance journalist based upcountry I was glorified, respected and feared in the locality but Ateker proved to me that I still had a long way to go.

“How old are you?” he asked while gazing me. “By my 18th birthday I was an editor of a student’s magazine in Ntare School,” he said.

This unsolicited information was delivered with his customary hesitant smile of satisfaction. I remembered how he described an Etop journalist, the late Fidel Omunyokol as a pedestrian scribe of no consequence in his trade.

During the interview, Ejalu continued to confess that in his youth he was infected by the journalism bug which made him quit his solicitor profession. Subsequently, the Indian High Commission organised a UNESCO scholarship for him to pursue a post-graduate diploma in journalism in India in 1971.

During mass at All Saints Cathedral in Kampla, his close associate, former minister Paul Etyang revealed that had Milton Obote followed Mzee Julius Nyerere’s advice, Uganda would have been a different country today.

“In an all-night meeting after toppling Idi Amin, Nyerere had asked Obote to politically retire and leave the country to be run by Yoweri Museveni and Ateker Ejalu.” Both asked factions opposed to Amin's regime. Later Ejalu worked as the Director for Information Services of the East Africa Community in Arusha. That is what prompted him to live in Tanzania until the East African Community crumbled in 1976. With a phobia for political opposition in Tanzania, President Idi Amin wanted him sacked, on the grounds of national sabotage.

In 1980, Ejalu worked as the managing director for Uganda Railways Corporation until 1985.

He swam against the tide and amassed more political capital. Never a man of mean achievements, according to history records of Uganda 30 years, the tall man from Teso was a mighty force to reckon. When President Yusuf Lule got a vote of no confidence on 19 and 20 June 1979 following a motion moved by Paul Wangoola, like Yoweri Museveni’s who had FRONASA, Ejalu had an organization called SUM (Save Uganda Movement.) And when President Godfrey Binaisa reshuffled his cabinet in 1979, Ejalu like other heavy weights comprising Chief of staff Oyite Ojok - declined to leave the country for foreign posting.

And in 1980 he contested for the Soroti County parliamentary seat against fire spitting Col. William Omaria (both in UPC.) The elections were carried out at Soroti Secondary School under the supervision of armed Special Force under the command of Col. Omaria. By 7:00pm before the results were announced Ejalu was arrested. With deafening sirens and emergency lights blipping he was ferried to Kampala under heavily armed Police force guard. Omaria was announced the winner but this never switched off Ejalu’s smile.

Still a political treasure, he served as a minister of information under the Uganda National Liberation Front government. And by 1986 Ejalu proved he was not yet politically a spent force. He resurfaced as minister of state for special duties. Not until 2001 when he last participated in active competitive politics, contesting for parliamentary seat of Soroti County, which he lost. And given his journalistic background Ejalu served as New Vision Printing and Publishing Corporation board chairman from 1998-2002.

Now gone, Ejalu is survived by his children brought up on the lap of luxury. They are Sheila, Amelo, Okirim, Areu, Kwame and Emmanuel. Their London-based mother, Janet, spent his last 30 days in life by his side in hospital where he was being treated for meningitis.

According to his son Kwame, their dad was on November 14, transferred from his home village in Soroti County to International Hospital-Kampala. Four days later, he was referred to the Nairobi Hospital where he died on December 19, 2008.

By the time of his death Ejalu served as chairman of Liberty Insurance Brokers, a consultancy firm that recently merged with a brokerage company from South Africa whose name he adopted; Alexander Forbs Uganda .

Ateker was a true brother to all

By Stephen Ssenkaaba
THERE was a tendency for many people to look up to him. That was because Ateker Ejalu was a very tall man. But what he was physically, this gallant son of Teso also was in many other areas of his life. As a loving and supportive family man, his wife and children looked up to his paternal providence and care.

“We are proud and feel blessed to be his children. He helped to identify our talents and enabled us to realise our potential. He educated us and taught us to respect people of all walks of life” John Ejalu, one of the deceased’s children said on behalf of the children during the funeral service at All Saints Cathedral Monday. He told mourners that before breathing his last, Ejalu said a prayer for his children.

As a politician and statesman, many people looked up to his calm and wise counsel.

“During the hard times of Amin’s regime, when we had all lost hope even as little children, our parents told us, not to worry because, Ateker Ejalu was on his way,” Hon Amuriat Oboi Patrick, the chairperson of the Teso Parliamentary Group said.

But his love and statesmanship transcended tribal boundaries. Paul Etyang, former minister and close friend of Ejalu for the last 43 years said the deceased had a true spirit of “Ateker” (Ateso for brotherhood). “He not only believed in the spirit of brotherhood but also practiced it,” he said.

Etyang said that Ejalu related to all people regardless of their denomination, tribe or beliefs.

He said Ejalu was a pan Africanist who cut his political teeth during his student days in London where he actively participated in politics to liberate Africa.

He was, according to Etyang among the African students invited on a state visit to Ghana by Kwame Nkrumah, one of Africa’s most reknown Pan-Africanist.

Despite being a subject of political persecution, Ejalu continued to work for truth and justice in the country. He loved the media so much that he gave up his own self for its success. Ejalu, Robert Kabushenga, the New Vision Managing Director said, was the face of the satirical comical strip many people came to know as “Ekanya”. It was created by the late Tumusiime Rushedge (Tom Rush)

Ejalu was born June 15, 1939 to a Kumam father and an Itesot Mother. He was baptized into the Catholic Church as Johnson Ejalu but later joined the Anglican Church where he was rebaptised John.

He attended Ntare School, Dar-es Salaam University and later went for further studies in London.

During his lifetime, Ejalu served in many different positions. He started out as president of the Council of African Organsations in the United Kingdom, an umbrella organization for students and liberation movements there. He later chaired the ational Electoral Commission. He was a member of Makerere University Council and the University of Nairobi. He was also a member of the International Public Relations Association. As a leader of the Teso peace mission, he worked tirelessly for the pacification of the troubled North Eastern region.

He also spearheaded the negotiations for the return of dissident Ugandan exiles. He also served as a patron of the Uganda Journalists Association and headed the National Institute of the Journalists of Uganda. He was Editor in Chief of “the People”, a national newspaper in the 60s and the 70s and the “Uganda Argus”, the leading English daily in the 70s.

He was minister of Information as and later Regional Cooperation between 1979-80. He served as minister in the President’s office and labour under President Museveni’s regime. He was also an NRC member for Soroti County in the Constituent Assembly

He was a businessman and above all a good family man with a wife, children and grandchildren.

Many people easily identified Ejalu for his towering figure; he truly towered above many in his service to this nation.

Farewell to a statesman who fought for unity

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