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Thursday,August 06,2020 00:30 AM

Ugandan returns after 47 years

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd December 2009 03:00 AM

He left Uganda in June 1962, walked to Khartoum before going on to Cairo for a scholarship from the Pan-African Movement.

He left Uganda in June 1962, walked to Khartoum before going on to Cairo for a scholarship from the Pan-African Movement.

By Lydia Namubiru

He left Uganda in June 1962, walked to Khartoum before going on to Cairo for a scholarship from the Pan-African Movement.

By the time he got to Egypt, Uganda was an independent nation and he was no longer eligible for the scholarships that were meant for people under colonial rule.

Paul Okello Oleng consequently went on to Greece for his university education but could not return because of the political turmoil that ensued in the subsequent decades.

Last Thursday for the first time in nearly half a century, he returned home.

“I was so happy that God had finally allowed me to return to my country,” he said.

Okello, who made a small fortune out of selling malwa (millet brew) in Kampala before he left, has returned to a city where malwa is ridiculed and only consumed by poor people in the slums.

The Indian shops opposite the railway station that he remembers are still there but the railway station is as dead as a door-knell and it is not Indians running the little shops today.

Grindlay’s Bank, where he deposited his money before going to Europe, is no more. In its place is a branch of Stanbic bank. “My money disappeared with that bank,” he says with a chuckle.

But he says he can still find his way around Kampala. “Kampala Road and Jinja road were there even then and the old buildings are still there. They are only crowded with more buildings in between but I could still find my way,” he says.

Okello, who studied at St. Mary’s College Kisubi, first worked with a motor spare-parts selling outlet on 7th street in Industrial area.

After six months of working with Gilleon and Roberts, he had collected enough money to start his own business in 1959. His business of choice was selling malwa.

“At that time malwa was very famous in Kisenyi and I was responsible for spreading it all over Kampala. I opened up a malwa outlet in Nateete, Makerere Kivulu and even on Jinja road,” he recalls.

So brisk was the malwa business that it propelled Okello to some form of royalty. “We sold malwa all day and sometimes up to midnight. It was the only drink people around here had. We made a lot of money. Whenever I walked into the bank to deposit my money, they would refer to me as Mulangira (prince),” he says.

In 1962, he decided to further his studies through the Pan-African Movement, led by then Ghana’s leader Kwame Nkrumah.

The movement had offices in Cairo and sent African young men to universities abroad as a way of empowering colonised nations to fight for their independence.

First he had to deposit 4,000 pounds with the bank as security required by the colonial government to get a visa to Europe. “In case you got stranded there, that money would be used to bring you back,” he explains.

With his visa and a good sum of money left over from his business profits, he set off for Sudan on foot with other young men who had the same ambitions.

In Khartoum, Okello and his colleagues were transported by train to Cairo but by the time they got there, Uganda had gained its independence.

“Those who had no other means came back but I decided to go on to Europe,” he narrates.

He took a ship to Greece where he enrolled in a university. By the time he finished university in 1971, Idi Amin was president and he considered it too dangerous to return.

He attempted to come back once in 1977 to find a wife from his tribe. He flew to Khartoum and took the train to Juba. There he met friends who recommended a young woman who was working in Juba as a nurse. Their courtship lasted for two months.

However, they could not continue south to meet his parents. “It was possible for women to cross the border into Uganda but not men. I gave her a letter to take to my parents,” Okello remembers.

That is how the introductions were made. The lady met Okello’s parents, went with them to meet her own parents and a traditional marriage was entered in Okello’s absence.

She returned to Juba as his wife and they went on to live in Germany where they have raised seven children. “It was a quick business but she has been a wonderful wife and a good mother.”

In Germany, Okello first worked in the government’s legal department before setting up one of the biggest stores for African foods and handicrafts in Munich.

Now, Okello says, he has returned home to join hands with other Ugandans in building the nation.

“I want Ugandans to know that a lost son has come back. Like Tom Mboya says, you are a visitor for two days but on the third day, you should be given a hoe. Even if it means digging, I will take a hoe and dig.”

Ugandan returns after 47 years

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