Today, JOSHUA KATO brings you the life and times of Brigadier Shaban Opolot, Uganda’s first army commander, advocate for the rule of law and multi linguist.
To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and pro ling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, JOSHUA KATO brings you the life and times of Brigadier Shaban Opolot, Uganda’s rst army commander, advocate for the rule of law and multi linguist.
Brigadier Shaban Opolot, the first Army Commander of the Uganda Army seemed to have been destined for bigger tides, had it not been for the turbulent and confused political situation that characterised the country soon after independence. And when he tried to fi t in this turbulence and chaos, he ended up in prison-for being a professional soldier.
Brig. Opolot was born in Namusi Nakaloke. However, with the experience of traversing the country, he could speak a number of languages among them, Luganda. This is why perhaps in his final years as army commander he endeared himself to the Buganda establishment. He joined the army in 1945 under the Kings African Rifl es outfit in Mbale from where he was posted to Jinja for training at the Infantry Training Centre.
Upon completion of the training, Opolot was posted to the 7th Battalion in Nairobi from where his group was sent to Mauritius. At the time, among the other notable young soldiers in the Kings African Rifl es included Idi Amin, Pierino Okoya and Tito Okello. Both Amin and Tito Okello went on to become leaders of this country. They all rose also to become either army commander or chiefs of staff of the Uganda Army.
In 1949, Opolot became a Warrant Officer at the Regimental Sergeant Major and was later taken to England for special training in 1952. By 1957, Opolot was admitted in the 4th Battalion under the Uganda Army and promoted to the level of Affendi II. In 1958, he became a commissioned offi cer at the level of 2nd Lt becoming the 1st black man to attain that level.
In 1959 he was promoted to the rank of Captain and was assigned with the responsibilities of heading the 4th Battalion. Opolot was appointed army commander of the Uganda army in 1964 when the armed forces of Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda demonstrated against the rule of white commanders.
“He was the obvious choice after the mutiny. Col. Idi Amin was named his deputy,” remembers Samuel Aduny, a former Uganda National Liberation Army soldier. By the time Sir Edward Muteesa II was appointed President of Uganda in 1963, Opolot was the leading black soldier in the army. The two developed a professional, respectful and cordial relationship, it is not surprising that late last year, Brig. Opolot was awarded the Ekitibwa Kyamafumu award by the Buganda government.
In his book, Desecration of my Kingdom, Sir Edward Mutesa described Opolot as a ‘very professional soldier,’ who refused to be swayed by Milton Obote’s demands to go against the President. Opolot strongly opposed then Prime Minister Milton Obote when he tried to use the army to change the Constitution of Uganda. This annoyed Obote who listed him among his enemies and later sent him to Luzira prison where he spent 5 years. Opolot was later released by Idi Amin. From 1973 to 1975, he was Uganda’s High Commissioner to Ghana. When he returned, he decided to live a quiet life in Eastern Uganda.
His professionalism has got him praise from offi cers who served with him. Brig. Zed Maruru, another junior colleague from the 1960s, described Opolot as a “brilliant offi cer of his time”, adding: “He was upright, honest and hardworking. He was very decisive.” “The Kingdom will always remember and honor him for his services because most people believe Uganda would have been different if the army had remained in Shaban Opolot’s custody,” a statement from the Buganda establishment read soon after the late Brigadier’s wife received the award from Buganda. Opolot died on March 6, 2005 from prostate cancer. He was aged 86 years.
Shaban Opolot rejected plans to attack the Lubiri in 1966