By George Piwang -Jalobo
In 1980, 15-year old Jacob Oulanyah was my Senior One (S.1) Math student in St Joseph’s College, Layibi, Gulu. I was a 24-year old Grade V teacher of Math and Physics who had just graduated the year before, 1979, from National Teachers’ College (NTC), Kyambogo.
Layibi College was my first school posting soon after the 1979 Liberation war that overthrew Idi Amin’s regime on the 11th April 1979. The relief, joy and liberation were palpable all over Acholi and Lango sub-regions. The two regions had borne a disproportionate brunt of Idi Amin’s regime massacres and oppression.
St Joseph’s College, Layibi, however, had been an oasis of plenty in the midst of the 1970s scarcity. This was largely due to Layibi College’s headmaster, Father Cona (RIP) of the Verona Fathers Mission, which also ran a well-stocked “Procure” warehouse located next Layibi College. Therefore, well-fed Layibi College students with sufficient scholastic materials and well-looked after teachers; excelled in both “O” and “A” levels examinations in the 1970s.
Jacob Oulanyah joined S1 in Layibi College of 1980 that was a happy, optimistic and well- resourced school and academic environment. It is therefore not surprising that most of my S1 Math 1980 class excelled, three (3) of whom—to mention but a few—became global stars, namely: Rt. Hon Jacob L Oulanyah (RIP); Dr Jimmy Lamo of NARO and Dr Walter Ochan, a successful medical doctor practicing in South Africa.
I also taught the Senior three (S3) Math in Layibi College of 1980 that had very brilliant students. Three (3) of them—to mention but a few–went on to attain PhDs in Math related disciplines: Dr John Okidi, former Executive Director, Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC), Makerere University; Eng. Dr Christopher Ebal, Estates Manager, Commercial Court Division and former Board Chairperson, NWSC; and Dr Milton Achaye, who was Lecturer in Economics, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, last time we were in touch.
On transfer to Gulu High School, a co-ed (mixed) school, 1981-1983, I also taught Math and Physics in S1 and S3. One particular humorous experience occurred while I taught ‘Mechanics’ to the S.3 Physics class. One student (male) sitting at the back of the Physics lab turned to his neighbor and “whispered” audibly in the Luo mother-tongue: Eeee, Jal! Fijik odoko Mat Mat don’g twere ku!(Fella! Physics has become Math, Math; it is now unmanageable!) Of course, the whole Physics class roared with laughter!
It was not until the mid-1990s that I would again run into Jacob Oulanyah in Kampala City. I had left Uganda in 1989 for further studies in the USA and returned in October 1996. This was via one academic year, 1995/1996, as Duke University (Durham, NC USA) pre-PhD dissertation research recognized student at the Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford, UK.
I had gone to consult my friend, lawyer Charles Owor (RIP), at his then law firm in Uganda House wing on Nkrumah Road. Only to find it was the law firm of three idealistic young Acholi lawyers: Charles Owor, Jacob Oulanyah and Nobert Mao. ALL were passionate for justice—especially for Northern Uganda!
We may recall that Charles Owor was Commissioner in the Stephen Akabway-chaired Electoral Commission that supervised the 1996 Presidential Elections. Norbert Mao has risen to become DP President General and Jacob Oulanyah, rose to become Speaker of the 11th Parliament, 2021-2022. What a trajectory of the three idealistic young Acholi lawyers I encountered in the mid-1990s!
The next encounter with Jacob Oulanyah came in 2002/2003 when he was first term MP, Omoro County. By then I was a Lecturer in Peace Studies and Founder Director, Center for Conflict Management and Peace Studies, Gulu University. A group of Acholi MPs including Hon Oulanyah, Hon Hilary Onek and Hon Zachary Olum addressed a Town Hall in St Monica’s Vocational Center, Gulu. I attended and sat at the back of the hall. Hon Jacob Oulanyah noticed me, pointed at me and said loud and clear for the hall audience to hear: “You see that man sitting over there? That was my teacher in Layibi College. I loved the way he spoke English and since then I have wanted to speak like him!”
From then on, I became Lapwony (Teacher) whenever we met or spoke on the phone, and he became Latin kwan, meaning “student”. But the literal translation of Latin kwan is “Child-reader” with “teacher-student” power hierarchy connotations. It was in 2018 when Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon Jacob Oulanyah, flipped this “teacher-student” power hierarchy on me with his characteristic mischievous humor as further below.
Rt. Hon Jacob Oulanyah was as passionate for justice for the down-trodden and voiceless as he was intellectually reflexive. One particular religious encounter genuinely baffled him during the Juba Peace Talks. This was the fervency and seriousness with which Joseph Kony LRA rebels’ prayed to “God”. He later remarked to me: “Lapwony, those guys prayed so fervently and seriously that I felt ashamed of my own shallow prayers.”
I encouraged him not to feel ashamed of his prayers because most Acholi Christian leaders: Anglican, Catholic or Pentecostal; did not have the courage to confront Joseph Kony and rebuke him about his LRA ‘holy spirit’ that sanctioned violence and death against the same Acholi people he purported to liberate. According to my research on Anglican mission theology in Acholi/Northern Uganda, the first Anglican missionaries misnamed God as “Lubanga”, from “jok lubanga”, the much feared pre-Christian deity. The Acholi believed jok lubanga afflicted people with “twoo lubanga” —tuberculosis (TB) of the spine that curved its victim’s back into a hunchback. Its exorcism by the traditional diviners was so violent that its victims often died in the process.
The Christian God misnamed as “Lubanga” was a result of the early Anglican missionaries’ search for which Being or Deity the pre-Christian Acholi/Central Luo called God, Supreme Being and Creator. This was premised on the Anglican Missionaries’ own Western/European metaphysics. But thepre-ChristianAcholi/Central Luo had neither the concept of God as Supreme Being, nor God as the Creator. The closest concept of creator (lacwe agulu) was the potter who “molded” clay into a pot. So when the early Anglican missionaries asked the first Acholi/Central Luo “Who created (molded) you/human beings”? All the Acholi hearers had experienced was “jok lubanga” that molded (curved) its victims with a hunchback.
And so the Anglican missionary Christian God, Supreme Being and Creator became “(jok) Lubanga”. One can only imagine the confusion in the minds of the early Acholi hearers of the Missionary Christian gospel/ “good news” that “jok Lubanga” so “loved the Acholi” that he, “jok Lubanga”, sent Jesus Christ—“jok Lubanga’s” only “begotten Son” –to save Acholi from their sins! Such a fundamental confusion of the misnamed Christian God was a major contributor to the poor impact of early missionary Christianity in Acholiland. Prof Okot p’Bitek was the first African scholar critic of this “Western European missionary religious imperialism”. He wished instead that the Anglican missionaries had preached Jesus Christ who cast out evil spirits (cen). Then the Acholi would have accepted him in their droves because they dealt with evil spirits (cen) in their everyday religious life.
Okot p’Bitek first penned his criticism in the article published in the Uganda Journal way back in 1952. Bishop Keith Russel, the first CMS/Anglican Missionary Bishop of Northern Uganda Diocese (1960-1964), agreed with Okot p’Bitek. Bishop Russel attempted to respond in his book, Men Without God? The impact of Christianity in the north of Uganda (1966).
Hence, I encouraged Hon Jacob Oulanyah that Alice Lakwena and Joseph Kony LRA ‘holy spirit’ was probably a reification of “jok lubanga” that sanctioned violence and death against the very Acholi it purported to liberate. Sadly, most Acholi Christian leaders did not rebuke Joseph Kony LRA’s ‘holy spirit’, probably because they did not possess the requisite spiritual and theological courage given their missionary training/education background. They, too, were probably also as baffled by the “fervent and serious prayers” of Joseph Kony LRA rebels’ prayers as Hon Jacob Oulanyah had been baffled.
Fortunately, there was at least one Acholi Christian leader who reportedly rebuked Joseph Kony. Late Evangelist Yusto Otunnu, father of Ambassador Olara Otunnu, told off Joseph Kony that his LRA “holy spirit” came from Satan–the Devil. That his ‘holy spirit’ was meant to finish off the Acholi. Evangelist Yusto Otuunu had recorded a cassette tape which he had delivered to Joseph Kony who listened to it in entirety and was really shaken up. He immediately called all his LRA rebel soldiers for a parade and reportedly harangued them for killing innocent civilians as was reported to him by a respected Acholi Christian religious elder.
Evangelist Yusto Otunnu had the spiritual and theological courage to rebuke Joseph Kony because he spearheaded the Chosen Evangelical Revival (CER), the mother-tongue revival movement with its mother-tongue anthem, “Wii lobo kulu gipak Yecu (All the world, praise Jesus); Lubangawa nyinge Yecu (Our God’s name is Jesus): Yecu, Twon Coo (Jesus, Bull-Man), Yecu, Oteka Lweny (Jesus, Mighty Warrior), Yecu, Oluma (Jesus, Great One), Yecu, Otuco-moi (Jesus, Grave Buster Resurrected Lord)”.
CER thereby re-introduced the Christian God afresh for the Acholi/Central Luo through the mother-tongue anthem of praise and worship (doxology) of our God is called Jesus: Twon Coo, Oteka Lweny, etc. This was vintage “Christological criteriology” of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit through Acholi/Central Luo mother-tongue evangelism anchored in African Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS). Thanks to CER, therefore, Lubanga wa nyinge Yecu was no longer the misnamed “(jok) Lubanga” that had probably reified into Alice Lakwena and Joseph Kony’s LRA ‘holy spirit’!
Notably, it was also Evangelist Yusto and his wife Josephine Amato Otunnu who had preached Jesus Christ in the Acholi/Central Luo mother-tongue. And on 6th January 1948, they led Janani Luwum, then a young school teacher, to accept Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour, Lord and God. Thereafter, Luwum rose through the ranks of the Church of Uganda (Anglican) to become Archbishop who was martyred on 16th February 1977. Archbishop Janani Luwum is now recognized as 20th Century African Martyr of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire (DRC).
Through CER, therefore, Evangelist Yusto and Josephine Amato Otunnu fully answered Okot p’Bitek’s criticism. Their CER convert, Archbishop-martyr Janani Luwum, embodied their full African Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) response to Okot p’Bitek. Hence the three (3): Okot p’Bitek, Yusto Otunnu and Janani Luwum—all from the Chua Clan in Acholi—have since become important historical typologies of African indigenous response to early 20th Century Anglican Missionary evangelism in Northern Uganda.
Rt Hon Jacob Oulanyah relished such philosophical and theological articulations from Lapwony George Piwang-Jalobo!When he became Deputy Speaker in 2011, he introduced me to his Office Secretary in Parliament as his former teacher in Layibi College. Henceforth, the Secretary would always welcome me with a warm smile when I went to see him in his office: “Lapwony madit; wapwoyo bino” (Big teacher: welcome).
It was in 2018 that Hon Jacob Oulanyah seized the opportunity to flip our Lapwony (teacher) —Latin kwan (child-reader) “power-hierarchy”. This was during Mama Alice Ogwal’s funeral service in All Saints Cathedral, Kampala, on 31st July 2018. He was Chief Mourner and I was the Emcee. I had recognized Dr Ruth Senyonyi, daughter of late Bishop Misaeri Kauma, but forgot to introduce her as the incumbent President of Mothers Union. When she stood to eulogize Mama Alice Ogwal, Dr Ruth Senyonyi joked that “this young man, George Piwang-Jalobo, doesn’t know I am the incumbent President of Mothers Union.”
Rt. Hon Jacob Oulanyah picked on this as his opener with his characteristic mischievous humour: “I am happy for the first time someone has called Mr George Piwang-Jalobo a ‘Child’ (Latin)”. He neverthelessended his eulogy with a profound assurance and comfort to Bishop Benoni Ogwal-Abwang and the family. He said there were no more misunderstanding or unresolved issues between Bishop Ogwal-Abwang and H.E President Yoweri K. Museveni! Further, thathe was ready after the burial arrangements of Mama Alice Ogwal were over, to facilitate a meeting between Bishop Ogwal-Abwang and H.E President Museveni.Such was Rt Hon Jacob Oulanyah’s heartbeat for peace and reconciliation!
One of our memorable jokes occurred in 2019 when my big brother, retired Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, received his honorary doctorate in the Kampala Serena Hotel. Rt Hon Jacob Oulanyah was the Guest of Honour. I had gone fully clad with my decorated “bila” (horn) round my neck. I blew it when my brother was hooded and robed with his honorary doctorate regalia. When I went to greet him, Rt Hon Oulanyah said, “Lapwony, if you see my “bila”, you will run!” I then taunted him: “But where is it? It should be on your neck!” He replied, “I have left it in the car!” To which I said, “next time, wear it.” And he replied, “I will”.
So I was mighty proud of him when he wore his “bila’ on his neck and blew it throughout the presidential campaigns in 2020 and 2021. When they played “Yoo Leng, Piliii”, it was beautiful to watch him dance with his “bila” round his neck and blowing it too! That explains how and why in 2021, Northern Uganda voted overwhelmingly for the NRM—all because of Rt Hon Jacob Oulanyah, NRM Vice Chairman for Northern Uganda. For the first time since 1986, it could be said that Northern Resistance Movement (NRM) has possibly begun to transform into National ReconciliationMovement (NRM).
But alas, Rt. Hon Jacob Oulanyah, Twon Coo, Oteka Olweny: you are silent now, though your “bila pwod kok” over the hills from yonder! You showed Uganda that excellence is still possible in our governance and political discourse. Even though mediocrity fights tooth and nail to become the norm. You were a straight-line and hence a BIG threat next to every crooked line. You were the genuine, original article and hence a NIGHMARE next to every counterfeit!
Rt. Hon Jacob Oulanyah: you shot from the skies of Omoro, Acholiland, Northern Uganda and lit up the skies over Uganda. And then you quickly vanished like a meteorite into many twinkling stars. You have now kissed the face of God. And now you smile and dance with the Angels. Smile on. Dance on. Twon Coo, Oteka lweny, Oluma!
Rt. Hon Jacob Oulanyah, our True NORTH STAR!