Fortunately, Odonga Otto and I go back a long way. In 1996 as I battled against all odds to be the voice of the people in the Parliament I spoke at Gulu High and challenged the young people to rise up.
The likes of Odonga removed their shirts, tied them around their waists and pushed my car up to town. Those days the fuel gauge of my car was notorious for always reading “E”. Not for “Empty” but for “Enough”! That earned him the boot from school and he did his exams from home.
In parliament I invited him over for lunch and affirmed him telling him he too could become an MP. Indeed, in 2001 he joined me to my great joy.
Together we wrote the minority report opposing the lifting of the term limits.
What is the essence of my struggle? To restore our dignity as a people and to affirm the equality of humanity. In Makerere when I dared to run for the Guild Presidency in 1990 my fellow Acholi told me that I have no chance because Mayombo was more powerful and better funded.
They also told me that we were too few as Acholi. When we started the Acholi Makerere Students Association (AMSA) some of our tribemate wanted the name Acholi deleted saying it is ridden with stigma. They proposed Kitgum Gulu Students Association (KIGUMSA). We insisted and AMSA is still alive today.
In Acholi we have what we call “Mwoc”. In another variation, Mwoc is a way of self-validation to celebrate accomplishments of those whose blood runs in your veins. Thus a young man who has never killed a squirrel tackles a Buffalo by recalling the exploits of his forbears who may have killed a lion.
Hence “Awod pa Oneko Atunya, oyo nyango i del dog nyang etc” while advancing forwards the buffalo. The buffalo will be no match to such a hunter. But if your grandfather or father was a big coward (lalworo ma layo i conge”, then you have no precedent to build on.
After Obama’s victory a black activist said “Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther King could march. Martin Luther King marched so that Jesse Jackson could run. And Jesse Jackson ran so that Obama could win. It took generations.
Imagine if I had not dared Mayombo and won, where would the other home boys – Opoka, Okema, Onekalit ets have got the guts to even eye the Guild Chair? We were told that we were a conquered People.
Our destiny would only be to live as hewers of wood and drawers of water. We refused to accept to be defined by those who despised us. In 1990 when I led a student delegation to meet Museveni during a long strike during which we lost two students and many were badly injured including Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, Museveni shook my hand and lingered to tell me how he has frustrated Olara Otunnu’s from becoming UN Secretary General. Why do you think he did that? To humiliate me and bully me into submission.
In Namilyango in 1988 I dared to become Head Prefect! It gave courage to a certain Wod Alur Charles Obol (now deceased) to win a couple of years after me.
In seeking to lead DP I was inspired by the likes of Okeny Atwoma, Alija Latim, Jino Obonyo, Jenaro Odoki Ginyakol etc. I was the last person Okeny Atwoma set eyes on. He couldn’t talk by then. But he knew that ours is a long walk.
This is my message: If anybody is to walk on us let him first knock us down. But we should not lie down voluntarily to be trampled upon. We should die on our feet rather than live on our knees.
I made my choice long ago to dare the dark and fearsome woods. Those who will walk with me are welcome. If you my people don’t hear my “bila” sounding after I have been gone into the woods for a while maybe, you’ll collect my bones and bury them as a reminder that life is about daring greatly.
Perhaps by reading the inscription on my tombstone some brave son or daughter of the soil will be inspired to pick up my spear, battle axe and shield and dare the fearsome woods again.
Who knows we may hear the sound of the horn of descendants of Labongo announcing that the fierce prey had fallen. Do you know how many explored faces shipwrecks in the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean before Vasco da Gama reached the Cape of Good Hope?
This struggle is not about me; as a matter of fact, the opportunity cost is very high. But this I also know: People may not get everything they have paid for but they will never get anything they have not paid for. Freedom, dignity and honor come at a price. As Frederick Douglass said “Power concedes nothing without a demand”. I can be the Pala Bat to be wielded in making our demands.