Comrade Okello’s critics should think again, thank him

Monday March 04 2024

Uganda Minister for Foreign Affairs Henry Oryem Okello. PHOTO | NMG


Uganda’s “permament”minister of foreign affairs is a straight-talking man. Henry Oryem Okello has held office for two decades —probably the longest-serving unreshuffled minister in Uganda’s history.

And handling the foreign docket seems to be a matter of fate, for he spent all his teenage in foreign land — Tanzania — where his father, General Tito Okello, was one of the commanders who prosecuted the war to overthrow Idi Amin.

In the younger Okello’s last year of teenage, he saw field action himself during the final push against Amin.

Destiny was with Okello from the start, as his family and that of another commander, General Yoweri Museveni, were close neighbours.
Incidentally, his father, having been Museveni’s immediate predecessor as head of state — in title-obsessed Uganda where former MPs are addressed as “Honourable” — Oryem can rightly be addressed as First Son Okello.

It is probably his background that makes Kampala journalists love to interview Okello, sure of his confidence when talking, after all, not everyone goes back 50-plus years with Museveni. Oryem does and, having spent all his teenage years in the struggle to overthrow a state could partly explain why this first son doesn't always suffer fools gladly.

And so it was, earlier last month, that a video circulated of Okello angrily describing people who die of hunger in Uganda as idiots. There has been no denial that the video was AI-generated.


Expectedly, people took to social media denouncing the minister, with a top cartoonist depicting the minister in an unflatteringly bloated state.

None of the people castigating Okello focussed on the reasons he gave for his view: that it is unacceptable to starve in a land of abundance.

As such, an opportunity to discuss equitable access to and utilisation of resources was missed. Okello’s critics also missed the chance to discuss the non-biological death of corporate and statutory citizens that can also perish from the idiocy of not properly planning to use the country's massive natural resources to thrive.

A quick example here being the statutory agency in charge of making available to the public decent, affordable housing — which, for decades, stares at the public lands and building materials which they can convert into millions of housing units at no cost ,except using the already paid experts in relevant disciplines at their disposal.

Okello’s critics seem not to have noticed that at the time of his remarks, the Auditor-General’s report that was under discussion painted a worrying picture of the unsustainable public debt situation into which the republic is sinking. The deaths amid abundance worrying Comrade Okello must, thus, be more than biological.

By calling Ugandans who starve idiots, Okello was by extension describing the country’s transport planning experts who, for instance, are looking for over a billion dollars’ loan to build another road linking Kampala to Jinja, rather than allocating a tenth of the amount to connect the two cities using moving roads (called ferries and barges) plying Lake Victoria, on whose shore the two cities sit quite close to each other.

This approach would require compensation for corruptly over-valued wetlands and other illegally acquired places where the road would pass.

Yes, Okello could also have been thinking about the cobalt and lithium deposits whose mining and processing Uganda should be focusing on, as they are on such high demand by the growing global electric mobility industry.

With such endowments, and openly available technology, Uganda should be becoming a lender of nations, not a borrower. Comrade Okello’s critics should think again, and thank him.