Lt. Col. Ogole Memorium: Country; Justice, Unity And Peace

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[In Memorium]

Lt. Col. John Charles Ogole: Historical Profile

A life committed to family, community and country; justice, unity and peace

Lt. Col. John Charles Ogole’s life was characterised by a strong sense of integrity and determination. Throughout his life, he sought to improve himself and the lives of those around him. A man with a lucid mind, he always worked relentlessly for constitutional good governance, justice and peace in Uganda.

Many people may not know that John was a young trainee-teacher in a primary school before he joined the army in 1963, one year after Uganda won her independence from Britain.

Many people may not know that John was expelled from Secondary School for lack of school fees. But none of us know the paths that life charts for us. John embraced the part that life charted for him. He maintained his love for books and reading and teaching all his life.  He was a professional soldier most of his life. He served his beloved country Uganda with honour and with dignity and with loyalty.

Lt. Col. John Charles Ogole was born on 3rd May 1944, at Loro Atidi Village, Lango District, Uganda; to Nebuchadnezzar Opio, and Filder Rose Awor.

John’s learning started from home when his mother taught him how to read write and do small arithmetic. He attended Loro Atidi Primary School, which was actually built by his parents and then went to Awio Primary School where his father was transferred to carry on Church work. When John’s parents were transferred to Ototong to open up a new Church and Primary School, they left John behind to stay with the parish Priest Mr Yoseri Ongom so as to continue his studies. In the priest’s household, there was a lot of love, even though life was extremely difficult. The household was seriously over populated, and they often went hungry.

One of John’s fundamental qualities that manifested itself at a very early age was a passion for justice. When he was in Primary Six there was one teacher, Mr. Olila, who made some students dig his garden more often than other teachers. One day when the teacher reminded students to come with their hoes the next day to work on his garden, John stood up and said: "No Sir, we do not pay school fees to come and work your gardens."

Needless to say the teacher was furious. It turns out that the teacher was very petty and vindictive too. The Lango District Education Department nominated John to be considered for a scholarship. The letter inviting him for the required interview was given to Mr. Olila who intentionally kept it until the very day before the interview before giving it to John. This ensured that John could not travel the long distance in time to attend the interview. John missed the interview, and therefore the scholarship.

But standing up for what John believed was right at this early age, even though he paid a price, defined the kind of person who he was for the rest of his life. Years later, he would always stand up for himself, his community, the men under his command and his country.

Sometimes the stars seem to work against you. Perhaps John would have still found a way to further his education had it not been for another tragedy that struck the family. John struggled with fees but managed to attend Boroboro Secondary School in 1957. It was reputable and prestigious. One of the very few secondary schools in the District. Competition to get into it was very stiff.  Only those with very high scores from Primary Leaving Examinations or children of senior government officials enrolled. Education standards were very rigorous in those days. Only those who passed all subjects were promoted to the next class. John passed exams with flying colours and was promoted to Junior Secondary Two.

Suddenly one day his uncle Yubu Omara showed up at school and John was summoned to the Headmaster’s office. He had a foreboding feeling, especially when tears streamed down his face when John saw him. Omara told John to pack quickly. His mother was sick. They rode on the bicycle back home together. By the way his uncle peddled John knew things are worse than he was being told. By the time they reached home four hours later, his beloved mother had already been buried. John was devastated that he did not even bid her farewell and in truth it haunted him all his life.

John's father was equally devastated by the loss. While John was grown there was also an infant child that they had to take care of now that she was gone. To make matters worse the financial hardship worsened. Even though the school gave John many opportunities by deferring school fees payment and allowing him to pay late, eventually it became clear that he would not be able to afford it and he was forced out of school. Still, with the support of the community and relatives the family somehow survived.

John's father later moved to Apii Primary school about seven miles from Lira town with his new wife.  John remained behind. Although still a young boy he assumed the responsibilities of a young man. He farmed the land and planted cotton. He had such a wonderful harvest that he purchased his first Raleigh bicycle and a Heifer. This was also an early manifestation of John’s business acumen.

Later through his father who contacted the headmaster of Apii Primary school, John was recruited as a part time teacher. It was also at this time that John continued his interest to gain further education when he enrolled for correspondence courses with the British Tutorial College (BTC) to pursue the General Certificate of Education (GCE). The syllabus and exams were set by Cambridge University in the U.K.

The Accidental Soldier

One day, one of John's cousins showed up and requested John’s father to allow John to accompany him to a recruitment drive that the army was carrying out in the district, being conducted in Lira town; so that if the cousin was recruited, John would bring back his bicycle.

The potential recruits lined up at a stadium and then climbed into lorries for the first test. They were to be driven 21 miles away and were to then run, bare feet, back to the original spot for further examinations including physical tests. John remained behind with other onlookers. One of the recruiting officers named Captain McLaren chatted with the onlookers. He was impressed with John's responses and urged him on the spot to join the army. John refused, saying he wanted to pursue his education. Capt. McLaren explained to him that there was no better way to pursue studies than through the military. He told John that the army for newly independent Uganda needed educated and intelligent soldiers. When John was assured that the army would pay for his education after basic training, he abandoned his resistance.

After recruitment exercise in Lira, John was taken to Jinja barracks for training.  After nine months rigorous training, John scored very highly in all his tests, after which they performed their passing-out ceremony, and were passed out, at which he swore a solemn allegiance of loyalty to the Constitution of the land, Commander in Chief and duty to serve his country whole heartedly, which John did, throughout his long, albeit interspaced military career in his country, Uganda.

On completing the basic military training John was posted to a newly established second battalion situated at Moroto in Karamoja District; mostly expansive dry arid, remote region that was seriously under-developed; with scanty infrastructure and amenities.  John refused to go there, giving his intention to recommence his correspondence studies as a reason for his refusal. He was detained straight away and the next day he was taken to the Battalion Second in Command then Major Ndahindikire on charges of disobedience of lawful command.

When the Major studied John’s file however, he relented, and the next day John got re-posted to C Company. The Company Sergeant Major (CSM) took John before the Officer Commanding, a white Captain, and a very reasonable man.  He looked at John’s file and told John not to worry about any previous problems encountered.  He was willing to allow John  to continue with his education and therefore he informed John that he will be attached to the administrative section in the office as a learner clerk until opportunity arises for John  to do the course if he is interested in being an administrator or any other trade course that interest him.

C Coy was rated the best company in the Regiment. Here John was attached to the administrative section as a learner clerk. John was so delighted and quickly resumed his correspondence studies transferring to Rapid Results College, United Kingdom. His fluency in English helped the company very much as he was from time to time called upon to translate documents, draft important letters and interpret to those who did not understand Kiswahili or English. In operational areas this knowledge became invaluable in communication between their commanders and civil authorities and individuals. This earned John some popularity within his peers and immediate commanders.

In Army, Acquiring More Education At Every Stage

John served in many capacities in Uganda's new army and saw it grow over the years. In the early years the officers were still white but they were eventually replaced by Africans. John made sure that wherever he was posted, he always had access to increase his education.

During John’s long military service he witnessed the developments in the country through the years. From the time he was first posted, the events in the country that required military intervention continued to multiply along international borders and internal hot spots. He witnessed the simmering antagonisms, squabbles and machinations within the political circle that developed in the country. He witnessed the winds of change which had been blowing across the continent, gaining momentum in 1964 that culminated in the East Africa wide Armed Revolts – including the twin revolts in Tanganyika and Zanzibar, Uganda and Kenya. In Zanzibar the revolt ended the Arab dominance in the region permanently, and the birth of the country Tanzania. In Uganda and Kenya, the army revolted against the conditions of service, including pay. This led to the expansion and modernisation of the Army. All these activities were taking place around John but he remained a dedicated, serving soldier, with a clean record.

John completed his  General Certificate of Education and later got nominated to attend a nine month Officer Cadet training which was being run by Israeli instructors headed by a Major Moses in the School of Infantry Jinja. Eight months later they completed the training and started preparing for the Passing-Out Parade and Commission ceremony.  One week to the Commission date, they were summoned and told that government had decided to defer the Commission indefinitely; therefore they were all to return to their Companies and wait for any further instructions.

When he missed the Commission, he went back to his company. After a short time, his Company Commander again nominated him to attend military Administration Course starting as a General Duty clerk grade ‘A’ Class 111 in the then Army and Air Force Records Office which was then located in Jinja barracks. This training gave him a very good understanding of military and civilian administration as it involved almost all secretarial and administrative work including using short-hand, typewriters, documentation, military laws and regulations, keeping and monitoring personal records and developments, publishing orders, dealing with charges and summary trials, extensive dealing with civilian matters and advising the Officer Commanding or Commanding Officers on Standing Operational Procedures(SOPs), Standing Orders and legal matters as contained in the Armed Forces Conditions of Service, the Armed Forces Act, General Orders, Part  One and Part Two Orders, recommending and advising on Civil Cases affecting servicemen, and so on. It was quite a challenging job but he enjoyed it and after a short while he got promoted to Lance Corporal.  All these happened while he was in ‘C’ Company Jinja. 

His first Officer Commanding (OC) was a British Captain McLeod and he liked him so much and always told him he will make a good Officer. When the British Officers left, the African OC also treated John very well as he depended so much on his work and advise. 

As time went on political situation in the country was continuing to deteriorate whilst security situation also became more and more demanding thus necessitating the creation of a third and fourth battalions in Mubende and Mbarara respectively in the next two years. This fitted well with government expansion programmes but there was no sufficient planning and appropriate budget for all the programmes that needed execution. John remembers this because when the fourth battalion (Simba Battalion) was formed in 1964/5, C Coy formed the core of the new unit. John was posted there as an Orderly Room Clerk, that is within the Commanding Officer’s Office settings. 

After a short while the government decided to call up ex-servicemen to come and beef up their strength.  They were veterans of the Second World War. They were to go through refresher training and those who could not cope were to be retrenched. John was appointed platoon commander of one of the platoons.  It was a very challenging experience to deal with much older, more experienced and very stubborn people, but John managed it quite well.

When John finished training the ex-soldiers were distributed to companies and he returned to the Orderly Room to resume administrative duties for a short time after which he was appointed Canteen Manager for the battalion. This was a new role in his military career and it was challenging as his area of responsibilities required financial, stock and personnel management at various levels.  John was responsible for drawing and distributing stock to Johnnies’, Sgts’ and Officers’ Messes and collection of funds from both sources for repurchase of stock from the Army and Air force shop in Kampala while the profits are banked in mess accounts by respective mess managers.  As well as being Unit Canteen Manager, he also fully managed Johnnies’ Mess. This gave John total management responsibilities over these two units.

In order to gain the necessary Book Keeping skills John took a part time book keeping course with International Correspondence School (ICS) of Great Britain.  He found Book Keeping and Accounts very interesting and took it up to intermediate level. This added to his bank of administration and command knowledge and it worked very well for John.

In the course of this work John met with a number of prominent civilians working in banks, medical services, district administration and other civil institutions, some  of  whom of subsequently took ministerial posts in governments in Uganda and played major roles in Uganda's history and whom John made friends with were: John Obol-Akal (Bank Manager Co-op Bank); Joseph Okello-Adol (Manager Uganda Commercial Bank); Joseph Otto (UPC Legal Secretary); Dr Y. Okullo-Epak (Civil Engineer); Johnson Engole (Manager Uganda Airlines); and many others.  Some of these people had very important influence in John’s life. It was at this point that he began to think of the future seriously, so with the little savings that he had, John decided to invest in property.

Just when his work in Mbarara was going very well and he enjoyed it as it enabled him to meet many people in the barracks as well as the civilian world; and his management of the unit shop was being appreciated by his bosses and clients and the general status quo was beginning to bear fruits, somewhere towards the end of 1967, John got a transfer order posting him to the Mechanized Malire Specialist Recce Regiment (MMSRR) at Lubiri, Kampala as a company clerk. 

The news of John’s posting came as a profound shock to him, his friends and even his bosses.  From what he later saw in his personal file, there were a lot of communication between his mother unit and the Director of Records before he knew about the posting. The Adjutant, the Battalion Second-in-Command and the Commanding Officer fiercely resisted it, but in vain.  They tried to pull strings at the Army Headquarters to allow John stay in vain, until the directive was sent from the Chief of Staff’s office that John must go. The Director of Records argued that technically it was not beneficial to the government to keep John in the current position because John had a technical knowledge and skills which is not being utilised and that there was acute shortage of such skills due to the rapid expansion of the army.

On the positive side John was happy that he was getting back to his trade and doing the job he liked most, a job he is trained on and presented some glimmer of hope of progression. John believed that with hard work there was opportunity for career development and prospects for upgrading, appointment to higher offices and promotion to higher ranks with more responsibilities.

On reporting, John was appointed Chief clerk of Headquarter Company Commanded by the then Captain Mustafa Adrisi who later became the vice president after the1971 coup. John started with his morale at the lowest ebb but soon he got sucked in deeply by the enormous amount of work and responsibilities entrusted to him. Though Captain Adrisi was an illiterate man, he was a caring officer who did everything to support his subordinates. He was light hearted, receptive and fair in his dealings with others.  As soon as John started work, they clicked.  In his welcome brief, he told John that Headquarter Company was very intricate and difficult to manage but they shall do it.

The command and control structure of the regiment consisted of four rifle companies (all armoured personnel carrier companies) and Headquarter Company, the hub of the battalion, which comprised all the mechanised and specialist units such as recce (reconnaissance), Jeeps, Ferrets, Armoured Personnel Carrier(APC), Tank, Artillery, Medical Reception Station(MRS) Motor Transport(MT), Education(Edn), Pay, Signal, Cooks, Quartermaster(QM), Tailors, Paratroopers(para), Cleaners, Carpenters, Cobblers, Mechanics, Armoury Technicians and several smaller units. 

As the Company clerk with two junior clerks under him, his role was to manage and monitor individual development and progress in their respective trades. This is called “documentation” which involves keeping personal records manually to ensure that when time comes for their upgrade or downgrade, they are put in appropriate channels and documents adjusted accordingly. As soon as John’s family arrived, he set about striving to know people who mattered and made friends with them.  Again very many of the people who became John’s friends took key positions in subsequent governments of Uganda.

The seniors who showed respect and admiration for John’s work were Capt Mustafa Adrisi, his OC; Capt Patrick Kimumwe, his Adjutant; Major David Oyite-Ojok was a relative John discovered; Colonel John Mwaka, the Director of Army and Air force Records Office and many others. In fact during the course of work in Kampala John met many people and made many friends whose names cannot all be stated but they all played a great role in ameliorating his work and social life in the city.  It was through these family, relatives and friends that John gained the confidence and forged ahead during difficult times.

Whilst John settled at his work in MMSRR new political situations continued to emerge which caused unrest, anxiety and trepidation across the board. First was the Prime Minister’s announcement of the “Common Man’s Charter” in 1968 followed by National Service Proposals, Communication from the Chair, May Day Nakivubo Pronouncements and the one-plus-three election proposals. John continued with his work, with the same enthusiasm and diligence.

Prelude To Idi Amin's Coup

Within a short time of commencing his work in Malire Regiment, John noticed that there were rapid changes coming in and the battalion was getting more and more armed, more and more populated by officers and men from West Nile, Southern Sudanese and Rwandese.  Every new weapon introduced in the army came to Lubiri; new Tanks, Anti-Tank guns, Artillery pieces, Armoured Personnel Carriers, Reconnaissance (Recce) Jeeps, and Command Land Rovers fitted with modern communication systems and Ferrets were brought to Lubiri instead of Artillery Regiment located at Masindi which was duly constituted as the Artillery Regiment for the Army.

Recruitment and Training of personnel to man the new weaponry were almost all coming from West Nile tribes, Southern Sudanese and Rwandese.  As a person who knew the rules and procedures for recruitment in the army, John noticed that something was absolutely wrong. Most of the new recruits had no army numbers allocated to them. In place of the army numbers which was essential part of a soldier’s identity, were recorded as “NYA”, meaning the Army number is not Yet Allocated. Proper army numbers were under normal recruitment exercises given by the Director of Records prior to recruitment. The Director of Records keeps the entire army establishment authorised by the Cabinet and issued to the Minister of Defence who through the Secretary of Defence hands over the numbers to the Director of Records. The holding of NYA by recruits meant that Amin had flouted the stringent army enrolment rule and was recruiting illegally.

On the day before Milton Obote was overthrown when John walked only few steps out of the officers Mess five soldiers grabbed him and beat him until he lost consciousness. At the early hours of Monday 25th January 1971 when John regained consciousness, he found himself in a very crowded room with very many people who had all been victims of beatings. Some had deep wounds in their bodies, shattered limbs from gun shots, and some were writhing in acute pain. Most of the victims had been plucked from their beds and were in pyjamas and night-dresses or half naked. There was pungent smell of blood, urine and faeces everywhere. There were dead people with bayonet or gunshot wounds.

Meanwhile, sporadic gunshots and bomb blasts could be heard coming from the barracks and across the city. From the gate, sounds of heavy movement of vehicles; tanks, APCs, jeeps and foot soldiers could be heard. There were wailing, yelling and shrieks emanating from the gate as Acholi and Langi soldiers were being chased around the barracks like wild animals, caught and dragged to the quarter guard to be clubbed to death and thrown into the same room where John was. When John regained his orientation, he realised they were in the guard-room at Lubiri quarter-guard. The room was about 12’ x 12’, with a tiny ventilation up near the ceiling, but they were nearly one hundred people inside and more were being brought in to die. Here John witnessed and experienced extremely traumatic events.

Thereafter John was taken to the orderly room to meet the Adjutant and the Chief Clerk. The Adjutant told John that he would be attached to the Orderly Room until further notice and ordered the Chief Clerk to appoint John his Deputy and Documentation Clerk. John suspects that the reason they released him was because they knew his unique abilities and realised that they needed his expertise to run the administrative and technical duties because, almost all of them were illiterate. Every morning he was escorted in a mounted jeep to the main post office in the city centre and to Republic House to collect mails and deliver important documents as we were short of administrative staff.

In John’s case, his attachment to the battalion orderly room was removed and he was made a permanent deputy chief clerk and documentation clerk after six months.  John was given added responsibility to train learner clerks enough to man the offices in the battalion.

In The Army Between The Purges

By the middle of 1972 John was promoted to Staff Sergeant and remained in his new post. He resumed his work as Deputy Chief Clerk and Documentation Clerk for Malire Regiment and continued to focus on his work, professionally, and emerged with unblemished record.

Sometime in 1973 John was nominated to attend Officer Cadet Course at Kabamba Training Wing. Again, this training was conducted by mixed Ugandan and Israeli instructors. The training was very hard but for John it was a repetition of what he did in the 1960s so he found it fairly easy and excelled. On completion of the training, John was commissioned to the rank of full Lieutenant based on his performance and his rank then.

John was then posted to Chui Regiment in Gulu as Adjutant, where he started a new life in his career as battalion Administrator.

Chui Regiment was a new unit and like Simba battalion in Mbarara, they were the pioneers, so they had to start everything from the scratch. The barracks was shared between them and Gulu Air force unit that had occupied it for several years before them. The difference between Gulu and Mbarara was that at least Gulu had already been purposely built for army use and there were new offices and uniports for offices and other ranks’ quarters before they arrived. The civilian environment was severely tense as most families mourned their dead or missed exiled relatives. There were orphans, widows, widowers everywhere in the land and more were still being killed or forced to flee the country.

John’s posting and service to this unit provided a real turning point in his military career and social life. John was maturing physically, mentally, psychologically, politically and militarily. He was now a family man with two wives and four children. 

John met many important people within the civilian community who cherished his work and became friends like the Catholic and Protestant Bishops, District and Regional Police Commanders, District Commissioners, Bankers and many other heads of civil institutions. Ministers and foreign dignitaries who came to his unit at Gulu were received by John as a matter of protocol.

Another Purge And Exile

Things went very well until 1977 when another purge against Langi and Acholi started on allegation of a plot to overthrow Amin's government. John had gone to Lira on a week-end for traditional marriage of his second wife when agents from the notorious State Research Bureau burst into the place where the reception was held, arrested some prominent people and put them in their car boots and drove off; they were never to be seen again.John was first warned by his friend Mr. Obol Akal, a Bank Manager and later by his Commanding Officer that State Research Bureau officers had been sent to take John to the President. As the killers arrived at his gate, John escaped through the back door and went to Bishop Kihangire’s palace where he hid for over two weeks. With the help of the Bishop he hid in Kitgum for over one year before he was smuggled into Kenya where he sought political asylum.

Returning Home And Rejoining Army

With the defeat of Idi Amin's army in 1979 by the Tanzanian People's Defence Force (TPDF) and the Ugandan National Liberation Army (UNLA), John returned to Uganda and rejoined the military. He was assigned duties of Deputy Director of Records- responsible for documentation of people who participated in the Liberation war, in order for them to be absorbed as the core of the new UNLA.

In 1980 when John was Deputy Director of Uganda Army and Air Force Records Office, he came to the U.K to attend Manning and Records Office training at the Queen Elizabeth Imphal Barracks in Yorkshire.

In 1981 John was appointed Acting Chief of Personnel and Administration of Uganda Army and Air force. This was a high responsibility job as a staff officer in the Army and Air Force Headquarters. John was answerable to the Army and Air Force Chief of Staff and dealt with all matters relating to welfare, discipline, ceremonial matters and development of all the officers and men of the armed forces. This included heavy involvement with civilian issues both nationally and internationally.

In December 1982, John was appointed Commanding Officer 11th Battalion in Arua, West Nile. This was the birth place of former President General Idi Amin. John was directed to finish the war against remnants of Amin’s army who had become entrenched in their home district. Many senior officers who had been appointed to conduct this war had failed and many civilians from there had fled to Congo and Sudan. Due to lack of support and proper command, soldiers had become very disillusioned, unruly and refused to fight. There were serious cases of indiscipline and crimes against the population.

On assuming command of the battalion, John’s new strategy, doctrine and tactics reintroduced discipline and enthusiasm among the troops; civil-military cooperation resumed and resolve to win the war became a common call amongst soldiers and civilians alike.

John strictly looked after soldiers’ welfare and promoted civilian involvement into the war efforts; he engaged youths, political leaders, religious leaders, the police and elders in the operations. Bishop Tarantino of the Catholic mission and his Protestant and Muslim counterparts were very instrumental in defeating Amin in his own home.

Within four months, Amin’s soldiers had been defeated and many fled to Sudan and Congo. After John’s success there was a huge influx of returnees from exile, peace and tranquillity was restored and economic, political and social life returned to normal in Arua District. Schools reopened and business including tourism was booming again. John personally saw into the return of Brigadier Kili, a prominent son of West Nile who was Education Minister in Amin’s government and looked after his security on return.

Training In The United States

The Obote II government was very proud of John’s success in West Nile and sent international dignitaries, national leaders, international journalists and independent observers to go and see the magnitude of their success for themselves. The dignitaries John received included, among others, a contingent of British Parliamentarians headed by Mr Rifkin and UN staff, international and national journalists, political leaders, and so on. These successes were widely published in the national and international media.

When news of John’s success spread in the country, a delegation from Lango and Acholi went to President Obote and requested that John should be transferred and assigned to fight the war in Luwero triangle so that he can open the Kampala – Gulu highway which had been closed by the insurgents after many loss of lives and properties at the hands of Yoweri Museveni’s insurgents.

Military leaders refused this request because John had already been nominated to go for a course in the United States of America. John was however, ordered by the government to provide one company to be attached to 40 Brigade to help in the war efforts.  Sadly, by the time John returned from America in June/July 1984, almost half of this company had been killed by NRM insurgents.

On hearing of John’s nomination to go to the USA, a delegation of elders, religious and political leaders from Arua District, headed by Bishop Tarantino went to the president to request that John’s exit from West Nile be postponed until total and irreversible peace had returned to West Nile. This request was also rejected.

In June 1983 John went to the U.S to attend Military Arts and Sciences training at the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) - Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This is a very renowned military institution in the whole world where American military arts and sciences are researched, developed and implemented. Almost all American contemporary Generals passed through this College.John completed the course with flying colours. While there, he officially visited the White House, the Pentagon, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and laid a wreath on behalf of Uganda. John also made a very powerful presentation on Uganda at the college auditorium, attended by well over 3,000 people representing many countries of the world. His presentation was rated the best presentation, well arranged and highest attended in years.It is important to note that whilst at the college, John concentrated much time and effort in studying some extra curriculum subjects such as revolution, counter revolution, insurgency, counter insurgency, and civil-military operations; because these had direct relation to what was happening in Uganda. These knowledge and skills became invaluable in dealing with Museveni.

In July 1984, on return to Uganda John’s first appointment was Commandant School of Infantry, Jinja, Eastern Uganda where he had input in formulating suitable training syllabus, plan and programme for the new Uganda National Liberation Army which was being conducted by the British Military Advisory Training Team (BMATT) assisted by home instructors.

Successfully Commanding The Anti-Insurgency Operations

After a short time John was appointed Brigade Commander, 50 Brigade. This was a special Brigade created to fight the insurgents led by Museveni. The British High Commissioner complained against John’s transfer to the 50 Brigade because he wanted him to remain in the school to work with the BMATT.

By this time, much of the Luwero triangle had become desolate. When John started the operation, the insurgents had their tactical headquarters just at the outskirts of Kampala, in Kawanda and were ready to pounce on the government any moment, and take over power.

The vast areas stretching from Luwero, Masindi and Mubende were under their martial administration. All infrastructures within the area had closed including schools, roads, coffee farms, tea plantations, shops, and markets. The insurgents operated illegal government and collected taxes while continuing to confiscate peasants’ properties and raping their women and school children.

UPC supporters, President Obote’s political party, had been wiped off by the insurgents. The lucky ones had fled the area. The main Road that links Northern Uganda to the South had become largely impassable as the rate of ambushes and killings by the insurgents on the road had escalated. The road was popularly known as "Lam Dogi" to most people from the Northern part of the country. "Lam Dogi" literally meant that before you travel on this road you have to pray to your God to let you pass through unhurt.

John approached the war with a different strategy, doctrine and tactics. He had well over 6,000 to 8,000 men in the Brigade at a time. On his insistence, officers commanding the war were selected based on training attended, experience, skills, high discipline and unblemished record. 

John conducted two weeks seminar with selected officers and carried out training exercises on the ground before deployment. As part of his strategy, other security branches such as the police, CID, National Security Agencies got involved in the war efforts including Office of the District Commissioners, youth, women, elders and political leaders were drawn in on different roles.

Military discipline and civil-military co-operation were to be maximised all the time during the war. For the first time, leaflets were air dropped and local youth were engaged to inform the populace about the on-going counter-insurgency operations and the importance of their co-operation to rid them of the scourge of war.

John spent another two weeks with the men of the Brigade doing physical training and baraza, or lecture, at the tactical headquarters Katikamu stressing the need for civil-military cooperation and observance of the international laws and rules governing military operations.

They conducted the war in adherence to the accepted international rules of military conflict. John’s security committee which interviewed POWs was composed of senior officers drawn from the National Security Agency (NASA), police intelligence, military intelligence, Youth leaders, Women’s representatives and political party activists. Senior political leaders of all parties were involved at all levels.

The Committee was chaired by Nathan Engena a senior officer in NASA. International organisations including United Nations witnessed their success in Luwero triangle.

John, accompanied by civilian staff visited people in the liberated areas and threw leaflets by air to inform people about their role in defeating the insurgents and how they intended to help civilians rebuild their lives. Thereafter, his soldiers were engaged in rebuilding bridges, houses for the vulnerable and providing medical treatment for peasants as well as captured insurgents.

John led command operations in the Luwero Triangle from October 1984 and by May 1985 the NRA was flushed out from its strong-holds. The Kampala – Gulu road had re-opened: civilians began to return to their homes; and business, schools, markets and social, agricultural, commercial and other social activities had resumed.

Foreign and national journalists visited the zone. Museveni fled to Sweden and his troops crossed to Congo where most of them were arrested and disarmed; the weapons were returned to the Uganda government.

A Big Gift For Yoweri Museveni

But in July 1985 Museveni received a big gift when President Obote was deposed by Generals Tito Okello and Basilio Okello. Some have referred to this as a "Palace Coup" as historically the Langi and Acholi communities had been considered as brothers. The two generals invited Museveni, who had already fled to Sweden, back to Uganda to work with them. On the fall of Obote’s government, John fled to Kenya, Zambia and then to Tanzania.

Meanwhile, Museveni and the two generals signed the Nairobi Peace Accord, which was meant to be a power-sharing agreement.  However, within a short time, Museveni had overthrown the two generals and he has been president of Uganda since 1986, with his National Resistance Movement regime.

Life would not be normal without drama for John, even in exile. As soon as he became President, Museveni sent an aeroplane and security personnel to Tanzania where John had been granted political asylum and attempted to abduct John and return him to Uganda. When the abduction failed, the UNHCR and Tanzania government insisted that legal proceedings should be used to ensure that John’s return to Uganda was not based on political motives. A prima-facie case was to be instituted to prove Uganda government’s claim that John was wanted to answer charges of murder in the Luwero triangle.

Museveni sent an extradition request to the Tanzanian authorities- on the grounds that John should be repatriated to Uganda to answer charges of human rights abuse in the Luwero Triangle. John was held for over six months in Maximum security prison in Tanzania, and the case came up for trial in Tanzanian Courts. The extradition request was denied.

Tireless Work For Community During U.K. Exile

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), transferred John to the United Kingdom in 1987 as a political refugee and eventually John acquired British Citizenship.

While in the U.K. John established various businesses and raised his 10 children. John also resumed his life-long passion for learning.

Some of his work and education in the U.K. included:

•    Between 1991 –2001 John ran his own business – grocery off licence in a popular location in the West End of London.

•    From 2002 – 2010 he worked in the Housing Industry as Housing Officer in various settings including Housing Associations and Councils.

•    From 2004 – 2009 he attended a part time study at Westminster University and obtained a B.A Honours degree in Housing Management and Development.

•    John retired in May 2010.

John was also involved in launching many social programs to alleviate some of the many problems that Ugandan exiles, including from his Lango community faced when they arrived here in the U.K.

When the biggest wave of the Lango community arrived in the United Kingdom when the Okellos and Museveni took over power,  the  community met many challenges; including widespread, frequent  deaths of the community members, as a result of HIV infections exacerbated by unfamiliar weather. John was one of the people who arrived at this time. And as a responsible, compassionate person with wide experience, he set about looking for ways of alleviating the community’s situation. And in pursuance to that;

•    In 1990s, on John’s personal initiative, he and some elders in the community formed Lango Association(UK) which helped members with the issues of immigration, resettlement and integration, care and support of the vulnerable and repatriation of bodies of people who had passed away back to Uganda to enable decent burials in conformity with Lango culture and traditions. John was the founder and Chairman of this Association then.

•    In 2004 John founded and headed an organisation called Crisis management Club (CMC), that later became United For Development Club (U4D), in 2006/07.

John took the initiative of forming a club known as “Crisis Management Club (CMC),  because when he handed over the Chairmanship of Lango Association (UK) to the community, it was no longer effectively meeting the needs of the community. Crisis  Management Club therefore consisted of a small group of like-minded individuals who agreed to contribute and save a set amount of money monthly, and the money was used to repatriate bodies back home. Crisis Management Club evolved to be a nucleus for social activities of the members, their families and the community.

With time, it was realised that the members could achieve more. Consequently, in  2006/7 the realisation prompted the members to widen their objectives. It was then realised that the name ‘Crisis Management Club’ was limiting as it denoted them as a group that largely reacts to crisis. The new objectives were proactive, and developmental, and so members agreed to change the name of the club to be consistent with its widened objectives.  And so the club became a social organisation called United for development Club (U4D).

•    In 2012 on John’s personal initiative, another social-political organisation known as Lango Elders Council (UK) was formed. Lango Elders Council (LEC) UK is pro-development, pro-Lango and upholds the principles of Human Rights, Values and respect of the Culture. It monitors social and political developments in the UK and back home in Lango, Uganda. It also helps to provide advice and assistance on matters relating to welfare and personal development etc. John was the chairman of LEC (UK).

•    John constantly contributed to debates in radios, newspapers and other media on social, political and cultural matters affecting our community both in the UK and Uganda. In the early 2000s when Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abducted Children from Aboke Girls Catholic Secondary School, John was the lone voice who wrote to LRA leaders and challenged them to state who their real enemy was. This provoked international reactions and members of international organisations sent representatives to talk to John about the situation.

•    John was widely consulted by politicians, elders and social activists on matters affecting our communities here and in Uganda.

•    John has families, friends and acquaintances scattered all over the world most of who gave him their trust, love and appreciation for the impact he has had on their lives.

He Departs, Survived By Loving Family

John is survived by: nine children; two wives (one separated but still under his care); and, ten grandchildren.  

John’s children are respectable, skilled and employed, rendering useful services to the communities through their employments and/or developmental initiatives which is something he inspired in all of them.

John has siblings and extended family back in Uganda who he looked after in terms of education, social security and guidance.  

John was a professional soldier for most of his life. But most of all he was a family man as all who knew him will happily attest.

John lived a full life, a complete life, and cherished every moment.

We want John from where he is with our God the Creator to know that we will honour and respect his last wishes.

We want John to know that while there is sadness today there is also joy for the life he lived and love he shared.

We also want him to know that we already see that his commitment to family, justice, unity, peace and country, has already inspired many people.

We also want him to know that time will come when we will take him back to the home of his ancestors in Loro Atidi Village, Lango District, from where this story began on the 3rd of May 1944.


Lt. Colonel John Charles Ogole.



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