Tribute to the Flamboyant, Maverick, and sly Aggrey Siryoyi Awori

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Aggrey Siryoyi Awori, 82, who died this week by his own account, lived a full life as a flamboyant maverick across social, business, professional and political spheres both here and abroad starting from student days in King’s college Budo up to Harvard in the United States where he later returned in 1981 as Uganda’s Ambassador in Washington. Aggrey was sent to Washington as Ambassador by President Apollo Milton Obote after he lost the Kampala East parliamentary contest to DP’s Ojok Mulozi in the 1980 disputed elections. 

Awori was a boastful maverick, political rubble-rouser, intellectual and a man of happiness, and all that which goes with good company. He knew how to gravitate and ingratiate himself at the centre of power and influence often by exaggerating his profile confident that there wasn’t credible record to validate his many claims to expertise or achievements. A sportsman in his student days, Aggrey, as he was fondly called by many, passed for a well informed intellectual, journalist, management guru, researcher, intelligence cum security expert, diplomat and for sure a politician. 

Aggrey was a man with huge humour who could make up any story usually to score cheap points in a debate or captivate those listening to him but later, in private not shy to admit that all was made up after all! In a sense he was a Jack of all trades, but also qualifying in proper English for a sly man. When he returned from exile in 1993 having been facilitated by President Yoweri Museveni whom he had harangued for decades and even waved armed rebellion which died in the bud, Awori found the then Nile Hotel salubriously luxurious, and as someone who watched him from close range, I can say that he enjoyed himself to the fullest. That return marked Awori’s reentry into national politics as he contested and won the Samia-Bugwe North Constituent Assembly (CA) that debated and promulgated the 1995 Constitution. He won two subsequent parliamentary elections until 2006 with advent of party politics when UPC refused to endorse him.

In the CA Awori became the gregarious chairman of the National Caucus for Democracy (NCD) a loose group of 49 vibrant opposition delegates fighting for the re-introduction of party politics. And thorns, they were in NRM’s flesh which since Legal Notice 1, 1986 enjoyed the ban on open party politics. In that group, usually working through conspiracy, pitched battles and open filibuster tactics, were Prof. Dani Wadada Nabudere (secretary), Yefusa Okullu-Epak, Akisoferi Ogola, Abubaker Adoko Nekyon (RIP), Omara Atubo, Ben Wacha, Cecilia Ogwal, Wasswa Lule, Damiano Lubega, Zackary Olum, and John Kawanga among others. I recall one day Awori made the NRM majority led by Eriya Kategaya (RIP) to angrily storm out of a session over a temporary setback over entrenching the no-party system. It took CA Chairman James Wambogo Wapakhabulo, and Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, Kategaya’s deputy to convince the dejected pack of Miria Matembe, Winnie Byanyima, Augustine Ruzindana, and Kweronda Ruhemba among others to return to the house. This self-conceited cluster couldn’t understand how Awori’s tiny band could frustrate them, yet they viewed defining Uganda’s future as their inheritance. 

And although they lost most contentious issues like the immediate return to multiparty politics, and introduction of Federalism (Federo) for Buganda, they successfully held fort on land, human rights, and raising the profile of parliament and judiciary. After CA, the entire NCD bunch joined the 6th parliament where their fight for party politics continued unabated until 2005 when President Museveni and NRM (Movement) eventually relented. It’s this group that propped Ssemogerere to abandon President Museveni’s cabinet and challenge him for the presidency in 1996 but Museveni prevailed with 75% of votes cast.  

Following Ssemogerere’s defeat, and reluctance by DP and UPC to field a presidential candidate in 2001 elections, Awori threw himself into the ring invoking his US credentials including claims he attended Harvard with Al Gore as reason for Ugandans to vote him. Awori falsely claimed that DR Congo had captured 140 UPDF soldiers but when challenged, he simply retorted that it was up government to prove he told lies. His presidential ambition collapsed because most political party leaders shunned him for Kizza Besigye, an NRM turncoat and Museveni former protégé who they falsely hoped could knock out Museveni. Much later in 2009-11, Awori settled for NRM’s pie as ICT Minister. 

Aggrey dies in the footsteps of other illustrious men like singing Kenneth Kaunda 95, founder president of Zambia who for many years made his country the buffer between apartheid racist South Africa and African Frontline States fighting for liberation. In Uganda, Awori follows former ministers Wilberforce Kisamba Mugerwa 76, Paul Orono Etiang 83, Ali Muwabe Kirunda Kivejinja 85 and Manzi Tumubweine 80, and Gideon Badagawa, a development consultant and founder director of the Private Sector Foundation Uganda who this column didn’t pay tribute to. The convicted financial fraudster and former civil servant, Christopher Obey, who died this week while serving a long jail term, is only a footnote. May they all rest in peace!