Soroti, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | It is more than a week since the Iteso lost their cultural leader, Augustine Lemukol Osuban, Adugala Emorimor. He died in Mulago National Referral Hospital where he was admitted for close to two weeks after spending nine days in the Soroti COVID-19 treatment unit.
The news of his death went viral when it was announced on Saturday last week. Condolence messages have been flowing from almost every corner of the country. Both the young and the old, working and peasants mourning alike.
In Soroti, the city clock has been decorated with Emorimor’s pictures. The business community, especially designers, are reaping big from their creative art as they have made cultural clothes and ribbons to mourn Emorimor.
Radio stations in Teso have also introduced segments to mourn Osuban while social media users are using Emorimor’s portraits for their profiles. Local artists in Teso including Simon Jackson, Uncle Ben and others have composed songs to mourn the Osuban.
William Alloch Okot, the Chairperson of Iteso Cultural Union- ICU founder members, says mourning is compulsory for all the Iteso. “We want to see all Iteso who come to bury papa: be it, professors, vice-president or ministers, shed tears. Without shedding a tear, you are branded a witch”, Alloch is quoted in the media to have said.
By Sunday, the Iteso had contributed more than Shillings 58 million in cash and recorded over Shillings 61 million in pledges. This is different from the government contribution since Osuban will be accorded an official burial.
But did the Iteso accord Osuban the same importance when he was still alive?
By the time of his death, the Emorimor didn’t have any known official palace after being at the helm of the cultural institution for more than two decades. He used to operate from his private home in Abilayep in Serere district.
Thanks to the government of Uganda, he had a car, escorts and some facilitation to help him move and live a dignified life. His Deputy Premier, Valerian Ejalu, says that they didn’t have the land to enable the construction of the palace including offices for the Emorimor. “We just received three plots from Soroti District Local Government as a donation last month. We hope to put a palace and some office space here”, he said during an interview with journalists.
Even when the ICU Constitution requires the Iteso to contribute to the union by contributing annually, paying for traditional marriage certificates, registering businesses and other means to raise funds, very, if any, contribute willingly. This left the union to survive on handouts from partners and the government.
When he was admitted to the COVID-19 unit at Soroti Regional Referral Hospital on January 18, 2022, there was little support, if any, from the Iteso. He was driven to Mulago National Referral Hospital, a journey of 320 kilometres in an ambulance loaded with ten oxygen cylinders to save his life.
The ambulance, Reg. No. UG 6833M left with the 88, year-old adored cultural leader on the night of January 26 only to reach Mulago National Referral Hospital the next morning. But as he was struggling for his life in the hospital, one of his ex-premier, Vance Omome told the gathering in Katakwi to prepare for elections, describing the ill Osuban as a gone case.
“Papa Emorimor is currently ill and there is no hope. We should be preparing to elect a new leader in March because the guy is sick and he may not survive. Anyway, we wish him well”, Omome told the cheering crowds. In her radio message to the Iteso after the death of Emorimor, the Serere Woman MP who doubles as Minister of State for Fisheries, Hellen Adoa, said that the Iteso didn’t support Emorimor at the time of need, especially when he was hospitalized.
“If we had given Papa the same support at the time of his sickness as we are doing now at his death, he would be happy wherever he is now”, she said. In her WhatsApp message, the Vice- President, Jessica Alupo explained that she was in touch with Emorimor when he was admitted to the hospital in Soroti up to the time when he was transferred to Mulago Hospital. Whenever he appeared in public, the Emorimor would always appeal to the Iteso to unite and promote the culture of Teso.
It is the same appeal he made during his last public appearance at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Madera, Soroti City East Division. He told the congregation that he was baptized in the same church before making his appeal for unity. At the time of his death, Emorimor had suspended the ICU Council, the top decision-making organ in the institution. This followed a dissolution of the Electoral Body over the alleged election irregularities that marred the elections in November 2019.
In December, there were allegations to impeach Emorimor over non-performance, according to his critics. Emorimor, through his informers, declined to attend the meeting organized by the ICU Council Chairperson then, Paul Sande Emolot in Soroti. But Emolot has since denied the alleged plans to impeach Osuban.
Osuban, a professional Agricultural Specialist with vast experience in Agronomy, Agricultural policy and researcher was unanimously elected as the first legitimate Emorimor of the Iteso during the Delegates Conference of the Iteso Cultural Union on November 30, 1998.
In a document issued by the Prime Minister of ICU, Augustine Omare- Okurut, Osuban underwent the requisite traditional ‘Asapan’ an initiation ceremony in Usuk, Katakwi district where he was traditionally baptized ‘Lemukol’ before he was installed as the Emorimor in April 2000 in a traditional ceremony witnessed by President Yoweri Museveni and thousands of Iteso from all over Uganda, Kenya and the diaspora.
In the ICU Constitution, the ICU Council Chairperson takes the office of Emorimor in case of death for at least six months before the next Emorimor is elected and installed. But circumstances at the moment don’t allow the ICU Council including the chairperson to operate since it was suspended by Emorimor before his death. According to Alloch, the institution will be run by the cabinet and founder members until the next Emorimor is elected.