Engineer George William Obityo Owaraga was a civil servant hero

The month of June for Uganda is one that is packed with activity that celebrates heroes. The controversial Uganda Martyrs’ Day on 3rd June; the equally controversial National Heroes’ Day on 9th June; and the equally controversial Fathers’ Day on 22nd June.

I wonder, can my late papa, be defined as heroic in his religious faith? Perhaps, if one goes by how he contributed to the Church financially and materially. But, then again, papa gave land to the Kiwafu Mosque, as well. To the extent that he would have defied the Kabaka on grounds of his faith, maybe not; I think that papa was a much more logical thinker to have blindly done so. Papa is a recipient of the National Heroes award, but he never ever graced the ceremony. He made loads of jokes about it, which, in honour of his legacy, I will not repeat here.

Papa was, indeed, a proper civil servant. His illustrious career, as an engineer who was proud of his craft and working in the civil service, spanned 30 years from 1957 to 1987, when he retired. At the time papa retired from the civil service, he was serving in the highest position in the civil service – a Permanent Secretary.

He started his career as an Engineering Assistant seconded to the Road and Highway Authority (1957-58); and then still as an Engineering Assistant, but deployed with Ministry of Works, he was in charge of road maintenance and water supply schemes (1958-63). Papa’s excellent work as an Engineering Assistant got him noticed, and he was selected to go abroad for further studies.

And so, from 1963 to 1966, he was a student at Plymouth Polytechnic (now university) in the United Kingdom, where he obtained a Diploma in Civil Engineering. Legend has it that when he was given the scholarship, he insisted on taking along his wife, my mum, Mrs. Betty Anne Apio Owaraga. He gave an ultimatum that it was either or. And because he was that good, he was allowed – my mum traveled along with her husband. While in Plymouth, they had their first child as a couple, my sister, Pamela Asire Isukali, hence Pamela’s British citizenship.

On his return in 1996 and until 1968, papa was Project Engineer. Some of the notable projects that he was in charge of include: the Ntungamo-Kabale Road; the Ruizi River Bridge; Kakitumba-Ishasha Road; Mbale-Tirinyi Road and others. During that time, papa also attended courses on Airport Engineering, as well as doing the necessary course works that qualified him to become a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineering (MICE), a much coveted qualification.

From 1968 to 1973, first as the Project Engineer and later as the Chief Airports Engineer, he was the one who was in charge of overseeing the design and the construction of the Entebbe International Airport. Thereafter, from 1973 to 1987 he served, scandal free, as the Permanent Secretary and Engineer-in-Chief of the Ministry of Works. He was so good that after his retirement he was frequently consulted and also requested to serve on boards.

By the way, papa’s full professional accolades that one would have said after his name, in order to have properly introduced him, for example, would be:

“Engineer George William Obityo Owaraga, Civil Engineer (C.ENG), Member of Institution of Civil Engineers (MICE), Member of Institution of Municipal Engineers (MIME), Member of Institution of American Institute of Civil Engineers (AMICE), and Fellow of Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers (FUIPE)”

Was papa a good father? To me he was.

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