To some extent, Dusman Okee has spent much of his life in the shadow of his older, more prominent brother, Norbert Mao, the departing Gulu district chairman and Democratic Party presidential candidate.
To those in the know, he has always been a supporter of the ruling NRM, but a host of people, obviously not in the know, were surprised to see him cozying up to his brother’s political nemesis, President Yoweri Museveni, during a campaign rally in Acholi last month.
In an interview with Shifa Mwesigye, Okee says he has the blessing of his brother. He also sheds light on how he got to share the campaign podium and a seat inside the presidential helicopter with Museveni.
Who is Okee?
I am Dusman Okee, I take on the family name Okee and I am the youngest male in the family. We are eight in the family and Mao is the first born. I practised journalism for over 10 years.
I am a projects consultant with a Canadian organisation called Hope Foundation Canada. I am also President of Motor Sport in Uganda.
Your father supports UPC, your brother is the DP President, and you are in NRM; how do you manage to stay closeas a family?
Our father brought up his family in such a way that at the age of 18, you could decide what to do; you could take on your own religion, party affiliation, and you chose what you wanted to be.
We normally have a joke in our family that this is where true democracy is born. We still remain one sole family which we think is exemplary and unique.
You say that Museveni’s late mother, Esteri Kokundeka, raised you, what do you mean?
As a student at Ntare School between 1989 and 1991, my dormitory, called Crichton, was in the neighbourhood of where Museveni’s mother was staying.
I had a friend who was close to that family; one time he invited me to go with him to the late Kokundeka’s home. When I reached there, I found her a very kind lady. She liked me from that moment as an Acholi who was speaking Runyankore very well.
She told my friend that I am always welcome at her home. Typical of government schools where the meal was always posho and beans, I kept going for meals. By this time Museveni was [already] president. I would go in and out whenever I felt like.
The whole of Ntare School referred to me as Omukooko wa nyina Museveni (Museveni mother’s omukooko - a derogatory term for northerners).
At one time, the President came to visit me in my dormitory. I had asked him what he would do if detractors of peace came back. He said that Uganda had attained peace and he had all the means to fight [to keep it that way].
Did the President know that you were a regular visitor of his home?
At that time Museveni didn’t know about me and the relationship [with his mother]. He learnt about it after the death of his mother. I am the one who wrote the obituary of his mother, narrating our relationship. I think that is the time the President knew about it.
How did you meet the President?
To start with, I am a member of the Movement; and secondly, I have been working in northern Uganda since people were still in camps. I stayed with them in the camps as a role model and after the dismantling of the camps, I started building schools.
I think through his inquiries, the President came to learn about me and he wanted to hear my story.
There is a gentleman who works in State House who approached me. He said, “We have looked at some of your projects; it would be good if you explained some of them to the President.” That’s how I ended up meeting the President.
What was your first meeting like?
I met him at Acholi State Lodge in Gulu. I had to wait for an hour with my guide who took me there. I entered into an office and I met his Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. We had a one-on-one. It was just the two of us in the room.
The President is a very free person; people surrounding him look at him as a father, not even as president. Unbelievably there is no tension around him. I found him very receptive. He was talking casually; he listens, pays attention and responds to you.
I found the President to be ordinary; he takes his ordinary cup of tea. He looks at you not as a subject but as a person whom he can share ideas with. For example, he would say, “Dusman, what do you think of this and that; how do you look at this?”
In fact, because of that cordial atmosphere, you might forget that you are with the President. I found him a very free and sincere man. You only notice that you have been with him when you move out and see his guards.
How did Mao take your decision to support Museveni?
My relationship with Norbert Mao is very interesting. I describe him as a clean politician who practises mature politics. Where President Museveni has deserved a pat on the back, he has patted him on the back.
Where he thinks he has done poorly, he has told him so. It is very normal for him to hear that I am campaigning for Museveni. In fact, when we talk, he tells me: “Come February, I am going to floor you and your candidate”, which is very interesting.
I do not have to be a member of the Democratic Party. Mao being a member of DP doesn’t mean his brothers and sisters are. After all, our father is a member of the Uganda People’s Congress. So, for sure we understand very well our political affiliations and respect them. Politics never comes in our family; we agreed on that.
What are you looking to benefit from this? A political appointment, contracts or tenders?
You do not need to be in government to serve people. One of the cardinal NRM principles is to empower young people in whatever capacity. The government educated me, and I was being told to go out and serve.
I am happy if government rebuilds northern Uganda and makes sure that Joseph Kony never returns. So, I am not looking at any job in government but as a Ugandan I support my candidate President Yoweri Museveni because I know an excellent win for him means a great win for the people of Acholi.
Your experience travelling with the President?
For me, it was a great opportunity as a member of the NRM to campaign alongside the President. It was also an aspect that built a lot of confidence in me; to know that somebody somewhere will always appreciate your efforts.
My efforts were an eye-opener that anything is possible. Of course, it was a great opportunity to learn more about him. I hear people say the Museveni of the 1980s is no longer the Museveni of today. The only thing I saw that has changed is the bald head, but the development dreams are still alive.
What next after the President left Acholi?
I definitely intend to keep the fire burning. For me, the campaign has just started.
What are Museveni’s chances in Acholi?
Museveni was not doing very well in northern Uganda and people were justified not to vote for him then. They were living in camps, Joseph Kony was terrorizing them daily, and they didn’t know what it meant to live in peace. Right now, NRM has flushed Kony out of northern Uganda.
Look at the towns, there is no town growing faster than Gulu and Lira. Actually, many visitors are shocked to find such accelerated development taking place.
You will walk from village to village without finding heavy presence of the army which shows that people are freely moving about day and night. And with NAADS, I think there is no option but for His Excellency to perform very well this time.
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