Below: Mr. Dennis Ojwee (L) and the late Mr. James Oketch-Bitek (R) pause near the helicopter gunship in which they survived a crash in northern Uganda.
“Luckily for us, it didn’t catch fire but crash-landed in a thick forest, breaking its rare propellers”,
“This was the last and worst experience as a journalist in northern Uganda. As a war reporter, I wouldn’t say I was a courageous man, but I would just go, whether there was monetary gain or not. Pay was very little, but I was fighting for our people”
GULU-UGANDA: Dennis Ojwee is a veteran journalist who survived three government helicopter crashes as a journalist, covering the Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA), Holy Spirit Movement (HSM) of priestess Alice Auma Lakwena and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of warlord Joseph Kony wars in northern Uganda.
The first time was in June 1997 from Ituri forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when he accompanied former Army Commander, the late Major General James Kazini, in his hunt for the Allied Democratic Army (ADF) rebels who were hiding in the jungle.
Mr. Ojwee recalls that luckily for them, the helicopter that had crash landed in the forest didn’t catch fire, after it had been prepared by the Uganda army soldiers to land safely resulting into breaking rare propellers.
“Luckily for us, it didn’t catch fire and nobody died in the nasty incident, but it crash-landed in a thick forest, breaking its rare propellers”, recalls Ojwee.
The second time Ojwee survived helicopter crash was in Imatong hills of South Sudan in 2002 during a bombing encounter against the LRA rebel position. As was the case of the first incident, but still, no one died.
The worst was yet to come for Ojwee on June 6, 2004 from Opate village, Atanga sub-county in Pader district in Northern Uganda during a hunt for the elusive LRA leader, Joseph Kony where a government soldier, Francis Komakech was killed when a helicopter gunship came down in a forested area. His torso was cut off and separated from the hips.
He was in the company of two other journalists; the late James Oketch-Bitek of the Daily Monitor and a Dutch national who had visited war torn Northern Uganda to get a feel of the on-going war. The aim of this particular mission was to take journalists to the scene where Kony’s signaler had been killed the previous day.
Ojwee recalls that he had to remove the gum-boots from the dead soldier, adding that he wore them because his shoes had been destroyed during the nasty incident during their journey.
“This was the last and worst experience as a journalist in northern Uganda. As a war reporter, I wouldn’t say I was a courageous man, but I would just go, whether there is monetary gain or not. Pay was very little, but I was fighting for our people”, says Ojwee.
Mr. Ojwee describes working being a war reporter in northern Uganda at the time as a “very volatile’’ for journalists who were always at crossroads since they were often labeled as either rebel collaborators by government forces or as government spy by rebels.
“We were at cross-roads since you would be labeled a spy on either side of the divide. It was really very volatile for journalists. There was nothing like press freedom. I didn’t know how we survived”, says Ojwee.
Ojwee’s role in the peace processes (talks).
Mr. Ojwee’s role in the peace processes began with the Betty Bigombe’s initiative of 1994 in Kitgum. He has also been to Garamba forest two times from 2006 to 2009 together with Acholi local leaders when he accompanied them to meet Kony at his new base.
Prior to that, Ojwee has also been to the Senate in the US two times in 2004 and in 2006 together with Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu Archdiocese and other leaders from Acholi, during which visits he had the opportunities to interface with US Senators including former US president Barack Obama.
“I was also privileged to accompany local leaders, including Archbishop Odama to the US to meet US senators on the LRA war which was going on. I had the opportunity to meet Senator Barak Obama, who was later to become president of the US”, says Ojwee.
Post-war challenges journalists face.
Mr. Ojwee says he is not about to retire from active journalism since the war has ended. He insists that there are new challenges of post war recovery and the rampant land conflicts, which came about of the prolonged period people spent in concentration camps, which journalists like him, must cover and highlight.
“If people had not gone to the concentration camps, Acholi would not have experienced land conflicts today. Opportunists took advantage of the return process and occupied other people lands, mostly land which used to be communally owned. I now had to transform from war reporting to post war reporting covering the land conflicts and post war re-construction”, says Ojwee.
Who is Dennis Ojwee?
Mr. Ojwee is now 48 years old. He had a humble start into the journalism profession, beginning as a free-lance reporter, with only an Ordinary Level Certificate paper in 1984 to now his highest academic qualification of Bachelors Degree of Information & Communication Technology. He is married with three children.
His day begins at 5.00 am in the morning with jogging for about two to kilometers before heading to office at 8.30 am. He rarely takes breakfast from home, but prefers office tea between 9.00 am to 10.00 am. He keeps his ears to the ground for news tips once when in office, and makes sure that he follows them on a daily basis before retiring for other duties at the Vision Group offices in Gulu.
“I am a sportsman, a retired FIFA referee, who likes keeping fit. I am also a choir trainer at Church and I am in church every evening from 5.00 pm, after which I head back to office until ten at night. I have very little time for my family”, says Ojwee.