The Resident District Commissioner (RDC) of Gulu, Major Santos Okot Lapolo who was admitted at Mulago hospital passed away on Saturday. The sad news was initially shared on social media WhatsApp groups. A WhatsApp text message read, “ With deep sorrow, we announce the death of our RDC Gulu, Taskforce Chairperson for COVID-19, Major Santos Okot Lapolo. May his soul rest in eternal peace. Information from son, Fred of Kitgum from Mulago.”  On Saturday at 1 pm, NRM senior mobilizer  in Gulu, Mr Samuel Oduny posted on Facebook, “Major Santo Okot Lapolo RDC of Gulu has passed on from Kampala after being taken a few weeks ago for COVID-19 treatment. Oh! My friend I just can’t imagine that could happen like that.”

The passing away of Maj. Lapolo is big a loss for the country and may lead to some challenges in leadership in Gulu.  He was a very pragmatic and hands-on leader. He also was very humble and hardworking. Rev. Fr. Okun-Lagoro Matthew who was classmates with the late Lapolo at Namukora Primary School in the 1960s expressed shock and sadness when he heard of Lapolo’s demise. He worked closely with us at the Archdiocese of Gulu especially in the area of Livelihood. It was Lapolo’s suggestion to the Acholibur Parish Project [APP] initiated by Archbishop John Baptist Odama that cassava should be grown for commercial purposes and for food security at a meeting held at Holy Rosary parish on 29/9/2017. Fr. Matthew asked all priests who are members of the APP to offer mass for the repose of soul.

The Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Hon. Betty Aol Ocan expressed sadness at the loss of Gulu’s RDC and chairperson of the COVID-19 task force in the district. She said Major  Lapolo was close to her family through her late husband(Lapwony Mike Ocan). Both of them taught Physics and usually met during the marking of the national exams, UNEB. Much later they worked in Kitgum together. Hon. Aol remembers vividly how actively and with passion the late Lapolo took part even as a guest at community training on the Domestic Violence Act 2010 organized by International Justice Mission (IJM). We cherish his contributions and accomplishments. He left a great legacy. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

Hon. Charles Rwomushana who worked in Pader as Resident District Commissioner and interacted with the late Lapolo acknowledged his contribution in reconciling the National Resistance Army (NRA) with the people of Acholi.

In an interview with journalist Julius Ocungi for a chapter in the book, The Life and Legacy of Lapwony Micheal Ocan Anthology in 2019,  RDC, Maj. Lapolo talks about his background as a teacher. He was a tutor at Kitgum Teachers’ Training College. He told Julius that he met Mr. Ocan for the first time in 1982 when they were both marking the national exams. Later they were identified as the only examiners for Physics, paper one from the sub-region of Acholi. Due to the insecurity of 1985, they took different paths. Mr. Lapolo went back to his village in Namukora sub-county (now Town Council) while Mr. Ocan who was headmaster at Awere Secondary School was forced to join the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Lakwena. When the war ended, they reconnected from Kitgum district where Mr. Ocan was head-teacher, Kitgum High School and Mr. Lapolo was then District Internal Security Officer(DISO) and later promoted to Resident District Commissioner(RDC), Kitgum. Eventually, he was transferred to Gulu as the new Resident District Commissioner replacing the very popular  Col. Walter Ochora who had passed away. In that book chapter, Major Lapolo talks about their close working relationship and the successes they achieved in their individual fields as teachers, civil servants and politicians in their own rights.

It is not common to find people in active government service who speak candidly about individuals deemed to be in ‘opposition’. In that interview about Lapwony Ocan,  Major Lapolo says, “The experience of being forced to join the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Lakwena had opened his eyes to how bad violence was. Maybe he thought things would change in the region but it didn’t work out. He abandoned the struggle and held no grudge or bitterness. He got absorbed in the teaching profession again and embarked on peaceful conflict resolution in Acholi sub-region.” By the virtue of his position in government, some of the kind remarks he made about his friend wouldn’t be taken lightly by people without reconciliatory attributes. However, friendship, as the late Lapolo showed, should go beyond and transcend the political divide. Major Santo Okot Lapolo’s death is a big blow to the community of Acholi. He will be missed not only by family and friends but the entire Northern region and the country.

The late RDC Maj. Santo Lapolo will be buried today at his village in Orom, Kitgum (Monday, 11th January 2021).


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Written by Odoki Jimmy (2)

Jimmy Odoki Acellam is Coordinator of Heartsounds Uganda and a Mental Health Advocate.

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