Olowo, Yesero Tebba

Anglican Communion (Church of Uganda) , Balokole Movement

Yesero Tebba Olowo

Yesero Tebba Olowo (Reverend Canon) was one of the early and profoundly influential members of the clergy in the Church of Uganda, which at the start of his ministry was known as the Church of England but in colonial Uganda was called the Native Anglican Church (NAC).

He was born on December 10, 1917 in Atiri village among the Loli Clan of the Jopadhola people of eastern Uganda. His mother’s name was Anna Nyaburu Nyasinge. His father, Oringho Obony Tebba, was a soldier in the King’s African Rifles (KAR) of the British colonial administration, and took part in World War I. When he did not return, it was presumed that he had either died in the campaign or upon being discharged at the end of the war, he was abandoned to his fate as was the case with many African war veterans in the British colonial administration. [1]

Yesero Tebba Olowo was baptized on March 16, 1930 into the Communion of the Church of England, and received confirmation on October 4, 1931. [2] At that time, Christianity was just making inroads in eastern Uganda, and the church was playing a key role in the lives of the people. Schools and hospitals were being established by and belonged to the Church.

As a young man growing up, Yesero Tebba Olowo remained closely associated with the Church, and like everyone else in his time, he started formal education in a church mission school. In his case, it was in 1927 at Pokori Native Anglican Church (NAC) School. [3] One of his first benefactors was a local Christian missionary and teacher called Yeremiya Bansedde regarding whom he wrote, “It was this teacher who taught me to read and write.” [4] However, the person who had the most spiritual influence on him was another teacher and also a Ugandan missionary called Isaka Afunadula. From 1928-1929, he was under the tutelage of this missionary and teacher, about whom he also later wrote, “Katonda yanonda nga aita mu mudu we Isaka Afunadula.” (“God called me through the instrumentality of His servant, Isaka Afunadula.”). He recorded further that Isaka Afunadula told him, “Osana okubera omusomesa, okuyigiriza abana ba Katonda, okubakomyawo eri Katonda.” (“You must become a teacher, to teach God’s children and to bring them back to God.”). He then added, “Mu kisera kino nali simanyi yadde ekintu kyona, wabula nga manyi nyo okusoma bwino ne Katekisimu nga ntegera bulungi. Kyoka ekigambo ekyo Katonda yanterekera mu mwoyo gwange, Zabuli 119.” (“At that time I did not know anything. I, however, knew how to read and could understand things very well. But then God placed all those things in my heart, Psalm 119.”) [5]

In 1932 he was sent to study at Kisoko Native Anglican Church (NAC) Mission Centre, which in those days served not only as the place for educational enlightenment in eastern Uganda, but also as a governmental administrative headquarters of Padhola County. At Kisoko Native Anglican Church (NAC) Mission Centre, he was placed on an intensive training program. On return from the training in 1933, he was assigned to work as a teacher at Pokori Native Anglican Church (NAC) School.

In 1949, he was called to go to Buwalasi Theological College (now Bishop Lucian Charles Usher-Wilson Theological Collage) for further studies. He was classmates with Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum who was Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Mboga-Zaire (currently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), who was martyred by General Idi Amin on February 16, 1977. [6]

Yesero Tebba Olowo was ordained a deacon on December 14, 1958, and into the priesthood on December 20, 1959. In his diary of July 16, 1950, nearly ten years before his ordination, he had written the following, “You did not choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. (John 15:16)”. “Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom shall I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Lord, I will go. Send me.’ (Isaiah 6:8)”. [7] Those two Bible verses were to remain some of the Bible quotations that he was to constantly refer to in his conversations. Commenting on the events of the day of his ordination, one influential elder remarked that there was no doubting that he was passionate about his calling. [8]

Yesero Tebba Olowo was an organized, well-read man who spent long hours studying and writing handwritten manuscripts, mostly sermons and religious thought. He never published any of his manuscripts which remain in handwritten form. [9] There were no computers in his time and typewriters were a rare commodity where he lived. He was a man of simple and humble means, but with abundant wit and made everyone feel at home around him. It was therefore not uncommon to find that his home was always full of people. [10] He preached his sermons with simplicity and clarity using local allegories, but with a profound presence, so that even the youth would sit captivated in their pews. [11]

He was known for his early morning melodious songs, such as the Luganda hymns “Egulu likusinza Mukama ’mutonzi…” (“The Heavens worship you Lord the Creator…”), and “Tuzukuke, tuzukuke, emirimu tugikole…” (“Let’s wake up, wake up, let’s go to work…”). He was also good at singing that he mixed with the echoes of songs of the variety of Uganda’s assortment of birds at the dawn of each day. Among his parishioners, he was better known by his pseudonym Jaganga (The man of the collar). To them, he was someone whose presence seemed to have authority and attracted respect and a sense of piety. [12]

Yesero Tebba Olowo was a pioneer in church reform. These days it seems normal to play the guitar, drums, harp, hand piano, and the entire entourage of African musical instruments in church. This was not the case in his time. The only musical instruments that were allowed in church were the piano and the pipe organ. He was one of the first to introduce African and other musical instruments, such as the guitar, to be played in church to accompany worship services. The introduction of these musical instruments was not easy and it required skillful diplomacy at handling the church members in order for them to come along, leave alone the church hierarchy. He started off by organizing church services for the youth. They could play the musical instruments to accompany their service. [13] A few years later, the practice spread and was everywhere and soon it became a feature in the main Sunday services in churches around the country, becoming the new normal.

There were many other events that related to the work of Yesero Tebba Olowo. One of the most memorable concerned a parishioner-couple Mr. Yasoni Okolo and Mrs. Zereda Okolo when Yesero Tebba Olowo was serving in Mulanda parish. In 1962, Mr. Okolo was a wraithlike reclusive figure who appeared to be afraid of people and who spent most of his day hiding in the woods. Dressed in dirtying scanty clothing, this shadowy figure would be seen nearly every morning at dawn, crossing the main road heading for the woods. His wife, Mrs. Okolo, on the other hand, was a public personality who was known in the community. One day on Friday, November 6, 1964, while preparing for a Christian Convention (conference) for the local chapter of the Balokole (revival) movement, the organizers approached Mr. and Mrs. Okolo with an invitation to attend. To their surprise, the invitation was accepted. [14] At the convention the following day, an altar call was made after a moving sermon on “Being born again” delivered by the preacher of the day, Mr. George Owino “Mulokole,” and a brother of Archbishop Yona Okoth. To the amazement of everyone, both Mr. and Mrs. Okolo walked forward to be prayed for. [15] That was the moment that forever changed the lives of this couple. From then on, the two literally became changed people. The following day, Sunday November 8, 1964, was an immensely joyful day in the Church. Mr. Okolo, dressed up in an immaculately clean white “kanzu” (Ugandan men’s attire) and Mrs. Okolo adorned in a beautiful “gomasi” (graceful Ugandan women’s attire), came to Church. During the service, Yesero Tebba Olowo interrupted the Order of Service to welcome them. [16] Of the two, only Mrs. Okolo used to attend church, but not regularly. As for Mr. Okolo, that must have been the first time in church after a very long time indeed. From then on, he never missed church as he visibly grew in faith discipled by Yesero Tebba Olowo. Mr. Okolo later became an elder of the church and an altar server assisting the clergy during liturgy. It was such a beautiful thing to behold Mr. Okolo transformed, and on each Sunday dressed in brilliant white surplice, with Yesero Tebba Olowo, also in his full priestly garb, matching in procession to the altar to lead the church in service. Mr. Okolo became a notable man in the community, known for his kindness and willingness to help people in any situation. Mrs. Okolo, for her part, became an active member of the Mothers’ Union movement in the church. Both of them lived a full life and passed away at different times in their ripe old age. The immense transformation in the lives of this couple touched many.

Along with other remarkable members of the clergy, including Bishop Festo Kivengere of the Diocese of Kigezi and a fellow member of the Balokole movement, Archbishop Yona Okoth with whom he also was an alumnus at Buwalasi Theological College, Yesero Tebba Olowo served in several parishes from the time of Bishop Arthur Kitching of the Diocese on Upper Nile, Bishop Lucian Charles Usher-Wilson of the Diocese on Upper Nile and later Bishop of the Diocese of Mbale following the split of the Diocese on Upper Nile into two, and then Bishop Erisa Masaba, the first African and Ugandan Bishop of the Diocese of Mbale. Later, when the Diocese of Bukedi was created from the Diocese of Mbale, Yesero Tebba Olowo served with Bishop Yona Okoth, who was the first bishop of the diocese before he was elected archbishop of the Church of Uganda in 1983 to replace Archbishop Silvanus Goi Wani.

Living and working in a troubled period of Uganda’s history, Yesero Tebba Olowo was one of the leaders who resisted the brutal rule of General Idi Amin. On the fateful night of February 16-17, 1977, when Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum, and government cabinet ministers Charles Aripakusadi Oboth-Ofumbi and Erinayo Oryema were assassinated, [17] the political and security situation in Uganda was very poor. There was fear everywhere and a high level of concern about security all around. Earlier, Bishop Yona Okoth had been arrested, and a search was underway for other leaders. Yesero Tebba Olowo refused to leave the country and remained with his parishioners. General Idi Amin had accused both Bishop Yona Okoth and Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum, and the two cabinet ministers of treason. During their kangaroo court trial, through the ingenuity of some extraordinary Ugandans, including Yesero Tebba Olowo and some elders in his parish, and through God’s own grace, Bishop Yona Okoth was smuggled out of the country to safety in neighboring Kenya. Had they not assisted him to escape, it is most probable that Bishop Yona Okoth would have met the same fate as Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum and the two cabinet ministers.

From his ancestral home in Atiri village, Yesero Tebba Olowo served in many places, founding churches and schools. In his pastoral work, he regularly conducted what he called Christian mission weeks, which were basically Christian evangelistic outreaches to people in their homes and villages. In the process, he also paid attention to the physical well-being of his parishioners, and he often encouraged them to enroll their children into schools and to become involved in community development activities.

About his long journey in ministry he later wrote, “Wafwoyo Were owotho gi wani itich pere me, wok ioro 1932 tundo pama munyo fwodi wotho gi wani. Wachale achala gi Iblaimu ma Were chango olwong’o go woki ipinyi Uri Bukaludaya to wotho gine. Apaka Were owotho gi wani. Were womiyi [go] dwongi.” (“We are grateful to God who walked with us in His work through from the year 1932 to today and He still is walking with us. We are just as if we were [the Biblical] Abraham whom God called to leave his home in Ur in Chaldea, and walked with him. That is how God has also walked with us. God be given the glory.”). [18]

Unbowed, Yesero Tebba Olowo gladly and energetically served until 1986. Even if by this time he was old, sickly and had officially retired, he continued to preach and work in his community. He passed away on March 18, 1999. He was 82. He was laid to rest at his home in Katerema village in eastern Uganda on March 20, 1999. On the day that he passed away, one man who knew him well and who was his personal physician said, “Truly, truly, this was a man of God. His life has touched and inspired many.” [19] His spouse of 62 years and the mother of their 14 children, Mrs. Ezeredareda Merabu Achola Olowo passed away on March 7, 2013. She was 90. She was laid to rest next to him on March 10, 2013.

Yesero Tebba Olowo and Mrs. Eseredareda Merabu Achola Olowo were survived by 7 of their 14 children, several grandchildren and great grandchildren. Of their 14 children, 4 passed away in infancy and 3 as adults. The list below contains the names of their children in the order of their birth:

Erisa Kosam Onduri Oringho (deceased at 68 years of age). Firimoni Ofumbi (deceased in infancy). Nasani Okoth. Philip Othieno. Lydia Nyaburu Nyafwono. The baby without a name. She passed away in infancy the day after her birth, and thus did not have the opportunity to be given a name. That is why we call her here “The baby without a name”. Yokoedi Annette Apiyo (deceased at 44 years of age). Eunike Adongo (was the junior twin of Yokobedi Annette Apiyo. She was deceased in infancy). J. O. Moses Okello (author). Elizabeth Amali Innya. Anna Joyce Nyaburu Nyasinge Asinde (deceased at 41 years of age). Dorcas Mary Amitta Etyang. Zipporah Amuga Olowo-Rwakibale. Perepetua Andera (deceased in infancy).

Yesero Tebba Olowo and Mrs. Eseredareda Merabu Achola Olowo raised their children and grandchildren in a loving and comfortable home setting.

And so came to a close a truly remarkable life that started out as an orphaned only child of a non-home-coming war veteran who had been forcibly conscripted into the British colonial army to fight in World War I, a war of which he probably did not understand the causes and benefits, and a helpless widow living in a little known village called Atiri near Tororo town located at the far edges of what was a colonized territory in the heart of Africa, known then only as the Uganda Protectorate.

J. O. Moses Okello


  1. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), War Memorial to African-Caribbean soldiers unveiled in London, June 22, 2017. African ex-service men of both World War I and World War II were treated with an astonishing disregard. They were neither commemorated nor acknowledged as having contributed to the war effort, and some of them were left in the countries in which they had fought. It is only recently, and after years of campaigning by their descendants, that the British government unveiled the first ever memorial to African and Caribbean service men and women of World War I and II, in Windrush Square, Brixton, United Kingdom. The Defense Secretary of the United Kingdom at that time, Sir Michael Fallon, speaking at the dedication of the War memorial described the occasion as, “…long overdue.” Https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-40372063, June 22, 2017.
  2. Personal Diaries of Yesero Tebba Olowo, in possession of the author.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Above n. 2
  5. Ibid.
  6. Kyemba, Henry. A State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin (New York: Ace Books, 1977).
  7. Above n. 2
  8. Okech, Dr. Hannington, medical practitioner, Kampala, Uganda, formerly an official of the United Nations, in interview recalling comments of one senior community leader Zedekiya Onyango Okello-Akanga, 1990, about Yesero Tebba Olowo, March 2022.
  9. Manuscripts in possession of the author.
  10. The author was a member of his household and witnessed this over the years.
  11. The author observed this a number of times.
  12. Nasan Okoth and Philip Othieno, his older sons and daughter Lydia Nyaburu Nyafwono, Interview, Katerema, Uganda, and London, Ontario, Canada, respectively, on the 23rd anniversary of his death, March 18, 2022.
  13. Ochwo Madile, Rev. Moses, Interview, Kampala, Uganda, 2018.
  14. The author was present.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Above n. 14
  17. Above n. 6
  18. Above n. 2
  19. Epuwat, Dr. Apollo Milton, medical practitioner, Tororo, Uganda, March 18, 1999.


Personal Diaries of Yesero Tebba Olowo.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), June 22, 2017.

Kyemba, Henry. A State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin, Ace Books, New York, USA, 1977.

Dr. Hannington Okech, medical practitioner, Kampala, Uganda, and formerly an official of the United Nations, Interview recalling comments of one senior community leader Zedekiya Onyango in 1990 about Yesero Tebba Olowo, Kampala, Uganda, Feb 12, 2022.

Nasan Okoth and Philip Othieno, his older sons and daughter Lydia Nyaburu Nyafwono, telephone interviews by author, Katerema, Uganda, and London, Ontario, Canada, respectively, on the 23rd anniversary of the death of Yesero Tebba Olowo, March 18, 2022.

Rev. Moses Ochwo Madile, Interview, Kampala, Uganda, August 2018.

Dr. Apollo Milton Epuwat, medical practitioner, Tororo, Uganda, March 18, 1999.

This biography was researched and prepared by J. O. Moses Okello, a retired lawyer, career diplomat and former senior official of the United Nations. Mr. Okello is one of the five sons and the ninth of the children of Yesero Tebba Olowo (Reverend Canon) and Mrs. Eseredareda Merabu Achola Olowo. He lives in Tororo and Kampala, Uganda. He holds a Master of Law (LL. M) degree from New York University, New York, USA (1988); a Master of Arts (M.A.) degree in Government and Politics from St. John’s University, New York, USA, (1983); a diploma in International Law and Diplomacy from St. John’s University, New York, USA, (1982); a Bachelor of Law (LL. B) degree from the University of Zambia, (1979). He was an Undergraduate Student in the Bachelor of Law (LL. B) degree program at Makerere University (1975-1977) before transferring to the University of Zambia in 1977 as a result of political upheaval in Uganda connected to the assassination of Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum and the two government cabinet ministers.