The sporting legacy of ‘Sunlight’ athlete Okiror has never been recognized by Uganda.
Almost thirty years after his death, his son hopes to improve the situation.
Samson “Sunlight” Okiror, my dad, lived an exceptional life. He was a soldier, a rebel and one of the most famous athletes in Uganda.
A heavyweight lifter and a boxer, he could lift a car off the ground. He might attach a rope to a Land Rover and, when the engine started, stop it from moving. He could stretch chains and springs of steel. To practice and perform, he traveled across East Africa and to Europe.
It was not a career that had been considered by his relatives.
In the eastern Ugandan district of Serere, Samson was born into a farming family.
It was said that he had just a single bone in his forearm.
But he was given a job at 16, which changed the course of his life. He became a camp administrator for the 4th African Rifles of the British King’s Battalion.
He was strong even as a boy and his strength was noted in the Army.
The Army operated on his right hand in 1965, weakened by burns that he had sustained as a child. Dad started lifting weights in order to strengthen his arm after the surgery.
By 1970, he was a Ugandan army first lieutenant and became a renowned professional heavyweight lifter and wrestler.
For his crowd-pleasing stunts, he was known as the “golden rock of Africa” – in April 1975, he became a myth when he anchored a helicopter and held it down with chains while hovering overhead. Two months later, he successfully pulled a ferry 100 meters into the dock at Lake Nalubaale.
In 1977, Okiror was named the country’s greatest athlete by the Voice of Uganda “Sunlight” newspaper.
Idi Amin, the then president, who challenged my father to a wrestling match, called attention to his skills. On July 28, 1975, during a summit of what is now the African Union, the widely awaited war was to take place in Kampala.
Amin canceled the war, stating that he was too busy, but whispered, he was actually afraid of embarrassment in front of the leaders of Africa.
You see, my [honorable]son of the soil, I didn’t have a good time to practice. Visitors are coming, we Ugandans have to prepare to receive them. We don’t have to fight now,”You see, my [honorable]son of the soil, that I have not had a good time to practice. The visitors will come, we people of Uganda must prepare to receive them. We don’t need to wrestle now,”
Later, for training and appearances, Amin will hire a plane to fly Dad to Germany. Our country needs foreign currency. Collect as much [as you can]while you are there and send it to your country. OK?”Our country lacks foreign currency. While you are there, collect as much [as you can]and send it to your country. OK?”Okay?
I was born in 1979 and grew up listening to the tales of the most ruthless military tyrant who was terrified of fighting. He was a terrific father. Highly rough, but caring.
He had so much love for us, his children, and his wives. In his minibus and his Land Cruiser, he used to drive us around.
We lived in Serere and also in Kampala at that time. Our house was the only one which had a tiled roof in the entire village.
On the highway, people used to stop him.
In reference to Michael Okpara, the Nigerian wrestler of the 1970s and former African heavyweight champion, some have called him “Power Mike”
When Yoweri Museveni became president in 1986, his dad was the sports director of the Ugandan army.
But he became increasingly dissatisfied with what he saw as the weak governance of Museveni and joined the Sons of Teso in May 1987 and launched the uprising of the Uganda People’s Army (UPA). He was commander of the main brigade of the UPA when he was killed at the age of 44 in March 1991.
When I heard the news, I was at school and joined a group of children who rushed to the village where hundreds of people had already gathered to see if the strong man was really dead.
I broke down and said, “God be with you, Dad, until we meet again.” when I saw my father’s bullet-riddled body lying in a pool of blood.
His death was a rude awakening for a 12-year-old boy whose mother had already left the family, and who had lived a privileged life until that point. Our strong family had disintegrated.
I had to leave home because I could not be taken care of by my grandmother.
To make ends meet, I did odd jobs in other people’s homes.
I used to sleep without a meal occasionally.
The family has suffered ever since.
My father’s army pension has never been compensated, nor have we received compensation for the property and livestock that we lost in the northern uprisings.
I have recently started to think about the legacy of my father and his dedication to sports.