Brig. Gad Wilson Toko (born on 1st January 1943) was Vice President and Minister of Defence of Uganda at a difficult time in our country’s history, from July 1985 to January 24, 1986.
Prior to that he was general manager of Uganda Airlines from 1979-1985; Director General of East African Airways Corporation from 1973-1976 and commander of the Uganda Air Force from 1971-1973. Toko served Uganda and East Africa honestly and selflessly with distinction.
As one of Uganda’s first Aviation engineers, Tokos’ claim to fame was climaxed when President Tito Okello Lutwa appointed him as Chief Negotiator in the Nairobi peace talks between the NRA forces led by President Museveni and the Tito government.
Before he went into exile after the fall of the Tito Okello government in January 1986, he advised the elders and soldiers in Arua not to fight the NRM government but welcome them and work together for the good of West Nile region.
Toko, who was often the face of the short lived military council government of six months, made a controversial decision to return home from exile in 1995 after retiring from politics and was preparing to launch a regional airline.
He died in a road accident at Njuru about 12km from Jinja town along the Kampala Jinja road on 18th of August 2002 at the age of 59 years.
Early Life and Education
Toko was born on the 1st of January 1943 in Nya’la village, Paranga Parish, Oleba Sub County in Maracha district to parents; Joshua Adebo and Priscilla Buziru. His father, Adebo, was a pastor in the then Native Anglican Church (NAC) and such was the environment in which Toko was brought up in.
From 1956 to 1957 Toko obtained a junior school certificate from Arua junior secondary school Mvara before joining Sir Samuel Baker school in Gulu from 1958 to 1962 where he obtained a Cambridge School certificate in 1961. It later allowed him enroll in a technical school.
From 1962-1963, he studied engineering at Kampala Technical Institute, a course that helped him to enlist as a cadet officer at Uganda Air Force and later that year, he joined the Uganda Air Force.
He trained at an Air Force Academy in the Russian Federation from which he joined Royal Air Force College, Bracknell, United Kingdom, Italy and in Cairo, Egypt where he was an alumnus of Hosni Mubarak who, like Toko, was Commander of the Air Force in the Egyptian Army.
In 1972, Uganda wanted to upgrade its fleet of war planes from MiG17 to 21 and again President Idi Amin sent Toko to Egypt to go and learn so that he could come and establish a similar one for Uganda.
He was the first Ugandan pilot to fly solo in a sophisticated Russian MIG jet fighter. Following that incident, the Russians wanted him to change his nationality and remain there but he declined arguing that he wanted to serve Uganda.
In 1967, Toko was part of a team of Uganda Air Force officers sent to Gulu to establish a Squadron of MIG jet fighters bought from Russia.
It is said that while serving as the commander of the Air Force, he flew the Defence Minister then in his quest to advocate for increase of salaries of pilots and air force staff. The salaries were then raised after the Minister got the experience of being in the air.
In 1972, Gen Idi Amin sent Toko for training in Egypt and his host was Hosni Mubarak, who became Egyptian President in 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.
From 1973-1977, Toko was appointed Director General of East African Airways Corporation until it collapsed, this happened because Amin never wanted Toko to be near power centres in Kampala.
After the 1976 Israel hostage crisis, President Amin declared Toko a persona non grata in Uganda when he accused him of not giving Ugandan government intelligence information that Israeli Air Defense Forces were using Nairobi Airport to attack Uganda. So this made Toko to go into exile with his family in Pittsburgh, USA.
In March 1979, Toko participated in the Moshi Unity Conference which paved way for the overthrow of Gen Amin on April 11, 1979 by Tanzania People’s Defense Forces (TPDF) and Uganda National Liberation Forces (UNLA). He also briefly served as a deputy Minister in the UNLA government.
From 1980 to 1985, Toko served as a general manager Uganda Airlines and turned the national carrier into a profitable parastatal organization contrary to the current narrative that government entities don’t make profits.
In July 1985 to January 1986, Gen Tito Okello Lutwa appointed Toko as Vice Chairman of the Military council, the de facto vice president of Uganda after promoting him to the rank of Brigadier from Colonel and appointed him to head the peace talks in Nairobi between the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels and the Military council.
In March 1974, Toko got married to Ms Resti Karugonjo at All Saints Cathedral in Kampala. They have four children; Sandra Toko, Nicholas Toko, Emmily Toko, and Joshua Toko but unfortunately Sandra passed on before his father. Toko was one person, who dedicated a lot of time for his family
Brigadier Toko liked reading and playing golf, spending quality time with his family was often another. He also treasured solitude as this was the time he spent on personal reflections, he also liked prayers.
Brig. Toko comes from the Paranga clan of Oleba Sub County in Maracha district which is Lugbara speaking.
- He turned Uganda Airlines from scratch into a profit making government parastatal organization.
- After the military coup of July 27, 1985, Brig. Toko played a key and constructive role in efforts to normalize the then volatile political situation. Gen. Tito Okello appointed him Leader of the Uganda government delegation to the Nairobi peace talks in October 1985, a task which he accomplished with distinction.
- As a man, who was personally committed to the search for peace in Uganda, he played a leading role in ensuring the withdrawal of UNLA and FUNA troops from Kampala in January 1986 in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, loss of lives and destruction of property.
- He was a patriot who served Uganda diligently to the best of his ability, but was misunderstood by some people whom he forgave.
- Toko published a book titled, ‘Interventions in Uganda, The Power Struggle and Soviet Involvement.’
- While in exile in London, he, together with other West Nilers, founded the West Nile Welfare Association which brought them together and planned for development of the region.
- Toko also served as President of Uganda Golf Union (UGU) in 2002, by the time of his death, he was heading to Jinja to officiate at a Golf function of the Union.
In recognition of his outstanding and distinguished leadership, Toko was buried at Emmanuel Cathedral instead of his home area of Oleba Sub County in Maracha district.
During Toko’s memorial service to mark the 15th anniversary of his demise at Emmanuel Cathedral in Mvara, Arua on August 17, 2017, the people of Arua suggested that Arua Airport be renamed “Brig Gad Wilson Toko Airport” in his honour and a street in Arua be named after him.
There is no known awarding of a medal by the government in his hounour but the people of West Nile hope to hold public lectures in his honour.
1 - An opinion by Ambassador Harold Acemah in Sunday Monitor
An article in the New Vision of January 2015-http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1318561/wilson-toko-piooneer-aviator-peacemaker
4-News24 of 18th August 2002- http://www.news24.com/xArchive/Archive/Ugandas-Toko-dies-20020818