Ex-Uneb executive secretary Livingstone Ongom dies

Museveni talking to 50th Independence medalist D.Livingstone Ongom (M) and his daughter Anne Abeja.

The former Uganda National Examinations [UNEB] Executive Secretary Mzee David Livingstone Ongom has passed away.

He was in the Intensive Care Unit at Nakasero Hospital, according to a family member.

Ongom introduced an unprecedented examination syllabus giving details on what the exam is based on and what counts for success.

He almost single-handedly pushed for the revitalisation of the mode of setting examinations from one that loosely probes the pupils’ or students’ general knowledge to one that tests their aptitude to think.


Born in Lira district on June 20, 1937, Ongom went to several primary schools in Lira and Gulu districts.

In 1957, he joined the elite Sir Samuel Baker School in Gulu for his O-level, excelling in science subjects.

A day after independence in 1962, Ongom was on a train heading to the Royal Technical College in Nairobi, where he studied Mathematics and Physics at A-level on a Ford Foundation scholarship.

Ongom excelled at his A-level exams, gaining admission to the University of Nairobi in 1964, where he studied Mathematics, Physics and Geology.

At the time, Geology was a new subject and the young Ongom was smitten. Just like that, the lad who was supposed to become a teacher graduated as a geophysicist in 1967.

From Nairobi, Ongom joined the Department of Geological Surveys at Entebbe.

He was admitted at Makerere University for a postgraduate diploma in education, which he completed in 1968.

The new teacher returned to his home area to teach Physics at Lango College up to 1970.

Ongom would later transfer to National Teachers’ College (NTC) in Kyambogo as a lecturer of Physics.

Ongom became the NTC’s Deputy Director in January 1973.

He would rise to the level of regional chief examiner for Physics under the then East African Examinations Council (EAEC).

In 1976, Ongom joined the EAEC as deputy secretary in charge of examinations and research.

Ongom and his family were later exiled to Nairobi where he got a job as a teacher at Pangani Girls School.

Ongom was only able to return to his old job in December 1979, after the fall of Idi Amin.

The EAEC, whose offices were in Kampala, had remained after the collapse of East African Community in 1977.

It finally wound up in 1980, paving way for the creation of UNEB. Basil Kiwanuka became UNEB’s first executive secretary, with Peter Eriaku as his senior deputy secretary.

Below Eriaku were two deputy secretaries; Ongom and Cyprian Cele, who had been acting between 1977 and 1979.

Ongom says he was the one who suggested the UNEB name.

A year into UNEB’s existence, the ministry of Education removed Kiwanuka for unknown reasons and Eriaku took over.

Then in 1984, Eriaku suddenly died of high blood pressure and diabetes, leaving Ongom in the driving seat. Cyprian Cele now took over Ongom’s old position permanently.

However, Ongom held the job in acting capacity for five years until it was formally advertised in 1989, when he applied and got it substantively.

He lost his position after the 1995 exams leaked in Mukono, Mpigi, Masaka and Kampala areas.

Ongom’s deputy Cele replaced him briefly, before the ministry of Education appointed retired accountant Mathew Bukenya to take over.

Background information by The Observer



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