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Who is Hilary Obaloker Onek?

Who is Hilary Obaloker Onek?: Flash Uganda Media looks at his biography, age, family, wife, tribe, wealth, Bomah hotel, work and experience, political career, Lamwo Constituency, early life and education of the current Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees in Uganda.

Hilary Obaloker Onek is a Ugandan engineer, politician, businessman and the current Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees in the Cabinet of Uganda. 

Onek was first appointed to the position on 27 May 2013 replacing Tarsis Kabwegyere.

The Lamwo Constituency Legislator is a registered Chartered Engineer in Uganda who has the authority to sign technical documents and give legal binding technical advice on issues concerning Civil Engineering. 

Early Life and Education

Hilary Onek was born on 5 May 1948, to Samson Okello Otto, and Mrs Jera Ayoo and the second born in the family an Acholi by ethnicity.

In 1946 Samson Okello Otto served in the King’s African Rifles (KAR) in Kenya and this was the time he married his wife Ayoo. 

Then in 1954, Onek resigned from army service and joined the Public Works Department (PWD) at Entebbe and later worked in different parts of Uganda, including Soroti, Hoima, Moroto and Mubende. Otto used to move with his family to every duty station.

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Hilary Onek attended his primary school education in Moroto and Karamoja District. Thereafter, he joined St. Mary’s College Kisubi for his secondary school education both O’ & A’ Level education (1965-1970).

In his High School, Onek engaged in sports and social activities that include; Assistant House Prefect in Mugwanya House from 1967-1968, Chairman School, Council from 1967-1968 re-elected in 1969 till 1970.

1969-1970, Onek served as president of the mathematics and Physics Club. In the same period, Onek was the Chairperson of the St. Mary’s High School Social Club and the Captain of the school’s basketball team.

1967-1970, Onek actively engaged in athletics particularly Long Jump, Javelin, Triple Jump and High Jump.

Between 1971 & 1974, Onek attended Makerere University, the oldest university in the country but dropped out of school before graduating. Here Onek served as the Secretary National Union of Students of Uganda (NUSU) and belonged to the Student’s Progressive Political Camp.

He then proceeded to the People’s Friendship University in Moscow Russia, where he pursued a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Civil Engineering and Master of Science (MSc) in engineering majoring in Water Resources & Hydro-technical Structural Engineering from 1974 until 1979. 

Onek completed a one-year fellowship at the Moscow Institute of Civil Engineering in Hydropower Dams & Hydro-technical Structures after completing his masters, from 1979 until 1980.

1977-1979, while at Moscow University, Onek served as the Uganda Student’s Union President. He led a student’s demonstration to the Libyan Embassy in Moscow protesting its Military aid to the President of Uganda, Idi Amin Dada

He as well holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Investment Appraisal and Management, from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America attained in 1994. 

In 1997, Onek attained a postgraduate certificate in Public-Private Partnership in Utility Management, from the Institute For Public-Private Partnerships in Washington, DC.

Then again in 1998, Onek joined Makerere University graduating in the year 2000 with a master degree in Business Administration (MBA).

wife Hilary Onek joined active politics
Onek became active in politics in 2000, joining the National Resistance Movement (NRM). FILE PHOTO

Work and Experience

Hilary Onek began working as an engineer while in graduate school from May till August 1977. He was an Assistant Site Engineer, Nurek 305m Hydropower Dam Construction, Tajikistan (USSR). 

May-August 1978, Onek was an Assistant Site Engineer, 280m Inguri Hydropower Concrete Arc-Dam Construction, in the Republic of Georgia, Soviet Union.

Also, while at Moscow Institute of Civil Engineering Hydro-technical Engineering Laboratory, Onek participated in the design and research regarding several International projects that include;

The design of Kabur 80m Hydropower Dam in Syria, a member of the design team for the Cascades of 4 dams on Andes Ranges in South Africa, Peru.

Onek conducted experiments to determine the physical characteristics and structural stability of different soil textures used in dams under different load conditions creating standards and engineering guides. 

Additionally, Onek presented over 10 papers at workshops on dam structures and their stability.

Onek later in 1980 returned to Uganda and served as a Lecturer Makerere University, Department of Technology, lecturing Water Resources Engineering and Hydro-technical Structural Engineering till 1983. 

As a Lecturer, conducted research studies on Uganda’s River Nile other rivers in the country including supervising students’ course works. And his findings were presented at Energy Workshops financed by the National Research Council and other industry groups. 

Onek in 1982 was served as Chief Engineer at the National Water and Sewage Corporation (NWSC). At NWSC Onek engaged in His work at NWSC involved designing water reservoirs, booster stations, water transmission mains, upgrading and expanding water treatment and pumping systems for Kampala and other towns in the country. 

Following his efforts, NWSC elevated him to the position of Managing Director (MD) in 1983. 

At the helm of NWSC, Onek expanded its services to other towns of Uganda including; Mbale, Gulu, Lira, Tororo, Mbarara, Fort Portal, Kasese and Masaka that was limited to Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe. 

He as well worked hard to see NWSC become a leading water utility company in the region by developing a corporate plan to cover medium and long term development projects. 

Then in1984 till 1998, Onek instituted a manpower development program and a training program, to improve the quality of management at NWSC sustainably. 

Onek oversaw the computerization of internal management information system (MIS) and digitized geographical information system (GIS) and this eased management of customer’s data and human resources.

Between 1997 & 1998 Onek introduced Public-Private Partnership at NWSC by privatizing revenue collection and Management and this doubled his revenue collection. 

This mode was adopted as standard practice at the Ministry of Water Resources. 

Onek in 1987, engaged in the redesign and rebuilding of Manafwa Water Works, which had exploded underwater hummer and collapsed after commissioning, as a result of shoddy construction works by a foreign contractor. 

He was the MD of NWSC until 1998.

Between 1998 and 2001, Onek worked as an independent, private consultant at EOM Services Limited, a company offering services with other consultancy groups, in human resource management, water supply, structural engineering, investment appraisals and management. 


Hilary Onek joined active politics in 2000, on the National Resistance Movement (NRM) the ruling party in Uganda. He actively campaigned for President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in the Acholi sub-region, between January and March 2001 presidential elections.

Onek contested for the Lamwo Constituency parliamentary seat in 2001 and won the race. Then in February 2006, Onek was re-elected to the same seat and the same applied in 2011, 2016 & 2021. 

Onek served as the Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries from June 2006 till February 2009. In that capacity, Onek advocated for responsible utilization of water resources in the East African region. 

Then on 16 February 2009, Onek got appointed as the Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources, serving in that capacity until May 2011 when he was reassigned to serve as the Internal Affairs Minister in a cabinet reshuffle of May 27th 2011.

However, Onek was one of the officials accused in 2011 of receiving bribes from the Irish oil firm, Tullow Oil as kickbacks. 

Despite calls for resignation, Onek’s lawyer, Severino Twinobusingye, successfully sued the Attorney General halted the proceedings and managed to block the calls for resignation.

Bomah Hotels in Northern Uganda
Mr Onek is the owner of the Bomah Hotels in Northern Uganda. FILE PHOTO

Parliamentary Committees

Right from 2001, Hon Hilary Onek served on various parliamentary committees that include:

From 2001-2002, Onek served on the Committee of Natural Resources as its chairperson and then from 2001-2003, member Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Matters.

2003-2006, a member on the Committee of Science and Technology, 2004-2005, a member on the Committee of Humanitarian Situation in Northern Uganda.

Other Responsibilities

Hon Hilary Onek is a successful businessman who owns Kitgum and Gulu Districts Bomah Hotels in Northern Uganda. 

Professional Bodies

From 1982-1985, Hon Hilary Onek served as a Member Board of Directors Management Training and Advisory Center, Uganda.

1987-1989, Member, Board of Directors Reconstruction and Development Corporation, Uganda. 1991-1997, Member, Board of Directors Civil Aviation Authority Uganda. 

1989-2000, Executive Board Member, Technical Committee of International Water Supply Association (IWSA). Then 1989-present, Onek served as a Corporate Member at the Uganda Institute of Professional Engineers (UIPE).

1989, Registered (Chartered) Engineer in Uganda.

Onek claimed Robinah-Nabbanja clash
Onek claimed that Nabbanja had taken decisions in his Ministry without his consent, held meetings behind his back, and interdicted his staff without investigation. FILE PHOTO


In late October 2021, the Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Minister Hilary Onek clashed with Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja.

Onek accused Nabbanja of taking decisions in his Ministry without his consent, holding meetings behind his back and interdicting his line staff without investigations, however, the two reconciled in a meeting with the Vice President of UgandaJessica Alupo.

Also, on September 15, 2021, Onek penned down a protest letter to the Prime Minister disagreeing with her decision to divert shs 5bn from the shs 15bn allocated to his docket as a contingency budget.