On October 1, 2016, former Governor for Rotary District 9200, Sam Frobisher Owori got elected the 108th President of Rotary International, something that sent a wave of excitement across the entire African continent.
But nine months later, on July 13, Owori was announced dead following complications from a minor leg operation in Dallas, Texas.
A light had gone dim for the Rotary fraternity in Uganda and Africa as an era of great expectations for Africa was cut short.
Upon being elected to lead the voluntary organization, Owori had articulated his vision to grow Rotary both in numbers and impact particularly in Africa. This growth would translate into even greater influence of Africa on the global Rotary stage.
On Wednesday, Rotarians gathered in hundreds for a fellowship at Lugogo Indoor stadium to pay tribute to a man who dedicated his life to service beyond self and whose leadership as Governor District 9200 saw the number of Rotary clubs in Uganda grow rapidly from 9 to 89.
During Wednesday’s fellowship that attracted Rotarians from U.S, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, and West Africa, many described Owori as a leader, mentor, selfless, progressive thinker and a remarkable humanitarian.
But it was the desire to fulfill the ‘Sam Challenge’ of growing the numbers of Rotarians in Africa that several mourners spoke strongly about.
Yinka Babalola, from the Rotary Club of Trans Amadi in Nigeria who is also Board Director at Rotary International said: “For every adversity, there’s an opportunity. Sam envisioned a Rotary that had two Africans at the Rotary International Board always.”
“What will each one of you do in his memory? Will Uganda have 4,000 more Rotarians in the next two years? It’s then that you will have done Sam’s memory good,” Yinka said.
For Owori’s vision to be realized, Africa must have a minimum of 120,000 Rotarians but the number is currently as low as 29,000.
The continent will need close to 100,000 more people to subscribe to the service.
“Sam was passionate about the Rotary Foundation and encouraged us to go out and fundraise because he knew that Africa was poor,” Yinka added.
In explaining what the demise of Owori means for Africa, Yinka used the analogy of someone [Africa] queuing up for food well confident that they will get served because someone in the kitchen knows them.
On her part, the Rotary International Vice President, Hendreen Dean Rohrs said Owori’s commitment to ethical standards and ideals of Rotary will leave an indelible mark on the organization especially at a time when the society is challenged by compromised ethics and questionable governance.
“He was passionate about growing membership in Africa. As District Governor here in Uganda, he emphasized membership growth, developed clubs and put Uganda on the map. I have no doubt that he would have done the same for Africa and the rest of the world,” Hendreen said in her eulogy.
Rotarian Kenneth Mugisha, the current Governor for District 9211 which includes Uganda and Tanzania told journalists on the sidelines of Wednesday’s fellowship that efforts are already being made to see increased giving, recruitment and general support to projects.
As part of the bigger African vision, Uganda looks to grow the membership of Rotarians from the current 2,950.
Similarly, the wife to the deceased, Norah Owori made a plea to the Rotarians that turned up on Thursday to not let his demise weaken the growth of the Rotary service in Africa.
“Sam is gone but Rotary must continue. He leaves us with a challenge. If we love him, if we love Rotary, we must go on and do what he dreamt of. We must make Africa two zones so we can have two Directors at the same time,” the widow said.
The light of Rotary must shine even brighter after Sam has gone, she said.
There will be a requiem service in remembrance of Owori at Namirembe Cathedral on Thursday morning before his body is taken to his ancestral home in Kidera, Tororo district on Saturday.