Thought and Ideas
Milton Obote’s legacy 8 years after his death
Posted Sunday, October 13 2013 at 01:00
On October 10, 2005, Independent Uganda’s first prime minister, and two-time president , Milton Obote, died in South Africa after 20 years in exile. As we mark the eight anniversary of his death, Sunday Monitor’s Timothy Kalyegira explores what legacy the Uganda Peoples Congress founder left, and what the country remembers of him.
One day after Uganda’s 43rd independence anniversary in October 2005, the first independence prime minister Milton Obote died at a Johannesburg hospital.
Even in the timing of his death, fate had it that it would fall around independence. Obote seemed destined to be tied with Uganda’s independence.
Milton Obote. That name will remain a gigantic image in the Ugandan mind and cast a shadow over Uganda’s history for at least another generation to come.
Many in central Uganda shudder at that name. Many more in western, eastern and northern Uganda associate that name with the proudest days of Uganda’s post-colonial history.
There was a time after 1986 when the mere association with Obote’s name was viewed as treasonous. A rebel group purportedly called Force Obote Back Again (FOBA), obviously a creation of the State, was said to be operational in 1987.
Stories and reports about 300,000 Ugandans massacred in Luweero in the first half of the 1980s were enough to legitimise the NRM in the southern half of the country.
So much about Obote has not yet been documented to its full, largely because most Ugandan history is still undocumented.
Genesis of tension
The origin of the tensions between Obote and Buganda’s Kabaka Edward Mutesa II, the friction over budgeting between the central government and the Mengo government in 1963 --- all these areas have gone without comment from Mengo and unexamined by Ugandan historians.
Between 1962 and 1967, for example, the Mengo government submitted only one financial report to the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee as was required under the 1962 Constitution.
The narrative handed down to Baganda is that the Obote who formed an alliance with Mengo, at whose wedding reception to Miria Kalule in 1962, Mutesa was the guest of honour, suddenly and for no reason turned into a monster and enemy of Buganda.
But in recent years, as it is with Idi Amin, the last 10 years of the NRM government have given Ugandans ample time and conditions to re-evaluate Ugandan history before 1986.
It is no longer an oddity for a newspaper or TV station to feature a former cabinet minister defending his time under Obote or Amin.
The wholesale disposal of government property, the collapse of the public school and public healthcare systems, the massive corruption reported almost daily, has left these greatly disillusioned Ugandans open-minded enough to think afresh about the leaders who came before the NRM government.
The idea that the NRA guerrillas in Luweero Triangle dressed up as the government UNLA army, committed atrocities or harassed civilians in order to convince these civilians that the people torturing them were Obote’s soldiers, has now taken firm root in the Ugandan mind.
The other notion that is now a majority one in Uganda, is that while many still perceive the Obote and Amin governments as being brutal, they clearly delivered much more in public services and infrastructure than the Museveni government.
The 22 government hospitals built during the first Obote administration are the most widely-quoted achievement of the UPC government. The agricultural and transportation cooperative unions and district farms and farm institutes are the next most noted UPC achievement.
The most that the NRM government officials can say to counter this new appreciation of the 1960s UPC government is that “the population was still small”; but they can’t refute the fact that public and social services were at their best in the 1960s.