A day after Uganda turned 43, the man who led her to independence from British colonial rule took his last feeble breath at a Johannesburg hospital in South Africa.
Apollo Milton Obote had a week earlier been checked into Mediclinic Morningside—a multidisciplinary specialist hospital in the affluent suburb of Sandton, South Africa—in respiratory distress. He passed on aged 79.
A little over four decades earlier, on the eve of Uganda’s independence, Obote—aged just 36—put his oratorical skills to great use despite or in fact because of being reticent on details. Articulated in third-person form, Uganda’s first prime minister talked about “our independence … mean[ing] great responsibilities for all of us without exception.”
Obote urged his audience to be stronger than ever in the conviction that “we are of Uganda and Uganda is ours.” He predicted that years would pass easily if the “success, security and happiness” of “our men of commerce and industry and also our peasant farmers and the working men and women” were safeguarded.
Independence, he opined, “does not begin and end with the selection and raising of a flag, the singing of a National Anthem and the display of a Coat of Arms.” It actually involves having to work tirelessly and obsessively.
“I pray that [God] may give us reason and in reason we may seek and find, and may what I have said … bind us into the community of hope who shall think and strive and toil in such patterns, that work of more noble worth may yet be done,” he desired.
Sadly, the political maturity and tolerance that Obote verbally idealised on the eve of Uganda’s independence remains just that—an ideal. It is the reason why Uganda’s second president—indeed like his predecessor, Sir Edward Frederick Mutesa—died on foreign soil. They were of Uganda, but was Uganda really theirs? They fled the country because it wasn’t bound into “the community of hope” that was idealised on the eve of independence.
Six decades later, the absence of ties that bind us into a “community of hope” continue to stick out like the metaphorical sore thumb. One of the country’s greatest discoveries continues to be referred to using a singular pronoun—“my oil.”
And on the eve of the diamond anniversary of Uganda’s independence, her Opposition leader—Mr Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, alias Bobi Wine—went through a rollercoaster of emotions before being allowed into Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The purpose of Bobi Wine’s Independence Day concert in Dubai is yet another matter of grave concern. The working men and women for whom Obote had great hopes on October 8, 1962, yielded with reluctance and against their better judgment to labour in difficult conditions in places like Dubai. While the second stanza of our national anthem extols Uganda as “the land of freedom” in which “our love and labour we give”, this hardly appears to be the case.
As we mark 60 years of independence, it is our fervent hope that we reflect on that speech Obote eloquently delivered on October 8, 1962. We are of Uganda and Uganda must be ours.
Prime Minister Obote speech on eve of Uganda’s Independence in 1962
“Countrymen and friends,
At midnight tonight Uganda shall become Independent. We shall have a Uganda flag, a National Anthem and Coat of Arms. These will be symbols, but independence does not begin and end with the selection and raising of a flag, the singing of a National Anthem and the display of a Coat of Arms.
Our independence shall mean great responsibilities for all of us without exception. Collectively, we shall all be responsible to safeguard our independence and to ensure peace and stability within our country. In addition, the government in whose name I now speak offers to you a firm determination to protect your life and property and opportunities for your advancement.
It is in this ensuring of peace and stability and this determination for the protection of life and property coupled with opportunities for advancement as individuals and combinations and as a country that I now call upon all to pass an irrevocable resolution marking our new status and guiding us into the future.
Let us add to that resolution that we are of Uganda and Uganda is ours. Let us recognise that and pay our tribute to these friends from inside and outside Uganda who have helped us on our way to independence. Let us remember the best we have received and now inherit from the British administrators. I also ask all to give the missionaries past and present a special praise for the light they brought and do still maintain.
I cannot forget our men of commerce and industry and also our peasant farmers and the working men and women. Our ability to have a higher standard of living will depend as in the past on their success, security and happiness.
I pray to God to give us and our country the will to safeguard our freedom and to serve our country in peace. I pray that He may give us reason and in reason we may seek and find, and may what I have said tonight bind us into the community of hope who shall think and strive and toil in such patterns, that work of more noble worth may yet be done.
All these and more: For God and My Country.”
Apollo Milton Obote, Monday, October 8, 1962