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Milton Obote

Apollo Milton Obote
Obote in 1960
2nd President of Uganda
In office
15 April 1966 – 25 January 1971
Preceded by Edward Mutesa (non-executive)
Succeeded by Idi Amin
In office
17 December 1980 – 27 July 1985
Preceded by Presidential Commission
Succeeded by Bazilio Olara-Okello
2nd Prime Minister of Uganda
1st Executive Prime Minister
In office
30 April 1962 – 15 April 1966
Preceded by Benedicto Kiwanuka (non-executive)
Succeeded by None (post abolished)
Personal details
Born (1925-12-28)28 December 1925
Apac District, Uganda
Died 10 October 2005(2005-10-10) (aged 79)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Political party Uganda People's Congress
Spouse(s) Miria Obote
Children 5

Apollo Milton Obote (28 December 1925 – 10 October 2005[1]) was a Ugandan political leader who led Uganda to independence in 1962 from British colonial administration. Following the nation's independence, he served as Prime Minister of Uganda from 1962 to 1966 and President of Uganda from 1966 to 1971, then again from 1980 to 1985. He was overthrown by Idi Amin in 1971, but regained power after Amin's 1979 overthrow. His second period of rule was marred by repression and the deaths of many civilians as a result of a civil war known as the Ugandan Bush War.


  • Early life 1
  • Prime Minister 2
  • Presidency 3
    • First term 3.1
    • Second term 3.2
  • Death in exile 4
  • Family and personal life 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7

Early life

Milton Obote was born at Akokoro village in Apac district in northern Uganda. He was the son of a tribal chief of the Lango ethnic group. He began his education in 1940 at the Protestant Missionary School in Lira, and later attended Gulu Junior Secondary School, Busoga College and eventually university at Makerere University. Having intended to study law, a subject not taught at the university, Obote took a general arts course, including English and geography.[2] At Makerere, Obote honed his natural oratorical skills; he may have been expelled for participating in a student strike, or alternatively left after a place to study law abroad was not funded by the protectorate government.[3] He worked in Buganda in southern Uganda before moving to Kenya, where he worked as a construction worker at an engineering firm.

While in Kenya, Obote became involved in the national independence movement. Upon returning to Uganda in 1956, he joined the political party Uganda National Congress (UNC), and was elected to the colonial Legislative Council in 1957.[4] In 1959, the UNC split into two factions, with one faction under the leadership of Obote merging with Uganda People's Union to form the Uganda People's Congress (UPC).

Prime Minister

In the runup to independence elections, Obote formed a coalition with the Buganda royalist party, Kabaka Yekka. The two parties controlled a Parliamentary majority and Obote became Prime Minister in 1962. He assumed the post on 25 April 1962, appointed by Sir Walter Coutts, then Governor-General of Uganda. The following year the position of Governor-General was replaced by a ceremonial presidency to be elected by the parliament. Mutesa, the Kabaka (King) of Buganda, became the ceremonial President, with Obote as executive prime minister.[2]

In January 1964, a mutiny occurred at the military barracks at Jinja, Uganda's second city and home to the 1st Battalion of the Uganda Army. There were similar mutinies in two other eastern African states; all three countries requested the support of troops from the British military. Before they arrived, however, Obote sent his defence minister Felix Onama to negotiate with the mutineers. Onama was held hostage, and agreed to many demands, including significant pay increases for the army, and the rapid promotion of many officers, including the future president Idi Amin.[2] In 1965, Kenyans had been barred from leadership positions within the government, and this was followed by the removal of Kenyans en masse from Uganda in 1969, under Obote's guidance.[5]

As prime minister, Obote was implicated in a gold smuggling plot, together with Idi Amin, then deputy commander of the Ugandan armed forces. When the Parliament demanded an investigation of Obote and the ousting of Amin, he suspended the constitution and declared himself President in March 1966, allocating to himself almost unlimited power under state of emergency rulings. Several members of his cabinet, who were leaders of rival factions in the party, were arrested and detained without charge. Obote responded with an armed attack upon Mutesa's palace, which ended with Mutesa fleeing to exile. In 1967, Obote's power was cemented when the parliament passed a new constitution which abolished the federal structure of the independence constitution and created an executive presidency.


First term

In 1969, there was an attempt on Obote's life. In the aftermath of the attempt, all opposition political parties were banned, leaving Obote as an effectively absolute ruler. A state of emergency was in force for much of the time and many political opponents were jailed without trial for life. Obote's regime terrorised, harassed, and tortured people. His secret police, the General Service Unit, led by Obote's cousin, was responsible for many cruelties.[5]

In 1969–70, Obote published a series of pamphlets which were supposed to outline his political and economic policy. The Common Man's Charter was a summary of his approach to socialism, which became known as the Move to the Left. The government took over a 60% share in major private corporations and banks in the country in 1970. During Obote's regime, flagrant and widespread corruption emerged in the name of socialism.[5] Food shortages sent prices through the ceiling. Obote's persecution of Indian traders contributed to this rise in prices.[5]

In January 1971, Obote was overthrown by the army while on a visit to Singapore to attend a Commonwealth conference, and Amin became President. In the two years before the coup Obote's relations with the West had become strained. Some have suggested that Western Governments were at least aware of, and may have aided, the coup.[6][7] Obote fled to Tanzania. The fall of Obote's regime was welcomed and celebrated by many Ugandans.[5]

Second term

In 1979, Idi Amin was ousted by Tanzanian forces aided by Ugandan exiles. By 1980, Uganda was governed by an interim Presidential Commission. At the time of the 1980 elections, the chairman of the commission was a close associate of Obote, Paulo Muwanga. Muwanga had briefly been the de facto President of Uganda from 12–20 May 1980, as one of three presidents who served for short periods of time between Amin's ouster and the setting up of the Presidential Commission. The other two presidents were Yusuf Lule and Godfrey Binaisa.

The elections in 1980 were won by Obote's Uganda People's Congress (UPC) party. However, the UPC's opposition believed that the elections were rigged and this led to a guerrilla war by Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA) and several other military groups.

In 1983, the Obote government launched Operation Bonanza, a military expedition that claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced a significant portion of the population.[8] The brunt of the blame for this massacre was placed on the people of northern Uganda for supporting the action of the Prime Minister which increased the existing regional tensions in the country.[8] It has been estimated that approximately 100,000 to 500,000 people died as a result of fighting between Obote's Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) and the guerrillas.[9][10][11]

On 27 July 1985, Obote was deposed again. As in 1971, he was overthrown by his own army commanders in a military coup d'état; this time the commanders were Brigadier Bazilio Olara-Okello and General Tito Okello. The two men briefly ruled the country through a Military Council, but after a few months of near chaos, Museveni's NRA seized control of the country. By July 1985, Amnesty International estimated that the Obote regime had been responsible for more than 300,000 civilian deaths across Uganda. Abuses were particularly conspicuous in an area of central Uganda known as the Luweero Triangle.

Death in exile

After his second removal from power, Obote fled to Tanzania and later to Zambia. For some years it was rumoured that he would return to Ugandan politics. In August 2005, however, he announced his intention to step down as leader of the UPC.[12] In September 2005, it was reported that Obote would return to Uganda before the end of 2005.[13] On 10 October 2005, Obote died of kidney failure in a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa.[14]

Milton Obote's grave

Milton Obote was given a state funeral, attended by president Museveni, in the Ugandan capital Kampala in October 2005, to the surprise and appreciation of many Ugandans, since he and Museveni were bitter rivals.[15] Other groups, such as the Baganda survivors of the "Luwero Triangle" massacres, were bitter that Obote was given a state funeral.[16]

He was survived by his wife and five children. On 28 November 2005, his wife Miria Obote was elected UPC party president.[17]

Family and personal life

Milton Obote was the third born of nine children, all named Milton.[18] From a young age Milton the Third distinguished himself from his siblings by demonstrating a great aptitude for raiding cattle, and drove a wedge between him and his lesser skilled and jealous siblings that remained until his death.

One of his sons, Jimmy Akena, is a member of parliament for Lira Municipality.


  1. ^ Birth and death date according to the headstone inscription on his grave.
  2. ^ a b c M. Louise Pirouet (2009). "Obote, (Apolo) Milton (1925–2005)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 17 August 2010. 
  3. ^ "I come from royal ancestry". The Monitor. 8 April 2005
  4. ^ "The Roots, Emergence, and Growth of the Uganda Peoples Congress, 1600–1985", Yoga Adhola, UPC Website
  5. ^ a b c d e Phares Mukasa Mutibwa (1992). Uganda since independence: a story of unfulfilled hopes. United Kingdom: C. Hurst & Co. pp. 65–70.  
  6. ^ George Ivan Smith, Ghosts of Kampala: The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin (1980)
  7. ^ G. S. K. Ibingira (1980) African Upheavals since Independence, Westview Press, ISBN 0-89158-585-0
  8. ^ a b Ruddy Doom; Koen Vlassenroot (1999). "Kony's Message: A New Koine?". African Affairs 98 (390): 9.  
  9. ^ Henry Wasswa (10 October 2005) "Uganda's first prime minister, and two-time president, dead at 80," Associated Press
  10. ^ Bercovitch, Jacob and Jackson, Richard (1997) International Conflict: A Chronological Encyclopedia of Conflicts and Their Management 1945–1995. Congressional Quarterly. ISBN 156802195X
  11. ^ Uganda. CIA Factbook
  12. ^ "Uganda's exiled ex-president Obote to retire from party's presidency", Xinhua, 28 August 2005
  13. ^ "Uganda's exiled ex-president to return home before end of 2005", People's Daily Online, 2 September 2005
  14. ^ "Former Ugandan leader Obote dies", BBC News, 10 October 2005
  15. ^ "Former foe mourns Uganda's Obote", The Guardian, 20 October 2005
  16. ^ Timothy Kalyegira (11 October 2005) "A founding father adored, dreaded in equal measure", The Monitor
  17. ^ "Walking in Obote’s shadow", Monitor, 21 December 2005 no longer available online
  18. ^ Milton Obote. Encyclopaedia Britannica

Further reading

  • Adhola, Yoga: "The Roots, Emergence, and Growth of the Uganda Peoples Congress, 1600–1985,"
  • Akena Adoko: "From Obote to Obote'" New Delhi : Vikas Pub. House, c1983
  • Adoko, Akena, "Gold Crisis," New Delhi : Vikas, c1985.
  • Andre de la Rue: "The Rise and fall of Grace Ibingira," The New African: radical; Cape Town, March 1967.
  • Bing, John Howard: "Tribe and Elections in Uganda," (unpublished Ph D dissertation, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri,) June 1974.
  • Gertzel, Cherry, "Party and Locality in Northern Uganda, 1945–1962," London, Athelone Press 1974.
  • Hancock, I. "The Buganda Crisis of 1964," African Affairs, volume 69, number 275, April 1970.
  • Bloch, J. and Fitzgerald, P: "British Intelligence and Covert Action: Africa, Middle East, and Europe since 1945," Dublin, Brandon, 1982
  • Hutton, Pat & Bloch, Jonathan. "How the West Established Idi Amin and Kept Him There," in Ray, E. & others, "The CIA in Africa: Dirty Work 2,"New Jersey, Lyle Stuart Inc, 1979.
  • Hebditch, D. & Connor, K. "How to Stage a Military Coup: From Planning to Execution," Greenhill Books, London; Stackpole Books, Pennsylvania, 2005.
  • Ingham, Keneth: "Obote : a political biography," London ; New York : Routledge, 1994. ISBN 0415053420
  • Martin, David "General Amin," London, Faber & Faber, 1974.
  • Mittelman, James: "Ideology and politics in Uganda : from Obote to Amin," Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 1975. ISBN 0801409462.
  • Mujaju, A.B. "The Gold Allegations in Uganda," African Affairs, Volume 87 No. October 1987.
  • Nyeko, Balam (1996). Uganda. ABC-Clio Inc.  
  • Obote, A.M. "Myths and Realities – A Letter to a London Friend," Kampala (Uganda): African Publishers Ltd. 16 November 1968.
  • Onyango Obbo, Charles: "Root of Discontent: The Untold Story Of The Failed 1969 Obote Assassination (Part 1)"; The Monitor, 9 October 2001, Kampala.
  • Sathyamurthy, T.V. "The political development of Uganda : 1900–1986," Aldershot, Hants, England ; Brookfield, Vt., USA : Gower, c1986. ISBN 0566052474
  • Smith, Ivan. "Ghosts of Kampala," New York : St. Martin's Press, 1980.
Political offices
Preceded by
President of the Uganda People's Congress
Succeeded by
Miria Obote
Preceded by
Benedicto Kiwanuka
Prime Minister of Uganda
Succeeded by
Otema Allimadi
post abolished 1966–1980
Preceded by
Edward Mutesa
President of Uganda
Succeeded by
Idi Amin
Preceded by
Presidential Commission of Uganda
President of Uganda
Succeeded by
Tito Okello Lutwa
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