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Miria shared a life with Obote for 40 years

By Vision Reporter

Added 21st October 2005 03:00 AM

TRUE love was almost thrown to the winds. The pressure was unbearable. Her father was against the relationship from the start. Relatives and friends thought she had gone to the extreme. The beautiful young girl was torn between love for her man and love for her family. It was a real story that you o

TRUE love was almost thrown to the winds. The pressure was unbearable. Her father was against the relationship from the start. Relatives and friends thought she had gone to the extreme. The beautiful young girl was torn between love for her man and love for her family. It was a real story that you o

By Arthur Baguma

TRUE love was almost thrown to the winds. The pressure was unbearable. Her father was against the relationship from the start. Relatives and friends thought she had gone to the extreme. The beautiful young girl was torn between love for her man and love for her family. It was a real story that you only watch in movies.

Despite protests from her father to marry Dr Milton Obote, a non-Muganda, Miria Kalule turned a deaf ear.

“Some of her friends thought it was the excitement of a young girl from a poor background meeting a famous man,” recalls Mzee Muhammad Garusanja of Wandegeya.

“She would sooner or later come to her senses and return home. How do I face the Kabaka to tell him my daughter has gone to Lango?” Miria’s father allegedly told his wife.

Miria was a product of a conservative upbringing based on Buganda norms and tradition.

Residents in her home area knew her father as a staunch Kabaka loyalist. Miria was told to go slow, but she had made up her mind. And indeed she made the right decision. After marrying Obote, the two have had a happy marriage stretching over 40 years — it has only been halted by the death of the man she almost rejected.

A story is told of how Obote eyed Miria. Obote reportedly saw Miria in Katwe where he used to hang out with other politicians over drinks. Katwe was a popular political meeting place then. At the time, Obote was residing in Ntinda.

There is another story that Obote snatched Miria from the heart of Buganda (Mengo); something that did not go well with staunch Baganda. It is rumoured that Miria had a relationship with a former senior official in the Buganda government before Obote snatched her.

When Miria was in love with Obote, then a young politician from Akokoro village, she never accepted to be called Mrs Obote until the two were wed in Church. The press often referred to her as the fiancee of the prime minister.

The Uganda Argus of October 13, 1963 described her as a young, beautiful, gorgeous woman who set the dressing trend. In the world of trendy dressing, she remains in a class of her own. She carried herself with tremendous grace.
Columnist Charles Onyango Obbo once related Miria’s fashion to that of the Nabagereka Sylvia Nagginda and First Lady Janet Museveni. That the three are fashion icons in Uganda’s’ history of first ladies.

Although quite apolitical, Miria accompanied her husband to all political rallies.

On a number of occasions she officiated at public functions as chief guest. Professor Patrick Rubihayo, a close friend of the Obote family and former Minister says Miria was and is still a kind person. “She is so motherly and kind. Her philosophy in life has been a passionate belief in equity. That all people are born equal,” Rubihayo says.

Every visitor to her home left with a smile. “Even when her husband was not home, Miria would make you feel comfortable. She knew the favourite drink and food of every minister,” recalls Rubaihayo, a former minister in the Obote II government.

Those who interact closely with Miria describe her as a humble person who kept afloat of controversies during her husband’s political reign. She didn’t indulge in politics and preferred to concentrate on looking after her family.
Some ministers found it strange that she was so friendly to everyone. Even in Kenya where she has been living in exile, Ugandans who visit, praise her kindness and hospitality.

After over 40 years, Miria has to let go of her love. At Obote’s requiem mass in Lusaka, Zambia, she sobbed — a climax of what might be her worst moment in life. Miria described her husband as a kind, loving and selfless political leader who placed the interests of Uganda above his own and even those of his family.

The start of the journey that has ended with the death of her husband was memorable. Obote (then prime minister) travelled to Nairobi to pick his love 40 years ago. The couple travelled by train back to Kampala and reached at 2:30pm on October 13, 1963. The couple stepped on the carriage platform to make their first public appearance.

“Obote has chosen a remarkably striking woman, Miria, for a wife,” a diplomat was quoted saying in the Uganda Argus newspaper. Miria had just returned from New York where she worked as a secretary with the Uganda delegation to the UN.

There was an outburst of cheering as Miria gracefully put her right foot forward. Donning a straw hat, Miria looked attractive in a cream suit. For 40 minutes the crowds gathered and surged forward as the then minister of works, Balaki Kiirya, with the help of Police tried to maintain order.

The two lovebirds had made a big statement. It was official and sooner or later they would say I do. Before the wedding, the two often appeared together at public functions. On October 21, 1963, they were pictured all draped in black looking jovial at the mayor’s ball in Kampala.

With Obote and 300 other people, Miria attended the premiere of Sammy Going South, a British movie that was shot in East Africa. The premiere was held to raise funds for the Save the Children’s fund. Observers said this was proof of Obote’s love for Miria.

Obote had no time for simplistic entertainment. He loved engaging in intellectual debates and reading. Taking him to a theatre was like telling your master to serve you. He had melted under Miria’s feet!

In the months that followed, speculation and anxiety were ripe among the public, as to when the two would wed. Finally on November 9 1963, Kampala went into a frenzy of excitement as the two walked down the aisle at Namirembe cathedral.
The colourful ceremony was graced by Kabaka Mutesa II (then President). Their reception was held at Lugogo Indoor Stadium. Miria wore a green dress with a decorated front and a turban style hat. Dr Leslie Brown, the then archbishop wed them.

In his sermon Brown said, “We hope and pray, Milton and Miria Obote find joy and security in each other. May their house be full of noise — noise of their children.” Indeed the couple was blessed with four boys.

Their honeymoon saw them traverse five African countries. But when they returned after three weeks, newspapers flashed an interesting headline, “They return after a three week working holiday which included state discussions with African leaders,”

Born to Bulasio Kalule of Kawempe in Kampala, Miria was known for her chocolate flawless skin and a passion for hats. She attended Gayaza High school.

Kalule adored Kabaka Edward Mutesa II so much that he couldn’t give away his subject (Miria) to a non-Muganda. But ironically the Kabaka was among the dignitaries who blessed Miria’s wedding.
Could this explain another story, that actually behind closed doors, Miria convinced her father to allow her to marry Obote?

“No girl can marry without the parent’s consent. Miria kept close ties with her family. Even when she was First Lady, she used to drive to their home in Kawempe. Todate her relatives still visit her in Nairobi,” said a source close to the family.

But what did the family get from their in-law who was twice the President of Uganda? Kalule died a poor man.
“Ask his closest relatives — his brothers and sisters. What did he give them? The man never believed in material things ......Obote was not a man who believed in big things.” says a former minister.

Residents of Kawempe remember Kalule as a man who used to ride a bicycle and proudly told everyone around the village that he had rejected a house and a car from Obote. Kalule worked with the department of road maintenance in the ministry of works.

As some Baganda jubilate over her husband’s death, Miria has stood firm and accompanied the remains of her husband to the final resting place. True love indeed!

Miria shared a life with Obote for 40 years

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