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Obote the nationalist

By Vision Reporter

Added 11th October 2005 03:00 AM

By Patrick Rubaihayo

APOLLO Milton Obote was an illustrious dedicated Son of Uganda –– a pan-africanist who loved his country.

By Patrick Rubaihayo

APOLLO Milton Obote was an illustrious dedicated Son of Uganda –– a pan-africanist who loved his country.

By Patrick Rubaihayo

APOLLO Milton Obote was an illustrious dedicated Son of Uganda –– a pan-africanist who loved his country.

His first political activities were exhibited at Makerere University College as it was then known (1946-47).

He tried to join Khartoum University to study law but was blocked by the Colonial Administration because of his political views. He then moved to Nairobi, where he secured employment with East African Railways and quickly become a leader of the Workers Union. This enabled him to interact with the political activists of the day including Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Tom Mboya and others.

In the later part of the 50’s he returned to Uganda and was elected to the Lango District Council. As a district councillor, he ably articulated the concerns of the population and when a seat in the Legislative Council fell vacant he was in 1958 elected to represent Lango District. He distinguished himself as a nationalist, a panafricanist and an orator. By that time he had joined the Uganda National Congress (UNC) led by I.K. Musazi.

He was a prominent member of The Wild Constitutional Committee set up to consult the population and make recommendations for the political evolution of the country that would lead to Independence. It was during this period that African Members of LEGICO decided to get together and fight for Independence.

This meant that political parties of the day would merge to form a solid united front. There were the main political parties: UNC, Democratic Party (DP), and Uganda Peoples Union (UPU).

In March 1960, the Uganda National Congress and UPU merged to form Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC). Obote was elected President of the Party. Obote returned to LEGICO with a formidable team of elected members and became leader of the opposition while Benedicto Kagimu Kiwanuka was leader of Government and later Chief Minister when Uganda achieved internal self government status.

During this period Uganda was politically at crossroads. On one hand there were conservative traditionalists who insisted on maintaining the status quo while on the other hand, the nationalists agitated for immediate independence. To reconcile the two conflicting views, a Relationship Commission headed by Munster was set up. The Commission recommendations led to the Lancaster House Constitutional Conference.

It was at this Conference attended by all stakeholders that Uganda’s political future was moulded. Obote played a critical role at this conference which enabled Buganda to join the rest of the country to move together as a united country towards independence –– among other things, this conference agreed on holding fresh elections prior to Independence. The general elections were held in April, 1962 and the UP C in alliance with Kabaka Yekka (KY) decisively won the elections. Dr. Obote as the leader of the UPC was invited to form the government.

On October 9, 1962, Dr. Obote received the instruments of Independence from the Duke of Kent amidst pomp and splendour befitting the occasion.

Thereafter, Obote and his government settled down to transform the society from colonial vestiges to a productive and free society. His government embarked on development of social services, infrastructure, trade and commerce in pursuance of the Party’s manifesto to fight ignorance, disease and poverty. In this respect he built schools, hospitals, constructed roads and established parastatal bodies; Because of the vital role of agriculture in the livelihood and the economy of Uganda, his government expaned on the Cooperative Movement.

He established government institutions including a competent and effective Public Service.

Obote’s commitment to pan-Afrianism led him to commit Uganda to the liberation movement of non-independent African countries especially countries in Southern Africa. Indeed it was mainly because of this commitment that his first government was overthrown in January, 1971.

One other decision arrived at the Constitutional Conference; Lancaster House was the resolution of Bunyoro “Lost Counties” issue through a referendum in those counties to be held within two years after Independence.

This decision was incorporated in the 1962 Independence Constitution.

Accordingly in 1964 the referendum was carried out in the two counties of Buyaga and Bungagaizi.

The majority of the people in the two counties opted to return to Bunyoro Kingdom.

It must be remembered that in 1963 Uganda decided to replace the British Governor General with an indigenous Head of State as President. Parliament elected Sir Edward Mutesa, the Kabaka of the Kingdom of Buganda to be the Head of State of Uganda. The dual role of Sir Edward Mutesa created a conflict of interest regarding the implementation of the Constitutional requirement on the resolution of Bunyoro “Lost Counties” issue.

Therefore the inability of Sir Edward Mutesa to sign The Buyaga - Bungagaizi Referendum Act of 1964 was not a surprise. However the law had provided an alternative where the Prime Minister could sign the Act in such circumstances. Indeed the Prime Minister signed the Act which quickly created misunderstanding between him and the President. This was the genesis of the 1966 political crisis.

The result of the misunderstanding led among other things to the collapse of KY and UPC alliance, the Lukiiko resolution to throw the Central government out of Buganda land, culminating into the Mengo battle in May 1966 and the exiling of the Kabaka who was also the President of Uganda.

That was the political environment under which the 1966 Constitution came into being. The new Constitution established the office of an Executive President. In many ways the 1966 Constitution was an emergency measure to save the Sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.

A year later steps were taken to regularise the interim measures which led to the adoption of the 1967 Republican Constitution.

Having restored Constitutional order, Obote moved swiftly to put the instruments of production in the hands of indigeneous Ugandans. Details of these measures were contained in a set of documents commonly known as Common Man’s Charter. The aftermath of this action raised great concerns among the western powers and their agents. This became another focal point against the Party and Dr. Obote’s Leadership by the same powers - all of which contributed to the overthrow of the government in 1971 through a coup.

The events of 1964, 1966 and 1969 created political enemies for Obote and the Party so much, so that there was an attempt on his life in 1969.
Dr. Obote returned from exile in Tanzania on May 27, 1980 and quickly embarked on the task of reviving the party in preparation for the general election later that year.
Under his leadership, UPC swept the polls in December and Dr. Obote formed his government on January 6, 1981.

A month later Yoweri Museveni went to the bush to fight the newly elected government ostensibly to protest against rigged elections, contrary to the observations of the Commonwealth Observers and in complete disregard of the due process of the law.

The Obote II government inherited dilapidated social services infrastructure and economy. The government quickly drew up rehabilitation programmes and by 1983, the economy had largely recovered. The economic growth at that time was rated at 6.3% p.a

Obote will be remembered for his commitment to nationalism, regional cooperation and pan-Africanism.

The writer is a former minister in the Obote government.
He talked to A.G. Musamali

Obote the nationalist

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