Milton Obote

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 was re-elected in 1980 a year after Amin's 1979 overthrow.[2] His second period of rule ended after a long and bloody conflict known as the Ugandan Bush War.[3]

Milton Obote
2nd President of Uganda
In office
15 April 1966 (1966-04-15)  25 January 1971 (1971-01-25)
Vice PresidentJohn Babiiha
Preceded byEdward Mutesa (non-executive)
Succeeded byIdi Amin
In office
17 December 1980 (1980-12-17)  27 July 1985 (1985-07-27)
Vice PresidentPaulo Muwanga
Preceded byPresidential Commission
Succeeded byBazilio Olara-Okello
2nd Prime Minister of Uganda
1st Executive Prime Minister
In office
30 April 1962 (1962-04-30)  15 April 1966 (1966-04-15)
MonarchElizabeth II(until 1963)
Preceded byBenedicto Kiwanuka (non-executive)
Succeeded byNone (post abolished)
Personal details
Apollo Milton Obote

(1925-12-28)28 December 1925
Akokoro, Apac District, Uganda Protectorate
Died10 October 2005(2005-10-10) (aged 79)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Political partyUganda People's Congress
Spouse(s)Miria Obote

Early life

Milton Obote was born at Akokoro village in Apac district in northern Uganda. He was the third born of nine children[4] of a tribal chief of the Oyima clan 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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).[8]

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.[5]

From left to right: Grace Ibingira, Obote, and John Kakonge in 1962

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.[5] 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.[9]

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.[10] In 1967, Obote's power was cemented when the parliament passed a new constitution that abolished the federal structure of the independence constitution and created an executive presidency.[11]


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.[9]

In 1969–70, Obote published a series of pamphlets that 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 his version of "socialism".[9] Food shortages sent prices through the ceiling. Obote's persecution of Indian traders contributed to this rise in prices.[9]

The Israeli government was training the Ugandan police and military and providing arms to the Anyanya in Southern Sudan who were engaged in a guerilla war with the Sudanese government. The Obote government withdrew support for the rebels and arrested a German mercenary called Steiner and extradited him to Sudan for trial. The Israeli government was very unhappy with these events.[12]

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.[13][14] The Israeli government certainly played an active role in planning and implementing the coup. They operated mechanized equipment and maintained a high profile in and around the capital including manning roadblocks. According to one source, "They were to be seen everywhere."[15] Obote fled to Tanzania. The fall of Obote's regime was welcomed and celebrated by many Ugandans.[9]

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 ousting 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, which led to a guerrilla war by Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA) and several other military groups. Obote held the additional title of Minister of Finance.[16]

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.[17] 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.[17] 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.[18][19][20]

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.[21]

Death in exile

After his second removal from power, Obote fled to Kenya 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.[22] In September 2005, it was reported that Obote would return to Uganda before the end of 2005.[23] On 10 October 2005, Obote died of kidney failure in a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa.[24]

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 because he and Museveni had been bitter rivals.[25] Other groups, such as the Baganda survivors of the Luweero Triangle massacres, were bitter that Obote was given a state funeral.[26]

He was survived by his wife and five children. On 28 November 2005, his wife Miria Obote was elected UPC party president.[27]


  1. Birth and death date according to the headstone inscription on his grave.
  2. "Today in history: Obote returns, lands in Bushenyi". Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  3. Javira, Ssebwami (27 February 2021). "Inside the life of President Milton Obote". UgStandard. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  4. "Milton Obote". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  5. M. Louise Pirouet (2009). "Obote, (Apolo) Milton (1925–2005)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 17 August 2010.
  6. "I come from royal ancestry". The Monitor. 8 April 2005
  7. "The Roots, Emergence, and Growth of the Uganda Peoples Congress, 1600–1985", Yoga Adhola, UPC Website.
  8. Javira, Ssebwami (27 February 2021). "Inside the life of President Milton Obote". UgStandard. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  9. Phares Mukasa Mutibwa (1992). Uganda Since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes. United Kingdom: C. Hurst & Co. pp. 65–70. ISBN 978-1-85065-066-9.
  10. Andrew Mwenda (5 December 2016). "THE LAST WORD: From Obote's 1966 to Museveni's 2016". The Independent Uganda. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  11. Retrieved 16 August 2020. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. mutibwa, phares (1992). Uganda since Independence, A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes. Trenton, New Jersey, USA: Africa World Press. pp. 73, 74. ISBN 0-86543-357-7.
  13. George Ivan Smith, Ghosts of Kampala: The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin (1980).
  14. G. S. K. Ibingira (1980), African Upheavals since Independence, Westview Press, ISBN 978-0-89158-585-5
  15. Mutibwa, Phares (1992). Uganda since Independence. Trenton, New Jersey, U.S.A.: Africa World Press. p. 89. ISBN 0-86543-357-7.
  17. Ruddy Doom; Koen Vlassenroot (1999). "Kony's Message: A New Koine?". African Affairs. 98 (390): 9. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.afraf.a008002.
  18. Henry Wasswa (10 October 2005), "Uganda's first prime minister, and two-time president, dead at 80", Associated Press
  19. Bercovitch, Jacob and Jackson, Richard (1997), International Conflict: A Chronological Encyclopedia of Conflicts and Their Management 1945–1995. Congressional Quarterly. ISBN 978-1-56802-195-9.
  20. Uganda. CIA Factbook.
  21. "Notes On Concealment Of Genocide In Uganda", Black Star News, 11 December 2008.
  22. "Uganda's exiled ex-president Obote to retire from party's presidency", Xinhua, 28 August 2005.
  23. "Uganda's exiled ex-president to return home before end of 2005", People's Daily Online, 2 September 2005
  24. "Former Ugandan leader Obote dies", BBC News, 10 October 2005.
  25. "Former foe mourns Uganda's Obote", The Guardian, 20 October 2005
  26. Timothy Kalyegira (11 October 2005) "A founding father adored, dreaded in equal measure", The Monitor.
  27. "Walking in Obote’s shadow" Archived 13 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Monitor, 21 December 2005 no longer available online

Further reading

  • Adhola, Yoga. "The Roots, Emergence, and Growth of the Uganda Peoples Congress, 1600–1985".
  • Adoko, Akena (c. 1983). From Obote to Obote. New Delhi: Vikas.
  • Adoko, Akena (c. 1985). Gold Crisis. New Delhi: Vikas.
  • Bloch, J.; Fitzgerald, P. (1982). British Intelligence and Covert Action: Africa, Middle East, and Europe since 1945. Dublin: Brandon. ISBN 978-0-86322-035-7.
  • De la Rue, Andre (March 1967). "The Rise and fall of Grace Ibingira". The New African: radical. Cape Town.
  • Gertzel, Cherry (1974). Party and Locality in Northern Uganda, 1945–1962. London: Athlone Press. ISBN 978-0-485-17616-2.
  • Hancock, I. (April 1970). "The Buganda Crisis of 1964". African Affairs. 69 (275): 109–123. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.afraf.a095989.
  • Hutton, Pat; Bloch, Jonathan (1979). "How the West Established Idi Amin and Kept Him There". In Ray, E. (ed.). The CIA in Africa: Dirty Work. Secaucus, New Jersey: Lyle Stuart. ISBN 978-0-8184-0294-4.
  • Hebditch, D.; Connor, K. (2005). How to Stage a Military Coup: From Planning to Execution. London: Greenhill Books. ISBN 978-1-85367-640-6.
  • Ingham, Keneth (1994). Obote: A Political Biography. London/New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-05342-6.
  • Martin, David (1974). General Amin. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-10585-4.
  • Mittelman, James (1975). Ideology and Politics in Uganda: From Obote to Amin. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-0946-2.
  • Mujaju, A. B. (October 1987). "The Gold Allegations Motion and Political Development in Uganda". African Affairs. 86 (345): 479–504. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.afraf.a097945.
  • Nyeko, Balam (1996). Uganda. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio Inc. ISBN 978-1-85109-243-7.
  • Obote, A. M. (16 November 1968). Myths and Realities – A Letter to a London Friend. Kampala (Uganda): African Publishers.
  • Onyango Obbo, Charles (9 October 2001). "Root of Discontent: The Untold Story Of The Failed 1969 Obote Assassination (Part 1)". The Monitor. Kampala.
  • Sathyamurthy, T. V. (c. 1986). The Political Development of Uganda: 1900–1986. Aldershot, UK/Brookfield, Vermont: Gower. ISBN 978-0-566-05247-7.
  • Smith, Ivan (1980). Ghosts of Kampala. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-32662-3.
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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