INTERVIEW with Mama Miria Obote, President UPC
The Monitor Newspaper, October 11 - 17, 2006
When Uganda's two time ex-president, Apolo Milton Obote died last year, the day after the 43rd Independence anniversary, his party picked on his widow and long time confidant to take over the mantle of its leadership.
Paul Mugabi talked to Miria Kalule Obote about the preparations for marking the death of her husband and party leader and her experiences as leader of the UPC
Q: Preparations are underway for the marking of the former President's death. Besides celebrating his life through a memorial service, what else do you seek to achieve?
A: The occasion we intend to hold at the Independence Grounds in Kololo gives us the opportunity to thank the government for allowing us to return Mzee Obote's remains, according him a decent state funeral and thank Parliament for honoring him. It gives us the opportunity to thank all the people who were involved in all the arrangements about the funeral and thank all those comforted.
We shall also remember Mzee for his life-long devotion to national service in pursuit of his desire that Uganda returns to democracy. However, it is human to make mistakes and he regretted the mistakes he made in the course of his national duties. The 1966 crisis for one, was a result of the machinations of politicians who ill-advised the Kabaka as they plotted to overthrow the government.
Q: You recently received a cheque of Shs500 million from the Ministry of Public Service, in respect of the emoluments due to the late former president Obote. Has the government met all its other obligations?
A: No. The last communication I had was to the effect that a proposal would be made and presented to Cabinet; a resolution made about it and presented to Parliament for approval. However, my understanding is that there is a law under which former President Godfrey Binaisa is looked after by the government and under which the late Tito Okello Lutwa was looked after.
Q: How easily have you transformed yourself from First Lady, to housewife and now party president?
A: During the first UPC government, I was mainly a housewife looking after three small boys. I got involved in political work during the 1970's exile in Tanzania. Mzee would assign me to work with people from Uganda who did not speak good English and later brief him on the developments.
IN OBOTES' SHOES: Ms Miria Lalule Obote
I never imagined that I would become a leader of the UPC. It is the people who put me in this position.
My new job is not easy as I took it up against the background of party structures that had disintegrated over the years. Twenty years is a long time. Some members have been corrupted by the allure of money.
Q: Would you confirm reports that there are suggestions that you are positioning your son Jimmy Akena to take over party leadership after you?
A: I cannot front Akena for the UPC leadership. Dr Obote never willed that I lead the party after him. It is the people's choice. Likewise, being a member of the UPC, Akena was elected on merit to represent the people of Lira Municipality without my help. If he is interested, he will contest for president in accordance with the Party's constitution... there is no other way.
Q: Do you feel you are comfortably fitting in Mzees shoes?
A: After 20 years in abeyance, it is difficult to function, especially given that the party has no resources. There is a lot of pressure to deliver on he basis of the past successful record of the party. Hence we have been drawing up a strategic plan we are beginning to implement. The plan entails the regeneration of the party.
Q: Having been in abeyance for 20 years, what challenges are you facing in the regeneration of the party?
A: Bringing the party faithful together is not easy, some members have left. We have to recruit and reconcile with those who have adopted a different line of thinking. It will be long and painstaking. While the youth are interested in the party, they dwell under the illusion that change can be achieved overnight.
Q: What are the challenges you are faced with, given the circumstances under which you assumed leadership?
A: The first challenge was to get allowed to speak out. Now that this is possible, we shall go out and enlighten the people, explain issues and open their minds, enabling them to come aboard UPC. Older people understand issues but we shall educate the youth who have no idea that things can be done differently and better than the way the NRM acts. Most youth think without militarism, you cannot change the way things are done.
Q: What do you see as the challenges brought about by multipartism as now practiced in Uganda?
A: Multipartism has given us an opportunity and hope of realising our political expectations. I'm happy that there are many lively debates without much fear. However, this might change with time, especially after the Commonwealth summit in the country. It looks like a veneer of tolerance that could be wiped away after that summit.
Q: Do you feel that the UPC, in its current form, can cope with the state of politics in the country?
A: Some people appear to have all along been working with forces outside the party and others are drawn away by the prospect of personal benefit through jobs and other favours that come with joining other parties. Some members had an eye on being elected to the East African Legislative Assembly.
They have not gone to the NRM because of ideological shifts. They are after jobs. It is understandable after 20 years without party discipline and leadership. The UPC is, however, committed to reconciliation within its ranks and we are talking to those who are disgruntled for any reason. We welcome everybody back without condition.
Obote's lasting contribution
The Monitor, October 11 - 17, 2006
Even in death a year ago this week, the late President Milton Obote forced President Yoweri Museveni to concede that the one was the master and mentor and the other would always be the student and pretender to the throne.
During the official remembrance that took place at the Parliamentary Buildings last October in Kampala, President Museveni was forced to recant all the spiteful opinions of Obote that he had declared since taking power and publicly conceded that Obote had indeed made a lasting contribution to Uganda.
Independence, the 22 national hospitals, and many secondary schools were part of the legacy. Museveni must have hated to hear himself publicly concede to Obote's place in Ugandan history, but that is what makes life all the more interesting.
The wave of support shown to the Obote family and the national grief that accompanied his death and the return of his body to Uganda last October took the NRM government and many observers by surprise.
For one thing, it revealed that two-and-a-half decades by the NRM of vilifying Obote and portraying him as a dictator who plunged Uganda into chaos had clearly not been believed by Ugandans.
During the February 2006 general elections - elections that even the judges of the High Court ruled had been rigged - it was necessary for the ruling NRM to falsify the results in such a way as to suggest that the UPC and the Democratic Party had won only negligible votes in the lower single digit range.
It had to be done, as a way of keeping up the pretence that Museveni has preached for 20 years: that as a result of the "'broad-based" NRM era, Ugandans had begun to forget about the traditional parties founded just before independence.
No analysts in Uganda's media or academia came out to explain how the massive crowds that came to view Obote's body and accompany it for burial as recently as October 2005 should somehow have vanished only four months later.
In the series of recollections of working with him by Obote's former ministers published by the Sunday Monitor in 2005, the Minister of Commerce from 1980 to '85, Joel Aliro Omara, said one of the things that had most impressed him about Obote was his writing style.
It is interesting that Omara should have been struck by that, because writing was the one gift that Obote had, even more than his ability as a leader. Apart from a great command of English, Obote had a very persuasive way of arguing and reasoning on paper.
In April 1990, while in Lusaka, Obote wrote a document titled Notes On Concealment of Genocide in Uganda. It was his most detailed and definitive account of the tragic story of what happened in the Luweero Triangle from 1981 to 1985 where the National Resistance Army guerrillas were based and from where they largely fought his government.
Section after section contains a gripping narrative of Obote's insistence that it was not his government's army that carried out the massacres of innocent civilians, but rather the Luweero massacres were masterminded by the NRA leader Yoweri Museveni as a classic Maoist, Communist guerrilla tactic- hurt the crowd and blame it on your opponent.
It is the most spell-binding work Obote ever wrote and jolts most of those who read it. Throughout the text, which has a section titled The Real Museveni, Obote gives the reader an insider view of Ugandan history, but also the brutality that shapes Museveni's thinking. Suddenly, much about Uganda's history becomes clear.
There is something remarkable about Milton Obote: all Uganda's leaders after him have been men who worked directly under him.
Idi Amin was army commander under Obote in the 1960s; Yusufu Lule was the Principal of Makerere University College when Obote was chancellor in the 1960s; Godfrey Binaisa was Obote's Attorney General in the 1960s; Paulo Muwanga would later become Obote's Vice President; Tito Okello was the army commander under Obote in the early 1980s; Yoweri Museveni as a young graduate worked in the Office of the President in the early 1970s under Obote.
Thus, Obote has, for better or for worse, provided the leadership and mentoring that in turn has given Uganda its succession of leaders.
However, it is a pity that Obote chose to become a politician rather than a police detective or history researcher. He certainly would have made a fascinating and highly talented intelligence analyst.
Obote would have had a much more illustrious career using his analytical mind and considerable writing skills than as a political leader.
A year after his death, the Uganda People's Congress party is very much a fractured and financially depleted organisation. He was able to keep the party fire burning in spirit for 45 years, but did not do as well in creating a self-sufficient body that would weather any storm even when out of power.
The fact that the UPC had two opportunities to hold state power and was still unable to lay a more solid foundation of perpetual activity and strength is the one score where the party failed itself and Obote failed it.
Fortunately for Obote's legacy, as time goes by, there is one man who is doing a lot to help restore it and offset any criticism that history has of it. That man is Yoweri Museveni.
During the first ten years of Museveni's rule leading up to the 1996 presidential elections, just the mention of the UPC was enough to turn hundreds of thousands of Baganda and some in western Uganda to Museveni.
But by the 2001 election and much more noticeable in 2006, Obote was definitely no longer an issue. Firmly in the minds of millions was one pressing question: how to get rid of the nightmare called Museveni.
The longer Museveni remains in power, the closer he comes to making himself that object of hate and resentment that Obote once was to the Baganda. This large and influential tribe thought that Obote desecrated their kingdom during the mid 1960s.
But today, much wiser, much more pushed to the margin and cheated of their status and wealth, Baganda are waking up to the reality that the true desecration of Buganda Kingdom has been taking place since 1986 and in a much more deliberate and insidious way than could have been imagined in the 1960s.
This is why it is often important for time to be allowed to play history out in full. On July 28, 2005, looking back to 20 years since the final coup that ousted Obote, I wrote a Daily Monitor article stating roughly that Obote was still in effect, 20 years later, the President of Uganda because of President Museveni's unconscious fear of him and struggle to prove himself as a leader out of Obote's shadow.
Obote always knew that Museveni, for all the bravado and acting up, was really just a research officer in the Office of President Milton Obote, but trying to prove himself a man decades later.
Apollo Milton Opeto Obote was always and still is, to this day, the President of the Republic of Uganda, based on his intellect, powerful oratory, beautiful writing style, popularity with the majority of Ugandans, victories at successive general elections, and respect among the wider African people who remembered his founding role in the Organisation of African Unity.
Omongole R. Anguria
The Monitor, October 11 - 17, 2006
For some, Obote is the founder of the nation, the nationalist, the pan-Africanist, the socialist - in short, a hero. To others he was a tribalist, regionalist and power maniac who resorted to intrigue, manipulation and the use of the army to monopolise politics and terrorise opponents.
The Baganda saw him as a man who destroyed and humiliated Buganda, imposed a one-party dictatorship, grabbed people's property in the name of socialism and nurtured Amin, who later foisted a reign of terror over the country.
For them, Obote in his life in exile (1971-80), like the Bourbons of old, learnt and forgot nothing and upon his return continued his politics of intrigue and manipulation, destabilised the UNLF, stole elections [December 1980] and imposed what they call the disastrous Obote II regime, culminating in civil war and the coup of 1985.
To others, Obote was a victim of circumstances, of problems inherited from colonial rule, of intrigues and machinations of rival politicians, of foreign interests and powers, of his own indecision, timidity and procrastination, etc.
To others still, Obote was a mixed bag- a man with achievements to his credit but also a man who committed avoidable blunders and mistakes that ruined this country.
Mr Omongole Anguria, in a new book, a compilation of writings on Obote has consolidated these diverging opinions in a new book, Apollo Milton Obote:
What others say, published by Fountain Publishers for readers to determine on their own what Obote, Uganda's first executive president, stood for.
The book hit the bookstores yesterday on the 1st anniversary of Obote's death.
We still mourn Obote
The Monitor, October 11 - 17, 2006
I still hold back my tears every moment I take to remember Dr Apollo Milton Obote. Obote the statesman I first met way back in 1980 when he visited our school - Busoga College Mwiri - where he was himself an OB.
He had just returned from exile in Tanzania and although campaigning, Obote came across as a true statesman that Uganda very much needed having gone through nearly a decade of Amin's military dictatorship.
Obote the President whose voice roared with clarity, confidence, leadership, authority and intellect - yes, the voice of reason, certainly a genius in every sense; Yes, Obote the friend to many whose loyalty was much taken for granted that others exploited up to his grave; Obote, the moralist governed Uganda. He was the only executive prime minister and president to occupy State House with the mandate of the people.
Yet he never signed a single death warrant arguing that no office, power or authority gave him the right to sign off a human life. I remember too, Haji Musa Sebirumbi; A man of peace who refused to fight the advancing Okellos, who had been inspired by DP, Museveni and a handful of capricious UPC men. To him, human life was sacrosanct.
A modest man who lived simply, ordinarily yet cheerfully busy in Lusaka. He lived with determination to accomplish the mission to return democratic rights to Ugandans.
The teacher, Obote taught me never to judge others in politics; Obote, the man fascinated by youth, whom he called his seeds. And seeds you have left quite a few and like seeds they shall multiply.
The vanguard of UPC, you have left behind a shocked, but an established institution. With Miria at the helm, rebuilding we shall continue. Against all odds and adversity, she continues to mother this, the greatest party of ideas in unity.
Obote the democrat who fought for the repeal of the obnoxious Article 269 of the 1995 Constitution, a provision set to strangle political parties but a battle he won just before his departure; Milton was the political martyr who paid heavily for what he believed in, the man whose principles could never be shaken by dictatorship; Obote, the political tactician. You founded UPC and built it into a formidable political party. Local quislings tried every trick to silence your party but 21 years later, we are back and growing stronger.
Like his friend Nkrumah, his heroism will be more apparent in death.
The man because of whom we have Uganda as it is, which airport, which major road, which main hospital, which major factory, which major academic institution, which main town in Uganda did Obote never have an enabling hand?
Obote, I feel your absence but celebrate your life; your departure is a real tragedy for the youth who were denied access to your rare self. You are truly a rare breed of African leader.