Ex-Ugandan President Apollo Milton Obote evokes both deep hatred and adoration among his countrymen. For many years right until his death in exile in 2005, Obote cast a long shadow on Ugandan politics.
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony observes on the death of his friend and valiant king, Julius Caesar – “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him, the evil that men do lives after them and the good is often interred in the bones…” Omongole R. Anguria confronts a similar predicament in this book on Ex-Ugandan President Apollo Milton Obote, finding that even in death, Obote evokes mixed emotions among his countrymen.
In this book, Anguria pulls together commentaries from all sides in an attempt to build a more complete picture of Obote. In fairness, he does his best to make a balanced selection. Some of the voices make poignant appraisals while others are extremely scathing. The book, helpfully, employs an archetypal categorization assignment by dividing the commentaries into four subsections – Obote the hero, Obote the villain, Obote the victim, and the mixed bag, he . And under every subsection, there are narratives and comments that speak so passionately.
In Obote the hero, mostly by people who closely worked with the man, like his wife Miria Obote, former ministers, Wilson Okwenje , Samwiri Mugwisa, Patrick Rubaihayo, Edward Rurangaraga, and sympathetic journalists like Andrew Mwenda, there are attempts at vindicating Obote. The contributors subtly make the claim that history has misrepresented Obote. Some describe him as a statesman and pan African, even comparing him to Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana! They argue that he was selfless and judged people by virtue of their intellect. He’s also portrayed as an eloquent speaker and master of word choice. One episode quoted is one where in an interview on a radio show, responding to a question on his bitter rival and current Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, he wondered why people asked him about Satan yet he was a devout Christian. And Mwenda wonders whether the chroniclers of history have been fair with Obote.
Under Obote the villain, there are venomous spitting tales that pin the dead man as a monster in Uganda’s history. One group that remains vehemently bitter about Obote are the Baganda, Uganda’s most popular tribal grouping whose Kingdom, Obote abolished. A local leader from Buganda insists that since Obote never apologized while still alive for the sins committed against the Baganda, the Baganda in turn cannot forgive him either. Mwenda on the other hand intones that Obote cannot be solely blamed for the atrocities suffered by the Baganda, in part because there is evidence that the Baganda were planning to oust Obote.
In the Mixed Bag folder, probably the most interesting, the contributing writers end up with questions instead of answers. Charles Onnyango Obbo pens a story he titles; I will cry for Obote, I will not cry for Obote, Nasser Mubonde, can only wonder in the piece, “Was Obote a Killer or a Patriotic Leader?” Nobert Mao makes an interesting observation that Museveni’s guns turned against Museveni himself on the death of Obote. He quotes Ali Mazrui who described Obote as “a great man who made great mistakes” adding that no lesser person could bear responsibilities for the follies over which the great man presided.
Apollo Milton Obote; What Others Say is a compilation that will cause many a reader to reflect on the conflicting views of Obote’s role in Uganda’s troubled political history.