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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Feb 26, 2021

Luo Nyanza would be the province with the most listed properties in the modern republic of Kenya because of the number of pioneers and their footprints in history. It is the same with Kaloleni estate in Nairobi.

In any other country the Ministry in charge of national heritage should be fighting the civic government to relocate residents of Kaloleni estate so that most houses can be restored and maintained as national heritage. And that should extend to county governments today because they counties are custodians of the local history and legends. In Siaya county Gunda Ukwala for example should be preserved because that is the origin of name of Ukwala (a place of captives). And so should, Ligega, Ugunja, Migori, Kit Mikayi just to name a few in Siaya and Kisumu conties. In Kisumu county for example, that house near Kit Mikayi near Kisumu is potentially wrecking the foundation of the ruins and should not have been allowed in a country fully of specialists in geology. The land owners would be handsomely compensated at the commercial going rate of land in that area to compensate them the premium of loosing such a sentimental location.

In England the houses where Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Sam Nujoma, etc stayed in are listed and protected as historical sites even if those people ended being leaders in very foreign lands. Even the recording studios of the pop group Beetles used to frequent is almost a shrine and recognised as so by the government. And so is the living quarters of reggae King Bob Marley that has even a plaque at the door. Our own Kaloleni estate, Nairobi that housed eminent Kenyans is a derelict. Nobody can even believe that a president once lived here. That within that eyesore came a president. That the eyesore of Kaloleni is where one evening the national flag was drawn. That a nationally irrelevant Cockerel and culturally stunted wooden axe found its way on the national coat of arms because the design was at the political nerve centre at Kaloleni estate where a Cockerel and an axe as a ritual of establishing new home made sense.

The preservation of Kaloleni estate would also ensure that Uganda and East African community heritage is also preserved. The history of Uganda republic for example begins and probably ends with Kaloleni estate Nairobi Kenya because the first Prime Minister and First President Dr Apollo Milton Obote made his bones here as a republican and not feudalist.

It is not a stretch of imagination that Dr Milton Obote could have been a presidential contender in Kenya because after all President Moi whose historical ancestors can be traced to that corner of Sothern Sudan in 1200AD served for a good 25 years as president of Kenya. Early years recount that after drifting from several Uganda Asian employers Milton Obote ended up in Kenya through the sugar belt western Kenya.

In Nairobi his influence was greatly felt as the ideals he mooted such as the National Youth Service came to be. However, tragedy struck and eye witness account as to the reasons he was ejected out of Kenya unceremoniously by the Kaloleni young Turks conveniently differ.

Fact is that one day future President Obote with not any wrongdoing on his part was abducted; he had his Nilotic long hairs ruffled, mud smeared on him. To complete the picture, all his clothes were taken away and he was dressed in a dirty soiled gunia (maize sack) and bundled into Malaba bound goods train for him not disembark until he reached Malaba on Kenya Uganda border. Gunia dressed repatriation was the punishment for anti-social behaviour. If a Greater Nyanza lady strayed in Nairobi and engaged in chode (anti-social behaviour), then this was the punishment by wuod-nyager Chief Owino Daudi’s administration. And greater Nyanza meant any part of Kenya past the Rift Valley escarpment. As soon as you begin to descend into Naivasha from Mombasa you are in Nyanza Province. Maybe now you understand why people like late Wasonga Sijeyo, Achieng Oneko were representing Nakuru area of the Rift Valley. K’oricho or Kericho was like downtown Nyanza where young men went to revel the weekend away. Maybe it makes sense why ka’Walumbwa (Lumbwa), a name from an ancient Homa Bay county clan was quickly scratched off at midnight for present day Kipkelion. However, two things stood out.

As it was Chief Owino Daudi wuod-nyager who narrated to me this story at first, it means the vagrant order did not come from his office. Secondly the making him look like a mad man or lunatic was cutting an image beyond a vagrant. Much later in London I ran into the other end of the story. The Luhya man who was in charge of making sure Obote does not disembark read the script well. And half way the Luhya man had Obote clean himself and he gave Obote his own civilian clothes so that on reaching Malaba Obote will be a normal person. Such was the rivalries of Kaloleni politics that was always simmering below the surface. At least Obote did not exit Kaloleni in a coffin as worse exit awaited some of the Kaloleni young Turks. The reality is that Obote followed the same western route used by his brethren 600 years ago but his brethren rejected him to the opposite direction.

Early years

Milton was not a chosen name. Milton was annexed as a nickname from an author whose works he liked to recite. Indeed, one thing is said of Milton Obote. If you want to continue hating him then don’t listen to him speak, don’t attend his rallies, don’t read about him. Obote was so disarming that if you listened to him you became a convert even if externally you refuse to accept that you are now a convert.

Milton Obote was born at Akokoro village in northern Uganda. He was the third born of nine children in the Oyima clan Luo Langi ethnic group. He began his education in 1940 at the Lira Protestant Missionary School and later attended Junior Secondary School at Agulu, Nothern Uganda. He then proceeded to the then Busoga College and eventually to the only university of East Africa-Makerere, Uganda. Having intended to study law, a subject not taught at the university, Obote took English and geography under the unit of General arts degree. 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. He worked in the Asian Sugar industries in southern Uganda before moving to western Kenya employment and eventually landing in Nairobi until his ejection 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 National Congress (UNC), and was elected to the colonial Legco in 1957. In 1959, he led a split that joined the Uganda people Congress where he became the leader.

Presidency over the land of bigotry

In the early years Uganda politics was sectarian. In the first elections there was a tie that split through the populous and powerful Baganda people of Southern Uganda. The royalists under Kabaka were known as Kabaka Yekka (Kabaka only). Then there were the commoners under catholic Benedict Kiwanuka of Democratic Party (DP) still seething at the memory of Uganda Martyrs at the hands of the royal Kabakaship. In the tie breaker the protestant north formed a temporary and a very very very unlikely coalition with the royalists of Kabaka Yekka. In other words, the Baganda royalists preferred to merge with unlikely protestant and muslim northerners than have anything to do with catholic Baganda commoners led by Benedict Kiwanuka. That bigotry was to run through and through the republic of Uganda sometimes in the shape of Kingdoms at other times camouflaged in the rich Nyanza basin versus maligned servicemen of the north. But mostly at this time it was between the Catholic and the protestant Christians. Its obvious the Baganda Kingdom had not quite exorcised off Uganda Martyrs and wanted to bury it by embracing the protestant north. Every president has played on this and the pope's visit in 1969 was cynically interpreted by others as Obote playing the sectarian card. When Idi Amin banned all religions except Catholics, Anglicans and Muslims it was seen as sectarian trump card to have Catholics and protestants at each others throat. Even the current President Museveni's gay phobia stand is slyly seen as an extension of the sectarian bigotry that allegedly led to the tragedy of Uganda martyrdom by the Kabaka.

After Obote beat Benedict Kiwanuka in the tie breaker, he sought to seduce that southern bigotry by not only giving concessions to Kabaka leader to assume a random and meek Presidency but he also married a Muganda lady. Miriam was pretty in her own right and fashionable too but she was a lightning rod for southern bigotry. And bile of bigotry was everywhere including in the Kingdoms. Even President Obote was not immune to it especially after suffering an assassination attempt.

At first he made sure by executive orders that no Kenyan was to assume senior political positions. And when given the reasons why Idi Amin should be court-martialled for his excesses against the Kikuyu during Mau Mau operations in Kenya, President Obote proceeded to do just the opposite and promoted Idi Amin maybe incensed by the way he was treated in Kaloleni, Nairobi Kenya-your enemy’s enemy is your friend. In 1969, about 10 years after that Malaba ejection, President Obote returned the compliments by ejecting Kenyans out of Uganda. I remember this very well because my relatives like Ochecho showed up with a family that could only speak that Nyaka-Yasa language.

President Obote Part 1(1966-71)

In Obote 1 he assumed the Executive presidency under extreme parliamentary high handedness. During the political strife with the ceremonious president, Kabaka Mutesa in 1966, an emergency parliamentary session was called and Prime Minister Obote asked Parliament to pass a bill in parliament containing minor amendments to the constitution. The irony was that the amended constitution which was being tabled was still in print. Parliament were assured that they will get the amended constitution in their pigeon holes. And Parliament duly passed the constitution which made the Prime Minister the Executive President and abolishing the office of the presidency held by Kabaka Mutesa. The Kabaka responded by banishing the Federal government off the holy grounds of the Baganda. Cue the bombing of the palace that led to the exile of Kabaka Mutesa to Britain.

What went extremely well.

1. Prime Minister Obote transformed a jigsaw of unequal very untrusting kingdoms into a modern republic.

2. President Obote left Uganda with a modern day constitution that carried Uganda in to the 1990s

3. President Obote instituted a modern ombudsman where members of the public could debate weekly in a symposium on national issues that shaped government policies. Fierce opponents of the president included prelate Bishop Okullu of Kenya, non-other than firebrand Professor Ali Mazrui and renowned author David Martin who later wrote a biography for Idi Amin where he praised President Obote. The foregoing State Research Bureau which was an intelligence think tank under Obote regime was to become the dreaded vigilante group that would maraud the whole of East Africa for Ugandan exiles.

4. Uganda became the only African country to establish a national conscription when the President took further the National Youth Service that he had established in Kenya. In American style all arms of the armed forces was to act as a feeder of training ground for doctors, lawyers to supplement government services.

5. Move to the left policy that irked the west was later cannibalised and used by the British Labour government policies under Tony Blair that trained all able bodied persons to ease the government burden of a nanny state.

6. President Obote’s judicious handling of a mutiny and coup attempt without bad feelings.

What did not go so well.

1. Obote’s appointment of Idi Amin despite the warnings from the British officers who warned him, “This man will cause you problems in the future”. In Obote’s words, “I am not sure whether he said ‘this man may cause you problems in the future’ or a definite ‘this man WILL cause you problems in the future”.

2. The delay in acting on Brigadier Okoya’s murder findings

3. The mild attempt to address the lost counties which incidentally has eluded Kenya in Rift Valley land clashes and internally displaced peoples even as we speak

4. The delay in acting armed forces corruption and Congo gold mine scandal.

What went miserably wrong

1. The mirroring of commercially self-aware multi ethnic Uganda on poor and docile largely Bantu and Islamic Tanzania. It was bound to fail.

2. The application of Common Man’s Charter brand of socialism on purely capitalistic Nilotes and Bantus was a disaster.

3. The storming of an already marooned Palace that could easily be balkanised and starved to submission without the electricity alone, let alone essential services.

President Obote Part (1980-85)

As far as I am concerned the Obote part 2 (1980-1985) can only be remembered by two things. Obote was the boxer Mohammed Ali of politics. Why? He was the only president to be ejected from parliament by a violent military coup and seek and come back to power by the ballot box.

Secondly he is the only African politician whose political base is way out of his home base that on his return to Uganda he re-entered the country at the opposite end of his home are on the basis of a political party that defied all to still exist in years of exile. The rest is of no consequence as the years of exile and slaughter of his people had killed everything that was left of any will to govern. The new Obote 2 presidency was full of younger generation who had no experience in running a country. Well intentioned lot like Edward Rugumayo, Otema Aliamdi, Olarra Otunnu, Yoweri Museveni, Oyite Ojok, Paulo Muwanga, BinaIssa had no chance of running a country let alone a plundered and wounded republic like Uganda after Idi Amin. He tried but years in exile was now telling.

Clean Bill of health

After his second removal from power, Obote fled to Siranga, near Ukwala, Siaya county, Kenya and later to Zambia. In August 2005, however, he announced his intention to step down as leader of the UPC. On 10 October 2005, Obote died in a hospital in a southern African country. The irony of 2nd entering Kenya in the same direction his brethren entered Kenya 700 years ago is not lost. The only difference is that the first time he left and became a President, something that has eluded his brethren who led the exodus into present day Kenya.

Progressive and extremely influential western European newspapers like the Guardian commenced on flurry of tributes exonerating Obote of alleged misdeeds and owning up to destabilising East Africa when he was overthrown. The nosy and noisy Fleet street journalism took the blame honourably as the main agitators against an African brilliant and progressive president and cheerleaders of and court jesters of what turned out to be a murderous ignorant dictator.

Free at Last

Milton Obote was given a state funeral, attended by protégé President Museveni, in the Ugandan capital in October 2005, to the surprise and appreciation of many Ugandans because he and Museveni had later been bitter rivals. Even his most bitter groups, such as the Baganda survivors of the Luwero Triangle massacres, who were bitter that Obote was given a state funeral acknowledged that Obote 1 who led a prosperous government that used to supply almost everything to Kenya is very different from Obote 2.

When Obote 1 left Uganda various global institutions were headed for Kampala. When Obote 1 left all that were neatly moved to Kenyan including a downgraded World bank sponsored public investments like Buru Buru estate. UNEP which was claimed by a local son of the lake was Kampala destined.

When Obote 2 returned Kenya was employing Ugandan graduates of Makerere with Masters degrees as secondary school teachers. Uganda ladies like Rubina who was murdered in Nyeri in December 1981 could only work as barmaids in Kenya. The Uganda money had overgrown human pockets. Socially the amorous Uganda men were running away from the sight of a woman and the implied responsibility. What a difference between Obote 1 and Obote 2?

Interestingly, Field Marshall John Okello, President Milton Obote and President Barack Obama (excluding First Lady Olive Lembe di Sita) are the only members of the southwards Luo exodus who have emerged to lead a modern republic in 1000 years.


In leadership, we are always advised to surround ourselves with people who are way smarter than us. Because those are the people you get to interact with and also double up as your advisors. Again in leadership, your success or failure largely depends on your advisors. This is an art Obote didn't quite master. Obote's greatest undoing was appointing a fellow Nilote Idi Amin as the head of the military as opposed to the British choice Major Augustine Karugaba. Major Karugaba was Sandhurst trained. He was from Abakiga people - a Bantu ethnic group from Northern Rwanda. He trusted him but won't allow him to lead the military. He instead used his religion (Catholic) as the reason for not appointing him. The irony of it all, Idi Amin wasn't as educated and polished as Major Karugaba. Obote then retired Major Karugaba at the age of 27 years to allow Idi Amin to rise to the rank of Army Commander. Amin then massively recruited from West Nile region and used their support to overthrow Obote in 1971.

Anyway..... 1. What if Obote appointed Major Karugaba as the army commander? Would he have lasted longer in power? 2. Was Obote's choice of Idi Amin based on ethnicity? 3. Did he intend to exploit Amin's little education for his own personal gain but it ended up backfiring on him? 4. Was it a case of an axe cutting down trees having come out of trees itself?- that Obote thought that Amin will be loyal to him because they are both Nilotes? Or it was a case of Luo saying that... "Chero michiedho ema gawi".That his own choice ended up bringing him more misery than loyalty? Or it was simply an act of God to remove Major Karugaba from harms way and preserve him for more important causes. Because he served Ugandan government in various capacities including the position of a permanent secretary and lived longer than his oppressors. -Face book comments 23/2/2021


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Rashid Nzambu
Rashid Nzambu
Feb 25, 2021

This is a well written article on Milton Obote, the first Prime Minister of Independent Uganda.

Like most of the first leaders in Independence Africa, the political fortunes of Obote and those of the Pearl of Africa, Uganda, mirror each other. It makes for good talking points to wonder which influenced the other i.e. Did Obote influence the politics of Uganda or was it the other way round.

Three factors brought down Obote I: The British, the Kabaka and his Army. The British (and the western World) were uncomfortable with Obote’s Socialist leanings. The Kabaka, with the silent approval of the British, had political ambitions to rule the whole of Uganda. A corrupt and undisciplined Army divided by tribalism under…

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