The late Milton Obote, Uganda's first prime minister and two-time president, was remembered Tuesday as an outstanding leader by some Ugandans, while others said that they would not mourn a man held responsible for the deaths of as many as 500,000 people.
Henry Mayega, secretary-general of the Ugandan People's Congress, said Obote, 80, died Monday afternoon in a Johannesburg hospital after being hospitalized for several weeks. He had been living in self-imposed exile in Zambia.
Godfrey Binaisa, a former Ugandan president, told The Associated Press Tuesday that Obote was a good ruler.
"He resolved tribal disputes and handled them skillfully. Obote was not a bad man. During his rule especially in the 1960s the country was stable," said Binaisa, who served as attorney general under Obote.
But his feelings were not shared by everyone in Uganda, where Obote's control of the Ugandan People's Congress from exile was often used as a specter to discourage support for multiparty politics.
Paul Mawanda, 35, said that he took up arms against Obote in the 1980s because of the killings of hundreds of people.
"I am happy that Obote is dead. I have no tears for him nor condolences for his family as well. He killed many people," Mawanda said Tuesday. "During his rule of the 1980s, there were scarcities, people were being killed by his army."
Obote escaped possible death or imprisonment in 1971 because he was at a Commonwealth meeting in Singapore when Idi Amin, an army commander and a trusted aide, seized control, according to the AP.
Amin placed a US$143,000 price on Obote's head. During Amin's tyrannical rule, Obote lived in neighboring Tanzania, protected but kept publicly silent by his friend, then-President Julius Nyerere.
Nyerere's soldiers, supporting Ugandan rebels, helped drive Amin from power in Kampala in April 1979, paving the way for Obote's return.
Following a disputed election in 1980 which returned Obote to power, current President Yoweri Museveni raised an army and fought a civil war against Obote from 1980-85, another period in Ugandan history known for brutal repression and mass executions of innocent civilians.
Obote was ousted in another coup in 1985. Museveni took power by force in 1986. Museveni's government estimates more than 500,000 civilians died from 1980-85 alone when Obote tried to force everyone out of rural areas and into cities.
In 1985, the Minority Rights Group published a report in which it quoted the then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Elliot Abrams, saying in August 1984 that the situation under Obote was horrendous.
Obote never returned to Uganda after he fled first to Kenya in 1985 and then to Zambia, where fellow independence leader Kenneth Kaunda granted him exile.
Obote was married with four children and had another child by a mistress.