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News | October 30, 2006

Obote omitted on list of EA founders


OMISSION of the late Milton Obote's name from the list of founders of the East African Community caused a stir at the regional workshop on the EA political federation here on Friday.

Tanzanian and Ugandan delegates, in particular, warned that the omission of the name of the former Ugandan leader could set a bad precedent and hamper the current efforts for regional integration.

"This is wrong. This would not be taken lightly by a section of the Ugandan population and could cause a problem with the federation," complained Mr Lyelmoi Otong Ongaba, the secretary general of the Uganda National Organisation of Trade Unions.

He said he was surprised that Obote's name was omitted by speakers and videos shown to the delegates at the two-day workshop that was attended by members of the national consultative committees on EA political federation from the three countries.

The saga started when old documentaries depicted the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Mzee Jomo Kenyatta presiding over functions and addressing crowds, apparently as the only the founders of EAC in the 1960s with none showing Dr Obote.

This was followed by a recent documentary of President Yoweri Museveni discussing the importance of EA regional integration in which he paid tribute to Mwalimu Nyerere and Mzee Kenyatta as the pillars of EAC with no mention of the former Ugandan leader.

At this juncture Mr Ibrahim Kaduma, from Tanzania inquired why the name of Obote who found the former EAC with Nyerere and Kenyatta in 1967, was skipped.

Mr Kaduma, a former minister for foreign affairs in the 1970s said it was wrong to isolate leaders who played a key role in the EA integration as this could harm efforts for the desired political federation.

Ms Beatrice Kiraso, the EAC deputy secretary general (Political Federation), who chaired the session, apologised for the mishap and said Obote played an active role in the formation of the EAC and its current revival.

Mr Jerry Okungu, a media and communication consultant from Kenya who prepared a communication strategy for fast-tracking EA federation, said he did not have time to obtain past documentaries of Obote.

"I was hired for this job only recently and could not get enough time to get all I needed from the archives of the three countries. This would not happen again in future as I would have ample time," he said.

Obote, who died last year after 20 years in exile in Zambia, was Uganda's prime minister from independence in 1962 to 1966 and president thereafter until he was deposed in January 1971 by Idi Amin. He bounced back to power in 1980 to 1985 when he was overthrown again by the military.

Together with the late Nyerere and Kenyatta, they founded the former EAC, which collapsed in 1977 due to political and ideological differences between Tanzania and Kenya.

He was the Ugandan head of state in 1984 when the three states agreed, for the first time since 1977, to explore ways to resume regional cooperation. This culminated in the revival of the present EAC in the 1990s.

The executive secretary of the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation Joseph Butiku from Tanzania cautioned the three countries to be wary of the past mistakes, which led to the collapse of the former EAC.

- Monitor -