Uganda divided as Obote's body arrives home

The body of former Ugandan president Milton Obote arrived home on Tuesday for a state funeral to tears and jeers over the late leader’s legacy, which left the nation deeply divided.

Torn between remembering Obote as a national hero or despot, Ugandans grieved and rejoiced as the white government-chartered twin-propeller cargo carrying his body landed here at 12.45pm (9.45am GMT) from Zambia, where he had lived in exile for 20 years.

A crowd of about 800 chanting, singing and crying supporters and curious onlookers at Entebbe International airport watched as eight police officers in ceremonial dress lowered Obote’s flag-draped coffin from the plane onto a bier.

Some waved placards reading “We shall always remember our father Milton Obote” as an Anglican bishop presided over a brief prayer ceremony before the casket was placed in a hearse for the 42km drive to the capital.

But underscoring deeply conflicting emotions that have met Obote’s death at 80 of apparent kidney failure in a South African hospital last week, arch-foe and current Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni conspicuously left the country.

Museveni boarded a plane for an undisclosed destination just moments before Obote’s body arrived from Lusaka and it was not immediately clear if he would return for the burial on Sunday in northern Uganda.

As the hearse left Entebbe, a handful of angry women in yellow airport employee uniforms jumped up and shouted “We also cried, they too should cry,” referring to the repression that marked the twice-toppled Obote’s two terms as president.

Accompanied by four police outriders, the motorcade sped along the road to Kampala intermittently lined by uniformed security forces as sporadic and spontaneous demonstrations of hatred could be seen.

At one trading post, shopkeepers and customers hurled insults at the cortege, with one woman flailing her hands in the aid and screaming “We are tired of Obote, let him follow those he killed.”

Obote, Uganda’s first post-colonial prime minister, has been both mourned as a leader in the fight for independence from Britain and reviled as a dictator whose terms as president were marred by repression, conflict and the death of about 300 000 people. - AFP

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