Mr Obote, who died in South Africa after spending two decades in Zambia, became the first Ugandan prime minister when British rule ended in 1962. He was twice forced into exile by his own military commanders.
Like many of his contemporaries across the continent, he took office promising democratic self-rule, before becoming an autocrat who established a dictatorship.
In 1966, he named himself president for life after ousting King Mutesa II, better known as "King Freddie" in the Western press, and suspended the constitution.
Mr Obote, who survived an assassination attempt in 1969, was himself toppled when General Idi Amin accused him of corruption and seized power in a coup while the president was in Singapore at a Commonwealth conference in 1971.
His overthrow was widely welcomed, including in the West, where there had been fears that Mr Obote was moving to the left under the influence of Communism. Many Ugandans, including Mr Obote, fled to Tanzania.
Uganda then went through one of the bleakest chapters of its history, as Amin established a military dictatorship which was responsible for the deaths of some 300,000 opponents.
The human rights abuses continued unabated on Mr Obote's return to power, after Amin was overthrown by Ugandan rebels and Tanzanian troops in 1979. Mr Obote was re-elected president in Uganda's first election in 18 years and established a multi-party democracy, although his opponents accused him of rigging the ballot.
He turned to the International Monetary Fund to bolster the Ugandan economy, but Ugandans saw little improvement in their standard of living.
The military still refused to submit to his control, and a guerrilla war ensued, as Mr Obote's former aide Yoweri Museveni went into the bush to lead the resistance against him. The war and human rights abuses claimed at least another 100,000 lives, including in Buganda, the stronghold of opposition to the Obote regime since the removal of the traditional monarchy.
In 1985, after refusing to negotiate with Mr Museveni, Mr Obote was forced out of office by his army chief, General Tito Okello, in a bloodless coup.
Mr Museveni in 1986 inherited an impoverished state which had once been known as the "pearl of Africa" for its agricultural abundance. He was welcomed by the Clinton administration as one of a new generation of leaders who spearheaded what became known as the African Renaissance.
However Mr Museveni has shown the same authoritarian tendencies as his predecessors.
Mr Museveni had said Mr Obote was welcome to return home, but warned that he might have to face charges for atrocities by troops against civilians in the early 1980s. According to the current government's estimates, more than half a million civilians died between 1980-85 when Mr Obote tried to force Ugandans out of rural areas and into cities. Mr Obote still controlled his Uganda People's Congress from exile.