Educated at St Joseph’s College, Mbarara and St Mary’s College, Kisubi, before getting a scholarship to Makerere University College, where he took a diploma in veterinary science.
He started work as a veterinary officer from 1939 until 1946, when he joined the Toro kingdom government, as secretary and then assistant treasurer to the local parliament.
In 1954 he was nominated by the Toro parliament to the Uganda Legislative Council. He stood for Parliament for Toro Central in the first elections in 1958, as leader of his own Uganda Peoples’ Union Party and again in the general election of March 1961, winning his seat both times. He then merged his party with others to join the Uganda Peoples’ Congress of Milton Obote in 1960; he then became national chairman of the party. Obote gave him a place in his first cabinet in October 1962, at the time of independence, as Minister of Animal Husbandry, Game and Fisheries.
His big chance came in the constitutional crisis of April 1966 when Obote deposed the Kabaka of Buganda as President and took the office himself. Five other ministers were detained but John Babiiha, who had played a background role, was appointed Vice-President.
On December 19, 1969, when President Obote was shot through the cheek in an assassination attempt, John Babiiha temporarily assumed control of government and declared a national state of emergency. He had been involved in an earlier, unsuccessful assassination attempt when travelling in Obote’s car and gunmen had opened fire, thinking he was the President.
When the army took over in January 1971, he left immediately for his farm in the west and has since remained in the background.
A Toro rancher and farmer from Western Uganda with a dark, burnished face, lined with the cares of office. The longest serving Legislative council member and a local political leader who merged his party with Milton Obote’s Uganda Peoples’ Congress in 1960 and remained uncritically loyal in the constitutional crises which followed. He was rewarded with the Vice-Presidency when the Kabaka fell from power in May 1966. After the military coup he retired immediately to his successful farms. His only public function in the two years which followed was when President Amin sent him on a world goodwill mission in January 1973.