> Uganda: Besigye Predicts - Museveni's Regime
25 October 2011
When three of President Yoweri Museveni's ministers appeared before the
anti-corruption court in Kampala on Oct. 13, the who-is-who in the
government showed up to show solidarity. But it was also not lost on many
that dragging people who are in the inner core of Museveni's government to
court could be a sign of pressure mounting on the regime.
Among those who showed solidarity with the accused was a deputy prime
minister, several serving and former cabinet ministers, secretaries and
commissioners of statutory bodies, including the Electoral Commission and
the Uganda Investment Authority, and owners of top casinos and managing
directors of at least two prominent banks.
The accused were represented by lawyers from two of the top practices firms
in the city including, President Yoweri Museveni's son-in-law, Edwin
Karugire. One of the accused, Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa is the
father-in-law of Museveni's son, Col. Muhoozi Kaineruguba. The other accused
are John Nasasira, a long-serving cabinet member and government chief whip,
and Mwesigwa Rukutana, a junior minister for labour. They are accused of
corruption in connection to the procurement of goods and services for the
Commonwealth Head of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kampala four
years ago. They were granted bail.
But in a separate case, there is also a move in parliament to censure
Kutesa, Internal Affairs Minister, Hillary Onek and another Museveni right
hand man, Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, who doubles at the secretary
general of the ruling NRM party. They are accused of taking bribes worth
billions of shillings from international oil prospecting firms.
Museveni has defended his ministers but his efforts to save them from the
embarrassing parliamentary scrutiny failed and some in the NRM are breaking
"We were told to come and defend the government, I did not know that they
wanted us to defend thieves," one MP told parliament after hearing the bribe
allegations against the ministers.
"Enough is enough on corruption, the ministers should resign," Gen. Elly
Tumwine, an army representative in parliament and senior NRM historical -
one of the few soldiers that Museveni started his guerrilla war with told
the members of parliament during a heated debate.
The President's brother, Gen. Caleb Akandwananaho aka Salim Saleh and some
other high ranking UPDF officials also want the ministers censored,
according to those in the army circles.
As pressure mounts, some observers are already predicting that if they are
censured, President Museveni's government could unravel although there are
those who insist that Museveni remains strong despite the current
Days earlier, The Independent had interviewed the leader of the main
opposition party, Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)
who said "it will be a miracle if Museveni's regime limps on to 2016", the
date of the next presidential election.
"I hear Museveni ridiculing me that he does not see the tsunami; he is
standing right in the middle of it," Besigye said (see interview) adding
that despite Museveni's insatiable thirst for power, his regime has already
fallen apart and that the opposition was already making post-Museveni plans.
Besigye was speaking about the nonstop protests that have swept the country
since the February election that the opposition alleges were rigged. Besigye
has been at the forefront of the Walk to Work protest that were brutally
quashed, traders and taxi drivers have closed shop to protest high taxes,
and medical workers and teachers want pay raises.
"The protests show broad, national non-partisan discontent," Besigye said.
Besigye told The Independent that the fact that those close to president
Museveni like his former Senior Presidential advisor, John Nagenda and NRM
party chairman for Eastern Uganda were coming out to denounce him was
further indication that his regime was falling apart.
"He has on several occasions said that NRM MPs are frustrated, if NRM MPs
are frustrated, you can imagine how isolated the man is," Besigye says.
But pundits like Prof. Yasin Olum a senior political scientist at Makerere
University says that the problems facing Ugandans might not necessarily mean
that Ugandans are ready to oust President Museveni and that the anger is
directed at specific pockets of concern that people want the same government
"We need to assess whether these forces can tantamount to regime change,"
Olum told The Independent, "as for now it remains speculation."
Dr. Golooba-Mutebi, a research fellow at Makerere University went even
further to say that although people are angry with Museveni's government,
"they are not desperate yet". "They are concerned about inflation and other
things but they are not desperate to change government," he said, "even if
Ugandans were desperate, they would not make any effort to topple President
Museveni's government because they do not see an easily identifiable
alternative for change.
"The question is change for what?" Golooba told The Independent in an
interview, "They think that if Museveni is toppled there will be war and
people would rather have a bad President with stability than a good
President with instability. If you look at the disorganised and non -
coherent opposition, If Museveni was ousted who would replace him or which
party would replace the NRM?"
Besigye and his fellow protesters want a Libya, Egypt, Tunisia-type of
people power uprising in Uganda and say "leaders will emerge". They appear
frustrated that it has not happened despite the economic hardships.
As a result, there has been a discussion of Havard University economics
professor Paul Collier's argument that poor countries like Uganda cannot
transition into democracies. Collier argues that the transition only starts
when a country's income per capita hits the US$ 2800 threshold. With a GDP
of US$ 17bn GDP and a population of 33 million, Uganda's income per capita
is US$561. Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya have per capita incomes higher than
Prof. Collier's $ 2800 threshold.
However, Mutebi says such an argument is farfetched and overly academic.
"What is true is that when the time is ripe there is always going to be
change no matter the income levels," he says. "Change is brought about by a
number of factors.
Prof. Ndeebesa Mwambutsya, a political scientist at Makerere University says
that regime change in Uganda is not yet possible because while the objective
conditions for it, like failure by the government to meet teachers,
lecturers, traders and the public's demands, the subjective conditions are
Mwambutsya says that the subjective conditions include the level of social
media use for political mobilization and the level of urbanisation which is
still very unfavorably low in Uganda. The Egyptian capital, Cairo, has about
20 million people, while Kampala has only 2 million. Uganda has only 320,000
(9.6 per cent of the 33 million people) estimated to be using internet.
"If you look at countries where public protests have been successful,
majority of the population are using social media and live in urban areas
which makes it is easy to mobilise them for a common cause," he says.
"Secondly, ethnicity is so high in Uganda that some ethnic groups look at
regime change as betraying themselves since they consider the regime as
their personal property."
Mwambutsya also says the Museveni regime "has put in place shock absorbers".
"You have parliament, the media, non-governmental organisations working and
creating a sense that though inconsequential, these are checking the
government and issues are being discussed and thus absorbing public anger,"
"But there is a trend as people mobilise, and the subjective factors grow,
we shall soon see an Egypt here."
Q: Museveni is in the midst of a Tsunami
The Independent's Haggai Matsiko interviewed the FDC leader, Dr Kizza
Q: It is now five months since you were brutally arrested and injured by
security operatives, how have you been health wise?
Well, I think I have made good recovery. I still have trouble with my hands.
The eyes are much better.
Q: You have been traveling since the protests, and sometimes spending a long
time away from Uganda, what have you been up to?
I have not been a way for more than two weeks. I have been to the U.S where
my family lives but I also attend to our country issues with entities that
have interest in the situation we are in and how we can get out of it. I had
a comprehensive engagement with the US Assistant Secretary for Africa and
his team. I meet with NGOs and whoever is engaged with Uganda.
Q: You have been very quiet lately?
Again, I don't know what quiet entails and since when.
Q: Ever since the protests fizzled out?
We had a very big rally in Mbale, in Masaka that was also attacked by
police. I had a big function in Rukungiri which was a thanksgiving and I
have attended a number of other functions. We had two party retreats lasting
weekends. I may not have been in the media but I am available for those who
May be people expect more from a person who led protests and risked his life
in April when inflation was 11 percent, now that it is well over 28 percent?
I expect those big protests will come. As it was in April, it was not my
organisation's initiative; it was a public, civil society action and when
those actions come up I am always available to participate. I am happy that
people can express their frustration and discontent without the government
saying that this is Besigye. There have been nonstop protests since our walk
to work; traders closing shops, the taxi- drivers, the medical workers, and
the teachers. The protests show broad, national non-partisan discontent. I
even read in press that NRM students at Makerere were protesting because
their governments had failed. One of the NRM cadres Vincent Nzaramba was
arrested for publishing his opinions of what he sees in his party. So it is
no longer necessary for me to talk. Everybody is in it and my own sense is
that it is unstoppable.
Q: With you things could even be much bigger?
Well, I am around. This time we are walking having demonstrated also that
the arrest and harassment we went through the last time was illegal because
they took us to court and all their cases were dismissed. It is now clear
that it does not require a permit to walk from somebody's home to his place
of work. Even the traders who were complaining that we were disrupting their
businesses have seen that it is necessary to protest.
Q: In Asia and North Africa small things have sparked protests that have
grown to topple governments, why aren't we seeing the many problems in
Uganda leading to situations similar to this?
Every country is unique. We have had a 40-year history of repression since
independence. This breeds a society that is submissive, timid and that has
an exaggerated view of the government. There is also the culture of the
people. People need to understand that in a democracy, which we want, it is
the people who must have the power and that the government and their
president are their servants not their masters. Their understanding of power
relations has been distorted for centuries. Explaining these things is not
easy. We are dealing with the fear element because dictatorships thrive on
using tools of coercion to instill fear. I think you have heard Museveni
threatening to crush almost everything. That is why he had to import all
this scary equipments, mambas and others. People see you and keep peeping to
see whether you can go through these fierce looking people and when you do
and they fire all these things then people start seeing that it is possible
to challenge and more people get emboldened to come out. The middle class is
important in providing leadership but they are selfish and narrow minded
middle class because they are slightly comfortable and don't want to
endanger their comfort zones. Some of them are active participants in the
misgovernance, the corruption networks, getting free money. They think it
will go on endlessly. The massive poverty at the bottom is now affecting
them. The mismanagement of the economy which has led to the runaway
inflation and the total collapse of the social system are pulling them out
of their slumber. The roof over their head has holes and is beginning to
leak. They are becoming anxious and beginning to ask what is going on. We
have a very skilled and aggressive patrimonial regime that builds its power
on the dispensation of favours; a motorcycle, Pajero, school fees for
children. But the money to oil the patronage system has also reduced, so
many people are frustrated. I think troubles in the economy are exposing
these things. These slow changes make me believe that time has run out for
the dictatorship. The situation now can rapidly change because the anger at
the bottom. There is anger and frustration everywhere. The regime will
crumble under the pressure of these Museveni people.
When I talked about a tsunami, people misunderstood me to mean that I was
going to come and sweep the government away. I even heard Museveni
ridiculing me saying "where is the tsunami?" He is now living in the midst
of it. He is attacking the NRM saying the problems, like lack of
electricity, are because the NRM leaders are joining the opposition in
frustration. You can imagine how isolated he must be feeling. Many people
have kept in NRM because of either fear or groceries. The Nagendas, the
Mukulas are saying no, this can't go on. So the end is coming. What we need
to focus on is post-NRM. How do we pick up the pieces and make sure that we
don't have a dictatorship again.
Q: But some people tend to think that these are just pockets of concern not
a call for regime change?
I am not doubtful that there are people who still have that rather myopic
view. The evidence is overwhelming. There is not one medical institution
where even the head of state can get the most basic care, people are dying
of hunger, and the socio-physical infrastructure is as it is. Museveni
cannot blame the minority opposition yet he has the majority in parliament.
But Museveni will simply blame everybody for his failures. Fortunately,
nobody takes what he says seriously any longer.
There are claims that Ugandans don't want change because they do not see an
alternative to Museveni in the opposition.
That's absolute nonsense because the people themselves are the alternative.
When the people in Egypt were struggling they didn't have people that were
waiting to take over government. People should struggle for themselves for a
change of leadership for their own interests. As long as the struggle is
going on, leaders will emerge. Who knew this Museveni before 1980? Nobody.
He only emerged through the struggle of fighting against Obote.
Secondly, if there was a lack of confidence in the opposition leaders by the
population why would government not allow a free and fair election? Why
would government have to use force, beat, kill and imprison people, empty
the treasury? That is a demonstration that peoples trust is there.
Q: So what do you make of the view that only 58 percent of the voters,
voted, the others never voted because they were apathetic?
I don't think they are apathetic. They are pathetic because they were simply
narrow-mindedly selfish. Knowing that things are wrong but not having the
courage to change them. They didn't want to vote for change because they
feared change and did not want to endorse something clearly rotting. They
don't have the courage to say that this is wrong let's remove it even if it
in our convenience in the mean time. They are pathetic to think that they
can fold their hands and think that a good government will emerge. They
think politics is dirty, they say there is no alternative; none of them is
willing to vote. That is pathetic.
Q: You have repeatedly said that you are not resorting to violent means even
if it is impossible to change government through peaceful means?
No, it is extremely possible. It is the surest way because it is
ideological. The experience of using armed insurrection has proved to us
that it is highly unlikely to get a transition to democracy. In armed
insurrection the first victims are the non-state institutions; civil
society, political parties and media collapse with everything. The only
viable government is that of the military that has won the war. Now by
nature the military is a dictatorship taking orders from above not the views
from below. Therefore if there are no institutions that can check this
military then there is no motivation for it to relinquish power to the
people. Only the military benefits. On the other hand, if you use peaceful
means, teachers unions, the workers union, and other unions, political
parties become stronger and challenge the dictatorship that has lost
legitimacy. It collapses and what emerges is guided by these non-state
institutions thus an emerging democracy. Armed insurrections are vulnerable
to failure because that is where the dictatorship is stronger and can only
defeat a dictatorship from a situation of inferiority like Museveni started
with twenty guns. Armed insurrection is illegal, peaceful means are legal.
Once people understand their power and are organised; they push out the
dictatorship themselves. They also understand that the outcome is a better
and sustainable government.
Q: The April protests started with numbers increasing every time you walked
but with your absence they fizzled?
Fortunately the deficit is still in the leadership not the people. Strong
civic leaders have not taken root for people to rally around these
activities. These processes take time and I am not myself panicky about the
time. In non-violent changes, you don't force things. Walk to work did not
fizzled out, it just stopped. The leaders said let us reorganise, assess.
Since the beginning of the year when the police was deployed all over to
superintend over the stealing of the elections, it has been up and down,
they have never sat down. They are getting exhausted emotionally and
physically, exhausting funds that would be dealing with other issues. I
think it is good that the whole thing is not hinged on Besigye alone because
if it was like that, they would die. But if there is leadership everywhere,
it becomes overwhelming on the government. You will have to gun down a few
Q: You have said that because of the repressive, military regimes we have
had, people are timid and so fearful. Some people think that until the
army's backbone is broken, we cannot have regime change?
The army cannot continue to have a bone where the population is completely
against what it is doing because who is the army. The army is our children;
and they come from those villages where their parents cannot have sugar,
where thousands and thousands of their brothers and sisters are unemployed,
they are part of the society that has all these problems.
When they get sick they die because they cannot access medical care, they
get injured in their operations and die. You had the military almost
mutinying because they cannot burry their friends. Soldiers keep dyeing and
their bodies are kept in the fridge to wait until the bodies are many so
they can be given one truck to distribute the bodies. They have buried wrong
people in wrong homes. So the army cannot be happy where the whole
population is not. That is why when a dictator is overwhelmed, he orders the
military to shoot at the public and they say wait a moment, you are the
problem; we shall not shoot at our people
Q: The debate about succession is so ripe with WikiLeaks offsetting it. What
do you make of the cables quoting senior people saying that Museveni is
planning to replace himself with his son?
I think the people who write the cables are properly trained to gather the
information and it is credible. People who think that Museveni has a
succession plan do not know what they are talking about. The only succession
plan Museveni has is of himself. He can only replace himself with himself
not even his son. I suspect that he must be very uncomfortable about those
who are saying that his son should succeed him. I hope it won't put poor
Muhoozi in trouble that he is being talked about. Museveni is about himself
and nothing. Of course I suspect that as a plan B for some reason that he
became unable to hang onto power, he would want it to stay as close to him
as possible. My understanding of Museveni's mentality is that he cannot
imagine himself existing outside power as a humble citizen of our country
paying taxes, attending village meetings in Rwakitura.
Q: On the same question of succession, there was news a while ago that you
would not contest for president again, but it later appeared that you were
misquoted. Does this mean that you will contest in 2016?
No, I was not misquoted, there was a distortion. We were talking about party
leadership which we are still discussing and I absolutely have no doubt that
I am serving out my last term and that there must be a change of leadership
in our party and that that change must come earlier than my term because I
think it would be fair to release me to be more active in the broader
national struggle which is a non-partisan struggle of people who want a
Our clear sense is that it would be a joke for anybody to plan a national
election organised by the NRM. So we are not part of the people who are
talking about 2016. We believe there cannot be a 2016 without some
fundamental changes and to that extent we would not want to be diverted as
to whether we shall field a candidate, which candidate it will be. We
consider that that will be diversionary of what we are engaging in now which
is dislodging the dictatorship.
Q: What are some of these fundamental changes?
Well, the overarching requirement is to have a mechanism of restructuring
the state. It must be a transitional process which involves revisiting our
constitution. There are serious constitutional issues whether it is land,
regional governance, and the electoral system. To have these undertaken in a
manner that is acceptable to everybody, you need to have a mechanism that
enjoys the confidence of everybody. This is why one of our core demands has
been to have a national dialogue.
Q: This is impossible with Museveni still in power?
That is why I have tried three times to get him out of power. The most
important thing in getting Museveni out of power is to have a mechanism that
can reconstruct the contentious areas of our country into a consensus and
certainly he is part of that controversy, he can be part of the solution, he
should be part of the solution but under a different construct not where he
is the supervisor.
Q: So in the event that Museveni is still in power, does it mean that we
won't see you participating in 2016?
That is the debate that we are not willing to entertain right now. We want
to devote all our efforts to ensure that the country is not abused again by
going through another fraudulent election. I think it will take a miracle
for this country to limp on until 2016.
Q: FDC's Anne Mugisha says that she is organising to lead the party. Is it a
position you are behind?
All our members are free to contest and the party will be behind all
contestants that is the essence of our internal democracy. I would encourage
Anne and whoever wants it to go for it so we can have a lively and
Q: People say that you are still the strong and strategic leader that can
challenge President Museveni?
When that time comes our party will choose an attractive leader that will
lead the party into success but I think it is a conversation that is well
saved for the future.
Q: At the height of the protests a New York Times story reduced your
struggle to just a personal fight between you and President Museveni and in
most cases your critics accuse you just fighting Museveni?
Everybody to the best of my knowledge concedes that our basis of challenging
Museveni is real and legitimate. Anybody who was serious with what my
serious disagreement with Museveni and the NRM has been would have
understood that our disagreement predated the single issue they base on to
suggest a personal conflict; my relationship with Winnie. That has been a
deliberate campaign to deflect from the issues so that people do not discuss
the corruption, the nepotism. To say the problem is Museveni and Besigye.
What is the problem with Museveni and Gen. Muntu? This was his army
commander for eight year and all those people that fell out with him.
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Received on Tue Oct 25 2011 - 18:07:29 EDT