Gen. Museveni's 'Military Regime' Will Collapse Says Besigye, Opposition Chief; Fears 'Failed State' Status
Doesn't Rule Out Future Presidential Bid 'If The Call Still Comes'
In an interview with The Black Star News in New York City Dr. Kizza Besigye, whom many Ugandans believe won at least two of the three elections for the presidency against the country's long-time ruler Gen. Yoweri Museveni, says the east African country is governed by a military regime "clothed as elected government."
He spoke of the country's "repressive political environment" and the 24-hours surveillance he's subjected to by police.
Besigye claims Ugandans, including members of the ruling NRM, are now looking at a post-Museveni era. He fears that if the transition isn't handled carefully by both the opposition and those within the NRM party who are tired of the corruption, Uganda could implode and become a "failed state."
Case in point is the struggle to succeed the Ugandan ruler. Besigye says the succession isn't being played out in the civil body politic but within the army, because the military holds the power.
Dr. Besigye says even as the nation is riveted over the talks that Museveni is grooming his son, Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba to succeed him, the son's recruitment into the military was done illegally and the promotions he received were in contravention of the Uganda People Defense Force (UPDF) Act. The law was, ironically, made by Gen. Museveni himself while he was defense minister. Besigye says Muhoozi's leap-frogging over several senior officers has created division in the army and that it could "undermine stability" in Uganda.
The succession issue was recently brought into sharp focus when Gen. David Sejusa, Uganda's coordinator of Intelligence Services charged that there was a secret plan to assassinate senior political and military leaders, including himself, who may be perceived as opposed to the succession plan; the so called "Muhoozi Project." Sejusa has since fled to London, U.K.
Besigye believes unless the nation's political trajectory is changed, then "as sure as day follows night there will be a breakdown within the government. There will be strife..." He believes a breakdown can be averted through a "national inclusive conference" of the country's major stakeholders. He fears Museveni's ears "no longer hear."
Besigye says the "question of Museveni collapsing is no longer a debate. In fact we are already very clearly in the post-Museveni era. The question is how to manage the transition."
Dr. Besigye sat with The Black Star News' publisher Milton Allimadi at the Grand Hyatt in New York recently during his visit to the United States. Here are excerpts from the interview which was conducted during the Ugandan police's siege of the country's major media companies.
Allimadi: On what legal basis is this repression directed personally at you? Are all the opposition leaders treated the same way?
Besigye: No it's completely illegal. Because as you may be aware at some stage in 2011 the police placed a complete siege around my home and I was not allowed to leave home even or anybody to come in for two weeks. A complete siege. About 300 policemen laid a siege permanently for two weeks until my lawyers went to court and challenged them. And the court gave clear categorical orders that what they were doing was illegal and that they were to vacate. And that if they want to, for any reason, to restrict my movement or interfere with my freedom, they should do so formally; arrest me and take me and charge me. They simply act with impunity. It's a clear case of impunity. They have no legal basis for what they are doing. But they go ahead and do it nevertheless.
[Dr. Besigye discussed the attack on Uganda's private media companies by state security agencies which was still on-going at the time of the interview with The Black Star News].
In fact, as we talk today, they have been sieging major media houses in Kampala and originally they claimed they had search warrants from court. And once they came to the premise of these media houses and they dismantled all their computers and stopped all the press, dismissed everybody from the buildings and closed down their buildings.
The Daily Monitor and other companies you know. KFM, which is one of the popular radio stations. Dembe FM, Red Pepper.
And these media houses went to court and the same magistrate who had given them a search order said 'you have overstepped your mandate. This is not why I gave you a search order; to go and dismantle peoples' businesses.'
Allimadi: What was the search order for?
Besigye: The search order was; apparently it had been sought by the police to look for the letter that was allegedly written by the Coordinator of Intelligence Gen. David Sejusa, who was previously known as Gen. David Tinyefuza and in that letter he was asking the Chief of Internal Security to investigate allegations that had been actually published on other media.
That there was a plot to assassinate senior government and military officers who were opposed to a plan by Museveni to launch his son Brigadier Muhoozi to replace--to succeed him as president. And that those who were opposed to Muhoozi succeeding his father were now being targeted for elimination. That was an allegation that was in the media.
Allimadi: It was previously published?
Besigye: It was. It was in the media. It was again reported as a letter that was leaked. A letter written by a political actor who was writing to the president seeking the president's protection because she was under pressure by these feuding groups within the NRM [Museveni's ruling political party; National Resistance Movement] to use her.
One group seeking to use her against another. Asking her to terrorize. And when once she refused she was now being threatened. A lady called Dembe Catherine. She is actually a member of the FDC an opposition political party, who according to that letter that was published, was claiming that she had been approached by some senior people in government and asked to help them in framing others and try to get rid of them.
So this letter had been in the media for quite some time. Now General Tinyefuza or General Sejusa as he is now known, then writes the letter to the Chief of Intelligence to investigate these matters because he was one of [those] the letters cited as part of those to be eliminated, assassinated.
Allimadi: Who else was to be targeted for elimination allegedly?
Besigye: The chief of Defense Forces who has now been removed and appointed the minister [for Internal Affairs], General Aronda Nyakairima was another person and there were a number of others.
So it is that letter that General Sejusa wrote to his chief of intelligence that was apparently leaked and was published by The Monitor and later on by the Red Pepper. And I think the government believes that that letter was leaked to them maybe by Sejusa himself. And so the court order they sought was to search the premises of these houses to recover that letter. And apparently when they went to The Red Pepper, actually the Red Pepper gave them a copy of the letter they published.
Allimadi: Was it a copy? Was it an original? Was it a PDF email? Because in the 21st century people normally don't send physical letters.
Besigye: I don't know. But the point is they said 'We want this letter' and they gave them the letter. But nonetheless they have continued to siege and stop all operations of the Red Pepper. They have continued to siege and stop all operations at The Monitor. In spite of the court order subsequently ordering them to vacate these premises.
So we are simply living in a situation where there is a breakdown in the rule of law. These are clear acts of impunity. And that is the same thing that happens when they do what they do to me. It is not that they are doing it within the framework of the law. They are just acting outside the law. They are a law unto themselves.
Allimadi: So where do citizens seek relief?
Besigye: That is a challenge. Because if you are being terrorized by the police where do you go? And this is precisely my dilemma you know. Where do I report to? And this is not a short term problem.
You may recall that in 2005 I was arrested and charged with terrorism, with rape, with treason, with illegal possession of guns. And the case of rape which was the only case which was to be heard and charged on merit was all framed by the police as it was later discovered in the trial.
The chief of Criminal Investigation actually confessed under oath that she had falsified police documents. She had paid people to give evidence and so on and so forth.
Allimadi: What is her name?
Besigye: Elizabeth Kutesa who happens now, because I later opened a private prosecution on her, which the DPP [Director of Public Prosecution] took over through some processes and frustrated. But we pursued her.
But she could no longer-- her work in the Uganda Police Force was no longer tenable. And guess what happened? The Uganda government then got for her a job; a very senior job in Interpol. She is now a senior Interpol officer. A criminal, a self-confessed criminal under oath in court. There are records. She is a very senior person in Interpol.
Allimadi: Did Interpol do any vetting?
Besigye: I have no idea. We wrote to Interpol actually giving them some of these facts.
Allimadi: How long ago?
Besigye: When she was appointed? Maybe it's now about three years already.
Allimadi: And Interpol took no action? Did not contact you for more information?
Besigye: Not at all. In fact my lawyers [David Mpanga and others of AF Mpanga Advocates, Kampala] were the ones who formally wrote. The lawyers who represented me in that case, who had all these legal records. They forwarded them to Interpol. Interpol never even acknowledged.
Allimadi: Now in terms of the whole alleged Muhoozi project. What is the substance of that?
Besigye: Well the substance -- first of all I think the background is that in reality we have a military regime in Uganda only clothed as elected government. Because you may recall that Mr. Museveni came to power by force of guns. He was not elected.
I was part of the establishment that fought that brought him to power. So it was was not a democratic process that brought him to power. It was a war. And once he came to power he stayed by virtue of that acquiring power by guns for 10 years without any form of election. Subsequently a constitution was made under his aegis in which constitution political parties were formally banned. And so in the next election, the election after the 10 years of no-elections, was an election only where his party was allowed to contest.
And he was the head of the party, he was the head of the government, he was the head of the parliament. So he was literally contesting against himself.
And those of us who had struggled with him, hoping that we were struggling for democracy, that's the process that disillusioned us. We said 'no this is certainly not what we were fighting for.' And then we had differences and broke off.
Allimadi: Can I interject? Did you try to persuade him?
Besigye: Of course. In all these years there was interaction. And it was very clear that -- in fact I wrote a document in 1999 which started real conflict between me and the establishment. I wrote an analyses of what had happened since 1986 when Museveni came to power up to 1999. How the whole idea of the struggle had been completely derailed. [It was published in local media in Uganda]
And then they banned me and I was [threatened with] courtmartial. But what I'm saying is that these military establishments which control state power did not change. In '96 he organized an election to give some sort of legitimacy that there was a civilian government. That there was an attempt at democracy; so has been subsequent elections, in which three of them I have been a candidate, utterly sham elections. So we have a military regime essentially clothed as a civilian regime that attempts at having elections.
Allimadi: Now for readers --for listeners rather, could you give us an example, when you say 'sham' could you be a little more specific?
Besigye: Well, first of all the whole thing starts with who organizes the election. The election is organized by an electoral commission which is appointed by the president over which the president has complete power to dismiss any time he wishes without reference to anybody. In other words you have an election commission which serves entirely under the pleasure of this president who is also a candidate. And to that extent you have the candidate really organizing an election for himself.
And so you have a [voters] register, this election commission prepares a register which is so inflated and manipulated. To remove voters who are suspected to belong to the opposition and to put the same name and multiply many times, of people who are known to be supporters of Museveni, or even fictitious, for whom they print ballot papers. A lot of ballot papers have been actually arrested physically during the elections.
We have taken all this to court. And court has found that these have happened. The killings during the elections. People who are actually shot and killed because they opposed the regime. And the court had agreed on two occasions. That the elections were not free and fair. And that they were not conducted in accordance with the law. So the question of the shamness of elections is not in dispute. The court has confirmed this. So we have a military regime.
And power is really vested essentially in the military. This is why the succession, Museveni's succession, is not really playing out in the political processes but in the military processes. And that is why the rise, the recruitment and rise of his son to the top echelons of the military has become a matter of interest. His son was first of all recruited into the military illegally. Because there is a very clear, well laid out process within the law, a law actually made by Museveni himself in 2005 when he was -- in 1992 and 2005, when he was the minister of defense.
He was president and minister of defense. He made the law himself. The law provides how you get a commission to the UPDF which Muhoozi did not subject himself to.
Museveni negotiated with the British. Muhoozi was recruited into the British Academy. Cadet Academy at Sandhurst from where he came and he was commissioned, without going through the due process. So he was illegally recruited and taken to these elitist training schools abroad. Subsequently to that, after being commissioned illegally into the force, he has had several other training. All abroad. Very elitist institutions, ahead of the process. Because the law, I talked about the UPDF Act, provides how one qualifies for training; how one qualifies for promotion.
So whereas there are people who have been in the force, recruited formally, have all the qualification, have stayed there for decades and have not had the chance to do the courses that Muhoozi has done in the 10 years he has been in the force.
Now, sincerely with the promotions, you are not supposed to be considered for promotion to the rank of a colonel -- a colonel is a rank below brigadier, to be considered, just to be considered for promotion to the rank of colonel, according to Museveni's law itself [until] you have served in the military for at least 22 years.
Now Muhoozi has been in the military for 12 years. He is a brigadier. He is a rank above the colonel. So the question is, you know, how do you get illegally recruited? You get all these training courses? You regularly -- you become promoted. So, you know, you sell promotions. Muhoozi has never worked in any other formation of the UPDF except one that guards the president in all these years. From the time he was recruited up to now. He has been in the unit that guards the president.
Allimadi: He has not seen combat?
Besigye: No. He has been in the unit that guards the president, which has been expanded to now become a complete Force. It is now called the Special Forces Command.
There are three Commands in the military so he is commanding one of them. And so clearly, this is seen as an attempt at putting his son in control of the institution which controls the politics, which controls the power in the country.
And so this is what general Sejusa was also commenting on saying that actually this project if it is there, it's becoming divisive and it is likely to undermine stability.
Allimadi: As a consequence of this letter that he is supposed to have authored, he has now paid a political price as well? What is your attitude on that?
Besigye: Well I don't know whether he has paid a political price. Let's not forget this is not the first time that he is having a rapture with the authorities.
Allimadi: How would you characterize the consequence so far?
Besigye: Well he has had the expected response. I'm sure he himself expected, you know, a very violent response form the authorities once you talk about that project, Muhoozi. But that is where it is. His home has been searched. His offices has been searched. He's been in London. Seems he is fearing to go back. Because, indeed they have made it clear that if he goes back they will grab him.
But it's still unfolding. I understand he wrote another letter....But whether he has the guts to now walk the talk is still out there to be seen.
But what is clear is that this is not just a matter of Sejusa. This is a very, very, explosive matter within the UPDF, within the NRM, within the government, within the country.
The question of succession; as long as Museveni continues to abolish term limits, to ensure that there is no democracy, that he is the one who determines who becomes the leader and so on and so forth, for sure as day follows night there will be breakdown within the government. There will be strife. And our own struggle is to try and avoid the complete collapse of the state so that we [don't] have another failed state in Uganda.
Allimadi: So things are that serious in your assessment?
Besigye: Absolutely. Absolutely. The question of Museveni collapsing is no longer a debate. In fact we are already very clearly in the post-Museveni era. The question is how to manage the transition. And if the transition is mismanaged we can definitely descend into a failed state. If we can make sense of how to manage the transition in a responsible way, including people who are within the NRM who are quite obviously as worried as we are in the opposition, we need to creatively find a way of how to manage the transition.
Allimadi: When you say transition, because as far as I understand, the president is still talking of the 2016 elections. So he obviously has a very different assessment of the dynamics.
Besigye: Well, as I have said, an election means nothing. Museveni will want, every five years, to stage, it's a ritual, to stage some process. To say 'look I am still popular. You can see I am elected. I am not just a military dictator like Amin. Amin never held elections. I am holding an election.' So it's just a ritual.
Allimadi: And when you talk about the responsible transition give us some examples. What are some prospects?
Besigye: Well I mean the prospects are good. Because first of all I think the sense within the whole country is that there must be change. There is some kind of unanimity ---irrespective of which political opinion, or shade of opinion. At the grassroots people are saying things must simply change. This corruption must stop.
That demand for change is palpable. All over the country. Secondly in the political elite, the leaders, I think there is now increasing appreciation that you cannot have your cake and eat it. This is I think why people like professor [Gilbert] Bukenya, who was only recently Vice President of Museveni has come up to say 'no this time I am going to challenge Museveni if he tries to stand. Unless I am dead, I will definitely do this.' So there is increasing emboldenment.
And therefore the prospect for a management process that does not cause a total breakdown is possible and I'm optimistic. But we need to work on it very actively and urgently so that meltdown does not overtake us.
Allimadi: What about your own political future?
Besigye: Well my own political future remains the same. I have never set out to be anything in the politics. I have only set out to achieve certain changes within the politics. And I think some progress has been made in terms of achieving those changes. I will continue to engage myself in whatever way, whatever manner, to see that those changes are effectuated and that they are entrenched so that future generations don't have to go through what we have gone through.
Allimadi: And if you had an opportunity to serve in the future as president?
Besigye: Frankly it's not my ambition to be president. But the reason why I have offered myself three times to be president is within the framework of that struggle. To make sure that there is sustainable change that engenders peace, stability and development in the country. And if the call still comes within that framework, I will not deny participation. But if there was to be transition without that call being necessary and there was transition and stable and democratic dispensation, I would rather go and live a quiet and private life.
Allimadi: So more than the president you would be willing to retire to a farm?
Besigye: Well retiring to the farm has been vulgarized. Because we've heard about it for the last 30 years and there is clearly no intention of him retiring to that farm. No I think I'm really a private person. Right from my upbringing. I have never sought public office -- political office.
Allimadi: One final question. Assessing where things are today, if you were in General Museveni's shoes what would you do?
Besigye: Well, I think the call is very clear, only that the ears can no longer hear.
What is required if one had to make sense of the mess he has put the country into, would be to hold a national conference. An all-inclusive national conference in which all stake holders come to the table and determine the way forward. And the determination of that way forward would mean that they would agree on critical reforms ---- within the politics, within the administration, that can ensure a democratic transition.
So those reforms within the context of a national conference would be the first step. But of course once those reforms are agreed upon, the same conference I believe would have to work out a way of ensuring that they are actually implemented. Some guarantors -- guarantors, implementation of those reforms. Because having an agreement is one thing, implementing it is completely another thing.
So that's what I think a reasonable person in the position that Mr. Museveni finds himself in would do to save our country.