Col Kizza Besigye has watched the conflict between President Museveni and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi with keen interest.
In an interview at his Kasangati home on Monday, Besigye told Sadab Kitatta Kaaya about his own struggles with Museveni and why Mbabazi wants the presidency now.
Relations between Amama Mbabazi and President Museveni are strained because of the former’s perceived ambition to run for president. Did you ever envisage this?
I think at the end of the day, Mr Museveni will fall out with every person who was a historical member of NRM. Certainly, the central issue that we fought for, many of our colleagues died for, was to have a democratic transition in our country.
Museveni has been manipulating sections of our people; he has never been truthful with anyone about his intentions of being a life president, but I detected [this] way back that he was on a totally different mission. First of all, him being powerful, he not only persuades but intimidates members into thinking that maybe they should not risk causing a serious problem; that they should massage him out of the positions he holds.
In 1999-2000, when we fell out publicly, because for me, I had a [complete] fallout in 1989, people then believed that he could leave after the last constitutional term [2001 – 2006]. And I told them that he was going to change the Constitution. They didn’t believe it, even those that believed it wanted to hang on until they were sure that he abrogated the Constitution.
Some people fell out in 2006 after [the 2005 Constitutional amendment]. He then deceived others; he [called] them privately and [deceived] them, that he [was] actually not interested in continuing but he wanted a smooth transition, that he needed to professionalise the army that any other person would manage.
That [was the explanation] he gave for removing term limits and continuing for another term. So, some people hung on especially those that thought that at some time, he would anoint them to succeed him.
Mr Mbabazi was of that mind, that he could be anointed. He chose to express himself with maximum loyalty to Museveni, work hard for him, be patient and get anointed. That hope has completely faded. I think when the whole thing of professionalisation of the army came and passed, then he started the East African Federation [which has also] passed… I think they lost hope, many of them even realised that age was going to catch up with them; that is why people like Mbabazi are becoming a bit more proactive.
With the NRM house evidently on fire, how does the opposition hope to exploit the situation?
Well, we don’t have to do anything specific. Our primary interest is not the NRM leaders who are disappointed. Our interest is the population they are confusing, that is the population we are actively engaging and want to bring on board. We are also not dismissive of the frustrated or disappointed leaders of NRM who have woken up to the reality that Museveni wants to be a life president.
You have previously claimed to be in talks with all progressive forces interested in bringing change in the country. Is Mbabazi part of the forces? Do you have a role for him in the opposition? Can he be accepted as a presidential candidate?
No, our project now is not elections because we cannot have elections when there is no system for a free and fair election. For anyone to join us, [it should not be] for electioneering; we want people to join us so that we dismantle the system and restructure it. After that, we can have free and fair elections and that’s when anybody who wants to be a candidate can choose to be a candidate or join whatever party they wish.
If Mbabazi wanted to join FDC, that is his business… it is up to those who are leaving NRM to choose where they want to go but certainly I don’t expect that they would have a special status anywhere in the opposition, they would simply act like any other member[s] of the opposition. Additionally, there is a lot of concern on the part of Ugandans especially those who are in the opposition about the allegations of atrocities, crimes of mega corruption that some of the people that have been in NRM for so long are associated with.
Our view is that in the phase of the struggle, we welcome everybody, after the struggle, we believe there should be a truth-telling justice and reconciliation process in which whoever has complaints against any of us, should bring them so that they are resolved once and for all. By joining the opposition, there is no amnesty, except that they are welcome to participate in working for change.
What is your take on David Sejusa’s decision to flee the country, and are you in touch with him?
What I think about his fleeing is that whoever has served the regime has realised how it has become dangerous to our country.
I understand how the running not only from the country but also from the government comes about. Recently I was hearing Hon Bakoko Bakoru who was a minister of Gender here, talking from somewhere in exile, explaining the fears that forced her to run away. I understand what happens to servants of a rogue regime like NRM who feel insecure for whatever reasons and seek safety elsewhere.
In the case of Sejusa right from the time he went, he declared his intentions to make sure that such a regime is stopped; that he is ready to work with whoever is doing work to remove the regime and to have a transition to a democratic dispensation. He is certainly welcome to the struggle and I have talked to him whenever I have an opportunity to talk to him. Even now [I have been talking to him].
He is a Ugandan, he’s been in the struggle with us for a long time, and there is no reason why we should not work together to solve the problem here. And the statements he puts out; I have not followed all of them but the few that I have read, I think are perfectly legitimate for him to make. I don’t have to agree with all that he says but they are perfectly legitimate for him to make.
What do you talk about?
How we can work together, how we can have a synergic relationship in whatever is being done, and of course, he has been the coordinator of Intelligence [services], he has a lot of information which we also need in whatever we are doing. There is a lot that we need to share.
We heard that Sejusa was part of the group you worked with before you publicly fell out with the regime in 1999. But somehow he (Sejusa) got back into the fold. Would you trust him this time round?
We had never worked on the same project before 1999. We had a lot of discussions with [NRM] historical members, we met many times, in many places to discuss the serious problems that had cropped up in NRM, and he was not one of them. And I believe maybe he was not even interested at that time.
My trust or lack of trust in him would not hinge on whether we had talked or not because we hadn’t. Secondly, in this struggle, just like Mao Zedong said; there are three constants, constant mistrust, constant mobility and constant vigilance.
There is no reason why I should trust anybody, him or others who I am working with, but that does not stop us from working together except that I must [be] very alert. But we have to work together, and I will only have a problem if I see some unhelpful actions.
Taking you back a little... How come you hung in there, joined the Constituent Assembly (CA), and only came out publicly in 1999?
It was not by choice, I was a member of the UPDF, I was a colonel, it is not easy to walk out of military service, and I applied to retire from military service in 1995, [but] I couldn’t be let to retire. In fact in 1999 when I wrote that document, I had decided to take leave from the army pending retirement. I had already been on leave for one year pending retirement which had been denied and I was only helped by that document that stirred up things until I was eventually released.
Assuming you got the electoral reforms demanded, would you offer yourself for president? If not, who would you support?
We have not reached the stage of considering at all the issue of candidature because that would deviate or distract us from the struggle at hand. The struggle at hand is about having a new system of elections in this country and it is a major struggle because Mr Museveni will not accept it easily, because he will never accept a system that takes him out of office. So we have a big job to rally everybody together to force a change in the system of management. It will not come on a silver platter.
How do you expect to achieve this in a country where the inspector general of police is actively involved politically, infiltrating your ranks…
That is standard of any dictatorship. It would be a miracle if they were not doing that.
It does not take away the fact that by doing all that, it becomes even more unpopular. Because the money they would be using to extend services to the wider population to provide medicine in the hospitals, to provide quality education, infrastructure, investments that would create jobs [is instead used] to hire and rent a few individuals whom they think have some influence over the others.
But as they do that, the popular anger and discontent mounts and for us, our allies are not these people who can be bribed, our allies are the ordinary people who are the victims of the patronage system. They are the ones who will really change this regime and that is why the campaigns that we call for, even the one we are undertaking now, seeks to get the ordinary person to become active. [We want] to have active citizens everywhere to rise up and demand the changes we want to happen.