Former FDC boss insists he is done with elections
In his 13th year of active opposition to President Museveni, Dr Kizza Besigye, a three-time presidential candidate, has insisted that he can no longer offer himself as a candidate in elections organized under the ruling NRM government.
In a weekend interview with Deo Walusimbi, the retired colonel makes a case for civil disobedience as the only effective way of dislodging Museveni from power.
He also discusses exiled Gen David Sejusa, the option of war, and the dangers of UPDF deploying in South Sudan, among others.
What are your plans for 2014?
This year, for me, is just another day on the calendar. I don’t think it marks any drastic change and in the last 13-14 years, my entire engagement in the opposition has been to struggle for a democratic transition in Uganda. And by this I mean where the people of Uganda would truly participate and determine what affects them in their country.
For many decades now, we have been ruled by guns, by gunmen, and that is what we hoped would be dealt with by the NRA/NRM struggle in 1981-1986. But as soon as Museveni came to power, he abrogated all the arrangements that had been prepared for a transition and, instead, he concentrated on how to perpetuate himself in power using the same means we previously rebelled against.
We decided to challenge him and it is the work that I have set out to do, year in year out, until it is achieved.
In the previous years, we have been engaged on one level of awakening the people of Uganda to realize the injustices that have been put around them and how captive our country has become and that awakening their consciousness is aimed at empowering them to reassert their rights as citizens to control governments not to be controlled by governments.
You are talking of people controlling governments, how many governments are in Uganda?
This [NRM] is not the first government in Uganda, we have had many of them, even this one has been changing within itself though we have the same faces in new governments but there [is] supposed to be a new government, but most importantly, people should be empowered to know that they are the ones to control governments, to know that the governments are their employee and that they must hold them to account, and that is the struggle we have been engaged in through giving them information.
We have tried to do that using every avenue, including participating in elections that we knew were inherently fraud and would not be fair.
Why did you continuously offer yourself in an electoral process well knowing it was a sham?
We had reasons; to mobilize our people because it is a good platform, and to some extent we have had freedom to make rallies and talk to our people. We wanted to use it in influencing the formation of the political will of the people.
We also wanted to demonstrate what the regime is because people will not have known that they have a dictatorship in their country, a regime that is not fair, a regime that does not respect rule of law, if we didn’t go to elections, and I think we have achieved that.
The regime also may have appreciated how discontented the people are, because sometimes dictators live in the clouds thinking that everybody loves them and it’s through an election that this might be demonstrated, and sometimes a dictator may reconsider and allow some kind of transition and some dictators have done so.
Have you achieved your objectives particularly in the awakening campaign?
I think the people of Uganda know, that they have a rogue regime which is just stealing from them, which is undermining their rights and that it doesn’t provide them with the services the government is supposed to.
So, we have largely achieved on the awakening campaign. The demonstration of what the regime is has been achieved because everybody knows it.
As a perennial challenger of Museveni; what have you learnt about him?
In the course of all the engagements, I think we have also clearly established that Museveni is determined to go down with the country, not to give the country a chance, unlike some other dictators who realize that time has come and they leave the country. I think Museveni has adequately demonstrated that he would rather go down with the country.
But I think the stage is set now for Ugandans to take back their country where it deserves to be, but no one who wants freedom should think that it will come on a silver plate, we must all stand up and fight for those rights and so in the last three years, since the elections of 2011, our focus shifted from awakening the people to know the kind of regime they are dealing with, to confronting the regime, to bring it down, not through an election but through organizing defiance with the people of Uganda.
But the regime successfully foiled the demonstrations on the streets of Kampala and you were subjected to 24-hours-surveillance…
If they successfully foiled it, then that surveillance wouldn’t have been there. I have variously pointed out that you only fail when you fail trying; even when we had guns in Luweero it took us five years; the South Sudanese took 50 years to get a country to govern.
Struggles may not end as quickly as people would want them to. What must be kept in mind is that as long as the unjust regime is in power, people will continue to suffer; in fact if they don’t struggle, they may become permanent slaves. Whether it takes time, we have no choice but to struggle to reclaim our country.
But the defiance methods you are applying seem not to be working; some will say they only make people vulnerable.
Actually the people of Uganda are not timid. The misfortune we have is that there are few leaders, especially in the elite class of our country, who are grossly selfish and optimistic. Even if they are not in comfortable zones, they aspire to get there alone, not by helping the country to realize the fair system within which all have equal opportunities.
They would rather betray their communities in order for them to enter the comfort zone. And the regime has been taking advantage of that; when you start to rally people into action, they are easily compromised. That is a big challenge we are still facing, the problem is not the people, but the leaders.
Aren’t you partly to blame for this, because ordinarily, the elite class leaders follow ideologies. Have you presented one that they can follow?
The strategy we have taken is very clear and that is defiance, call it civil disobedience.
It is said the elite will generally not get involved in confrontational defiance….
If they can’t get involved, that means that they are part of the problem which must be solved and by the way, the elite during the NRA war were not involved in the large measure. The people who fought were peasants.
Yet some of the fighters, like you, were elites.
Yes, but we were very few just as it is today. There are a few elites who are involved in activism today.
But with or without them, we must cause change. The elites can continue to look for greener pastures within Uganda or even abroad; when change comes, they will come but that is none of our worries.
You sound like you are disappointed with a non-cooperative section of Ugandans.
I’m disappointed but not surprised because it is the nature of our education that creates parasites rather than people who have patriotic values that offer service to others.
You have entered the 13th year of your struggle against Museveni; do you still maintain your position that you won’t offer yourself come 2016?
My position has been very clear that it doesn’t matter which year the elections are in, I said I cannot offer myself for an election under the conditions in which we have been having them. In other words, in an election which is organized by a military regime. I have told you that the benefits we wanted in the elections we have been participating in were well achieved.
But there are efforts to amend the Electoral Commission Act … in fact, they are aspiring to call it Independent Electoral Commission...
You cannot have an independent electoral commission under a military regime. You cannot have fair rules or laws under the military regime. The other day the courts said that Lord Mayor Lukwago is still a valid mayor. But why isn’t he in office? … the dictatorship defied the rule of law.
So, it doesn’t matter whether there is an electoral commission that is constituted differently, it cannot achieve better results. And even if it was there, how would it stop soldiers arresting candidates’ agents from the polling stations and stuffing boxes? So, you cannot have free and fair elections under a rogue regime which doesn’t respect its [own] laws and international laws.
Is it your view that through an election you can’t eject Museveni?
These are not elections; it is a ritual which is performed under the military, police, which always vandalize polling stations, and stuff ballot boxes, etc… it’s not an election. And for me and you, the time has come to confront the dictatorship directly not through the elections that they stage-manage.
Ever since you started opposing this regime, you have never thrown a stone; how do you hope to dislodge a state machinery armed to the teeth?
When the struggle is called for popular defiance, the people use their power to reject the regime. No amount of guns will stop them. Can you imagine if people stopped supplying food in Kampala for two weeks, what would the regime do with their guns and tanks?
People have power and they are ruled because they have accepted; if they don’t accept, the regime is gone. What we are trying to do is organize for that rejection to be widespread and once that is done, the regime however much guns it might have, can no longer impose itself on them.
But some say you are just fed up with challenging Museveni who has beaten you at every election...
Nobody has hired me. Nobody pays me, and nobody feeds me, I do it on my own volition. If anybody thinks that what I’m doing is not the right thing, they should do what they think is the right thing.
They are Ugandans just like I am; they have equal power like I do, so anybody who feels he/she can do it in a better way, then they can come in because no one is stopping them.
Where would your non-participation in 2016 elections leave you politically?
Who says I’m not participating?
But you have just said that you will not offer yourself again?
Participating in a political process is not only about becoming a candidate. My objective is not to look at 2016 but it is to end the dictatorship today or at the earliest possible time. I don’t care about 2016; I care about ending the dictatorship whenever it is possible to do so.
We are simply talking about different struggles; there are people talking about a struggle of an election, we are talking about a struggle of removing the rogue regime. And we are saying that we shall not remove this rogue regime through an election; we want to remove the rogue regime, even the people who will go to the election hope that they will remove the regime.
So, I’m not seeking to get out of the process, I am participating very effectively in trying to remove the regime, only that the method we are going to use may differ; ours is fighting day in, day out.
Could that mean that as opposition you are busy preparing the candidates you will field in 2016?
I’m not a leader in the opposition political parties; I am not a leader whatsoever.
But you are an elder in opposition, particularly in FDC...
An elder yes, but I’m a former leader of a political party who can offer my advice if they seek it, they can take it or leave it. But what I will encourage the other parties that want change to do, we must deliver that change and focus on it. We may even take different courses.
Some people who still think that elections can still cause change can continue and organize for an election, those of us who think elections can’t do it, we shall continue and fight outside the electoral process.
Of the two, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu (FDC president) and former VP Gilbert Bukenya, who has offered you a cabinet position, whom would you support?
Bukenya declared that he would contest, but General Muntu has not and I’m not going to focus my energies on electoral processes under this regime but those who think they can focus on elections can go on and do so.
I have never been engaged in this business of fighting for a job in government and I have never applied for any government job in my life. I’m completely capable of living decently outside government. Even when this current regime is fighting me, I can survive.
How do you assess the chances of a divided opposition dislodging Museveni?
What I have said in my own analysis, whether united or not, you cannot dislodge Museveni through an election he organizes, supervises and controls.
The issue is not unity or disunity. The question is the system under which an election is conducted. If there was a free and fair election, Museveni would need to get more than 50 per cent in the votes he wins. Even if you are 60 candidates and everyone gets one per cent and he fails to get the 51 per cent, we would go back for a re-run.
To you, what explains the weakness of opposition and in your view, is there an opposition in Uganda or just individual opposition to Museveni?
What constitutes the opposition are people who disagree with what the regime is doing. Everybody who disagrees with what the regime is doing is the opposition and the number of the opposition is growing everyday.
So the opposition is stronger everyday since Museveni came to power and you remember Wasswa Ziritwawula in the National Resistance Council publicly rejecting what was going on in broad daylight, and there are those who have never supported NRM since it came. Even when I challenged the regime in 2001, many of [my] colleagues remained there [but] by 2006 they had all left.
What I mean here is that the NRM regime is weakening and that is the strength of the organizations within the opposition. But mind you, opposition organizations cannot be strong under a dictatorship because a dictator has a lot of power to stop them from doing their activities.
FDC lost a senior member and founder in Sam Njuba; what is your view about his book which the state says you authored?
What State House says, that I wrote that book, is ridiculous; we know the book could have only been written by the author himself. And he had his personal experiences whether with Museveni, Idi Amin and what have you, but as far as I’m concerned, the strength of writing is a record to be referred to.
So for people in State House, the most important thing would have been to look at the issues and evaluate whether they are correct or wrong.
Having spent a good time in opposition politics; would you agree that there is a leadership deficit in opposition?
I think there is a leadership problem not just in the opposition, but in the country. It is a cross-cutting problem, be in it church, business and in politics.
Have you as a leader taken any effort to address this problem?
I think this is not a matter that can be solved through one individual; it is a structural problem which we must solve structurally. What type of education do we have, what type of upbringing is in the families and some other aspects?
You cut your term short as FDC president to join the broader opposition politics; have you reaped any benefits?
Well, the idea I think is not to determine what kind of benefit I have got out of the actions I have undertaken when I left the party, I can only say that I have continued to apply myself to the extent that I can, whether serving within or outside the party, to bring about the change our country deserves.
So, I wouldn’t say that I’m achieving out of the party, I think what is most important is that we all need to do what we owe, to empower our people and through offering leadership and this is supposed to be done whether you are in the party or outside it.
Do you in anyway feel frustrated that your energies have not borne any fruits?
I’m certainly not frustrated, the fruits of our efforts, not me alone, because I am one of very many people who have been sacrificing, struggling for change in this country. Some people made bigger sacrifices than me. Some are dead; I am lucky I am still here.
So, it is not a personal question whether our efforts have had results. Secondly, the results of this kind of struggle are incremental, they are not dramatic. When we started challenging Museveni, there was a one-party state.
Everyone was required to participate under the Movement state. It was our challenge that demonstrated that there was no such a system, but it was simply a one-party state and that is how we got evidence to take to court for it to declare that the Movement was a one-party state and other parties should be allowed to organize also.
So, ending the Movement system was one of the earlier benefits we got out of this struggle. It is a process and I am quite encouraged by the progress of the struggle. In fact, I think that the struggle is coming to the climax when the regime cannot continue. You see because of the pressure we have exerted on the regime, it is now clear that dissenting views are increasingly coming out.
The term of office of the leader of opposition whom you actually appointed instead of subjecting him to a vote has come to end. Are you content with Nandala-Mafabi’s performance, would you want him replaced?
First of all, his [Mafabi] appointment was done out of the party processes, not that I acted capriciously. He was appointed through agreed party processes and I think he has tried to do his work through offering effective responses to government positions.
He has been challenging government on various issues in Parliament, but I think it will be unfair for me to evaluate his performance because in the last three years as I have said, my focus has been in a different territory.
And secondly, I think it will be prejudicial because the party leadership is in the process of evaluating and determining the leadership positions they would want to have without me and I am very confident that the party structures we have will enable the leaders to make good decisions.
Why don’t you endorse the fugitive General Sejusa?
I don’t know whether there is any formal process of embracing people who come to be in the opposition. When I came to the opposition there was no ceremony by anybody to embrace me.
So I think anybody who opposes what is going on is a positive voice. I think Sejusa did a very good job indeed, pointing out various excesses. Many of them we had already talked about, but the fact that he took the risk and made the sacrifice to come out and talk, I think he is commendable and for me, I am now an individual, I can’t speak on behalf of other people; FDC and others.
But I have no problem working with Sejusa for change. If Sejusa made mistakes before, those mistakes cannot be corrected unless we have a just system and the first struggle every Ugandan is welcomed to, is to work for change and then if someone has complaints about another one, I inclusive, he/she can subject them to a just process.
At what point did your talks with Sejusa stop?
No… talks continued. I have absolutely no problem coordinating with Sejusa to cause change; so, we shall continue talking and doing whatever is necessary to bring about change.
Would you follow Sejusa if he chose war to dislodge Museveni?
I have never ruled out the use of violence in causing change in this country. It is violence that brought this government in power, and if Museveni believed that he used means that are legitimate in coming to power then that legitimacy cannot obviously end with his own struggle.
However, the means of struggle we have chosen for ourselves is the peaceful means and it is well considered.
First, we think that it is through peaceful means that all Ugandans can participate in the struggle and that all Ugandans must be empowered to cause change on their own because if they do so, then that change is irreversible, but if we used guns like we did in NRA, even if you succeed in taking power, the power would remain in those holding those guns and it would be a matter of goodwill by those who have the guns whether to pass over power to people or not.
And I think that is not sustainable.
Could that mean that if Sejusa uses that path, you will not join him?
The use of force is also legitimate but it is a choice I will not choose and it is inappropriate in our circumstances. And my judgment call is to use peaceful means.
What do you make of the sudden death of the renegade Col Patrick Karegeya whom you worked with during the NRA war?
Karegeya went away in 1990. What has been happening in Rwanda, I’m not so much informed about, but also situations within countries are quite unique to those countries, but it is certainly sad that he died the way he died.
You got a chance to work with President Kagame and President Museveni; how do you compare the two leaders?
I have worked with Museveni as a president; I have never worked with Kagame as a president, but I know Kagame from a different perspective.
The issue I would have talked about here is that there are a lot of debates about freedom and rights in Rwanda, but one thing which is also indisputable is that the Kagame government has delivered public goods in a shorter time despite the terrible situation of genocide, but there is less corruption, there is a lot of development yet Museveni has not done much in the so many years.
As a person who was in the bush; did you ever agree on the issue of succession with Museveni?
What was agreed on was the management of the transition process. The idea was that the war had been waged to remove a dictatorship and organize to transition to a democratic process within four years, from 1986 to 1990.
The constitutional review process will be undertaken, institutions of state will be reconstructed, and democratic elections will be undertaken. But this did not happen. Instead, it was sabotaged by Museveni. The constitution-making process was sabotaged; the building of state institutions was sabotaged. So, there was no transition and that is why we are still struggling that that transition comes.
One would blame you as fighters for over trusting President Museveni?
I don’t know whether it is over trusting. I think one certainty is that Museveni is not to blame, I think those of us who were in positions of leadership are more to blame than himself, for not stopping him from sabotaging those processes, but he is to blame for executing things which are treasonable in this country.
But we too allowed them because you had leaders who could not stand up to him and in doing that, we facilitated him in committing treason. It is not Museveni alone to blame on this but lack of action on our part because people used to be bribed, and what have you.
What is your view about UPDF’s intervention in the South Sudan conflict?
It is problematic from many accounts. First of all, it was deployment of troops outside our borders which requires parliamentary approval which was not sought though Parliament was still in session by the time they went to Sudan. If government had intentions to do it, it would have been able to do so.
And if Parliament had been on recess, it would have been recalled following the law that gives them 21 days to deal with it but up to now I have not heard of any attempt to recall the House.
So, this is another act of a rogue regime which does not respect the domestic or international laws not for the first time but it has invaded many other countries like Somalia. The more problematic one is to deploy those troops and take sides; even in the deployment of UPDF in Somalia, my concern was to take sides yet most times people fight civil wars.
I don’t think the deployment of foreign armies solves the problems in those countries; it [creates] more problems. And in the case of Sudan, it endangers the lives of Ugandans there, and the government was saying that it had gone to evacuate them but shortly after that, we had that they had gone with tanks, securing airports and I think our own country is going to be sucked into that war.
It undermines the security of Ugandans in South Sudan, it undermines the security of our country and it undermines the security of the region because all countries might start fighting proxy wars.