The dour political rivalry between President Yoweri Museveni and his long-time political nemesis Dr Warren Kizza Besigye might take a strange twist if local institutions that are supposed to deal with human freedoms do not fully exhaust their potential in respect to the rights of Ugandans, most especially after the 2016 elections in which Mr Museveni was declared winner by the Electoral Commission.
Speaking exclusively to the EagleOnline Dr Besigye, a former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential candidate in the last elections (whose results he disputes) said that Ugandans had been disenfranchised in the polls and that seeking the intervention of the international community to weigh in on political situation in Uganda was one of the options open to the Ugandan opposition.
“All I am saying is that we will more actively seek the intervention and the support of the broad international community in getting our struggle for a democratic transition better understood and supported and I think the international community can do a lot in exerting pressure on the Museveni regime to respect the will of Ugandans and to accept to have an audit of the election,” he said in an interview at his home in Kasangati.
According to Dr Besigye, he won the 2016 elections with a 52 per cent poll result and that if the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government under Mr Museveni does not give in to demands of an independent international poll audit to authenticate or invalidate his win, the opposition might also consider the possibility of engaging the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC).
“We have taken a decision to engage our local institutions and of course, we have been engaging some of the local institutions but we want to demonstrate that they are not capable of mediating the serious human rights violations and that therefore, it is time to seek the intervention of international organizations,” Dr Besigye said in a wide-ranging exclusive interview at his home in Kasangati.
He added: “What has been going on in many areas in our country definitely amount to crimes that fall under the ambit of the ICC but the process of getting the Court to attend to them is such that there must be evidence that local institutions are not in position to deal with these kinds of crimes and so the process is on.”
He however stressed that it is the cardinal responsibility of the Ugandan citizens to fight for their freedoms.
“But let me also hasten to add that much as we might appeal and seek the support of international bodies and the international community, the work of causing change here will have to be done in Uganda by Ugandans.
Those can only help but we cannot run away from the primary responsibility of doing what it takes to cause change here by ourselves,” he said, adding that if government fails to warm up to the issue of an international audit of the results, the opposition would also implore the international community not to recognize Mr Museveni’s regime and also to impose sanctions against it.
“And if we don’t have an audit, (we will ask them) not to recognize his regime and to impose some sanctions that will pile pressure on the regime,” he said.
On February 18 this year Uganda held general elections after which the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) declared Mr Yoweri Museveni the winner. Subsequently the opposition Forum for Democratic Change flag bearer Dr Kizza Besigye disputed the results and has since then had several run-ins with the authorities, including police restricting him at his home in Kasangati for 45 days. The EagleOnline’s Richard Wanambwa caught up with him at home for an interview on a wide range of topics involving politics in Uganda.
Do you believe you won the 2016 elections? And can you justify that claim?
Absolutely, we have evidence of our results in a majority polling stations; we do not have the results from all polling stations for reasons that are also very pertinent, but from the results we have one can make a very accurate conclusion as to what exactly we got in that election and that’s why we have come out with a final results of about 52 per cent of the vote. This is based on the results we have and the analysis because, even in polls, opinion polls rely on the information from about 2000 or 3000 people in a whole country; they make an indication that is accurate to very high standard.
So if we have a majority of the actual results from majority of the polling stations and that are scattered across the whole country, there is no reason why one cannot project what the outcome of this election was and we have used highly experienced and qualified statisticians to evaluate both our results and the EC results and they have been able to clearly show that the EC results are fake. We can scientifically show that they are fake and all this evidence is with us and this is why we have demanded for an independent audit so that if Mr. Museveni, as he claims he won the election, it can give him ultimate legitimacy; it’s an opportunity for him to also show his claim that he won, as it would for us show indeed that we won. Now, this audit that we are demanding for is an independent audit, internationally supervised, is not provided for in our constitutional framework.
What is provided for in our constitutional framework is an election petition in the Supreme Court, but this is what we were denied the opportunity to access because right from the day before the election results were announced I was a prisoner for 45 days; our headquarters was taken over by the police for three weeks; our offices in various parts of the country were raided; more than 300 of our leaders and agents were arrested; so the regime deliberately set out to disable our ability to access the constitutional process that is availed to us to challenge the outcome of the elections. Therefore, this was a grave constitutional violation, the constitution was overthrown by the regime in this regard, Mr. Amama Mbabazi who went to Court could not present our case, he could only present his case and yet we are all equally afforded that channel by the Constitution.
Since the Supreme Court ruling has upheld President Museveni’s incumbency, as an individual what are the other options you have on the cards?
So, as it is, there is a constitutional crisis because the candidate declared as a winner by the Electoral Commission is not conclusively elected unless the Supreme Court process has been completed. We were not allowed to complete that process so the election in effect has not been concluded, because you only conclude it when the candidates have had the opportunity to challenge the EC. We have not had the chance to challenge the EC and that is why the ruling in the Mbabazi case is of no consequence, because it would only be of consequence if all the candidates had the opportunity to petition, and for all the candidates. Therefore, to say whatever the outcome of the case is the final outcome but the Court has no opportunity to know what we wanted to present, so there is no conclusively elected president in our country and the only way to do so is through a political process of an independent audit to which we are ready to submit our evidence and to show that we are the rightful winners of the 2016 elections.
There is public talk about the formation of a coalition government; would you consider joining any such arrangement if an opportunity presented itself?
No! Of course we have made it very clear that the government is only formed by the winner. We have categorically stated that we are the winners of this election so if there is any consideration of forming a government of national unity, it should be us forming it and inviting Mr Museveni’s party to join such a government. And in our own manifesto we made it clear that we intend to form a government of national unity and we are already in the process of doing so. And if as it seems our proposal for an independent audit is not taken seriously, then we shall be left with absolutely no option but to go ahead and form government as mandated by the people of Uganda.
During the second presidential debate you met President Museveni; did the two of you talk in that little time? If yes, what did you say to each other?
We only shook hands, we never talked.
It has been variously reported that Mr Museveni has sent you emissaries. First of all, is it true? And if true, who are they and what message do those emissaries including fellow presidential candidate Maj Gen Benon Biraaro, bring to you?
I am not sure whether that is a fair representation of the emissaries that I have met. I think the emissaries that I have met are emissaries who took it upon themselves to work for some process of dialogue including Gen Biraaro, who took it upon himself to start contacting us, advocating for dialogue. There has been a similar initiative by a number of actors, taking it upon themselves to initiate a process of dialogue and we have always welcomed whoever approaches us with an initiative of dialogue. We have always been receptive and we have only demanded that any such dialogue should be based on very clear and sound grounds that would give it an opportunity to deliver meaningful outcomes that would engender a democratic transition and we have pointed out that in order to do so, there are four cardinal areas that need to be agreed upon before such a dialogue gets underway and these are: that we would have an agreed agenda; that we would have an agreed moderator/ facilitator or someone who would be managing the dialogue; that we would agree on who is part of the dialogue; that we would agree on how to ensure the implementation of whatever is agreed upon in the dialogue because often times agreements are made and they remain on paper. So, we want to have a fair understanding of all these four areas before any dialogue would take place and so far that process of agreeing on those basics has not been concluded.
You seem to understand President Museveni far better than any of your colleagues who were with him in the struggle. At what stage did you come to reality that you must part ways with him?
Well, I don’t think that there is a specific point in time when you say that at this point I now knew who Museveni was. I think it’s a process of learning and possibly we still are in that process of knowing who exactly he is because indeed all the time he exudes different colours; like he has called himself a chameleon. I don’t think we are about to know all his colours anytime soon but right from the time we were in the bush, I think some of the areas of serious concerns that we have about him now were already evident. And what we were and how we were responding to those manifestations was, unfortunately at that time, to justify them to say why he was behaving; to start looking for reasons why he could have been behaving that way because we believed in the underlying belief that you know a good person, he had good intentions and that therefore, whatever appeared to the out of line with those beliefs was happening for a purpose that was in the main a good purpose. But quite obviously, once we came to government many of those justifications would no longer hold because for example when we were in the bush and some people made mistakes and he didn’t act on them we could say well, anyway what actions are available to him? There are a few actions; we had no prisons, we had no areas of jurisdiction and so forth.
We read and have been told stories that there were facilities like trenches where some people like Gen David Sejusa were kept, how true is that?
Well, even Tinyefuza was never placed in the andarchies as they were called, which were trenches used to hold people underground. But what I am saying is those were not really areas that you could hold people, have trials in an ordinary sense or hold a court trial that functions as a court. So, there were limitations in the bush and there were limitations of how to replace people if they are doing vital work; there were limitations that we could attach to assign as reasons why Museveni was acting in a particular way or even when he appeared to favour some people over others. We had reasons to assign to why such things were happening but once we came to government things changed for real.
Then for me, this started becoming very serious and of concern because then I could no longer see the justification for some of the things he was doing; they started assuming levels that were quite injurious to what our project was: the project of democratic transition. Whatever he was doing was directly conflicting with that and yes for me, I think by 1989 it was abundantly clear to me that we had a very serious problem in Mr Museveni and it was very clear.
On that note, do you regret going to the bush to fight Obote?
No, because you see again, I didn’t go to the bush to fight Milton Obote, I went to the bush to fight for the freedoms and rights of citizens to fight for democracy, to fight so that our country is in the hands and control of our people and not in the hands and control of a few people.
Actually that was, and that is why I am fighting even this regime because it has perpetuated that situation and I will continue fighting any outfit that presents that system of governance, of minority rule, rule by a small couple of people and, so I cannot regret my participation in that war.
What I consider now based on the experience of that war is that it’s highly unlikely that such a war would deliver democracy. In other words, what has happened since we won the war is more or less the rule rather than the exception that warlords don’t deliver democracy and warlords is what war produces. And that is why now, with the benefit of that experience I am advocating the use of non-violent struggle to take power from the warlords to the citizens without using guns because once that happens and in the process of that happening citizens get empowered with the knowledge that they can assert their will and with methods of how to do so and once they do so, then they know that indeed the ultimate power is with them and not with those who have guns. And accordingly, that is the true process of subordination of the military to civilian authority; that subordination shall not come simply by an administrative or just a declaration of the Constitution, it comes with the actual struggle and people being able to subordinate the military to their will and that is the process which we are undertaking at the moment.
Recently, Information Minister Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi said majority of your supporters are thugs who vandalise merchandise of traders along roads. What is your take on that?
Well, that talk is fairly common within the regime leaders and it is based on their ideological orientation and their current ideological orientation which is being spiteful of citizens and actually even considering citizens as enemies of the state. So, those people they call hooligans are their tax payers as they are the ones who pay their salaries; they are their voters and they are the shareholders of this country but they treat them with contempt because they are not affluent, because they have no money, because they don’t sleep in good places like them, because they don’t have jobs, which are all results of their mismanagement. And yet these are people who are seeking to assert their influence so they can also live decently in their country.
So, quite obviously our supporters are very respectable citizens; they are responsible tax payers of this country; they are the owners of this land and they must be treated with respect. Those who claim that these are hooligans are actually the people who are stealing billions of shillings that belong to these same people.
They are the ones who are causing mass deaths in our hospitals because they steal the money that should be treating our sick and so they are the real hooligans. The people in the regime and government are the real hooligans of this country.
You have stood against Mr Museveni for four times; now that he is constitutionally ineligible to stand because of his age; will you consider offering yourself another shot for the presidency again?
No. As I have already indicated, I consider that I was duly elected in 2016 and before considering anything else I am focused on using the mandate that was given to me in this election to take the country forward. Therefore, regardless of what Mr Museveni’s age would be, he has no business being in government even now and I think anybody suggesting what will happen in 2021 would simply be trying to obstruct people’s focus on what needs to happen now.
You and Gen Sejusa have a long history of friendship and he has said he convinced you to run for the 2016 elections, which you did; do you think that was a good decision?
Well, first of all, for the 2016 elections, very many people implored me to run, and they had various reasons for doing so but ultimately, the decision to run was my decision and I take full responsibility for my decision and I think it was a well-considered decision. I have pointed out that in spite of learning that the election could not be free and fair, but that we could nonetheless rally citizens to defy the injustices and so I run on a very clear agenda, on a very clear platform of defiance and I think it paid off because it helped our people regain their confidence and understand the issues in the country clearly. It also helped them to organize themselves more effectively and indeed to defy the injustices that were arranged against us and that is what I credit for what I clearly said is our win.
What we won was a very clearly unfree and unfair election but that is how struggles go and the struggle is continuing because the struggle won’t end until power has truly returned to the people and it is citizens that are in charge of the country. And so even if Mr Kiggundu and his cohorts had not declared a wrong person as the winner, the struggle would still be on, even when we are in charge of the government the struggle must continue until the transition has been completely achieved; that we have now democratic institutions and we have institutions of state that are independent, competent and that are under the control of the people and that is what our task is.
Once we get to run the authority of the state, we would be undertaking the restructuring of state institutions; we would be reviewing the constitutional order so that citizens have more control and access and influence on state institutions and then the transformation of our people would then be underpinned by those changes so that if we assign money to deal with health it is not going to disappear in thin air. There must be structures for checks and balances that will ensure that our health system will be revamped in a short time and that people can access decent health care, education can be revamped in a short time and that our people can have/ access quality and relevant education; that the infrastructure can be quickly revamped; that you are not paying billions upon billions of dollars and shillings build the types of Katosi road or what we are hearing in Karuma dam and what happened in Bujagali dam and all the rot. So, we must first build the mechanisms that will underpin the running of a people’s government; that will benefit our people maximally and that we can reverse the rot that has taken place over the last 30 years.
You haven’t answered the questions on your friendship with Gen Sejusa and what you discussed with him in Ssembabule?
Well, I have known Gen Sejusa since our college days at Makerere and we have passed through very many challenges together since. He is, therefore, somebody I know fairly well and he is presently committed to working for change which is exactly what we have been doing all this time. Therefore, I consider him as a partner in that project of causing democratic change and he is still struggling with the process of regaining his freedom from captivity in UPDF. He is held as a captive now and we support him in that struggle. So, I went to visit him while he was having a thanksgiving event in his village and to stand with him and to support him in whatever he is going through.
Are the two of you plotting to disrupt the NRM government?
There is nothing absolutely wrong in joining hands and as I have pointed out, we are both working for change and how that change comes is still a matter that I will continue examining and working on; we will do everything within our power. Certainly, I have been committed to doing everything within my capacities that that change comes as quickly as possible. So, if by putting our heads together that helps that would be a good thing.
Last year you were part of a group of opposition politicians who travelled to London and met with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo, what did you discuss?
At that time, His Excellency Koffi Annan and Mr Ocampo were acting really as friends of Uganda to facilitate a discussion between Ugandan leaders on how to construct a common platform for the election. They were both quite knowledgeable about Uganda and they wish Uganda well and I think the meetings we had were quite beneficial even when the ultimate outcome was not having one candidate. I think it made the approach of both myself and Mr Amama Mbabazi in the election better focused so that we were not hitting at each other but we were all moving in the same direction.
What is your understanding of the recent comments on the 2016 elections made by the US Ambassador Deborah Malac? Also, what is your view on the EU Observer Group report on the same elections?
I am glad and I think the US and the Europeans now seem to appreciate that we are dealing with a dictatorship here. They have not put it in those words but I think it’s now clear to them that the people of Uganda are encumbered with the regime that doesn’t arise out of their free will and that is likely to cause serious reversals in terms of stability and security of our country.
This is vital because Uganda happens to be in an enviable situation of not having ever had any leader peacefully hand over power to another leader. And therefore I hope that what is happening now will be, though late, a good wake up call for all our international friends to weigh in and cause Mr Museveni to relinquish power peacefully.
You recently said that you are moving towards appealing to the international community. Do you intend to move to ICC to be specific?
No, the international community is quite obviously broader than the ICC. However, all I am saying is that we will more actively seek the intervention and the support of the broad international community in getting our struggle for a democratic transition better understood and supported and I think the international community can do a lot in exerting pressure on the Museveni regime to respect the will of Ugandans and to accept to have an audit of the election. And if we don’t have an audit, not to recognize his regime and to impose some sanctions that will pile pressure on the regime.
So we shall continue to engage the international community with those objectives in mind. But like I pointed out last week, we have taken a decision to engage our local institutions and of course, we have been engaging some of the local institutions but we want to demonstrate that they are not capable of mediating the serious human rights violations and that therefore, it is time to seek the intervention of international organizations.
What has been going on in many areas in our country definitely amount to crimes that fall under the ambit of the ICC but the process of getting the Court to attend to them is such that there must be evidence that local institutions are not in position to deal with these kinds of crimes and so the process is on.
But let me also hasten to add that much as we might appeal and seek the support of international bodies and international community, the work of causing change here will have to be done in Uganda by Ugandans.
Those can only help but we cannot run away from the primary responsibility of doing what it takes to cause change here by ourselves.
At some point during the electioneering period your wife Winnie reportedly made some unruffling comments about your candidature and that of Mr Amama Mbabazi; what was your interpretation then, given that you were in the thick of the campaigns?
Well, I don’t know which comments you are referring to. The comment she made I think in respect that was directed to both me and Mbabazi may be related to the London meeting where she was pointing out that everybody in the meeting was a man and that it is men who seem to be meeting to decide the fate of our country without women and I appreciate where she would be coming from with those kinds of comments because all her life she is a woman activist and she was saying that there were no women in that conversation! However, you know that is quite obviously a superficial and misleading comment because you cannot recruit candidates into the presidential race; candidates emerge and in this case the leading candidates that emerged where men, so one needs to pay attention to what causes that.
But recently she tweeted saying she often times agrees with some of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) policies. Do you agree with her?
I think the best person to answer for her comments is Winnie herself. I don’t know even whether what is attributed to her is exactly what she said and I don’t know the context in which it is being said so I think the best reply you can get is from her.
Interview transcribed by Shawn Kawalya