By Julius Odeke
Even after relinquishing leadership of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Dr Kizza Besigye continues to command huge political space as his actions and views attract President Yoweri Museveni and the State’s interest. The Independent’s Julius Odeke spoke to him about the political environment in Uganda and his persecution.
Why does police keep harassing you?
It is because police is acting on instructions of the political authorities who consider me as an enemy that should be decimated or removed. Our police is no longer functioning as a national police force as mandated by the constitution of the Republic of Uganda, to ensure law and order, its functioning as a partisan force for regime protection not for public order.
So, they would like to make it difficult as possible for anybody to oppose government and they have developed the militia to attack opposition leaders. If you go to the Kawempe DPC’s office there is President Museveni’s campaign poster complete with NRM colours and with writings that `Museveni Pakalast’. So they see themselves as an extension of NRM political party.
Recently there was a transition in FDC but your successor Gen Muntu is not affected. The focus remains on you. What could be the reason?
As I have said, what the police do is to curb the activities they consider are injurious to NRM, activities that undermine and weaken NRM is what they curb. I am sure if Muntu started those activities they will certainly deal with Muntu much as they deal with me.
Is it good publicity for FDC when you are arrested?
Nobody wants to be arrested, so it cannot be something that we hope to benefit from. But quite obviously, when you keep on arresting people and you are not charging them in courts of law for any offence, then people are bound to question whether what you are doing is not just persecution. In fact, even for those cases where I have been taken to court which are quite many, they have always been dismissed without need for me to defend myself. They are trumped up charges including rape, treason.
Whenever you are arrested, police says your activities disrupt people’s businesses in town. Yet sometimes you are let free to move in town, what happens?
That question should be appropriately put to the police. What happens when they do not come to interfere with me? Nothing. All the chaos that happens in town is created by police itself. So what they say saying is definitely nonsense.
How have those arrests affected you?
I have not only been arrested, I have been shot, doused with chemicals many times; I have been detained in solitary confinement. We suspect it may be for purposes of introducing some harmful substances in that environment. I don’t know what kinds of effects it has on my health, and it’s quite early to tell because quite obviously the strategy of government will not be to eliminate me in the open. I think they would want to use measures that will cripple me slowly.
Is there any political gain from those arrests?
It’s not our wish to benefit from being arrested. But I think the kinds of arrests that have effects that are positive for eventual liberation which is positive from the tyranny in our country. The violence serves to broaden awareness of the type of regime and emboldens the people to resist tyranny and to work for freedom. People are asserting themselves in different areas. You have teachers, traders, students and even police women demonstrating. I think that is positive.
When you look critically at FDC now, it seems the party has decided to stay quiet. What could have happened?
I think it is because of reasons of transition. There is new leadership that will first of all want to establish itself and understand the various elements of the party and their conditions and possibly to develop a plan. I don’t know because I have not had an exchange with Gen Muntu. It is quite early to tell whether he is quiet or not.
What are you views on the recently concluded elections of Kenya?
What has happened in Kenya is very encouraging. The peaceful and orderly elections were as a result of major reforms that followed the 2007 elections violence. So you have the institutions managing the elections that are more transparent, you had electoral processes that were transparent, you had the intimate participation of all the stakeholders. This time it was not possible that a person could be sworn in at night immediately after the elections as it happened in 2007.
The reforms included wide-ranging devolution of power. You have counties that are like federal states with a lot of power and not everybody is now focused on the national institutions. On top of that they have got terms limits. In this election there was no incumbent. Here in Uganda, we are in the reverse gear, Uganda is abolishing term limits.
Many people expected the Prime Minister Raila Odinga to have won but he did not, now he finds himself in a position you have been in before. What is your advise to him?
The advice is what he is already doing; he has petitioned. I don’t know what irregularities he discovered in that election. What I hear is the case must be resolved within two weeks so that if there is any need to repeat elections then there is enough time for them to do that.
Do you think there some lessons Uganda can learn from that election?
That you must have a credible process of the election, that you have institutions managing elections which everybody has confidence, and that is a transparent process. It’s good to have an election where there is no incumbent. Our country obviously and desperately needs these.
There have been rumours of rebel groups forming up in the country with attacks on Mbuya, Bombo and Entebbe military barracks. Is there anything serious forming?
What happens within the security institutions is not easy to know because of their secretive nature. We have had many conflicting statements from government sources as to what has been happening in Mbuya, Entebbe, and Bombo that it’s difficult for one outside to make good sense of what is going on. But I have had an educated guess about what is going on, which is that there is general institutional collapse because all the institutions have all been undermined by the illegitimate leadership in government.
And once institutions have been weakened then all kinds of fallouts can take place. For example, the military and police are institutions that have been grossly mismanaged and undermined and therefore these institutions can even on their own disintegrate. I have given an example of the role of Brig. Muhoozi, the son of the president. Muhoozi was illegally recruited into the UPDF and irrespective of that he has risen to be a brigadier general in 12 years.
He is illegal in the army because the law made by President Museveni himself as minister of Defense is very clear that an officer will be considered for promotion to the rank of a colonel when he has served for 21 years. Muhoozi is at the same level of the land forces, and air force. He is not only a brigadier; he is commanding a very large force of the army. With that anything can happened. You may recall that in 1985, Mbuya barracks was again attacked.
Paulo Muwanga who was the vice president and a minister of Defense when asked said it was due to uncoordinated troop movement. That lack of coordination was much more severe than Muwanga put out because a few weeks later that uncoordinated movement of the troops overthrew government. Now we have had the situation happening in Mbuya. So I think the same situation is reoccurring here.
You talked of Muhoozi meteoric promotion, and preferential trainings that he has undergone in a space of 12 years. How does it affect the army?
It demoralises all the other officers who are eligible and are being by-passed and it obviously undermines the confidence of the institution. It is not only Muhoozi. It’s Muhoozi and some people whom he handpicked and recruited into the army who are also in the command of the force. This happened when he was still a civilian, he recruited those people.
How does it affect the army top brass?
This may not undermine the top senior army officers but it threatens them because I don’t think whether they are even consulted. This is the First Son rising meteorically, so one can guess where his stop is into those army ranks.
USAID has given Shs21 billion to the political parties in Uganda how is FDC as a party going to use those funds?
I am not in a right position to comment on that anymore because I am no longer in the administration of FDC. But what all parties need to do is fairly well known; they need to have effective structures of their party, they need to have research, policy research functions, they need to prepare their candidates for elections.
So how is FDC prepared come 2016?
Without reforms, any election in 2016 will be a joke and all political parties to that extent would be best advised to focus their attention, first and foremost on ensuring adequate reforms are undertaken well ahead because even if you have reforms in 2015, it’s too late. You need reforms on a clean and a credible voter register, you need electoral laws that are equitable, free, and fair, the Electoral Commission has to have reforms. That is where every person that is interested in the democratic transition in this country should be focused.
What is your personal reading of the times and how are you assessing the political environment in our country?
Well, the political environment under any dictatorship obviously is very hostile and dangerous to any political actor and I am always prepared for the worst. I am also quite optimistic and hopeful that this political environment will not last long- already you can see all signs of the collapse in both the internal and external irresolvable contradictions.
They are at the climax, the awareness that I talked about on the population is very significant and appreciable, the international community which uses to hand a deaf ear on what was going on here has now woken up to the threat of this country sinking into a failed state. It is now not complacent.
How is the transition of FDC from you to Gen Muntu been going?
There has been no hitch whatsoever. There has been a peaceful handover from me to Gen. Muntu, but I said that there still outstanding disputes relating to the elections which are being handled again in a transparent way and I hope that they will come to a good conclusion of them. I don’t see that there is any problem.
What is you last word to nation as a whole?
They must focus on having fundamental reforms not on another election that is rigged. We must simply work to ensure that the electoral laws are reformed, that we have laws that will control the military and other security organisations like police, laws that will regulate the usage of public money and other assets.
That should be a challenge to everybody and it is nonpartisan. All non-partisan organisations, non- state institutions like the NGOs, the Civil Society Organisations everybody needs to work and hold together to ensure that those changes happen. Otherwise talking about corruption which is now topical will be a waste of time.