By Haggai Matsiko
Col. Fred Mwesigye is one the 27 that started the National Resistance Army war on Feb. 6 1981. He spoke to The Independent’s Haggai Matsiko.
Do you remember the day you made the decision to go to the bush?
I was young, I do not remember. I made the decision with the blessing of my parents. But the second time, (in 1981) I had experience. I had returned from military training in Cuba. When we took power in 1979, most of us went to various countries for military training. Some of us went to Munduli in Tanzania others in Algeria and my team went Cuba.
We came back in December 1980, around the time of elections, I participated in the elections, and they were rigged. And we were around our president; I was part of our president’s security. So I was among the nearest ones whom he could confide in to start the struggle. So after elections, we organised and went to the bush.
What was the mood at the meetings like the one at Mathew Rukikaire’s house?
There were several meetings. We had meetings in Kololo where Museveni staying, we had meetings at Rukikaire’s. The meetings were about how do we change this situation? What strategy do we apply? Do we go for a military coup, is it feasible? Do we go for an uprising? A people’s protracted war; is it sustainable. How do we organise a political wing; a military wing? Then when do we actually move? These were the highly sensitive issues.
As a young man that time, there is what drove you to go to the bush, when you look back, what is it that you are disappointed never happened?
May be my leaders were, but we were not looking at the economy for example. We were looking at the security of Ugandans who were being killed in broad day light and we wanted that to change. Everybody was insecure physically and mentally. I wanted to see a secure Uganda, happy Ugandans free from intimidation by government forces that were supposed to protect them. On that note, we have achieved 100 percent.
President Museveni and Defence minister Kiyonga say that the army can take over, isn’t that intimidation?
No, President Museveni did not say that, he was misquoted. When we were in Kyankwanzi, the president was advising us as politicians that please avoid carrying problems of your citizens on your head because you will not manage them. We are faced with a lot of demands from the citizens, buying land, medical treatment, school fees for their children, building churches; even others want us to buy motorcycles for them.
Therefore he was telling us to work hard to deliver services which we promised in the manifesto; construct roads and build hospitals then people will vote for us. But if we continue like this, thugs will come and take over politics of this country. People with money, people will steal money, come and bribe voters. People who sell drugs will come to parliament and confuse this country. Then he said that but remember, the army is watching this and won’t accept it. But he didn’t say that the army is going to take over because of the indiscipline of parliament. Never.
The army still has a lot of power over the affairs of this country. For how long shall this go on?
Of course, we are the vanguards of this revolution and definitely we play a big role in the stability of this country.
But doesn’t that threaten what you fought for, giving power to the people?
The constitution says that the security forces must submit to the civil authority. We must respect the civilians; the people of Uganda because they are the ones that pay all these taxes that pay for all these roads, hospitals, which pay the army, buy weapons. So, we must respect these people.
In your conversations with your peers, the people you fought with, what disappoints you about the politics of Uganda?
Look, there was a fundamental change in the army, in the security. We built a security force. Unlike the civil society, civil service, private sector, there was no fundamental change. We agreed to work with them as they were but not all of them were supportive, they continued to sabotage the programmes, either consciously or subconsciously. So that is the biggest problem we talk about.
Looking back at what took you to the bush, how satisfied are you in percentage terms?
It is not easy to apportion percentages of peace, security and democracy but I want to tell you that there has been a fundamental change. When our president was being sworn in on Jan.26 1986, he promised a fundamental change. That is what I would want us to reflect on.
Haven’t you been disappointed that President Museveni has stayed this long in power?
I know that to build a formidable and strong country, you need continuity. If you want to change Museveni for the sake of changing, then you are in trouble. We should look at what Museveni delivered. Can he still deliver or is he failing? We should not be looking at the years that one has stayed in power.
And if we have established means and methods of changing the government, let us stick to them. If the constitution says that there will be free and regular elections let us stick to that.
I know the constitution says that when one gets 75, should get out. I do not think Museveni will go beyond that constitutional requirement. We should be patient.
In a previous interview, you said that the reason you wanted Museveni to come back for a fifth term is because you did not trust these other people, when Museveni clocks 75, where will that trustable person come from?
I do not think I said that. I cannot say I do not trust anybody. I said a leader will emerge out of the system.
Some of the people you fought with, like Kizza Besigye, Maj. John Kazoora and others have said that you wasted your youth; the fundamental change was never delivered?
I think it is a bit selfish to say nothing has been achieved. A lot has been achieved but there are challenges. Those who say nothing has been achieved deliberately misinform the people. There has been transformation but there are challenges of corruption, competitiveness, not producing enough goods, not building industries.
They say that because of Museveni’s overstay in power, the achievements are being reversed…?
There is no scientific evidence to show that. The long stay by Museveni in power has more advantages than disadvantages.
But Generals like Tinyefuza, Saleh have come out to say that corruption has gone too far. Doesn’t that show things have gone very wrong?
No, my problem with them is that when you belong to a disciplined force, you must respect the chain of commander. If every soldier stands up and says this, there will be chaos in this country. We have forums where you can discuss things which are going wrong. We have the Army Council, we have the High Command.
So what in your view has been the biggest challenge of the NRM?
There is lack of discipline in some sectors of leadership which propels corruption; lack of patriotism, lack of ethics and integrity, lack of a sense of shame. People are not ashamed to steal government money. People do not care about government property. There is lack of political education. Originally we used mchaka mchaka to change the mindset of Ugandans rather than dwelling on institutions, rules and laws to deter people from doing bad. Us revolutionaries believe in policeman of the mind; guidance by your inner consciousness.
Then the other challenge emerging now is too much democracy. People have abused this democracy. They mistook it to be a weakness in this government. I think people tend to misinterpret this magnanimity of our President, building harmony, building cohesion. This has been a bit of a problem.
But since our democracy is still growing, isn’t it a good thing to let things pan out the way they are going?
Yes, but this is what is happening. Is anybody being gagged? You press; you write a lot of stuff, nobody has threatened you.
But when people demonstrate, they are arrested; when the MPs talk they are arrested?
What is lacking is to guide demonstrations. In most countries, even in America, the police put boundaries for demonstrators and if you go passed that, they shoot you. I believe the police should do that. If they get notification of demonstrators, they should say yes but this is the route.
Of the 27 that started the war, you are very few left, about nine. If you met today, do you think they would be happy with the state of affairs?
They would be very happy because of the fundamental change. We have restored democracy and the rule of law, the economy is growing, agriculture is growing, ICT is transforming this country. Ugandans are much happier than they were before.
Ugandans are educated. The army has been able to protect this country and even extended to other countries. The only thing they would be unhappy about is that we have not built capacity to look after children of fallen colleagues. There is no system that locates, trains, and deploys them because it is our desire and is in our policy that we must train our children and place them in positions of business, leadership, and the military. That one has been lacking but there are some efforts.
What kind of President do you think Uganda deserves after President Museveni?
I cannot predict. My desire would be someone like President Museveni; a person who does not get angry, does not rush to take harsh decisions, is a uniting factor, a leader who weighs the bad and good of someone before he takes drastic measures. A leader who hates sectarianism, a leader who is a pan-Africanist , who is a nationalist. A leader who is sober 24 hours.
Mugisha Muntu, the FDC President fits that description, is he the one you are talking about?
I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t think he has reached the level of President Museveni. He has some good tendencies which I know but not to the measure of President Museveni.