Dr. Besigye interviewed in New York
Uganda is scheduled to hold presidential elections in March 2016. The opposition parties have vowed to block the election until electoral reforms occur, including the creation of an independent Election Commission; the current one’s members and the chairman are all hand-picked by the country’s dictator of 30 years Gen. Yoweri Museveni. Dr. Kizza Besigye, one of the country’s leading opposition leaders and a founder of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) political party was recently in New York City and spoke with The Black Star News about the opposition’s plans to field a single candidate to challenge Gen. Museveni provided there are election reforms prior to the vote. Dr. Besigye has ran in three previous elections and is widely believed to have won at least two of them but was denied power through rigging by Gen. Museveni’s operatives and the election commission.
BSN: The upcoming election, one of the key question that the opposition have been agitating for is change in the electoral commission. Where do things stand with that and if there is no change in the electoral commission, the composition, how do you see the election unfolding? And first of all what are the demands?
Besigye: Well the demands are more than just a change in the election commission. The election commission is just one of the key institutions that are fused with the NRM (Gen. Museveni’s ruling party) and therefore which makes it absolutely difficult to have a level ground in which other competitors can function. And we have indeed made it very clear that without these fundamental electoral reforms it’s not possible to have a credible election, a free and fair election that is demanded by our constitution because our constitution provides for only one acceptable type of election; which is a free and fair election which has never been had in the last five elections that we’ve had.
And so, we are preparing for the next election, but we have said that we shall have that election after reforms.
And therefore the ball is in the court of Mr. Museveni to either accept to have reforms and that will pave a way for a free and fair election or to have no election. In which case he must simply serve out his term and leave. He has been there for 30 years. He has failed to organize a free and fair election. So the option we are giving him is to have acceptable reforms or have no elections, in which case we should have a transitional process that then prepares the country and organizes a free and fair election for our country.
BSN: Okay, has he actually responded officially, or somebody on behalf of the government, and is there a timeline?
Besigye: Well the response one can consider coming out of government is the Constitutional Amendment Bill that was brought before Parliament, which only provided for the change of name of the election commission to include the word ‘independent.’ There is absolutely nothing of substance that is contained in the proposals of the government and therefore one can safely say is that they are not interested at all. That the response of government is that they are not interested at all in any meaningful reforms and this is not surprising at all, because it favors the situation as it is. It favors them to remain in power and they are not going to change that willingly. They will have to be forced to do so. And that’s what we are preparing to do.
BSN: Now the latest news a few weeks ago was that the opposition had come together in an alliance proposing to have one candidate to run against the president is that correct?
Besigye: That is very correct but it has to be understood that, one candidate, preparing for an election after reforms.
BSN: Correct. And could you tell our viewers what role would you play in all of this? Are you part of the process as well?
Besigye: Well I have been part of every process that seeks to bring forth a democratic transition in our country and I will continue to be part of any processes whatever form or manner that is aimed at bringing democratic transition.
BSN: Could you also tell our viewers how the process works? In the last election it was critical for the president to somehow manage to manufacture 50-plus percent. How will the process work in March and if there are multiple candidates is that actually good for the president or is that not good for the president?
Besigye: Well you see, without reforms as I have said it doesn’t matter whether there is one candidate. It doesn’t matter whether there are many candidates. All the levers are in the hands of Mr. Museveni, the sole candidate, Mr. Museveni, who has now declared himself a sole candidate even within his own establishment and therefore that’s why regardless of whatever combination, or permutation on the part of candidates, it’s absolutely necessary that there are reforms, essential reforms that can engender free and fair elections.
BSN: Now in the last process, the opposition did not manage to maintain the unified position heading towards the election and many viewers think that that was detrimental to the cause. What assurance is there, or why should people expect a better outcome this time around?
Besigye: Well we hope that experience is the best teacher. We hope that those who thought that it was better to go it alone now know that it’s a track to nowhere. But let me once again underscore the fact that selection of candidates whether one or many is not the most critical thing. The most critical thing is to have an environment that allows free and fair election, or a credible election. And, so the coming together, the togetherness that we are looking for, is one that we worked for that to happen even before we looked at having an electoral platform and the contest in an election.
BSN: The former prime minister Mr. Mbabazi has indicated that he has aspirations to run for the presidency. It does not seem that Mr. Museveni favors this, judging by what we have been seeing in the media. Do you have any comments in general?
Besigye: Well, yes I think — two things. One, is that Mr. Mbabazi’s declaration of an intention to contest against Mr. Museveni is a welcome one. Mr. Museveni has not been contested in his party or anytime and I think everytime there is a challenge it goes a long way to expose the entrenched dictatorship that Mr. Museveni has weaved in our country. It goes a long way to expose the person of Mr. Museveni and his being averse to any kind of competition and so Mr. Mbabazi’s challenge is welcome in that sense. Having said that, I must also invite Mr. Mbabazi to now meaningfully work with all those who have been toiling to make sure that a transition to a democratic dispensation takes place and that he does not waste time trying to justify his role in the 30 years of the entrenchment of the dictatorship. It does not matter when one wakes up to the problem that we have, the huge problem that we have in the country. I think that the important thing is for him to quickly align himself with the democratic forces in the country to achieve the desired goal.
BSN: What concrete steps for example could he undertake to demonstrate this?
Besigye: Well, the concrete step I think actually he has shown already, the willingness to work with the other players in the struggle for democracy; the political parties from the opposition, civil society organizations that have been all working tirelessly to make sure that there is a transition to a more democratic; so he needs to show his willingness to cooperate. But beyond that it will also help if he indeed used his new stance to expose the filth that has made this process difficult. To show what he knows, to bring forth evidence, of what he knows that has crippled the democratization process in the past.
BSN: The United States is one of the principle supporters of the Museveni regime for many, many years. Why do you think this is the case number one, and number two, what message do you have for the White House and the State Department that you think will be beneficial to both the United States and to Uganda?
Besigye: Well, of course, the United States has always in public made the case that they are engaging Mr. Museveni to move to a more democratic dispensation and that as a partner in the international community, they have nothing much they could do beyond pointing out and criticizing the things that are not going well.
But certainly, we are disappointed that the many levers that the United States has, that could be used to create positive influence in the Ugandan situation have not been used. And we understand that the United States is largely blackmailed by Mr. Museveni because of the engagement of Mr. Museveni’s forces in the theater of folding back terrorism in our region. This is a shame because Uganda, whose forces are being used, is certainly very keen to make sure that there is no terrorism in our region. This is not an assignment of a dictator. It is an assignment that is legitimately our country’s and not Mr. Museveni’s. The resources that we apply in doing so are not Mr. Museveni’s. And certainly there is competent leadership within Uganda, and within the region, to manage even better all engagements that are necessary to rid our region of any threat of terrorism. And so, nursing a dictator in order to serve the goal of fighting terrorism would be completely the wrong strategy on the part of the United States.
BSN: Is there anything that the United States can do that would be helpful towards ensuring a free and democratic election in March?
Besigye: Well the United States should first and foremost partner with the people of Uganda and not with the regimes in Uganda. They should support processes that will lead to a strong sustainable and stable polity in Uganda and I think that would start with being very, very, clear in their expression of support for the pro-democracy forces in Uganda and demanding that the reforms that are necessary for moving the country towards a more democratic dispensation are implemented in our country.
BSN: A United states senator indicated to me that there is also a concern that Mr. Museveni fears for his personal safety and that of his family were he ever not to be in power in Uganda.
Besigye: Well that may be so because indeed if you are unjust, and if you cause other people injury, then quite obviously it’s natural that you will fear that what you did can be visited on you. But you know, Uganda would not be the first country to move from dictatorship to a more democratic dispensation and, you know, if that is your real fear on the part of Mr. Museveni certainly mechanism can be undertaken, through a process of dialogue to see how we can move the country forward and take care of some of those fears that cause him to make more mistakes.
BSN: Including some form of pardon perhaps?
Besigye: Well, that is a matter indeed that Ugandans would be I’m sure willing to engage with. I cannot talk on behalf of Ugandans on such important matters. But the starting point would be to put whatever fears each side has on the table and to engage with them transparently and openly and I’m sure an amicable solution would be found as has been done in even more intractable situations. We had a situation of apartheid South Africa, where the apartheid regime had committed even more atrocities and for a longer period, but where a constructive engagement led to a transition that made all parties win.
BSN: Any final words?
Besigye: Yeah, I think it’s important that all peace and democracy-loving people around the world appreciate that we have a difficult situation in Uganda and that we have a wonderful country where no single leader has ever handed over power peacefully to another and that this has created a lot of difficulties not only for our country but for the entire region and to know that there are people who are extremely committed and focused on making sure that this time around we have a transition to a more democratic and more sustainable polity in our country and that we need the support of everybody in getting there with as less pain and destruction as we can.