After losing to Democratic Party (DP)’s Sam Kutesa in the December 10, 1980 election for the Mbarara North Constituency, the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) party presidential candidate, Yoweri Museveni, went to court to challenge the election results. Kutesa is today the minister for Foreign Affairs in Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) government and MP for Mawogola Constituency. Kutesa’s daughter, Charlottte, is also married to Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, President Museveni’s son.
In early January 1981, Museveni filed a petition in the High Court in Kampala challenging the election of Kutesa.
When Saturday Monitor asked one of Museveni’s agents in the 1980 electioneering whether Museveni had truly sued Kutesa, he answered, on condition of anonymity: “Do you think Museveni had time to go to court over rigged elections?” And he added: “I think his [Museveni’s] intention was to play on the State intelligence, which was trailing him, but not go to court over rigged elections.”
The Weekly Topic of January 9, 1980, reported about Museveni seeking court redress. The paper wrote: “UPM leader Yoweri Museveni has filed a petition in the High Court challenging DP candidate Sam Kutesa’s election to parliament. The petition was filed on Museveni’s behalf by his lawyers Hunter and Greig.”
In his petition, Museveni listed 10 grounds for suing Kutesa. He alleged a number of irregularities. He claimed some registered voters did not appear on the voters’ registers and that the registers were not displayed for inspection as required by law. The paper further wrote: “Museveni also complains that the demarcation of his constituency was made after the constituencies had been gazetted and that in some cases, two or more people voted with the same card. He alleges that there were cases of presiding officers coaching voters and even entering the voting chambers to suggest to them how to vote. Museveni further complains that in some places, the ballot boxes were not sealed, while in others the party symbols were displayed”.
Apollo Mabati, a former Front for National Salvation (Fronasa) fighter and activist, and currently the national chairman for Fronasa veterans and also the chairman of Kiruhura District Veterans League, says he rode a bicycle from Mbarara Town to Ruhengeri Field Station near Sanga, Mbarara North Constituency to vote Museveni.
It was agreed that Fronasa would give security to UPM candidates. Perhaps the reason UPM candidates were not intimidated and persecuted as was with the DP candidates during electioneering. Mabati recalls that “when campaigns started, Fred Gisa Rwigyema (RIP), who was the overall head of security for Fronasa, assigned escorts to UPM candidates (although they did not have guns or military uniform).
“From Kabamba barracks, Rwigyema assigned me on the security team of UPM candidate, Fred Kamugyira, who was contesting for Mbarara Central Constituency.”
As candidates traversed Ankole sub-region, Mabati claims he saw the worst of political gerrymandering. And the architect, he alleges, was none other than Kosea Kikira, the chairman of the Electoral Commission.
“From day one to the voting day, his [Museveni’s Mbarara North] Constituency was either divided, sub-divided or villages that were predominantly Catholics added onto it. This was done because Catholics were then known to be DP supporters, who would therefore vote Kutesa, although he was a protestant,” Mabati says: “All this was done by the chairman of the Electoral Commission, with orders from UPC supporters in [Paulo] Muwanga’s government.
Kikira (RIP) from Rukungiri District, was uncle to Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye.
Asked if Museveni would go to Parliament if he had won the elections, Mabati answers: “To do what? Did [Moses] Kigongo, who won in Kasese, go to Parliament? It was not worth it.”
Did Museveni want to be MP?
So why didn’t Museveni pursue the court case? Why did he prefer the bush to the (Courts of law) for justice? From his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni clearly states that he was sure UPM could not take power through the ballot. On page 118, Museveni writes: “So we formed the Uganda Patriotic Movement, in spite of knowing that it would have a poor chance at the elections since issues were already polarised along sectarian lines. Moreover, as Election Day was set for 10 December 1980, we did not have much time to make adequate preparations”. The President further indicates that their (UPM) participation in the election was a mere gimmick so as not to be branded “trouble makers”. But the reality was, with or without rigged election, Museveni had already decided to go to the bush
“The moment we came to the conclusion that the old political groups had not learnt any lessons from our past history, we decided to give them enough time to make fools of themselves and then we would discipline them from our own base [war theatre]. In effect we were saying: ‘Ok. Let this farce [scam elections] run its course. Then we shall play our own music, where there is no cheating, where there is only conviction. Maneuvers are all very good for the air-conditioned room, but when it comes to mosquitoes, maneuvers don’t work very well’. If we had not allowed the farce [rigging of elections] to run its course, we would have been branded troublemakers,” Museveni further writes in his book.
Therefore, the election fraud was only the obvious excuse for Museveni and others were waiting for before they picked arms to engage the government in war rather than go to the courts of law.
However, Museveni had earlier on June 30, 1980, while addressing a rally at Busoga Freedom Square, warned: “The gun should be an instrument of politics, but it should not command politics,” The Uganda Times, July 1, 1980, reported.
So why did Museveni choose to use the gun to command politics? In his assessment of the possibility of victory in 1980 election, writing in his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, on page 117, Museveni writes: “So it was clear that two scenarios were emerging. One was that the UPC would rig the elections and claim victory. They would be in a position to sustain that claim with the support of the armed groups under their influence. The possibility was that DP, reinforced by the many people who had been disenchanted with the UPC over the years, could win the elections, but they would have to contend with the real possibility of a military coup.” This clearly shows that Museveni was all aware of the power of the gun in leading Uganda.
Had Museveni been plotting for a coup?
Since 1979, after the fall of Idi Amin, there were press-reported rumours that Museveni could have been contemplating or plotting a coup. Perhaps the reason president Godfrey Binaisa, during a Cabinet reshuffle, moved Museveni from deputy Minister of Defence to Minister of Regional Co-operation.
Although Museveni had denied it in the early 1980s at a press conference, in his Sowing The Mustard Seed, published in 1997, he could not hide it. On page 117, while writing about his plan to form a government at the time, he said: “We had two alternatives. One was to stay out of the elections altogether and consolidate our presence in the armed forces, or we could bide our time, knowing full well that the politicians would fail, and when our position was strong enough, we could use our military strength [military coup] to get rid of the whole lot of them.”
He adds: “… my own support had been for the UNLF, and since it had now disintegrated, I wanted to keep out of politics and stay in the army, waiting for the politicians to fail, as they were bound to do [and have the excuse for staging a coup].”
Early shopping for guns
While it would seem that a coup was the first choice to help him take over government, waging a war seemed the second option of transit to power. Otherwise, if he was sure of election victory, why would Museveni go shopping for guns during electioneering?
“At that stage, some of the Fronasa fighters such as Sam Katabarwa, Sam Magara and Kahinda Otafiire, came to me and suggested that we should hide some guns so that if the UPC were to play tricks on us, we could fall back on those arms to continue the struggle. Much to their disappointment, I rejected this advice and told them to hand in every gun… as a consequence of this decision, we did not have any arms, apart from the 30 or so rifles, which my bodyguards carried quite openly,” Museveni further reveals in his book.
On page 121, he admits: “We did not immediately go to the bush because there was the possibility of getting a consignment of arms from outside the country to start us off. The arms did not, however, materialise.” He adds on the following page: “…the struggle was therefore, held up by two factors: the anticipation of an arms consignment from outside the country, and selecting a suitable target to attack within Uganda so as to get the arms that way.”
It is neither clear from which country the said arms were to be imported nor who had helped procure them. Nevertheless, the Uganda Times of August 22, 1980, reported that Museveni had just returned from a trip in Iraq.
“…The UPM interim chairman also made another clarification about the Kiryandongo incident [his escort accidentally shot a UPM supporter dead in July] as reported in the press while he was aware in Iraq.”
On December 21, 1981, president-elect, Milton Obote, while making a speech on the prorogation of the Parliament to mark the first year Parliamentary session after 10 years of military rule, said of the National Resistance Army rebel leader Museveni, as quoted in the Uganda Times of December 22, 1981: “I am sure that members [MPs] know that soon after the liberation, in two successive UNLF administrations, one man, Yoweri Museveni, was the Minister of Defence.