What do you make of this cat and mouse games between you and the State?
I fully understand it from its depth because the NRM regime is really now in a siege mentality. It is and may be rightly so, feeling it is surrounded by enemies because the citizens have turned against it and the only way to maintain power is to project force to cause fear for everyone to submit by feeling if you don’t do so there will be trouble for you.
In the campaign we ended, we made it clear ours was going to be a defiance campaign which had two main objectives.
The first was to empower our citizens with information that raises their confidence as citizens and makes them aware that unless they regain their power in the country, their problems won’t go away and as long as a small clique monopolises power they will also monopolise use of national resources and therefore the poverty, poor services and unemployment won’t go away.
The second objective was to give them tools to organise and defy the injustice, create leadership and networks that can resist the injustice and defy it and I think the regime realised how potent that campaign was because in the short span of three months the whole country was up and active and involved and contributing money and other resources to liberate themselves.
Are some of these things such as Power 10 and the defiance campaign not mere high sounding proclamations and empty slogans? Are they not paper tigers?
Your first question was the in and out of cells situation and how I see it ending. Well, if the defiance campaign wasn’t successful then I would be a free person; they wouldn’t be scared at all.
Of course we had a short span of three months, we could only do so much but the little we did had a profound effect so they are worried now that if we drive it a notch higher they will no longer be able to maintain power.
The argument of the NRM is that it was elected, never mind the anomalies, by at least 60 per cent of registered voters and they have a constitutional duty to ensure law and order. You have vowed to make Uganda ungovernable and defy the State and that is why they are putting you to order for the greater good of peace in society
But how would I achieve that as a person? In fact, it is shameful that it is Mr Museveni and his regime making such arguments. Museveni took to the bush and used guns that killed people because he believed that an election was rigged. He didn’t test it anywhere.
Possibly the courts at the time couldn’t be a fall-back. Today, again notwithstanding your reservations, the courts are functional at least better than 1980
Of course there were courts at the time. He didn’t test his belief that the election was rigged, he went to the bush and eventually the war was won, the winning of the war vindicated his belief that the election was rigged because if there was no popular support for the war it wouldn’t have been won.
But in our case this regime has been in power for 30 years, we have more than 80 per cent unemployment of youth, healthcare in total decay as we exposed it in elections and they had to guard so more filth is not thrown into the public eye. So the source of popular discontent is not unknown.
If Museveni had won with 60 per cent, you would have had somewhere people celebrating but as soon as Badru Kiggundu (EC chairperson) announced (results) an aura of mourning descended on the country.
The Constitution of Uganda deliberately envisaged that what the EC announces may not be true so it provided a mechanism of going to court. From the very day after elections I have been a prisoner and it is the candidate not the party that can petition. At any rate he has the responsibility of rallying the resources for the campaign and so on. The candidate would be having his agents everywhere.
Let me come in right there. You claimed you couldn’t petition the Supreme Court because the State frustrated you. What was the extent of this frustration?
It was comprehensive.
Can you unpack it for the reader?
Not only was I incarcerated, our head office was invaded and taken over for three weeks, the up country offices too were invaded, more than 300 leaders and agents were arrested in that time. You saw what happened to the petitioner who eventually went to court, Mr Amama Mbabazi, his lawyers’ offices were broken into, witnesses interfered with.
That is the situation we are encumbered with and why Mr Museveni cannot claim to be a conclusive winner of the election because you become conclusively elected if at the very least the constitutional processes have been exhausted.
That was exhausted when Mr Mbabazi, with all the issues you have highlighted, challenged the election in the highest court in the land and his case fell flat. The constitutional import of that is that Mr Museveni became conclusively elected.
But as I have told you in our case we weren’t afforded the opportunity to even consider going there.
You chastised the Supreme Court throughout your campaign, blew hot and cold how you will never return to their lordships having lost the 2001 and 2006 petitions and now people are starting to compare your contradictions to the man you oppose. Why the change of mind?
You see I was very clear it was a defiance campaign that means we shall resist the injustice and override it. We knew there is a partisan and biased EC but we leave it no room to announce another person if we are sufficiently organised.
What happened in Kasese is a case in a point, the reason the people there are in trouble is because everything was tried to rig but these people through defiance overwhelmed all this. They stayed at the tally centre for three days before they announced the winner, they shot and killed someone, they just pulled the body, buried and others stayed.
So even when institutions are clearly unfair you can win when there is such overwhelming power of right on your side.
So the court system has three main problems, first the time frame within which court processes are carried out. Ten days to file a petition that satisfies the substantiality test. By comparison, an MP has a month to gather evidence for a petition and a presidential candidate 10 days to cover the country gathering evidence and it must be ruled on in 30 days including time within which the other people respond to that evidence.
So in effect the court has about 10 days to hear the petition. Court is not supposed to conduct an election petition as a trial, it is an inquiry, so one would have expected that according to the mandate of the court they would be moved to investigate what happened, they don’t have the time to do so that is why a recount can’t be carried out.
The second weakness is the standard of proof that I have talked about and the third is the impartiality of the court because like in this case with nine justices all were made judges by Mr Museveni.
In 2006 the same court with all the pressure from the regime came close to allowing your petition in a hair thin margin of 4:3. Justices Tsekoko, Oder and Kanyeihamba held that the election be annulled, are you being fair to the court?
Well, he didn’t appoint Tsekoko and Oder, they were already judges.
But Prof George Kanyeihamba had been a minister and strong NRM cadre so it is not entirely true that serving Museveni strips a judge of their independence.
Kanyeihamba is the odd man out.
You know that even lower courts such as the High Court have acquitted you in cases attracting a maximum of a death sentence and those judges are appointed by and in the same system. They could have as well been manipulated to secure you a place in the jail.
But you see now the source of impartiality is that all the nine were made judges by Mr Museveni, many of them were NRM cadres including the Chief Justice, the others were ministers and in the NRM secretariat so inherently one would at the very minimum consider their impartiality suspect but if you have amassed overwhelming evidence because you are going to present it in the face of the country one would consider the court option. Again an act of defiance; throw everything in their face and see what they do with it so the court is itself put on trial and exposed just like we have done with EC.
You claim you won the election and Mr Museveni lost. What is your basis and by what percentage did he lose to you?
First in this election there were three types of results and we have had a scientific analysis, there is a report, on these three types.
One type is where there was no election, people just ticked every ballot supplied to them and where our agents weren’t allowed to be. That forgery can be proven both scientifically and in terms of witnesses.
Then there are others where there was manipulation of results, may be I have got 170 votes, Mr Museveni 60, and in the results published I have got 150 votes and Museveni 80. The stealing was subtle so my margin is reduced. We have evidence of that.
The third is the ones that remained as they were and again one can prove they weren’t interfered with. So based on these results if you remove the ones where there was outright tampering of results and leave even those where there is incremental manipulation of results you find that we end at 52 per cent of the vote based at least on the results we have.
And Mr Museveni?
Museveni I think at 44 per cent or 45 per cent and in this we are not even factoring the disenfranchisement in Jinja, Wakiso and Kampala where we are strong. We are not factoring in results not added onto the tally.
In Rukungiri they only added two polling stations so all this can convince anybody that we won the election. At the very minimum there is need to audit that election if you don’t believe we won, if you are confident of your win why not get added legitimacy through an audit?
Well the dismissal of Mbabazi’s petition solved that puzzle for Museveni. Even then, what is the legal basis of this international audit? Under what law are you proceeding?
The legal framework is the Constitution of Uganda which demands for free and fair elections.
The Constitution doesn’t stop there. It goes ahead to open the window of the Supreme Court if the election wasn’t free and fair, that option was exhausted!
This, therefore, is not a normal situation. If the constitutional processes have been violated because my arrest was a violation of the Constitution and the electoral process, so politically there can be an agreement arrived at by the parties which can be given legal effect to establish an audit.
The bold writing on the wall is that Museveni won’t accompany you to that route. How then will you solve this equation?
Well, quiet clearly you are right because he knows the audit would expose him and he may not wilfully submit to it but under pressure he could and I think that should be mounted by us citizens first and friends of Uganda in the region, sub-region and if he refuses appropriate sanctions be put in place for such a regime.
Are you generating action at the international front in that direction?
We have both externally and domestically.
Your freedom is at the call and beckon of the regime. If this situation continues or worsens, is exile an option as happened after the 2001 election when your life was in danger?
No. It is not because I have been there before and when I came back in 2006, I returned fully determined to face whatever challenges there are here and work through them. I actually knew well before I came I was going to be prosecuted on all the cases; it didn’t stop me from coming so nothing will take me out of this struggle short of death.
The tone with which you state that naturally tickles in the mind a reflection of the struggle you have endured since 2001 and begs the question, what keeps this man going, what is his fuel?
(Laughs) The fuel I think is the will to get where we are going because you see that determination I had in 1982 when I left my profession in Nairobi and came to the bush and the purpose I did so, going to the bush meant I was ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. No one knew who would come out alive.
So I prepared myself for that situation and that is the same situation we haven’t exited where citizens have no power and rights, where the handful monopolise power, abuse national resources and violate rights. As opposed to what I felt in 1982 I also have the burden of those who have perished in this struggle, I have a sense of burden to ensure what they died for is realised.
What do the next five years portend in your judgment?
It’s going to be a tricky time for the country. A lot will depend on what and how the regime responds to citizen demands. There is no doubt that discontent will continue mounting so if it feels the response is to mount repression then we will end up in a very unstable and possibly violent situation and this is why I have been very unhappy with people who are moving around campaigning for peace.
If you want to campaign for peace, campaign for justice, because you will never have sustainable peace without justice, but you see people willing to cover the injustice and say let’s talk about peace.
To be fair to them, peace and justice can be achieved through dialogue among the key actors in the peace-justice equation
No problem! I have no problem with dialogue.
But you have set a string of conditions
The only condition is that it must be meaningful and just.
What would constitute the content of that meaningful talk?
What I am saying is; one there should be a clear agenda, before there was a tendency to call people and no one knows the agenda. On that agenda the election of 2016 must be prominent and a whole range of issues.
Can you break down that whole range of issues because I think the content of that dialogue is the heart of the matter?
Electoral reforms, the state of national institutions, how they become more independent and provide services, how to manage transition.
Your comrade Gen David Sejusa will read this interview and I am tempted to think, from my previous interview with him, he will laugh at your view of reforms because his school of thought is that dictatorships are not reformed but dismantled. Is this a thought line you associate with?
Yes, but it is the process of dismantling it….(pause)…because you see the dictatorship is simply the locus of power. If power is in a few hands then that is dictatorship. If it is in the population you have a democracy so the process of changing power from a few to the population is about having a transition.
That doesn’t have to be violent or through a revolution. You can manage the transfer of that power by having a dialogue about how it is done. So dialogue should be about how to end dictatorship, it can be done if there is will power to do that.
In Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo lost an election, stuck to power and was booted through people power. Surely if in the last four elections Museveni has been cheating his way to State House the people would have revolted as Ivorians did.
People make a grave mistake by attempting to compare two political situations. Every polity is absolutely unique and propelled by different dynamics, yes one may pick a lesson from other countries but they all have a unique environment, cultures and respond along different paths.
The general lesson one learns is that maintaining power by force is not sustainable. Whether you like it or not, it will change and I think the NRM regime has narrowed to the extent that it can no longer sustain it.
Part of its crisis is that one of the things demonstrated in the last election where soldiers voted they prominently lost so it means that the sources of its power are narrowing to a level that it can collapse anytime, but not without the citizens’ effort. So yes to the extent that citizens organise themselves and assert their will is the extent the change will come sooner.
FDC lost quite big names in the parliamentary election as NRM gained both at local government and August House. How then can you claim to have won when you hardly raised 50 MPs? How would you even run a government where 80 per cent of Parliament is Opposition?
Again, when an election is not free and fair it is self-defeating to talk about the outcomes. For MP elections even some of the elections that weren’t as rigged as this one you know the number of petitions filed and succeed. So I think it is not helpful to use that we got these chairmen when the main election was rigged.
You should also understand one of the main drivers in this election has been money and shortly before the elections the law was changed to increase the fees for nomination to Shs3 million which is what many Opposition MPs would use in campaigns and win. So that left them with nothing to move around and I know many of our MPs who had no capacity at all to campaign.
So there are many factors other than rigging outright that influenced the outcome. In local government there was the effect of people discouraged after rigging of the presidential election. Some polling stations registered 20 per cent voter turnout.
Since 2001, your consistent assertion has been that elections are not free and fair...
It is not just my assertion but of court in spite of the problems I have told you. So it not fair for you to say I have insisted.
Fair enough. The question then is why consistently take part in a race where your opponent has handcuffed you and not devote more energy to first coming to agreeable rules or, out of principle simply say the race cannot be fair until those rules are sorted?
Because victory is not the only outcome in an election, we are looking at empowering citizens. That is a critical element of transferring power dynamics in the country. In ordinary times like now we are not even allowed to hold meetings. An election is an opportunity to do that.
Do you feel frustrated?
Feeling frustrated is a natural feeling but I can’t say I feel frustrated to the level of giving up. First I understand how dictatorship works and how it undermines efforts to dislodge it, so I am not surprised when some people we work with are bought and start frustrating what they fought for. Those are expected.
If the age limit is lifted and Mr Museveni returns to the ballot paper in 2021, shall we see you on the same paper?
For all I care, Mr Museveni can declare himself a life President. It doesn’t change anything. We had a life president before but he didn’t end his life as a president, so I am not God to know what happens tomorrow.
I will continue doing what I think needs to be done to have the change the country needs and deserves and I hope by the grace of God that will happen sooner.
No doubt you have exhibited extraordinary resilience and admirable charisma, but you are not growing younger. You could retire and, God forbid, pass on. The charge against Mr Museveni is that he seems to have no successor in sight. Have you groomed someone to take on the baton from you?
As I have pointed out the task at hand is not looking for a leader for the country. There are so many people with competence to manage the country. The whole range of our Executive is full of leaders who can run the country, a country doesn’t really take that much to run, the reason our focus is on institutions. Once you have strong and credible institutions anyone can run the country and even the country can run without a leader.
There is a lot of mileage put on who can run the country, many can run the country, the task at hand is who can sacrifice, not who can run and those who can sacrifice to fight the dictatorship and cause the type of change are regrettably few. I have pointed out the elite, there is need to have people step forward.
You have voiced your frustration with the elite but is it possible that they don’t see the picture as grim as you paint it?
Then I don’t know what motivates them to be complacent about the situation but you know I consider that anyone who doesn’t see a serious problem, I consider them not to be serious.
Meanwhile, it is said you are a rich man and every campaign season is an opportunity to fatten your bank account, some people say you are a campaignpreneur (sic). How rich are you?
You see every dictatorship again employs propaganda as a tool of control that is why media freedoms are curtailed. That is why government invests heavily in publicly controlled media for propaganda.
My assets are declared to government because I was a leader and a leader under the Leadership Code was required to submit to government every year my assets. I have also been campaigning that those declarations must be available to the public and not secret documents by the IGG. So I have absolutely nothing to hide.
I don’t own any form of property in Kampala city, not a kiosk, not a residential place, not a hotel, not a petrol station. I only operate a Total petrol station. It is one! I am an operator not an owner, I pay rent.
And outside Kampala or Uganda?
Well, in Rukungiri I have some animals, I own a small petrol station which is mine, I have a small commercial building and that is it. But I am happy and comfortable; I don’t need much more than that. I also have homes, here in Kasangati in Wakiso District and in Rukungiri. So at least I don’t pay rent where I sleep. I am comfortable, I am not complaining.
What is your last word?
I think our people must remain firm and continue struggling in the knowledge that change will come from our actions, our people should certainly not look outside Uganda for solutions.
I hear people talk about what foreigners think; it is immaterial at the moment, it may help but not be determinant of anything that happens here. So our people must be engaged fully with the kind of determination that the challenge we face demands and together we can achieve that.
People shouldn’t shy away from doing whatever they can, some think if they do something small it is inconsequential.
Do what you can; it adds up, the worst crime is to do nothing! Do what you can; use what you have, wherever you are.
View on Uganda’s court systems
“So the court system has three main problems, first the time frame within which court processes are carried out. Ten days to file a petition that satisfies the substantiality test.
By comparison, an MP has a month to gather evidence for a petition and a presidential candidate 10 days to cover the country gathering evidence and it must be ruled on in 30 days including time within which the other people respond to that evidence.So in effect the court has about 10 days to hear the petition. Court is not supposed to conduct an election petition as a trial, it is an inquiry, so one would have expected that according to the mandate of the court they would be moved to investigate what happened, they don’t have the time to do so that is why a recount can’t be carried out.
The second weakness is the standard of proof that I have talked about and the third is the impartiality of the court because like in this case with nine justices all were made judges by Mr Museveni,” Dr Kizza Besigye