The four-time presidential candidate of the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, Dr Kizza Besigye, on Wednesday delivered an emotional speech, excusing himself from running in the 2021 presidential election.
Dr Besigye arrived at the FDC headquarters in Najjanankumbi, Kampala, at about midday to an anxious crowd of supporters who blocked him from speaking unless he declared he would pick nomination forms for the party presidential flag bearer. But Dr Besigye did not relent.
Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago tried to calm the crowd but supporters kept shouting and demanding that Dr Besigye changes his mind. He could not access the podium because the crowd had taken it over.
He remained seated and quiet until after about half an hour of Mr Lukwago pleading with the crowd to allow the FDC icon to speak.
The retired colonel revisited his 20-year struggle to take power from President Museveni and what ought to be done differently to achieve the undying aspirations.
He said elections are a futile strategy because Mr Museveni did not come to government through the vote.
Dr Besigye said his journey in politics started in 1981 when he joined the National Resistance Army/Movement armed struggle, as a medical doctor, with Mr Museveni to liberate the country.
However, when his government started deviating from the values and plans of the revolution as had been agreed upon during the war, he quit the army in 2001 to join Opposition politics.
In 2001, he contested against Mr Museveni for the presidency but as an independent candidate because by then, multiparty politics were suspended. The country was under a one-party Movement system.
“I was not supposed to be a candidate in 2001 because I had just retired from the army in October but I was nominated two days after my resignation. The 2001 election was the turning point and most violent election this country had ever held. There were no political parties, so I stood as an independent,” Dr Besigye told the crowd.
He said the elections were not free or fair, and he petitioned court to challenge the outcome.
The Opposition activist said all the five judges on the panel unanimously confirmed the election was not free and fair, but he was shocked when they declined to nullify the elections in the final judgment.
“I am sure that I won the 2001 elections and the court also confirmed that the elections were not free and fair. I was shocked that on deciding whether the election should be cancelled and repeated, three voted to uphold a sham election against two who said we repeat it,” Dr Besigye recounted.
He then fled to exile in South Africa until 2005 when he returned to contest against President Museveni for the second term.
His supporters had picked nomination forms on his behalf in his absence and he was nominated as FDC presidential flag bearer at Entebbe Airport on October 26.
Two weeks after his nomination, he was arrested, charged with rape, treason, terrorism and illegal possession of firearms.
“I was given bail, but the court was attacked by goons and I was re-arrested and taken to Luzira where I stayed for months with my bail. I was nominated [by Electoral Commission] in jail and released in January, only a few days to the general elections but still the support was tremendous,” Dr Besigye said.
He said the outcome of the election too was not credible and he ran to court again.
Dr Besigye said seven judges on the case again unanimously ruled that the election was not free and fair but they also refused to cancel it on a 4-3 majority ruling.
He said FDC decided to embark on advance preparation for the next election of 2011 because the previous two had caught them unawares and unprepared. He said they started visiting sub-counties across the country and rebuilt party structures at the grassroots.
In 2009, the FDC held a delegates conference to elect national leaders and Dr Besigye defeated his rival Maj Gen Mugisha for the party presidency.
He said they fundraised and paid nomination fees for all FDC candidates and had very strong campaigns in 2011, but strangely the results he got from the EC in the 2011 election was the lowest he had ever got in the previous elections when he had only three months to prepare and without structures.
He said they changed strategy and started Walk to Work and other various defiance campaigns to express their discontent and to push the government to hand over power peacefully.
Dr Besigye said when in 2012, he quit his position as FDC president, three years to the end of his term, Gen Muntu was elected his successor. But Dr Besigye mobilised other opposition leaders to participate in various defiance campaigns.
In 2016, he said he did not want to contest again but the party made an assessment that there was a greater danger of not contesting and he accepted to stand again to deal with it.
He said the 2016 elections too were not positive but the results declaration forms from the Opposition had showed a different outcome.
“The 2016 results declaration forms are still in our hands. We won the elections and when we demanded an audit through the Swedish agency that had agreed to do it, President Museveni chickened out after realising that we had him this time. We signed a memorandum of understanding and Mr Museveni also signed on it but all in vain,” Dr Besigye said.
“I declared myself as the president because I won the elections and I was cheated. I was charged with treason for declaring myself president which I admitted in court but to date, the final ruling has not taken place because they fear and do not want the evidence to come out,” he said.
The retired colonel said since the 2016 elections many heinous things have taken place in the country.
He cited the army attack on the Rwenzururu king’s palace in Kasese Town, change of the Constitution to remove the age limit for president which led to an attack of Parliament by security forces, among others.
He said because of all the efforts, he has invested in the struggle which had gone to waste, he decided not to participate in the 2021 elections. He said he will leave the space for other people in the party to also take over the struggle. He said he will now concentrate on Plan B, which he did not disclose.
He said he has realised no election under President Museveni can yield change of government and implored the Opposition to change their strategy.
“Please accept my humble decision that I have discussed with other people that they take Plan A which is participating in elections and leave Plan B that involves fighting, to me. This does not mean that I am going to leave the struggle. No, I cannot leave the struggle,” Dr Besigye said.
“There is no doubt Mr Museveni is illegitimate and he created a new Electoral Commission, which is also illegitimate. We are now at the crossroads where the junta are organising another election to legitimise themselves.
“I have come to realise that this country will not be free by Justice Byabakama’s Electoral Commission announcing a new winner who is not Museveni or himself coming to hand over power. Those waiting for that day should lose hope. It is our duty to make sure he (Mr Museveni) leaves whether he wants or not through fighting because he did not come to power through an election; he fought,” Dr Besigye said.
Kizza Besigye was President Yoweri Museveni’s Bushwar personal doctor but he went on to become an opposition leader and has referred to Uganda’s leader as a “dictator”.
Dr Besigye is married to Winnie Byanyima, a former MP, who is seen as intelligent and ambitious and who was once a close personal friend of Mr Museveni.
Dr Besigye and his wife have one son. He was born in the western Rukungiri District, the second child in a family of six children and the son of a policeman. In 1975, he headed to Kampala and to medical school at Makerere University.
REACTION FROM OTHER LEADERS
Asuman Basalirwa, Justice Forum president, "Contesting and not contesting in an election is a personal decision and a right. It is a stand we should all respect. We appreciate his struggle in this country’s politics but we still need him. He has sacrificed his life, career and family for this country and this is a lesson to those who want to die in power to leave the space for the people they have nurtured to take over.”
Erias Lukwago, Kampala Lord Mayor, "Loathe him, malign him but he is made of stainless steel and will forever be on the right side of history. His unequivocal decisions on plan A may have attracted a labyrinthine debate but the struggle continues under all circumstances. The call to all change-seeking forces of all different political shades is to keep our eyes on the ball and never to capitulate or get distracted by secondary issues.”
Richard Todwong, NRM deputy secretary general, "It is his decision and we have nothing to say. He must have realised that the dynamics of this country’s politics has changed.He has been telling Ugandans lies throughout all the times he has contested and lost. He is now shy because he does not have more lies to tell Ugandans and he fears loss again. It is a tactic to escape from the massive losses he has registered and nothing else.”