Mohammad Vall: President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, welcome to this show and thank you for talking to Al-Jazeera.
Museveni: Thank you.
Vall: You are visiting this side of the Middle East; the Arab side has not been a pattern of your foreign policy. What does it mean now?
Museveni: No, actually right from the anti-colonial struggle, we were working with Arabs; Gamal AbdulNasser, King Muhammad V of Morocco, Ben Bella, Bomi Dien, later on Muammar Gaddafi; these are the Arabs we were dealing with in the anti-colonial struggle.
Now we had a link with Saudi Arabia through the people who go to Mecca but after our struggles, we heard about Dubai. Dubai had become like an entry port.
Vall: Since 1994, Mr President you have shifted to the Israeli side and you have strengthened your ties with the Israelis and you have economic and political ties with the Israelis rather than with the Arabs.
Museveni: That is not true. Yes, it is true we established diplomatic relations with Israel but we did not abandon our position…
Vall: In terms of economic cooperation…
Museveni: Not only economic cooperation… even diplomatic cooperation. Our stand is principled because originally, we did not have relations with Israel because Israel refused to recognise the rights of the Palestinians.
However, when there was agreement on the two state solution, then we started working with Israel. We don’t have much economic dealings with Israel; we have dealings on the security side; military equipment and things like that but we buy, we pay … it is not aid or anything.
Vall: For the time being, could you tell us something about your present visit and what type of cooperation you are seeking during this visit?
Museveni: Now Gulf Airlines started coming to Uganda; Gulf Air, Qatar Airways and some other airlines I have forgotten their names - there are a number of them, they come, so building on that, then we started getting contacts with the Qataris; that is how I came here.
So it is not a new shift, it is maybe addition to what we were doing already.
Vall: Before leaving the Middle East last July when Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited you in Entebbe and you were speaking in Entebbe, you used the word Palestine several times instead of Israel and according to the news and the reports, he was very angry. Did you mean it? And was there a message in it to the Israelis and the Arabs?
Museveni: You see for us as far as this part of the world is concerned, we are guided by the Bible, we read the Bible.
I am not the one who wrote the Bible. It was written I don’t know by the people who wrote it. So all you people are mentioned in there.
Vall: So you stand by your word that is Palestine not Israel.
Museveni: Yes. The Philistines are mentioned, Juda is mentioned, Israel is mentioned, you are all there. Ibrahim is mentioned.
Vall: So you stand by it?
Museveni: Yes, of course.
Vall: It upset the Israelis.
Museveni: I don’t know. They didn’t tell me and I wouldn’t go from the facts just to please people.
Vall: When you were a rebel leader, you once said you would never have ties with Israel as long as the Palestinians are homeless. Now you have ties with Israel for about 20 years yet the Palestinians are still homeless.
Museveni: No, the point was that at that time, Israel had not recognised the Palestinians. Once they did that, then we really didn’t have any good reason because also, we don’t agree with the other extremism on the Arab side, who are saying Israel does not belong to the Middle East.
I remember when I went to Iran, I talked to those people there that that position of theirs, we could not agree because it is in the Bible. For us, we follow the Bible; Israel is there.
Philistines…people called Philistines, the man called Goliath…
Vall: So is it now Palestine or Israel?
Museveni: It is both because they were all there, it is both. Because remember David fought with Goliath; the one was a Philistine the other one was…which I suspect Philistine must have something to do with Palestine. The word sounds…
Vall: During more than three decades, there must be something that you are very proud of to boast or there must be something very concerning to you about the way you ruled Uganda.
Museveni: You mean our achievements and so on…
Museveni: You see Africa, including Uganda are very rich countries; they have got a lot of natural resources; they are ancient societies with a very old civilisation but the problem has been the organisation of the society.
The society was organised in a pre-capitalist way, traditional way…
Vall: Mr President, can we talk about the achievements you have done for Uganda in the last three decades?
Museveni: That’s what I was getting to because the issue was to transform a traditional pre-industrial society to the modern era. And I can tell you that we have achieved a lot.
We have first of all modern education; as I speak today, population of Uganda is like 40 million. More than 25 per cent of them are in school. Primary schools, secondary schools, universities through universal education. On the side of health, that is how the population has jumped from 15 million in 1986 to now 40 million.
Vall: Uganda is still one of the poorest countries in the world, Uganda still has tremendous problems of infrastructure, sanitation, health issues; all of this is still there.
Museveni: They are still there but we have moved a long way…
Vall: How much more time do you need to finish off this job as you transform Uganda
Museveni: Let’s first talk about the mileage covered; the kilometers of roads we have covered for tarmacking are now approaching 6,000 kilometers from about 800.
For the first time we have got surplus electricity. The telephones, these small phones…
Vall: Mr President these are relative figures and we can talk also about the other side, the empty side of the cup.
We still have almost a fifth of the population under the poverty line; still have as I said homelessness in Uganda, a lot of lack of sanitation and infrastructure but let’s move forward…
Museveni: Before we leave that, the people under poverty in 1990 were 56 per cent. The ones now under poverty are 19 per cent. Yes that is one fifth, but we have covered the four fifth…so if your mathematics is working well then it should help you.
Vall: I hope Uganda has done similar progress on other fronts…let’s talk about the political side, the freedom side. Human Rights Watch in its latest report criticised Uganda government’s dealings in terms of human rights; suppression of free speech, putting dissidents in jail.
We have the case of Stella Nyanzi, who is still in jail because she expressed herself and we have the opposition leader, who has been in jail several times and we have the government cracking down on opponents and preventing people from rallying freely. By law, more than five people should have the agreement of the police before they can express themselves in the state.
Museveni: Uganda is one of the most democratic countries in the world. In terms of free speech, we have something like 250 private radios, which say whatever they want.
We have so many television stations- private; I don’t know how many you have here in Qatar, private ones. I don’t know you could tell me. I only see Al-Jazeera but for us we have so many.
The empowerment of women; we got so many women compared to so many countries in leadership.
Vall: Why is Stella Nyanzi in jail just because she expressed herself?
Museveni: Well, if you are an activist and you commit an offence…because you enjoy rights, you must also respect the rights of others.
You cannot trample on the rights of others and you say it is my right to abuse other people, to insult other people, no.
Rights go with responsibilities, if you know anything about democracy.
Vall: Why was the opposition leader Kizza Besigye put in jail several times during the time of the elections?
Museveni: Because he broke some laws…
Vall: Like what?
Museveni: Because in order to have elections, you must have a regulator, the election commissioner who says now this political party, it is your time to hold the rally here, you there.
Tomorrow here; now if you don’t follow that, you will have chaos and we cannot allow chaos just because you are pretending to be a political leader; you must follow order.
Vall: More than just jail and cracking down on descent, we have even bloodshed in Uganda.
Museveni: The what?
Vall: Yes, bloodshed in Uganda.
Vall: Yes, in western Uganda, in Rwenzururu area just a few months ago, more than 100 people were killed by security forces who attacked a traditional cultural kingdom in the area saying that that place has terrorists inside it. What do you say to this; terrorists.
Museveni: That issue is in court and according to our law, when something is in court, I am not allowed to comment about it. The court will tell us whether those people were arrested for nothing or not.
Vall: We are talking about those who were killed not those who are now in court.
Museveni: Yes, even the ones who were killed; whether they were killed for no reason, we shall find out from the court because it is in the court now. We call it the principle of sub-judice because if I start saying they were wrong, they were this…giving the reasons, then I am interfering with the court process.
But what I can tell you is that since the matter is in the court, you bring all your cameras, come to the court and film what those people are saying; you will get the facts. I invite you.
Vall: But we here and the international audience of Al-Jazeera, we don’t know what happened, we are not going to be in the court room to see it. We want you, Mr President, to explain to us why you sent your troops to Kasese to kill more than 100 people.
Museveni: Because they were breaking the law, they were making…
Vall: On what manner?
Museveni: That will come in the court…
Vall: They were just guarding the palace and they didn’t even have weapons.
Museveni: First of all, the kings in Uganda, we have got many kings. They are not guarded by militias, they are guarded by the national army…
Vall: Just because he is guarded you think that is dissent?
Museveni: Well, I’m just giving you facts; kings are guarded by the national army, not by a militia. So if you say there was a militia guarding, then already you are getting yourself…
Vall: They are not armed; they just have machetes, they just wanted to protect the palace.
Museveni: Those facts will come in the court. The court is open, you are most welcome.
Vall: According to the reports we have, the king was persecuted and those people were killed because they opposed the president in the general election. Because they are not pro the ruling government.
Museveni: Not at all. They are so many…and if they opposed the president, what was the militia doing? Do political parties have militias? According to what you hear in a democracy?
Vall: If a militia is not armed, if it is not killing people, then what is the problem, Mr President?
Museveni: Well you come to court you will hear why those people were…
Vall: The man who led the assault on Kasese said, his name is Peter Elwelu; he was a brigadier in the army at the time and instead of him being now in the court, he was promoted to General and he is now the commander of the Land Forces.
If you have those people in the court, why don’t you also have those people who opened fire on your citizens alongside those people in the courts now to answer to the questions?
Museveni: That means he was doing his duty…
Vall: To kill more than 100 people…
Museveni: To deal with…
Vall: And now he was promoted
Museveni: Yes, I am the one who promoted him…
Vall: And two days ago, the US government refused…they blocked his going to Malawi to attend a conference on security because of that.
Museveni: I don’t know about the United States. Uganda is big enough for Maj Gen Elwelu to operate there; I don’t know why he is dying to go to the United States but…
Vall: He wasn’t going to the United States, he was going to Malawi and he was blocked by the Americans because they are supervising that conference; because of what he did in Kasese, so he is accused.
Museveni: Well, I am not a prefect about American actions, I am a leader of Uganda and I am telling you that Elwelu did his duty and there is now peace in that area.
Vall: So it was pacified because it was crashed.
Museveni: It was definitely justified but definitely, all this will come in the court.
Vall: Mr President, it seems Ugandans are a little bit fed up with you because we are reading a lot of reports; this facebook revolution, people trying to go to the streets even though they are prevented, they are afraid of course of the security forces but they want to do…they want to create something like the Arab spring in Uganda.
People are fed up because it is more than three decades of your leadership and term after term after term, it is only one man…. people are fed up because it is only one man leading the country and the world around Uganda has changed…all presidents around Uganda have changed but you.
Vall: Do you agree with me that there is a little bit of fatigue over your leadership?
Museveni: Have you heard of something called democracy? Have you heard of it?
Vall: I heard of it.
Museveni: Democracy means you elect the people you like. We had elections about one year ago and I got…my party got 62 per cent of the vote and in fact it would have been more if it wasn’t for quite a bit of spoilt votes so that does not show that the people of Uganda are fed up of our party because they have voted for us five times winning free competition.
So if you think that the majority of Ugandans are fed up of the NRM, then the vote doesn’t show that.
Vall: Electing you five times; does it mean that the election was fair and free and that’s not what the opposition says.
The opposition says you have been elected five times because you are in control; you are in the government and you control the military and you can easily manipulate elections.
Museveni: So why did we lose some districts in the elections?
Vall: That’s just to justify it, to make it look like a real democracy. You have to lose something.
Museveni: Oh it was arranged that we hand some districts to the opposition?
Vall: Why Mr President have you run for five times?
Museveni: Don’t you think that is ridiculous…the issues of countries are issues of destiny not mere appearance and theatre. It is not theatre it is about…
Vall: So you needed five terms to do what?
Museveni: To do what?
Vall: Yes, tell me.
Museveni: To start from zero to where we are now. To start from zero because we were at zero. We are now able to do things by ourselves.
Vall: Why in other democracies like the United States and Western Europe; why in those democracies we don’t have one man ruling for five terms because he needs to do stuff.
Museveni: That is because those countries have got a different history, but there are other countries…you talked about Israel let me give you the example of Israel.
Israel is near you here, it is a democracy. Their leaders, what they do since they created their state, they maximize their leadership resources because leadership is also a resource.
They have the old leaders like the one who died recently… Shimon Perez; they have the young ones who came later and they all compete.
Vall: Why don’t we have more than one leader in Uganda? Mr President why don’t we have more than one leader in Uganda?
Museveni: Because my party has been winning. Is that an offence to win elections?
Museveni: What are you worried about? Suppose Shimon Perez had been winning in Israel…
Vall: Oh it never happened in Western democracy.
Museveni: Well that’s their problem…
Vall: So they have a problem?
Museveni: They have a problem because they don’t have enough consensus. If we have consensus…
Vall: Or maybe they have more leaders?
Museveni: Even in Uganda we have many leaders; even in Israel they had many leaders but the parties made some mistakes and people voted against them but if my party has not made serious mistakes, why should I commit suicide and say I should kill myself because my party has not made a mistake, because my party led its people from…through liberation, it has made them through economic recovery…
Vall: Let’s go back to the philosophy behind you deciding to run for term after term; is that because you think you are the best to rule Uganda?
Museveni: Because the issues to solve are serious and it is the best…
Vall: No other man can solve them…
Museveni: No, others come and present themselves but when the population looks at them and says this party…
Vall: They are not qualified…
Museveni: Yes, according to the population, not according to me.
Vall: So what does it say about your leadership? You have been ruling this country for about 31 years and you couldn’t raise other leaders to take over after you; because you are not gonna be here forever.
What does it say about your leadership, about the education system or about the political system that no other Ugandan has been elevated during your presidency to be equally capable of leading the country.
Museveni: The other leaders are there but to maximize the leadership input; we use all our leaders-the young ones, the old ones now…
Vall: They want to come forward but they are not allowed…
Museveni: This is not about wanting; this is the whole problem; you are talking about wanting, I want it is not you wanting, it is what the situation demands.
You are trying to deal with the situation, you are not in a theatre just acting. So the leaders are there, we have a population of 40 million; we have got 130 districts, all those districts need leadership, the Parliament needs leadership, the ministries need leadership it’s not…
Vall: The country needs leadership.
Vall: One man cannot rule the country forever…
Museveni: Not forever, but…according to the people’s…as long as you have got regular elections, then you don’t have any point other than concentrating on the who rather than the what. For us, we concentrate on the what; what is to be done and it is the what that gives us the who…
Vall: Mr President, you said that the Ugandans don’t see anybody else as qualified as yourself to rule the country and now…
Museveni: When they go for the elections.
Vall: …and now after five years, you are now71 or 72 I don’t know…
Vall: In three years you will reach the age limit, and you can’t run for another term. Who is there, in the country now, sitting in the wings, waiting to be the next leader?
Museveni: The people of Uganda are there, they will select who according to the time.
Vall: According to the reports I have seen, you have demanded to be given the rights to choose the next leader who will succeed you.
Museveni: I cannot demand that because it is not me, it is the people. The people who have been electing me in spite of Al-Jazeera
Vall: Are you going to run for another term?
Museveni: We follow our constitution.
Vall: So you are not going to run for another term
Museveni: We follow our Constitution of Uganda that is what I have told you.
Vall: There are reports that you are about to change the Constitution so that it can allow you to run for another term.
Museveni: That is speculation and I don’t have time for speculation.
Vall: Mr President, how are you going to ensure that history does not remember you as a dictator but instead as a democratic president?
Museveni: A dictator who is elected five times; that must be a wonderful dictator ... a special one. Elected five times, with all his big majority, that must be a wonderful dictator.
Vall: Reports also say that you are preparing your own son who is now very highly elevated in the army, he is also your special advisor on certain issues.
Your wife is also a minister; she sits right next to you in Cabinet. Reports are that you are preparing one of these two to be the next leader of Uganda. What do you say to this?
Museveni: Why should I prepare them; it is the people of Uganda to choose what they want.
There is no way I can choose for them my wife or my son or anybody else; forget about those two.
Vall: Right now, members of your family are closer to you than anybody else. There are reports that you are now focusing on your own relatives and this is nepotism, Mr President.
Museveni: That is not nepotism. The few members of my family who are involved are involved on their own merit. My wife, against my advice, went and stood for elections and had the biggest majority in the whole country.
Vall: Because she is your wife, so it is not her quality but her relation to you that gave her the vote.
Museveni: Yes it is partly true because the population appreciate what I have done and part of my family.
It is also her quality but of course in perception they can also associate….
Vall: So maybe your son will be elected leader after you because he is your son.
Museveni: That is for them because I told you when my wife wanted to join politics I didn’t support it mainly because it is a bit strenuous.
I was concerned about her being strained, you know, running up and down but the population insisted and she was elected; big majority.
Vall: Are you afraid of this Internet revolution, something like the Arab spring? Who is TVO? Why don’t you arrest him? They are known by the intelligence people.
Museveni: They will capture him. I am not an intelligence officer.
Vall: We will talk about South Sudan. Your troops have been in South Sudan; 2014, 2015 and you have sided with a part of the government against the other; you have prolonged the civil war in South Sudan and hundreds of thousands of people were killed. You were putting more fuel to the civil war in South Sudan.
Museveni: Not at all because when the war started in South Sudan, there was a regional meeting which called for a cease-fire; nobody should continue fighting so that we get a political solution.
Now one of the factions refused and started fighting and was coming to Juba.
Vall: Is that enough excuse for you to send troops? Why did you side with Salva Kiir against Riek Machar?
Museveni: Because the one who broke the cease-fire was the other one. Because the other side was on the offensive.
If you observe cease fire, you stay in one place. He was breaking the ceasefire in order to come and attack the town…
Vall: And it is your role, a poor country, that doesn’t have enough resources for your infrastructure.
You take it upon yourself to go into another country; to fight one group against the other. What kind of policy is this?
Museveni: We the African people we have been poor, but we have been defending ourselves.
We defeated the whites even when we were poor and we are helping each other. When there is some bringing trouble like that Riek Machar fellow was doing, we stood with the regional position which was; stand still, cease fire, don’t move.
Vall: According to reports, your army has killed civilians in Somalia inside Mogadishu several times. They have caused continuation of the conflict instead of putting an end to it.
Museveni: Yes we have stopped Al-Shabaab from taking over. If you support them, then you must be very disappointed. Al-Shabaab is an extremist organization against our African culture.