I'm not president of Uganda because of America - Museveni
What you need to know:
- President Museveni was last week in Washington D.C to attend the three-day US-Africa Leaders’ Summit convened by President Joe Biden
President Museveni was last week in Washington D.C to attend the three-day US-Africa Leaders’ Summit convened by President Joe Biden. Journalist Remmy Bahati caught up with Mr Museveni on the sidelines of the summit and asked him about allegations of worsening rights violations by Uganda’s security forces, what the President would like Ugandans to remember him for when gone, and First Son Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s continued discussion of polarising political and security matters on social media despite the father’s caution. Below is a slightly edited version of the interview.
How does Uganda benefit from this US-Africa Leaders’ Summit?
We have four aims; one is to get more investments, two to get to consolidate trade access, three to get tourists, and four to work with others on security issues against terrorism and crime.
What are some of the deals you’ve managed to sign for Uganda while here in the United States?
We advanced our work on the oil refinery [where potential investors announced a possible Final Investment Decision by next year]. Then we have got a lot of other projects for agriculture.
Joe Biden is the seventh American President since you captured power in 1986, yet Uganda has not witnessed any peaceful transfer of power since independence. How does that make you feel, Mr President?
Well, the United States was founded in 1623. Do you know that? (The then United Colonies of America gained independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776 and following the Declaration of Independence, Congress renamed the country United States of America - Editor).
And America did not get even [get to have elections until [1789 – Editor]. How many years are that? For us we are having elections every five years. United States is a country which was already consolidated by the time they started democracy. For us, we have consolidated Uganda together with democracy. The Americans built United States for more than 100 years without democracy, without elections. For us we have been able to rebuild and consolidate Uganda with democracy from the very beginning. So, countries have different histories. By the time they went for the four years or the system they have now, it was much later. In fact, they did not adopt the two terms until 1945 [the two-term presidential limit was introduced through the 22nd Amendment of the US Constitution in 1951 – Editor]. There was a leader called [Franklin] Roosevelt who served [four] terms [prompting the amendment]. So, countries have got different histories. Ours is different, theirs is different.
You are one of the longest-serving leaders in Africa today and because of that, critics and other western governments, like you said in 1986, argue that leaders who overstay in power impede democracy, are corrupt and stifle civil liberties. Do we see you talking about transition or are you grooming someone?
Uganda’s statistics are clear. The economy of Uganda has [on average] been growing at 6.5 percent per annum for the last 36 years. I want you to get me other countries which can compare with that. Then the population has increased from 15 million to 43 million now. Education has gone up, infrastructure [is better]. So, just look at the [development indices] figures to see … I’m in government supported by the people (voters) every five years.
So, do you want to say… (President interrupts)
It’s not what I want, it’s what the country needs.
The US indicated that last year’s election that you won was marred with violence and vote rigging, and declined to acknowledge your victory or congratulate you. How do you respond to that?
Well, I am not a President of Uganda because of the Americans or because of anybody else, but because of the people of Uganda [and] according to the Constitution of Uganda. This is what determines who governs Uganda, not Americans, not [any] foreigners. What they think is all up to them. If they are misinformed, that’s their problem. But for us we are following our Constitution.
Human rights and democracy are topical discussion issues at the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit. Back home in Uganda, there are alleged killings and abductions of civilians, many languishing in detention, courtesy of state security forces. Do you know of these transgressions?
There were arrests and all of the people who were arrested were accounted for. There were some mistakes [of] mishandling people while they were being arrested, but we corrected those mistakes. We showed the security forces what to do in writing. So, there is nothing that can go wrong and we don’t know and then we don’t correct.
Your Excellency, there are a number of families in Uganda today seeking justice and some of them accuse your government of abducting and torturing their members, some were killed during the 2021 elections and no justice for them to-date.
I am not aware. There are 54 people who died during the riots of November 18-19  like the [riots] you had here in Washington D.C [when Donald Trump supporters invaded Capitol Hill]. Democracy doesn’t mean that you organise riots. Now those riots of the 18th and 19th where these people wanted to destroy Kampala [prompted], security forces intervened and defeated that insurrection … and in the process some 54 people died. They have analysed [street security Closed-Circuit Television or CCTV] camera [footages] and everything was captured. There were some mistakes where people were hit with stray bullets different from the rioters who were shot when they were attacking other people.
That report is there. You can come and read it and see for yourself. [The report of the police investigations into the killings which this publication serialised found that only 13 of the 54 civilians that security forces suppressing the November 2020 killed, had anything to do with the protests. President Museveni himself later asked for an explanation about the original targets of the stray bullet, which is pending - Editor].
The stray bullets were by security who were panicking, but all those are being trained and guided on what to do. This [protest triggered by the arrest then of National Unity Platform party presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine] was also a surprise [to security forces] because Uganda [had been] very peaceful. So, some of these policemen panicked and fired aimlessly because people were throwing stones. But those mistakes are being corrected.
Members of Parliament Muhammad Ssegirinya and Allan Ssewanyana who were elected by the people of Uganda to represent them in Parliament have been on remand for more than a year. What do you say about that?
Those people have been arrested legally, they come to court quite often, and court is the one which sends them back to jail. The charges they are facing are serious charges to do with killing people. People were killed, 28 of them, in Masaka City were cut with machetes. You, my granddaughter, the human rights fighter, you should also fight for those 28 wananchi killed. Why don’t you go to Masaka and talk to the families of those who were cut dead?
I understand that they deserve justice, but how about speeding up trial of the legislators?
That’s for the court. They (suspects) try to get bail, the prosecutors oppose it because bail for a serious [offence] is a joke. [Murder] is a very serious crime.
Let’s talk about your son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba. He is emerging into politics with extreme positions of threatening to “crush” people, including journalists he calls “terrorists”. Recently, you stopped him from discussing politics, security and foreign affairs on social media, yet he is continuing with even more controversial commentary. What has failed you, Mr President? Are you complicit or do you endorse your son’s character?
Well, I am not aware of those threats. What we discussed with Muhoozi was tweeting. He can tweet on non-controversial subjects like sports. We guided on that one. We discussed that.
He recently said journalists are terrorists, which is a threat to democracy. Should we expect you will rein in him?
Well, it depends. Some journalists can be terrorists for sure. Why not? Like al Qaeda has journalists who support them.
In journalism, we don’t support terrorism.
But some do. They send videos to al Qaeda. So, being a journalist does not make you immune from being a wrongdoer.
You have been President for 36 years and your efforts are recognised by a big section of Ugandans while some oppose you. What would you want to be remembered for?
First of all, for having worked with the [ruling] National Resistance Movement (NRM) party and the people to save Uganda from a failed state. You’ve heard of failed states? Failed states where there is no security, there is no business, the economy has collapsed? Uganda is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world. For security, there is chaos in many parts of the world, but Uganda is secure. I don’t care how people remember me, but I am happy about that.
Recently you said in a local dialect that Uganda “etandise okuwooma (has become sweet/tasty to eat). Are you running in the next election?
Have you heard of something called a (political) party?
The NRM party. These are the ones who decide what to do, who runs and why. So, you wait for the party or join. You ask them (party members) how they plan to handle elections next time. You talk to them, ask them: who do you think should contest for the NRM next time because they are the ones who decide … through their structures.
READ: The crisis inside NRM
You are the Commander-in-Chief of Uganda. Your son, Muhoozi, a serving military general, has expressed interest in taking power. Other serving UPDF officers have openly endorsed you. These pronouncements are against military code of conduct and Uganda’s Constitution that delineates UPDF as non-partisan national force. Are you taking action against these errant officers?
These are small matters. Not every matter needs action or punishment. No. Like there was a big rally [youth meeting] at Kololo [Ceremonial Grounds] where I was invited to talk about wealth creation and some of the people were talking about these elections of 2026.
I guided them [that] the time for the election will come, for now concentrate on wealth creation. We don’t have to arrest people. We guide. [This new view of President Museveni contrasts with previous take under with now Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde, among other officers, was arraigned in court for making political statement on a radio talk show – Editor]. We have many issues, let’s concentrate on them. Time for the election will come.