35 years of Museveni controversial reign and counting…

Friday, January 15th, 2021 00:00 |
Uganda electoral commission officials count ballot papers last evening. Photo/AFP

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is seeking re-election, took power at the head of a bush army in 1986 and has ruled ever since, making him one of the world’s longest-serving leaders. 

As a young rebel leader, Museveni helped topple dictator Idi Amin in 1979, before retreating to the bush to wage a guerrilla war against his repressive successor, Milton Obote.

Shortly after ousting the government and taking power in 1986, Museveni declared: “The problem of Africa in general, and Uganda in particular, is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power.”

Museveni received early applause for returning some stability and prosperity to Uganda, which after years of coups, violent tyrants and civil war was among the world’s poorest countries.

He was returned to office in 1996 in the country’s first direct presidential election since independence from Britain in 1962.

Uganda’s economy grew rapidly in the 90s as Museveni undertook sweeping reforms, pleasing foreign donors and financial lenders keen to sponsor a burgeoning African success story.

Museveni’s early successes combating the HIV/Aids epidemic and reducing poverty burnish this image in the West as a modern African leader committed to good governance.

But his moral standing took a particular hit when Uganda and Rwanda invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) twice in the late 90s. 

Both armies were later charged in The Hague with looting Congo’s resources, killing and torturing civilians and using child soldiers.

Museveni would also be accused of supporting rebels in the region -- an allegation that would resurface time and time again during his long tenure.

In 2001, Museveni defeated his main opposition rival Kizza Besigye at the ballot box, and commits to standing down at the next election. 

But instead, he changed the constitution in 2005 to do away with presidential term limits.

The following year -- his 20th in power -- he again floored Besigye in a vote marred by violence and irregularities.

That same year, the Lord’s Resistance Army was largely driven out of northern Uganda after a grinding and brutal 20-year insurgency -- although Ugandan troops hunt the rebel leadership in Sudan, DRC and Central African Republic for another decade.

Close friend

Museveni pleased Washington -- a close friend, which had provided Uganda billions in foreign aid -- by sending troops to serve under the US in Iraq and to Somalia, where they formed the backbone of an African Union mission to confront Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists Al Shabaab.

In 2010, the UN accused Ugandan troops of war crimes in eastern Congo. Uganda then threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers from Somalia, South Sudan, Darfur, Ivory Coast and East Timor -- a trump card it would use again in future when accused of further meddling in DRC.

Museveni won a fourth term in 2011 over Besigye, who again decried the vote as a sham. Not long after, security forces are deployed to violently suppress major street protests as food and fuel prices soar and the economy teeters.

Ugandan troops fought alongside South Sudan’s forces as the new country descended into civil war in 2013. 

At home, the crackdown on critics intensifies, with radio stations taken off air and newspapers raided for airing suggestions Museveni is grooming his son for succession.

In 2014, Museveni signed  a controversial anti-gay bill into law, drawing resounding criticism from around the globe, and attracting US sanctions and a freeze on EU donor funds.

“I am not power-hungry, but mission-hungry” Museveni said in 2015, describing the economic transformation of Uganda as his only purpose, and vowing to return to cattle-keeping should he lose the election the following year.

But he won that, too, and proceeded in 2017 to change the constitution once more. This time he removed age limits for presidential candidates, clearing his path to run for a sixth term in 2021. - BBC

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