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Yoweri Museveni: 30 years in power

Fred MuvunyiJanuary 29, 2016

Ugandans are marking 30 years in power of President Museveni, as he campaigns for a fourth decade at the helm. Some critics accuse him of destabilizing the Great Lakes region despite his mediation efforts.

Yoweri Museveni (Copyright: picture alliance/Kyodo
Image: picture alliance/Kyodo

On February 6, 1981, Yoweri Museveni went into the bush and launched a guerrilla struggle based in the swamps of central Uganda.

His National Resistance Army (NRA) eventually took power in January 1986. The guerilla war veteran held an inspiring speech on January 29, 1986.

Speaking to crowds of thousands outside the Ugandan parliament, Museveni promised to rule for only four years, then hand over power to a civilian-led government.

He said the people of Uganda and all Africa were entitled to democratic governance and he asked Ugandans not to put him in the category of those who are power hungry.

Third term controversy

However, analysts say that President Museveni, once the darling of Western governments, fell victim to a disease well-known among Africa's leaders: third termism.

The 71 year-old is running for another term in office but he is facing his most formidable contest in years. The February 18 vote will see him face off against his former prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, and longtime opposition figure Kizza Besigye.

Opposition supporters clash with police REUTERS/James Akena
Critics accuse Museveni of crushing dissentImage: Reuters/James Akena

Rights groups have long accused Museveni's government of using illegal arrests and beatings by security personnel to intimidate opposition supporters. Other critics say he has rigged past elections.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also raised its voice against the Ugandan authorities, saying media harassment ahead of the presidential vote must stop.

A US-based media watchdog says Endigyito FM ceased broadcasting after the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) revoked the station's license and confiscated its broadcasting equipment on January 20, one day after the station aired an interview with opposition presidential candidate Mbabazi.

Ugandan political analyst Ndebesa Mwangushya describes Museveni as a man who has ruled Uganda with an iron fist.

"Museveni has been defined as a man who applied a militaristic strategy to rule Uganda and he has used the same strategy within the East African region," Mwangushya said in an interview with DW.

The university professor acknowledged that Museveni's 'unique diplomacy' has created some peace and stability in Uganda and the Great Lakes region, but said in the long term it might turn out to be a destabilizing factor with respect to the influence of unlimited terms and the influence of 'militarism' as a political option in Africa.

Regional interventions

In Rwanda, where about a million people were slaughtered two decades ago, Museveni also played a significant role when he supported Rwanda's Patriotic Army rebels who later overthrew the Hutu regime.

His friend Paul Kagame of Rwanda was the chief of Uganda's military intelligence after Museveni was sworn in in 1986.

Kagame has been Rwanda's president since 2000, and just like his former master Museveni, he has changed the country's constitution to extend his rule until at least 2034.

"He has become a grandfather of 'third termism disease' in the region, and this contagious disease is affecting the whole region just like the military coups around the 1970s in Africa," analyst Ndebesa Mwangushya said.

Group picture showing East African presidents (AP Photo)
In the East African region Museveni (center) is held in high esteem and respectImage: AP

The Rwandan president, who is said to be emulating Museveni, went on record last month, endorsing Museveni for another term.

"Maybe if you want to know my preference, I have been working with the incumbent government and leaders [of Uganda] very well, so I wish them well," Kagame told a news conference in Rwanda's capital, Kigali.

DR Congo, once a battle field

In 1996, Museveni faced a test of his popularity in presidential elections but won with a booming 75 percent, partly as a result of associating his opponents with the country's troubled past. He also began carving out a position as an African statesman, with 1998 proving his highest point.

He was visited by US President Bill Clinton who described him as the head of a new breed of African leaders.

That image, however, soon began to collapse when Uganda and Rwanda invaded neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in support of rebels fighting to overthrow the government of Laurent Kabila.

Both armies were accused of looting DRC's rich mineral resources and fought each other for control of Congo's third-largest city, Kisangani, frustrating UN efforts to secure a ceasefire.

Uganda's involvement in the war damaged Museveni's reputation at home and abroad. It also took up much of his time.

"I credit Museveni for intervening in other states for the sake of regional security, though I think its now going too far," journalist Kenneth Lukwago told DW.

Museveni was most recently nominated as the chief mediator in Burundi's political crisis.

Museveni is one of Africa's longest ruling presidents, beaten by Equatorial Guinea's President Theodore Obiang Nguema (37 years), Angola's Jose Eduardo Dos Santos (37 years) and Cameroon's Paul Biya (34 years).

Alex Gitta in Kampala contributed to this report.