Nairobi. Besigye was lying on his bed in his tent at the Mechanised Brigade, which he continued to use as his headquarters, when the telephone rang. It was Museveni on the other end of the line and he wanted Besigye to go see him at State House Entebbe, at least three hours’ drive, at 9 a.m. the next morning.
Besigye checked his wristwatch. It was midnight. He made arrangements for an early start and went to bed. When he arrived in Entebbe the next morning, Museveni, uncharacteristically, did not keep him waiting for long. He invited him to sit with him in a tent. As soon as Besigye sat down Museveni confronted him in a foul mood.
“What’s wrong with you?” Museveni thundered.
‘What do you mean what’s wrong with me?’ asked Besigye.
“I am really fed up of you and all these stories about you and how you are attacking the government, challenging what we are doing, undermining everything, showing you are disgruntled what is your problem?”
Besigye sat back in his chair, stunned.
“I hear that you are always at Tinyefuza’s house and his farm plotting this and that. What exactly is your problem?”
He stared back at Museveni and eventually found his voice.
‘Well sir, I really don’t know what you are talking about but the fact that you are talking like this suggests to me that what I have been hearing might be true, so let me also state what I have heard.’
First, Besigye said, Margaret Kibazibira, an aunt to Museveni, had told him that she had heard gossip in State House of a plot by him and Sserwanga Lwanga, the Principal Private Secretary to the President, to overthrow the government.
Secondly, Betty Bikangaga, who was the President’s speechwriter, had told Besigye about another rumour that he and Tinyefuza wanted to overthrow Museveni.
‘Since these rumours are coming out of State House, and since you now raise these issues, I would like you to investigate them fully so that we can find out where they are coming from,’ Besigye said.
‘In fact,’ he added, leaning forward in his chair, ‘I have not seen Tinyefuza in over a year and a half and I have never been to his house in my life. You have a telephone there next to you why don’t you telephone Tinyefuza and find out that basic fact? I did not know what you planned to tell me and I have not moved an inch from here so it cannot be that I have connived with him to corroborate our answers telephone and ask him!’
Museveni appeared caught off-guard by the younger officer’s aggression.
“Are you sure about what you are saying?” he asked. ‘Mr President, there is the telephone call Tinyefuza and find out.’
Museveni softened his demeanour.
“You see, sometimes some of my people give me wrong information and as you know some of these young Bahima have a lot of intrigue.”
Besigye insisted that he wanted a full investigation into the matter so that the source of the rumours could be identified and dealt with. Museveni promised to crosscheck the information he had received and get back to Besigye. The meeting ended soon after.
A few weeks later, Besigye was summoned to meet Museveni at the government ranch in Kisozi, which had been turned over to the President’s use. When he arrived, the President was out in the field inspecting his cattle. Besigye was led to where Museveni was. The President spent several hours showing Besigye around the farm and the cows. He was driving himself and clearly relaxed and enjoying the time he had with his beloved animals.
In the late afternoon they drove back to the simple ranch house and sat in a tent for lunch. A few moments after lunch, Museveni rose to his feet.
“Do you have transport to take you back?” he asked.
‘Yes,’ said Besigye.
“Okay,” Museveni said. “Have a safe journey.” He took a couple of steps towards the ranch house and then turned back to Besigye.
“Oh, by the way, that matter we discussed in Entebbe? I checked it out and the information was not accurate forget all about it.” With that he turned and disappeared into the house.
Besigye meets Winnie
A Bush War fighter, Major Victor Bwana, broke his spine in a car accident in Kampala and was flown to Paris for treatment. It fell upon Winnie Byanyima, then acting head of mission in the absence of a substantive ambassador, to look after him for the six months he spent in hospital, paralysed from the waist down.
For Winnie, it was a very frustrating experience trying to unravel the bureaucracy and frustration of paying Major Bwana’s medical bills and supporting his family. Bwana and his wife were also living with HIV and a child born to them had died in Paris, sparking another frustrating effort to raise money to repatriate the remains back to Uganda.
One day Winnie received a telephone call. It was Besigye on the end of the line. He was going to be in Europe and planned to come via Paris and check on Bwana.
In Paris, Besigye sat down with Winnie and listened to her litany of complaints and frustrations. She had tried everyone, including telephoning Museveni a couple of times, but the bureaucracy was unrelenting. Besigye tried to explain the difficulties the new government was facing and promised to do his best when he returned to Uganda.
And he did. Although then based in Masaka, Besigye spent considerable time on the telephone chasing the relevant paperwork in the Defence ministry, and keeping Winnie abreast of every tentative step forward.
“He was the only person remembering Major Bwana. It really touched my heart that somebody could be so true, so loyal. This is how Besigye won my heart. Nothing else. I am a very basic person you win me, really, on values. You have to speak to my heart. You have to have my values. And he did. That is how I fell in love with him. I admired the selflessness, the loyalty, the commitment”
Apart from chasing after paperwork, Besigye also took care of Bwana’s six children in Uganda, with the help of James Musinguzi Garuga. Bwana returned home and died a few months later but Besigye continued – and continues – to support the family. It left a lasting impression on Winnie:
“It was not about politics. Some people think that maybe we were fighting Museveni – not at all. At that time I was very much in agreement with Museveni. I have always had some doubts about Museveni but Besigye and I were both cadres of the Movement and there was nothing political about our relationship. It was purely discovering each other through the tragedy of a comrade. That’s how we found each other.”
Encourages Winnie to vie for CA
As Uganda prepared for the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, Winnie expressed an interest in returning to Uganda to contest for a seat. Besigye encouraged her. She was in the process of being transferred to Uganda’s mission to the United Nations in New York but she took leave from the diplomatic service and flew to Kampala to start her campaign.
It was during this time that Winnie’s relationship with Besigye became serious. The danger of such a relationship was not lost on Besigye, who was already walking on eggshells in his relationship with Museveni and other top army officials.
“It was challenging because she had previously had a relationship with Museveni which I knew about. It had quite obviously fallen through, in fact broken rather badly,” he says.
“When we first met, we were just friends who’d also met earlier in the war and in my inquiry about what was happening in her life she opened up and told me some of the things that had happened in her relationship and how it had ended and how she was faring after that. Clearly she had had a very tough time and she was still heavily surveilled to know who she was talking to and interacting with. Winnie remained some kind of prisoner even though there was absolutely no basis for it. I empathised with her somebody who had less power in what had taken place was now being victimised for decisions that were really, in large measure, imposed on her.
Relationship kicks in
“As we started having a relationship, there was a heavy presence of security, intelligence, and presidential guards around her and following her whenever she got into the country. She, for example, had a room at the Nile Hotel but the room next door was occupied by the Presidential Protection Unit operatives who were spying on her. To some extent I think maybe part of our developing relationship was my revolt at injustice. I thought, this is exercising power in a manner that is completely unjust, interfering with somebody’s life in such a fundamental way. Initially our affair wasn’t serious because she was very worried about whether it was something I really wanted to do and whether I knew the repercussions.
As time went on, my mind was made up, that this was something I could stand, so I said let’s see the repercussions.”
Winnie was more sanguine about any dangers. On her return to Kampala she lived with her sister before moving in with Besigye at his house on Plot 9 Aki-bua Road in Nakasero when their relationship eventually became common knowledge.
“They were following us,” she recalls. “It was actually funny. They were not threatening my life they were just snooping on me. I knew that Museveni’s people were trying to discourage me from having a relationship with Besigye. I think there were people in his system who, for different reasons, didn’t want me to relate with Besigye. “It wasn’t Museveni – I am sure of that – it was people in his system. I know that because I was part of his system and I know how it works. Some of them talked to me directly, some of them didn’t know me enough. For some it was something to do with the military and how they relate to each other. They just saw me in the war and knew I had a relationship with Museveni so they thought, well, even if she falls out with Museveni, she shouldn’t go out with another person in the military structure because how will the big one feel? Some of them were close comrades and they would tell me frankly, ‘but you, Museveni will kill Besigye!’ and that kind of talk. I would just laugh and brush them aside and say ‘of course he won’t.”
Winnie had “deliberately” allowed five years to pass between breaking up with Museveni before starting her relationship with Besigye. As far as she was concerned, this was enough time for both parties to heal and move on. Winnie had continued to meet Museveni occasionally when he passed through Europe – “just as friends,” she says, “there was no issue between us but we had not declared to the public that it was over”.
As the relationship with Besigye became more public, and after they moved in together, the spies shadowing Winnie melted away.
However, for Besigye, there was still the complication of perception and how his decision would be interpreted by the Army top brass, especially the Commander-in-Chief who had a personal stake in the matter.
“When it became public, there was a bit of uneasiness on how to relate between Museveni and myself. I expected to get some form of repercussions but, in any case, my sense was that it was already bad enough and if it was to get worse, let it be and we see how it develops. My plan was to retire from the Army, anyway, and all government activity, in which case Museveni would have no control over me, directly. My mind was made up and I even went to the constituency to campaign for her in the CA elections. This caused some criticism from Museveni and the Army but I was ready to deal with any repercussions.”
Extract from Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution © Daniel Kalinaki 2014. Published by Dominant Seven. To order a copy call 0781400484 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Continues in Daily Monitor on Monday
EDITOR’S NOTE: Except where noted, direct quotes attributed to various personalities in these book extracts are to the best recollection of Dr Kizza Besigye, the interviewee, andor Mr Daniel Kalinaki, the interviewer and author.
About the author
Daniel Kalinaki is a former Managing Editor of Daily Monitor and is currently based in Nairobi. He has held several senior journalism positions in the region and his work has been published across the world. He is a co-author of Open Secret: People Living With HIVAids in Uganda.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor