In Sunday’s live Television debate Col Kizza Besigye, a three-time presidential candidate was pitted against Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, president of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
The two are set for a showdown at Wednesday’s contest for the party presidential flag bearer going into next year’s general elections. Sunday’s debate was the first of a series of presidential aspirants’ debates organised by the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) in partnership with NTV and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The debate, moderated by journalist Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi, was hosted at Sheraton Kampala hotel’s Rwenzori ball room. Sadab Kitatta Kaaya and Deo Walusimbi recorded the proceedings and below are some of the memorable questions and answers.
Dr Besigye, this is your fourth attempt at the presidency, [and] one issue has risen every time you have come. You have been characterised as an angry man. How can you convince the people watching you tonight that this fourth attempt will present a different Besigye who can actually win this election?
Thank you very much and I believe that you are glad I am back because that is why you are here. First of all, I would like to say there has been a lot of propaganda around who I am.
Propaganda that has been choreographed and deliberately cultured by our opponents because I doubt that in the contestations that we have had, where I have been on one side and Mr Museveni one the other; I pass off as the angry one and [Museveni] as not the angry one. I am the one that has been aggressed and I have never aggressed anyone.
I have been imprisoned, beaten, tortured and I have never in any form or manner reacted in demonstration of anger. I have instead said publicly, and in every sense, that I forgive all those that aggress me. And my elections have been stolen; it’s confirmed by the courts twice, and I did not seek to use violence. My opponent had an election stolen once – most likely not his – but resorted to violence.
So I think there is clearly the use of especially the media and the opportunity of the huge propaganda machinery that government has to characterise me the way they want me characterised.
Everyone who has interacted with me right from childhood, I am sure will say that I am one of the most peaceful characters and a fairly easy going person. That is not to say that I am not assertive, and that I don’t very firmly respond to wrong. Where there is wrong, I am very resolute in my dealing with what is wrong.
Gen Muntu, you position your candidature as a pacifist. Since your election as president of FDC in November 2012, how much have you tried to reach out to other Ugandans, especially to [those] in the ruling party, so that there’s room for a negotiated settlement of Uganda’s political problems?
Actually, quite a number of Ugandans perceive me as a pacifist but you very well know in my history, I have taken weapons to fight against a regime. The only reason why, for example, this time we chose not to use violence is just because we realised that if we took that path, much as it could be effective and enable us get into power, it solves only one problem.
We would be able to take power, but democratising thereafter becomes quite difficult. So we chose to take a more difficult path where we would have to mobilise and organise the population to understand their rights, to understand that they need to stand firm and fight for their rights.
It is a tough battle because you are dealing with mindsets but it is a battle that we must keep fighting until the population realises that it is possible. Fortunately we’ve seen that happen. We’ve gone into a number of by-elections and, even when the conditions had been against us, we’ve beaten the regime with all its machinery.
The population realised that it is their right; it’s their freedom which they must fight for. We have also been trying to create an environment, through communication to make those who are in the movement realise that much as we are fighting for our freedoms and rights, we want to take power for the benefit of all Ugandans.
Because those who are in [NRM], those who want to see an alternative situation other than what is prevailing now, can join hands with us to mobilise, to organise together and we will be able to take power in this country.
Gen Muntu, could you speak to specifics? What exactly have you done?
When you look at our participation, and persistence in building The Democratic Alliance [TDA], we have fully participated in that exercise. We are glad to find out that there are senior leaders who have been in [NRM] who are now in TDA.
If I may quote the example of Prof [Gilbert] Bukenya and Hon [Amama] Mbabazi who [have] got representation in TDA, that creates an environment in which we believe that all those who are in [NRM] should therefore know that FDC, working with our sister parties, are creating that environment where they feel free to participate with all of us.
Dr Besigye, since your last contest to lead this country, one of the major initiatives that has been seen is your leadership of walk to work as a protest against inflation and then a call for electoral reforms. You are now seeking the FDC flag to make another charge at the presidency without the reforms. Is your candidature still viable?
First of all, the whole question of inflation that we were dealing with after the 2011 election and the political management in terms of the type of election we have are one and the same. They are all issues of governance because the more than 30 per cent inflation that this country suffered in the 2011 post election was in large measure a result of the abuse of power by the executive in drawing money from the Central Bank to fund their elections illegally.
Ahead of that election as you know, about Shs 2 trillion was withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund without the approval of Parliament. Those of us who were here know that billions of that money were rolling all over here and piled in buildings in this city and used in the [worst] display of corruption.
It was that inflation that we were fighting. So we were actually fighting not just the inflation but also its cause and that is why one central area in the demand for reforms is in the control of the use of public resources during election. The question of electoral reforms is possibly the most important thing that our country faces. We are living in a country where no leader has ever peacefully handed over power to another.
Every leader of our country has had to be bombed out of office and whoever came into office has had to bomb his way into office and with a lot of disruption, death, destruction and so on. It is a matter that we as a people must now say, ‘we put a stop to this.’ We have never had free and fair elections.
I, the person you have asked this question, has been to the courts of law, which have confirmed twice that the elections are not free or fair, and even pointed out some of the areas that indeed need to be addressed.
There have been various sections of people, including the observer teams, both foreign and local, that have said [that] for elections to be free and fair, this must be done. Therefore, it is a matter that can no longer be delayed. What needs to be done is known; it is very clear that those that are supposed to do it have no motivation to do it.
It therefore must rest on the citizens of this country to re-direct… and say, this is the time when we will certainly have to have elections… and so, the determination that the next election must simply be free and fair is not just my determination but that of the citizens of Uganda through the compact on free and fair elections.
I have recently seen some opinion poll which suggested that nearly every Ugandan wants reforms to happen in Uganda before the next election and, therefore, I am in this campaign to advance that cause. If I am given the flag of FDC, I am going to run with that flag in demanding for these reforms.
Dr Besigye, You are on record saying that ‘no reforms, no elections.’ What kind of election are you going into without the reforms?
First of all, I have just said a while ago that [the] elections after reforms position is no longer my position but that of the people of Uganda.
It is the position on which our party FDC is signed [up to]. It is a position on which any candidate of TDA must sign. It is a requirement in the TDA protocol that to be a candidate of TDA, you must be a signatory to the citizens compact on free and fair elections.
So every candidate has an obligation to make sure that we have reforms ahead of the next elections. When we were making that compact, we were fully aware that Parliament was not the likely institution to implement it willingly…
If you will indulge me, what then is the rationale of your candidature knowing that you are participating in an election that at least on schedule is going to happen next year?
BESIGYE: Well, you haven’t heard me; I said, every candidate in this election, every TDA candidate must fight for reforms ahead of the next elections. Be cognizant of the fact that the elections are still ahead. The time table is what you are talking about.
The time table is a result of politics; when the politics change, the time table can change. The citizens of this country resolved the issue that we must have reforms ahead of the next elections. Our role is to translate that into action.
By rallying those same people, actually if you are privy to the Citizens’ compact on free and fair elections; article 18 of the compact is on the implementation of the compact.
There are a number of processes through which it can be implemented. The first are the procedural ones of handing it to Parliament and the government and implore them to do the needful. The other requires us, and our formations, including the political parties, to rally the citizens of Uganda, to mobilise them, to organise them to say, ‘we must have reforms whether you like it or not.’ Because the citizens of Uganda are supreme, Parliament uses delegated power…
Could you, Dr Besigye, be a little more specific? What exactly is it that you are doing to achieve what we are talking about?
What we are doing is exactly what we set out to do. The first thing is to mobilise the will within the population, which I have been doing. The next thing is to organise and, again that is exactly what we are doing, forming citizens’ networks across the country so that we act as one.
Thirdly, we will have to take actions, actions that are non-violent but assert the will of the people of Uganda to say that you cannot have it the way you want; we are not going to allow you to organise another fraudulent election. And if you want the specific actions that we may be taking, watch the space.
Gen Muntu, what if you win the party flag, have you built sufficient structures within FDC that can enable you to achieve the reforms you have been demanding for, and also for FDC to win?
Immediately after 2011, we had an internal review meeting and two paths emerged. One was that we should engage in civil disobedience as a way of mobilising and organising the population so that we put pressure on the regime, therefore causing electoral reforms.
The other part was that as much as we do that, we also concentrate on party mobilisation. We realised our weaknesses and resolved to ensure that we get organisational capability so that whichever path we [would] use at whatever time, it becomes relevant. With strength in terms of organisational capabilities, we can focus that strength behind whatever decision we take such that we can have an impact.
That’s where I concentrated when I took the party presidency. It is unfortunate that quite a number of Ugandans have got a perception that I don’t believe in civil disobedience. I do believe in civil disobedience as a legitimate path but we should focus more on organisation.
If you are not well organised and go into electoral processes, you will be cheated. Museveni is terrified of two things; strong organisation and a unified force. If you have a political force that is unified, that is organised, and is put behind a leader, it can have impact. That is what I am concentrating on.
Gen Muntu, can you tell this audience that the position of FDC is no reforms, no elections?
In the next six months we are going into the electoral process. My view is that as FDC and the other colleagues in TDA, we have got to sit down and re-assess because it is clear right now that Parliament rejected our reform proposals. Unfortunately, on the path of civil disobedience, we were not that well organised.
You can see that Parliament did what it just did and there was no effective way of exerting pressure [on Parliament]. In the next months, we must choose which path to take. My view is that if we use both civil disobedience and diplomacy, we will send different signals to the population.
We must choose one path and one message so that we can give hope to the population because when we stand on a platform wherever we are, we must be seen to be mature, to know what the challenges of the times are. In the six months, it is not possible to push the two paths simultaneously. If we choose going through the electoral process, then we have to organise and overwhelm Museveni in spite of the challenges that are in the area of electoral processes.
And when we overwhelm him, that is what every Ugandan wants. Should we not overwhelm him, the period after that can trigger off whatever other path we choose to take but we must be united. If we lose the question of unity, then we are done. We went into 2011 when we had conflicting views, conflicting messages.
(Interjection by Besigye) Just a clarification on that point of mixed signals, until the TDA decides, as you suggest, that it should soon re-assess [the position], are you committed to its current position [of elections after reforms]?
I am committed to the current position of TDA that there should be reforms now. When we say there must be reforms now, we discuss strategy in TDA, and we all agree that we must go into the electoral process; clearly as FDC, as a party, this is not a personal position. It is a position we discussed in the working committee of the party and national council.
FDC as a party is preparing to go into the election of 2016. We are organising to ensure that we have candidates at every electoral [unit]. Two, we are also preparing to ensure that where there are gaps, those gaps are filled.
(Besigye interjects) Just the same question, because all of us are preparing for the same elections; my question is, until there’s a review, are you committed to the current position of the TDA and the citizens’ compact on electoral reforms?
I am concentrating on organisational capabilities. Why? Because, as a leader; I don’t like posturing. I know that the population has lost hope in us politicians because we like posturing. When you are a leader, never give a threat that you cannot execute.
(Besigye interjects) Are you suggesting that the TDA is posturing?
No, I am concentrating on building our organisational capabilities so that when we choose that let’s take this path, that path is successfully executed. I know… for example we said that if electoral reforms are not carried through Parliament, we are going to shut it down. I know a number of leaders who gave those statements. Parliament was never shut down; [and] the reforms never came.
My concentration, ladies and gentlemen, the situation we are going through is frustrating, there is a sense of hopelessness in this country, however, there are many things that need to be done. Things that give hope to the population when we talk about them. As leaders, our responsibility is to ensure that we do things which will have effect.
I know the frustration that is within the population, I know the things you can say to excite the population. However, we need to build our organisation capabilities so that when we say we’re walking through that wall, we had better be ready to walk through it.
And you were also secretary for national mobilisation [of FDC]
At some point, yes, in the past.
…In 2011, you were able as a party [FDC] to field 191 candidates for directly elected seats out of 237 constituencies that could be competed for; 81 women MP candidates, 52 LC5 candidates for local government. You could not get candidates for PWDs, the youths.
In 2011, FDC failed to field candidates for many electoral positions. As leaders of the party, have you built the necessary infrastructure to ensure that your votes are protected, and do you have candidates that can run in all these positions?
Besigye: Any discussion on the parameters that are at play in an election… we will be missing the point if we don’t consider what type of election it is. Once we agree that we don’t have a free or fair election and that we don’t have a democratic dispensation, in fact that we have a military dictatorship in this country, then you cannot start talking about these parameters as if they are parameters of an equitable situation.
In fact, I am sometimes taken aback when people refer to the number of votes I get in an election. Your two million votes, [but] in what type of election?
In an election where I am nominated from Luzira maximum prison, people are shot and killed in front of me; our agents are arrested from polling stations all over the place and locked up throughout the election?
So, it depends on whether we ourselves want to be honest with what type of political environment we are dealing with. If we recognise that there is no multi-party system in Uganda and I think that is where the discussion should start from…
So, as long as we are talking about that type of election, please don’t front the statistics of, ‘you have so many candidates.’ You are aware of elections in this country where candidates have been hijacked on their way to nomination and locked up until nominations are closed.
You were campaigning for the FDC flag in Gulu and you said that questions of setting up structures should be put to [Gen Muntu] who was secretary for national mobilisation and now FDC president. So, this is a question that you must answer.
I have said that as long as the political environment in which we operate in is the one that I have just been describing, we shall not have strong party structures that you would get in a democratic system.
We strive to have structures and we have done every bit of that as our [viewers] may be aware, I actually cut short my term in order to go back and strengthen party structures. That is during the time I have said that my brother and colleague (Muntu) here, was the person specifically charged by the delegates with the specific responsibility of ensuring that structures are built and maintained as the secretary for mobilisation and organisation.
What I have been saying is simply that I consider that we did reasonable work in building those structures which indeed are structures through which he emerged as party president. How else would he become the party president if there were no structures?
So, the point I have been making is that as much as we put in that effort, the structures cannot be strong because you build as the dictatorship is dismantling…people fear actually to become FDC leaders and for good reasons.
But the structures we have which our party has been building, not me alone, has been around and have served us well. And, therefore, what I have been rather surprised with is that some people tend to think that there were no party structures and now that there is a new administration, there are somehow new party structures which, of course, we haven’t tested in any kind of elections.
If you win the FDC flag and you go ahead to win the national presidency, what are the three things you would do in the first 100 days?
Muntu: First and foremost, I will put together an effective team. The biggest challenge we have in this country is to think that we have leaders who think they can do everything from A-Z.
Secondly, I would ensure that we start working round the clock to ensure there is a mechanism to pull back our forces from South Sudan.
Three, is immediately ensure that we focus on purging corruption. We are losing $500m every year (to corruption)…
Besigye: To restructure government to make sure that we have a small, efficient and competent government because it’s that institutional framework that will indeed start the process of fighting corruption and providing an environment for people to do business and prosper.
Two, I would re-focus our resources to where our people are, so that our people immediately benefit directly from the resources that we have in our country especially in the areas of agriculture, education. Three, is to deal with major infrastructural bottlenecks that hinder the development of Uganda.
Dr Besigye how are you planning to safeguard our votes this time?
As I have just pointed out, we are very focused and committed to making sure that we have a different type of election from the elections we have had before. That commitment is one that is still ongoing in spite of what the parliament did. It would appear that some of our colleagues have indeed thrown in the towel; I would like to assure Ugandans that the struggle for reforms is on and it is not going to end.
Many of our leaders are gripped by the fear of failing and it paralyses our work. By the way, the reason I am asking for this flag is to lead our team to the ground where this contest is going to be. I want to be in the field and to tell the other player [Museveni] that this time we are not going to allow you to be a player and a referee at the same time.
Museveni has been in power for 29 years. What is the one thing you think he is doing right and what is the one good thing you can both learn from him?
Besigye: What he is doing is obviously to suppress the rights of others, that is the only reason why he has been in power for 29 years. Otherwise, he would have rested long ago from government. He would have been farming and doing other things if elections were free and fair. So, I am afraid that it’s not a positive complement, but a negative one.
Muntu: Even the good things he did initially, by his current actions, he is undermining all that. It’s very difficult even to give him credit because I think if he had left at the time when the presidential term limits were removed (2005), I think there are a number of things which he must have been credited for.
But when he removed the term limits, he literally undermined all that. The Uganda Shilling is trading upward of Shs 3600 compared to the dollar, inflation is going up.