On Friday, MAJ GEN BENON BIRAARO joined a crowded field of presidential aspirants to pick nomination forms from the Electoral Commission. He was the 26th aspirant to pick forms. Biraaro, a former presidential principal private secretary, commander and director in the army, has turned an open and fierce critic of the ruling NRM government and President Museveni.
In a Friday interview with Sadab Kitatta Kaaya, Biraaro said Uganda will turn into a failed state if Museveni is re-elected for a fifth presidential term in next year’s elections. Below are excerpts:
Having served President Museveni for 30 years in the bush and in government, what are you bringing to the table that Museveni has not?
I want to change the political direction of this country in terms of democracy. Democracy translates into freedom; what we have has not translated into freedom. That must change.
Secondly, we used to sing in the bush that proper democracy means change, socio-economic transformation, which has eluded the NRM government.
Thirdly, we must prepare this country to be an industrialized economy; so, we will look at the education system and everything it takes to ensure that our people are skilled. The three areas; human resource development, investments in wealth creation and infrastructure development must be given not just lip service but high priority.
Wouldn’t that be a duplication of Museveni’s programmes?
If you want to know why we must have new direction, one, you have to take the scale on which we weigh nations. We have super powers; of course we are not there. We are not among the industrial powers neither are we among the developing countries like China, India and Brazil. Poor countries like Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa etc, we are not there.
We are in a category called HIPC [heavily indebted poor countries]; abaavu ddala, very poor, who cannot even pay their debts. When you leave our status, you go to failed states; and two things make a country a failed state. One; the country’s policies, just like what we are having now. Two, wars, and this is why we must maintain peace and oppose war.
Does that mean that you doubt the president can turn Uganda into a middle income economy by 2017?
He can’t. Thirty years is a long time. It took [Lee Kuan Yew] of Singapore 36 years to build Singapore’s economy. Museveni has been here for 30 years and we are still [classified as] HIPC. He can’t do it with this corruption and the impunity of the institutions that are stealing without being mindful of the population. And with the type of education system we have, we cannot achieve [the middle income status].
Because Museveni can’t turn Uganda into a middle income economy, it therefore means the country will become a failed state?
I have given you the scale on which countries are measured, we are on the brink. And if we entertain violence now, we are finished, because we are a HIPC state.
Since 1999, we have been classified with other 42 countries of the world as heavily indebted poor countries, and we have not changed [from that status]. So, what will happen is for us to slide into a failed state.
As a retired military officer, how do you look at the activities of your comrades notably, Brig Henry Tumukunde and Maj Roland Kakooza Mutale that are training paramilitary groups ahead of the elections?
I had intended to address the nation [on that subject] during our [Farmers’ party] delegates’ conference. The coming election is not a normal election, it is kind of a referendum, [and] Ugandans have two choices, to vote for peace or for war. There are parties that are talking about war; we have seen the buildup.
Yesterday [August 20], somebody called Blaise Kamugisha, who coordinates the crime preventers, said that they had mobilized five million of them. Now you are looking at something without command and control. Five million armed human beings in the [country] without a structured command and control, without a doctrine… let’s watch but I want to warn the nation, and we will bring it to the attention of the entire world [to know] what is going to happen in Uganda.
My point is, stop the war mongering, come to peace, come to elections, and allow free and fair campaigns. Ugandans have a choice because this is kind of a referendum to vote for peace and this is why our party is offering this option for peace.
I have heard others who are really bellicose; war mongering, and of course actions speak louder than words. In the Daily Monitor on Thursday [August 20], I saw the president [directing] that the crime preventers be put under his office. You see the panic. I don’t know why.
Five million crime preventers as they stated; you really see that they are up to something and we must examine further, but let us see how it develops.
Last time you complained that registration of your political party was blocked. Under which political party are you going to run for president?
I had fronted Peace and National Unity (PNU). I was told that [some] other people had registered it. Then they went to court, [the process] took long.
I waited for the whole process to end [so that] I can regain the name. We may at a later date take a resolution to have this party [Farmers party of Uganda] in those names [PNU] because everything we have written [like] our manifesto are in the names of PNU because peace and national unity is a clearer message to the country. But that will be an internal party matter.
What is view about joint opposition candidates under The Democratic Alliance [TDA]?
I am not opposed to the alliance. What I want is that the alliance should be made after the elections; otherwise, I don’t see how it is going to work. Secondly, when I went out campaigning, I received people who were running away from NRM, FDC, DP, UPC and those other existing parties.
So, if they are dissatisfied and then I put them back through that alliance, they will feel dissatisfied. In the Bible, Paul, the apostle, told his followers that one; you fight a good fight [which is not sectarian, unethical and illegal], take it to the conclusion.
Then maintain the faith and finish the race. I want to fight the good fight, I want to keep the faith in the people of Uganda, and I want to finish the race.