FDC President Col. (RTD) DR. WARREN KIZZA BESIGYE
KIFEFE has been in exile twice. In the first part
of Besigye’s life in exile published in The Weekly
Observer last week, he told MICHAEL MUBANGIZI how during
his first exile in Nairobi, he left his girlfriend behind
to join the NRA bush war in Luwero. Talking about his second
exile in this issue, Besigye reveals how fear of being arrested
and killed led to his flight.
Dr. Besigye repeats his controversial claim that he has
more than 90% support in the UPDF, and actually insists
that his support in the army has grown over the years.
It was a series of events that led to my second exile. The
starting point was that I was completely dissatisfied with
the way government was going about its business vis a vis
what our purpose as a government was.
We came to government with a clear programme and I was
completely dissatisfied with the way the government was
approaching the implementation of that programme.
Some people in the dictatorship have been saying that democracy
is a journey, and in my view the journey towards democracy
had been completely subverted and we were not on the road
to democracy; we were on the road to dictatorship and chaos.
| Besigye wipes away effects
of tear-gas during a riot in Kampala
That is when I wrote a document and expressed those views
over which President Museveni’s view was that I should
be court-martialled. We of course opposed the court-martial.
It wasn’t me as Kizza Besigye because the moment I
expressed those views, many people rallied around me saying
what I was saying was correct.
You remember there were even people arranging demonstrations.
Eventually President Museveni grudgingly gave up the court-martial
but his aim was to incarcerate me. There was absolutely
no doubt that he felt threatened by what I had expressed
and the response it had ignited.
His response was to crush me. In fact at the time, Gen.
Salim Saleh said those words in a more crystal way by saying
that I would be isolated and crushed.
So it wasn’t lost on me that the threat against me
was mounting once again. It was very clear to me that for
the decision I had taken to oppose the regime on what it
was doing, I would be threatened by the regime and they
made their threats clear and public.
But we went ahead with those who thought we had something
important we were saying; we decided to have an open contestation
which led to the 2001 election [campaign].
Even before that election, you remember the words uttered
by President Museveni that I could go six feet under. So
threats to my life have never been something of an imagination,
they have been there and they have been public.
(Reminded that the remarks were because he was claiming
support of the army)- yes, and there is nothing illegitimate
about claiming support of the army. If one says the military
also supports what I am saying, it’s not an offence
or an act that would require one to go six feet under.
If you think that what I am saying is wrong, say so; say
that you don’t have the support. (Asked if he is still
convinced about the 90% support he claimed he had in the
army)- I believe it was even more than 90% and by the way
still is even now, and for good reasons.
You see the people who fought and many of our colleagues,
who died, didn’t die so that some of our leaders could
loot the country, amass wealth and cause mayhem in the country
and steal elections. That isn’t the reason why people
fought, died, suffered and lived in mama ingia pole.
Any person whose mission it was, who joined the army to
fight for what was believed to be liberation, was fighting
for democracy, human rights, not for safe houses or torture.
Every person, I would expect, who was in the army for that
mission would support what I was doing and would oppose
what they were doing. And I am perfectly convinced that
even today that is the case. In fact, today there is even
far more reasons for the army to support what we are doing
than there were then.
In any case, the point I am [making is] that the threat
to my life was pronounced, demonstrated by the regime right
from the time I declared open opposition to the regime.
(Asked about his dismal performance in army voting centres
despite his claims of massive army support)- yes, and for
In army units where its leaders didn’t force [soldiers]
to vote in a particular way, in other words where there
was secret ballot, we won overwhelmingly. If you remember
the judgement in the Supreme Court of our petition, one
of the things that the judges clearly established themselves
on was that in the majority of the military establishments,
there was no secret ballot.
That isn’t my invention. It is a ruling of the Supreme
Court of Uganda. So if there was no secret ballot in voting
soldiers, if they say you must tick the commander in chief
on the table, then you cannot talk about that as being support;
that is coercion.
And that is what happened in certain areas of the army
but in other areas where the commanders resisted doing that,
we won overwhelmingly, including in places like Gulu army
polling centres. The soldiers in Gulu aren’t of a
They are just soldiers like those in Mbarara or in Mubende.
So my assertion still remains and with good reasons as I
have said, that the army would be inclined to support me.
Why would an army over 20 years after achieving victory,
still living in shacks without medical care, without care
for the children of soldiers, without retirement plans,
Whether I am there or not, if you [were in their position],
why would you support such a regime?
The 2001 election has been deemed the most violent in the
history of Uganda in terms of the people who were killed,
maimed. You know that election caused concern not only for
us but for the country, and the Parliament which was dominated
by NRM instituted a select committee to investigate the
violence during that election. The committee made a report
which unfortunately has never been discussed by Parliament.
I have a copy of that report and it is a huge indictment
on the type of election the 2001 poll was. It documents
all the cases, including ministers who killed people. They
all haven’t been prosecuted. May be that is why it
hasn’t been discussed, but [whoever] committed heinous
crimes in that election is documented in that report.
In all this, I was treated as an enemy of the state. Intelligence
reports up to now report on FDC as enemy activities. That
is the format of the intelligence reports.
After the election, 24-hour surveillance was put on me.
These were people who were not just surveilling me from
a distance but vehicles which drove surrounding me and making
me know that they were with me 24 hours wherever I went.
As you know, I twice tried to travel out of the country
and was stopped at the airport twice without any reason,
which was a blatant violation of my rights. I registered
my complaint with the Uganda Human Rights Commission which
complaint has never been ruled upon up to now.
Subsequently, the Lukaya incident when I was going to Mbarara
where my wife who had just won an election was. I was going
to join her there so that we come back together.
I wasn’t only stopped but it was clearly an attempted
kidnap because I was followed all along by a pick up truck
of soldiers whom again I could see all the way from Kampala
but wasn’t bothered [with].
Together with my armed Police escort and driver, we were
three in my car. There is usually no roadblock at Lukaya
but as my car was approaching, we found the gate closed.
They had also put a huge physical barrier. Someone in civilian
clothes came and said, “We have instructions not to
allow you beyond this point.” I asked instructions
from who? He said “instructions from above.”
I immediately called a friend of mine in Kampala and told
him what was happening. As luck would have it, this friend
called KFM that was called Monitor FM and told them what
was happening. Monitor FM called me on my cell phone and
interviewed me on air.
As that was happening, another pick up [truck], which was
following me, stopped and soldiers surrounded my vehicle.
They were all uniformed and armed but one fellow was in
He had a pistol and came over to me.
By this time I had come out of my vehicle and I was talking
to the Monitor FM telling them what had happened when that
officer approached me and said I should go to their car.
[While] I was relaying all this on air and not going to
their car, this fellow grabbed my phone.
I think whoever deployed them must have heard on radio
what was happening and decided to call it off. After grabbing
my phone, they tried to forcefully grab me and put me in
their pick-up. Of course I resisted and there was a scuffle.
My armed policeman was seated there incapable of doing anything
so I scuffled physically with them as they tried to pull
me to the pick up.
Then the phone of this officer rang and he went a side
to speak to somebody for some time. He then came back and
called off those fellows who were scuffling with me.
They were in combat uniform except the one who seamed to
be their leader. He was dressed in a T-shirt. They were
about 10 or 12 but as that was going on, another truck parked
on the other side of the road; actually that fellow talked
to them and came back and said, “Okay, if you want
to go, you can go.”
I didn’t know what their plans were. You know that
is a market place. By this time there were hundreds of people
who were surrounding the place so I suspected that they
wanted to take the arrest outside this public place because
the other pick up that had come later had continued towards
Mbarara while the ones who told me to go went back [to Kampala],
so I decided to stay at Lukaya until I knew what was happening.
Meanwhile, the person whom I had called in the morning
had mobilised our supporters who drove in a convoy of many
vehicles to come and find us in Lukaya two or three hours
We then proceeded in a big convoy to Mbarara.
That incident was simply one of the processes that led to
my departure. After that incident, government issued a statement
that they didn’t know what had happened in Lukaya,
that government troops weren’t involved.
We demanded an investigation [to find out] if they weren’t
involved, who was and what was the motive? This was done
in broad day-light, civilians would even identify some of
these people if they were paraded. Government refused to
institute an investigation which was of course worrying.
Beyond that, I also got information that there was a plan
for my arrest just like they arrested me when I came back
[from South Africa]. I didn’t know what they intended
to charge me with but I believe even then they wanted to
charge me with treason.
Shortly after the election, there was an attack on Kasese
where petrol stations were attacked. Government issued a
statement that these were a group of ADF working with Besigye.
I don’t even believe that this was a rebel group.
My belief is that this was stage-managed by government forces
If a rebel group had come from the mountains, it would
have been seen. The inhabitants of that place would have
seen these rebels coming into Kasese and certainly would
have seen them withdrawing. Nobody knows where that force
withdrew to and certainly it didn’t withdraw back
to the mountains, as there is no evidence to that effect.
So we believe and there are some clues to the effect that
this was simply a stage-managed attack intended [to associate
me with terrorism].
The idea of government then as it has been all along was
to link me with terrorism, to say that I am associated with
ADF, a terrorist organisation, so I am a terrorist.
And subsequently, what I was accused of is associating
with Joseph Kony’s LRA, a terrorist organisation.
I don’t know why they didn’t [stick with] ADF
because that was the original accusation.
Also subsequent to the election, there were bomb blasts
in Kampala. Again there is information to suggest that they
were planned and orchestrated by the military intelligence
to cause the same effect that the people who were defeated
in the election are the ones killing people in Kampala;
that they are terrorists.
All this was to create a base for my arrest and also to
scare our supporters [into fearing that] support for Besigye
is support for terrorism.
Even now, that has been the strategy which is what Saleh
said, that I would be isolated and crushed. So it has been
a consistent strategy by government to criminalise my opposition.
The bombs, just like the Kasese ‘attack’ I
believe was the work of government. If it wasn’t the
work of government, where are the people who threw bombs
in Kampala? They arrested many people but who has ever been
Some people were praised for ending bomb throwing, what
happened to them? Who are the culprits? And who were their
organisers and financiers? Why is the country not told the
whole story of those bombs?
I finally got credible information that now the plans for
my arrest had been concluded and I was to be arrested any
time. That is when I considered whether I should allow to
be arrested or not. It was a very serious debate in my mind
because I clearly knew that going away had serious disadvantages
for what we were doing as Reform Agenda.
But I also considered the disadvantages of being incarcerated
and indeed possibly being killed there as may have been,
and I opted to step out to safety and plan from safety rather
than plan from danger.
And that is exactly what I did. I went away. I will not
up to now want to give details of how I went because it
is still, unfortunately, a matter that can expose certain
people to unnecessary inconvenience or dangers.
(Asked if it would expose countries as well…)
I wouldn’t say countries because obviously I wasn’t
assisted by countries but I was assisted by some people
to get away. And since the terror regime they assisted me
away from is still here, I think it would be unfair to expose
who they are.
Let the terror regime kill me alone, let them not kill those
who are helping me.
So I departed from my home and that is public knowledge
because I drove home in the evening and in the morning I
To the US
Eventually I went to the United States. That was my first
open country of call. I didn’t go to US by design,
it was more of a coincidence. That was the only valid Visa
I had in my passport. So it was convenient to head there
rather than try to get visas or to hang around our borders
where the intelligence that I was running away from had
a lot of dominance. I went to the US and announced that
I had stepped out.
But I was keen to remain actively in contact with our political
work here. So I wasn’t planning or willing to stay
in the US which was very far from our scene of activity.
I was briefly in the US, I think for two weeks, and then
to Zambia again not because of any reception that was awaiting
me but because Zambia was first of all not too near our
place but also it didn’t require a visa from Ugandans.
You could get a visa at the airport which was a reasonable
So I went to Zambia and stayed there for a while and from
there we organised a meeting with all our Reform Agenda
leaders from Uganda.
Reform Agenda was formally set up in Zambia. We met and
decided to formally launch Reform Agenda and continue with
As soon as I got to Zambia I was on phone, Internet writing
to our people I can’t remember all of them, but I
think the person who organised and may remember them was
Beti Kamya. She arranged their coming and all our senior
leaders came. So we agreed to form Reform Agenda which led
to the official launch of Reform agenda I think in July
After that meeting, I stayed in Zambia for sometime and
of course moving up and down mainly trying to create awareness
about what was going in Uganda, what had gone wrong with
our democratisation process, why I was in exile and what
could be done to move the process forward. I was also travelling
a lot in eastern and central Africa, meeting whoever was
available to meet me at any level.
For instance, in the US I had met a broad spectrum of the
leadership of the US Congress, Senate, White House, State
Department and Pentagon.
Cold, warm reception
(Asked about the reception in all these meetings)
Well, the receptions are a bit varied. Outside Africa there
is a lot of enthusiasm to listen to you, to get your perspective,
to get information about what is going on and to engage
you on what ought to be done to make things better.
For instance, there are many think tanks in the US whose
role is basically that - understanding the goings on [elsewhere]
and to debate the way forward.
In Africa, mostly-unfortunately-governments prefer to clandestinely
engage with the opposition. They don’t want to be
seen to be engaging with you, which I find ridiculous because
the opposition is legitimate and the struggle for democracy
shouldn’t be a struggle for a country but a struggle
for Africa and all these governments.
It’s a shame that African governments have not seen
the need to openly and legitimately engage with opposition
politicians. They seem to harbour the same thing that we
suffer from in Uganda - that opposition is inimical, that
it is not a positive force.
About my security in Zambia, I just lived on my own. One
can provide a lot of security by himself because in order
for your security to be compromised, people must know your
plans, like where you will be at particular times and where
you would sleep.
If you know you are managing your security and you know
it is at risk, you can make it difficult for those pursuing
you to know and predict what you are going to be doing.
There are many guest houses in Zambia which are generally
cheaper and homely. So I was mainly using guest houses,
but sometimes I would stay with friends.
I [also] moved lightly. When you are in such fluid situation,
you don’t carry bags and bags of things. You just
carry your travel bag.
About finances, it is tough but no one will ever start
the kind of things we are doing without the support of friends.
It is simply not possible to pay your way from your own
means. So I was being helped by a network of friends in
Uganda and abroad.
To South Africa
In Zambia, I again realised that the dictatorship from which
I had run away was developing rings around me and obviously
not for good reasons.
Of course that was also a period of transition from Fredrick
Chiluba to Levy Mwanawasa through a contentious election
that took place while I was there. During such times [of]
transition there is fluidity in terms of security and I
considered that it wasn’t wise for me to continue
staying there. So I went to South Africa.
I started living in South Africa from February 2002. South
Africa was more stable compared to other countries. It also
has developed and competent security institutions which
eventually helped me.
When I went there, I didn’t declare that I was threatened.
I just quietly went in and continued what I was doing without
the involvement of the state but at some point people from
our intelligence followed me there. I was first alerted
about their presence and possible danger to me by some individuals
within the South African security.
But I hired myself a house and I think following that advice
from their security, I went to an area which was relatively
more secure and settled. I initially stayed in Johannesburg
and later moved to a place near Pretoria.
From there, I continued with our political work - meeting
people, addressing the press. I had no other engagement
apart from advancing the interests of Reform Agenda until
we linked up with other groups and started FDC. We had a
large meeting in South Africa attended by the FDC leaders.
Besides politics, my roles as a husband and father were
constrained and it was tough. Although from time to time,
my family would come and visit me, which was helpful.
(Asked about claims that it was in exile that he linked
up with renegade UPDF officers; Anthony Kyakabale, Samson
Mande and Godfrey Muzoora to form PRA)
I don’t consider that making contacts is treasonable.
I have a right to contact all Ugandans whether those Ugandans
are committing offences or not. It is my right to contact
them. And I don’t deny contacting some people. I have
told everybody that I have talked to Muzoora, Samson Mande,
Kyakabale and all these people.
I have also said that I have never talked to Kony and his
people. (Asked about James Opoka) - Opoka was my person,
I worked with him but I have said I don’t know if
he went to join Kony; I have no knowledge of that.
But basically life in South Africa was tough, you have
limited resources, immense pressure about security, and
you have to operate within that. But I think I managed to