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January 31, 2008
South Africa intelligence tipped me that I was in danger

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.

Second exile
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 obvious reasons.

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 particular type.

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, support you?
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.

24-hr surveillance

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 civilian clothes.
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 later.

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.

ADF ‘attack’
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 themselves.

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.

Bomb throwing
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 convicted?

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?

Second exile
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 wasn’t there.

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.

To Zambia
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 starting point.

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 our struggle.

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 2002.

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 fare well.



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