Back in January 2005, BONIFACE BYANYIMA (now deceased)was the national chairman of the Democratic Party.
In an interview with BENON HERBERT OLUKA, Byanyima announced he had decided to quit active politics because it was 'too dirty.' He also candidly opened up about his bitter relationship with President Museveni, whom he said was standing in the way of democracy. Here is a reproduction of the interview.
When did you become DP chairman?
In 1984, but I never went back to parliament. In 1980, DP asked me to stand but I refused. Elections in Uganda are not free. People persecute you because you belong to another party.
But you are still DP chairman...
I have been looking for ways of getting out completely. I don't want Uganda politics anymore.
What does it mean being in the opposition in Uganda?
It is not safe because the government doesn’t like opposition. They harass the opposition; [they] deny them jobs, they persecute them and sometimes kill them. They hate you for nothing, just because you don’t like the bad things they are doing. They are selfish, they are greedy, they steal government property, they grab land and misuse government money.
When you complain about that, they look for ways of destroying you. That is why in 1980, I didn’t want to go into politics again. I told my children never to go into Ugandan politics.
But your children are in politics.
What can I do? They have a right to do what they want. I can’t stop them if they see something going wrong; if they think the regime is oppressive.
Did Milton Obote torment you as an opposition politician?
Not torment. But they discriminated against me. Say, if I wanted to do some business; if they had a luncheon for politicians, I wouldn’t get an invitation. I felt very lonely because I was not treated as the UPC members of parliament.
How would you compare the treatment of the opposition under Obote and Museveni?
Obote didn’t commit excesses like Museveni. I don’t remember Obote sending troops outside Uganda without knowledge of parliament like Museveni did in DR Congo.
I don’t remember any incident where Obote brought imported gold, timber and other things from DR Congo to Uganda. Where we suspected that sort of thing to have happened, we brought a motion in parliament through [Daudi] Ochieng and even ministers supported the motion. Obote’s government could work with the opposition when they saw something was wrong, which is not the case with Museveni.
What did Obote achieve?
Obote managed to maintain some semblance of parliamentary government; he used to like the parliamentary system. He also did bad things but you could see the parliamentary system was working. Museveni doesn’t care about parliament. He does things behind parliament...Obote was trying to encourage the parliamentary system; Museveni is trying to destroy it. Museveni’s men are doing what they want; parliament is just a piece of paper...
Whenever Museveni wants to do anything dirty, he brings a referendum... He doesn’t allow people to vote peacefully. He brings the army to supervise elections, to suppress free and fair voting. Obote didn’t do that... You can’t talk of getting democracy in Uganda until Museveni is removed.
There is no democracy when we are holding elections regularly?
Elections must be free and fair. Museveni’s elections can never be free and fair. It is like a war: government fighting against its own people. Museveni brings his candidate and says: ‘you people vote for this one. If you don’t vote for this one, we shall beat you.’ Those are not elections.
Where has that happened?
Here in Mbarara when Karangwa [my daughter Winnie Byanyima] stood against Ngoma Ngime. Museveni brought a man from Busoga and said: ‘vote for this man or else you will not receive services from me.’ Soldiers beat people opposing Ngoma Ngime. But Mbarara people were very stubborn. They opposed Museveni’s candidate...
Even money, Museveni’s candidates get government money but the other people who oppose Museveni’s candidate do not get money. Is that money personal?
So, what can be done to make things right?
To remove Museveni. You are a young man, why don’t you go to the bush? Museveni cannot be removed by elections.
That would cause suffering like the insurgency in northern Uganda.
It will, but if you want Uganda to be a free country, you have got to fight for freedom.
How about the opposition winning elections?
They are not strong enough, because they are divided. There is division in the Democratic Party. Some people are causing unnecessary division. The other problem is that the party has not been working. I don’t know whether the DP has got support in rural areas.
Where is Uganda going?
The present government is taking us deeper and deeper into dictatorship and increasing his powers of one-man rule. The [multiparty] referendum they inserted into the Constitution, he will use it to do anything he wants.
The people in parliament, he can use them the way he likes. That is why he put too many people there. You have one constituency consisting of many MPs; there is a man, a woman, a cripple (disabled) what are all those for?
I hear even the cripples are going to increase in number, some with broken legs, some with bad ears, like me. I hear that those with bad ears are complaining that they are not represented. So, when Museveni has got too many people within parliament, he can manipulate them because he put them in parliament where they should not be. He gives them money, cars, housing…that’s where corruption begins in Uganda. Government is promoting it.
President Museveni grew up in your home…
He used to spend his holidays here. I taught him like I taught [late Adonia] Tiberondwa and [late Eriya] Kategaya at Mbarara high school. He became my friend and frequented my house.
What was he like as a young man?
He was not brilliant. The only clever boys I taught were the [likes of] Tiberondwa and Kategaya. Museveni was a mediocre in class.
Do you talk to Museveni?
Would you ever want to talk to him?
What has changed about the president from the young man you knew?
He had no power. He was a poor young boy. Now he has amassed wealth. He has grabbed power...Apart from that, he is still the same. When he was a young man he was not straight and even now he is not straight. When Museveni says 10 words, you can’t trust them all. Perhaps only two are correct.
Is Museveni grateful for what you did for him?
He is not. Why did he send people to attack my ranch? He sent people with guns to attack me on my ranch. I rang him, I asked him to come and assist me from the attackers...He deceived me; he said he didn’t know the people who attacked me.
But he was the one encouraging the grabbing of ranches through this man called [David] Pulkol (former external intelligence chief). Pulkol was an instrument of Museveni but has now broken relations with the Movement. But wherever he is, I don’t think Pulkol is a good man if he can be used like that. A leader should be a man of principles; he should not attack people for nothing.
You mean Pulkol has no principles?
Why did he go to my ranch and hold a meeting with my porters without consulting me? I have got a ranch, I had a title for it but Pulkol never asked me when he came.
Instead, he went to where my ranch was and held a meeting with squatters whom Museveni had sent there and he appoints one as chairman of the ranch... What sort of man is Pulkol? He is like Museveni. They are thieves. He is now pretending to be a good leader.
Which politician do you respect as a selfless servant of Uganda?
I respect some politicians from northern Uganda because they mean what they say…they are sincere and they are braver. They speak their mind without fear.
Any specific northerners you remember?
[Alexander] Latim, Daudi Ochieng and Gasper Oder of West Nile. Then there is Cuthbert Obwangor in Teso. In spite of being UPC, whenever Obote went wrong, Obwangor spoke his mind. Generally, people from the north are different from people from the south.