Dokolo woman member of parliament Cecilia Atim Ogwal reveals how during these 32 years of President Museveni’s rule, she has survived 12 attempts on her life.
Baker Batte Lule brings you excerpts from the former Uganda Peoples Congress iron lady’s no-holds-barred interview; recounting instances of torture, untold harassment and other forms of abuse at the hands of the ruling NRM regime...
By the time you started challenging Museveni he was still very popular. Why did you think he needed to be challenged then?
It was very clear that there was no big difference between the military junta of Yoweri Museveni and the military junta of Idi Amin. Any group of people or any person that shoots himself to power cannot deliver democracy.
In my understanding of politics, I strongly believe that it’s only through multiparty politics that we can get a fair deal. It gives an environment of dialogue, competition and an environment where everybody has a role to play.
So, the Movement system of Museveni was a bad deal?
As far as I’m concerned, a situation where all political parties are banned, except one, means that particular political party or group or whatever name you would brand it, will enjoy a monolithic political position.
Where there is a monopoly, it means you can dictate how things should be done and by dictating without any challenge means the element of oppression and suppression is bound to be there.
The element of militarism is bound to be there, which in our case it was manifestly clear that President Museveni was playing politics through military pressure.
How was he doing it?
We used to have District Administrators; the current RDCs, who were political operators on behalf of the government. There is a big difference between party functionaries and government agencies because agencies take care of the interest of everybody regardless of political leanings.
But these toed the line of the incumbent. Right from the start, these DAs would regard anybody else who was speaking [out], not as an opponent but as an enemy. The environment was highly, highly charged and militaristic in its naked form. I opposed Museveni from day one; the moment he entered, I said this is it.
We knew each other very well but we were on opposite sides of politics because I didn’t believe; regardless of whatever ideological argument he would put across, that he was sincere. A military-backed government cannot deliver democracy.
Even when he said; give us time to write a new constitution, blah, blah, it was all a diplomatic play. It wasn’t really a proper ideologically thought-out position to deliver to Uganda; a democratic environment where all ethnic groups [and] political groups would have a part to play. They branded NRM [National Resistance Movement] as being all-embracing, all-encompassing, meaning that all of you regardless of your political leaning would be welcome.
I thank God that right from day one I knew there are two distinct lines of political approach; the Museveni approach, which was purely monolithic, purely militaristic, and the multiparty movement led by us because I was at the forefront then.
When Museveni came in, he absorbed the Democratic Party; people like Paul Ssemogerere, Prof [Yoweri] Kyesimira were part and parcel of the government which definitely compromised their belief in multiparty democracy.
Museveni argued then that the parties were divisive and, therefore, there was need to come together to deliver the country from years of political turmoil…
You can’t be pursuing the line of multiparty democracy when you are actually working for a monolithic regime. The environment dictated that the NRM was the single platform available for you to play your role as a politician.
UPC resisted this political swallowing. You would be swallowed and digested and henceforth, you will never be the same. Indeed, all the people who joined Museveni and his regime at the time were never the same. Those who decided to resist like Paulo Muwanga ended up in jail. So, you had to be compromised fully in the Museveni system, then you would survive.
Normally they would join as ministers and they use you and after a short time, they dump you after sucking out any political relevance in you. That has been the system from 1986 up to now. I don’t want to name names; you are a journalist, research about it.
You will find that all the people who were recruited from DP, UPC, CP [Conservative Party] were totally neutralised and were never the same politically. I thank God that I’m alive up to now to see the consistency in the way Museveni thinks. The way he plans; he has never changed a bit, never! He is still the same person. He is very strategic, he knows what he wants; very patient, he will want to reach where he is going and nobody [will] stop him.
When they talked about the 50 years’ rule of the Bachwezi dynasty and what have you, they knew what they wanted…
Do you actually believe that such a thing was ever planned?
It was well put in that document if at all you have got an opportunity to read about it in the papers. They planned to have their people educated and others wouldn’t be educated, so that in the event of any interview for a high-profile office, their people are ready to take it. You can’t say that this is nepotism because their people would be very well trained.
People who are having good positions are the same people having their children educated on the State House scholarship; nobody has ever accessed the authentic list of those who have benefited from State House scholarships.
But we know all those who have benefitted are the friends, relatives, allies of the first family. So, that’s how they have prepared their people to be on the front line. You can look at these people who have been planted; be it in Uganda Revenue Authority, Unra, and all government agencies, when you trace their background, you find that either the husband or wife has been part of the Museveni cabal.
So, I believe somebody must stand up against this military junta and tell the truth. As UPC, we stood out and we were able to make an impact right from West Nile, through to Karamoja, Acholi, Bunyoro, Ankole and so on. Actually when you go to those areas, you find that our pillars of UPC remain firm and standing. Even in western Uganda, the elements of UPC have refused to die because the seed is still flourishing.
You speak with a lot of sentiment about UPC …haven’t you fully migrated to FDC?
I have UPC sentiments because it had an authentic, well-thought-out ideology and philosophy. There is no reason as to why I should quarrel with UPC; never.
Equally, I have no reason to quarrel with DP because these two parties had an agenda to bring about independence and they were true to their word because they were able to implement what they agreed upon and delivered the freedom that Ugandans were craving.
Anybody who thinks Museveni came with new ideas is deceiving themselves because there are no new ideas. Museveni came to dismantle what the UPC government put in place.
What did he dismantle?
All these big investments we had were dismantled to benefit a few individuals, and not the state. It hurts so much that cooperative unions that were benefiting the farmers were all dismantled. Uganda Commercial bank didn’t benefit [former president] Dr Obote or his relatives, but the country. All these are no more and nothing has been put in place.
We put up a spirited fight to save UCB because its purpose had been well framed by the government that was in place at that time. How do you sell UCB and then open Stanbic bank? I think if one investigated this bank, there are some faceless owners of this bank who are Ugandans because I don’t think anybody with a Ugandan heart would have given up UCB to take on Stanbic bank.
I was very saddened by the killing and burying of UCB.
You say that UPC had a very strong ideology and philosophy, wouldn’t you say the same for FDC?
FDC is trying its best; it’s still new and they can’t probably go back to what Uganda demanded prior to independence. So, when you see FDC breaking up over petty issues, you know there is an element which is lacking. I’m not a very good baker, but many times I have tried to bake a cake; when you put in less eggs or yeast, it doesn’t come out well.
We supported the FDC right from the time of the Reform Agenda. When you talk to Dr Kizza Besigye, he will tell you that I was one of the people who persuaded him to come up with a full-fledged political party to back up his political position.
Why wouldn’t you entice him to join UPC?
I didn’t labour to do that because I knew people who had been in NRM were looking at UPC as an enemy and they didn’t wish to join it. If we had done that, it would have been a tactical error. So, we helped to see FDC formed but we remained where we were.
Even when UPC disintegrated, we decided to opt out and continued to participate as independents in the eighth parliament. It was only later that we realised that we couldn’t be fighting for multiparty democracy then we fall back to no party democracy. I didn’t believe in being independent. I believed in systems; in an ideology; having a strong institution to back up my argument; that is what I believed.
I joined FDC which I believe is playing its role very effectively although there are still a lot of challenges.
What do you make of Gen Mugisha Muntu’s New Formation and the thinking behind it…
In every political setup there are always middle roaders who parties fight for. It depends on your formation to be able to attract these middle roaders and also the crystallised group of political parties. When you are recruiting, you not only recruit from these middle roaders but also from NRM, FDC, DP and other parties.
But forming a political party needs a lot of tactics, a lot of study of psychology and a lot of sacrifices need to be made.
Can Cecilia Ogwal ever be part of this New Formation?
I have been telling people that I left UPC but they continue to brand me UPC. I was shocked when I googled some names of MPs because we are very many now and I found myself listed as member of UPC and even encircled in red; can you imagine!
I stood as FDC, and I’m here pure and simple as FDC. I put my case to the clerk of parliament to correct this error. I don’t know whether they have corrected it now.
Maybe you and UPC had become inseparable; the two of you were one and the same…
Well, I grew up in UPC, I was mentored by Dr Obote and I think I have sucked more political wisdom from him than his own family. I was closer in running UPC than anybody else. I knew UPC, and I still know it better than any other person now with the departure of Obote.
When in 1996 UPC allied with DP, that alliance was criticised as unprincipled just like that of 1962. How did it affect Ssemogerere’s chances of winning the election?
Indeed it worked against the alliance because there were many forces that used religion, forces that used the past; that Ssemogerere winning would mean bringing back Obote.
In fact, I remember they put up a fake cabinet and included Joseph Kony [notorious LRA rebel leader] as the minister of defence, the late Edward Rurangaranga as the minister of internal affairs. To an ordinary Ugandan, you look at this Kony who is cutting people’s lips and breasts and say eeeh, this is the man who is going to be our minister of defence … It scared people away from the alliance.
For me, I didn’t care about whether we won or we lost but I knew we had won on the ground that we went outside and diminished the myth that there should be only one political voice that should be heard. Now they had to listen to both sides contrary to what existed right from 1986. I could now get out and hammer the government properly in their faces; how corrupt they were, how they were abusing people, how militaristic they were and there was nothing they could do about it.
They could only answer me by arguing otherwise which they couldn’t. If Ssemogerere was given only 39 days to campaign whereas Museveni was given helicopters, and other state apparatus, almost got 30 per cent of the votes cast, it was an incredible victory for us!
It meant that although we were limited in many ways, people heard us. We were not allowed to use government facilities; the UTV and Radio Uganda and the private media would not allow to work with us because if they did, they would be blacklisted.
We didn’t have funders because they knew they were monitored and they would be blacklisted. So, with bare hands we were able to register that victory.
Were you treated the same way Museveni’s current political opponents are being treated now?
I used to tell my son [former police chief, Gen] Kale Kayihura that he was a tribalist and he would ask why. I told him that during my days when I used to be at the forefront of opposing this government, he would beat me up and my people with wire rods which tears the skin.
When I went to the East, I was locked up at Elgon hotel for one week and I could only talk to the world through BBC using my telephone. I was locked up in Fort Portal, Bundibugyo and wherever I went in the country, I would be arrested by the police.
When I would ask what my crime was, they would say I didn’t get permission to be in the district and I would ask what law should I follow to get permission. They almost killed me in Nebbi; I was surrounded and they kicked open my room; I was with Dr James Rwanyarare; those who burst in my room were all drunk; so, they could have killed us but somehow God saved us.
In all those years of struggle, I survived 12 assassination attempts; just pray that one day I will document it. (Prodded further, she declined to talk about particular incidents but promised to write about them in future).
What should those who are challenging Museveni expect?
Museveni doesn’t change. The same tactics he is using now are the same tactics he has always used. The problem is when Idi Amin was killing Acholis and Langis, people thought he was doing the right thing; kill them, they have been a nuisance, it’s when he started killing people here in Buganda and the West that they woke up and said, wow, he is a bad man.
When Museveni was brutalising Mrs Ogwal and UPC people, they thought he was doing the right thing. It’s when they started brutalising them that they woke up and said eeh kumbe he is a dictator. But we had already suffered a lot.
Imagine Museveni fought me up to my pocket when he realised he couldn’t compromise me by bribing me; they killed my industry which I struggled all my youthful years to save money and set up; Lira Millers, they killed it! I set up ginneries, they killed them but all these didn’t compromise my struggle; I stood on.
Did you ever think that a man you started fighting 32 years ago would be still here up to now?
I have documented it; just go through Google, they will tell you that Mrs Ogwal predicted who Museveni would be several years ago. I appealed to the world community to take action; if they don’t do that, it will be difficult to uproot Museveni from Uganda.
Do you think Bobi Wine has what it takes to do what has eluded you for 32 years; defeat Museveni?
I don’t discuss personalities. Unfortunately, I don’t know about his group. I know ‘People Power’ as a slogan. So, I’m not competent enough to discuss what I don’t know. I’m very careful with what I say because I know it will haunt me tomorrow.
When you compare the lives of Ugandans today, are they better off than before Museveni?
Certainly you cannot compare the standards of living we had then to those of today. Thirty years ago, an ordinary farmer could feed his children two meals a day, pay school fees for the children up to secondary school and thereafter government takes over.
But today even a graduate can fail to look after him or herself. Today a graduate is on the street without a job, he is a boda boda rider. We are in a Uganda today that is not planned for; we are like animals in the bushes.
It’s indeed a very sad scenario. I get so disgusted when you see some people excited about this government. Museveni has realised that some people are so excited about money and status. If he picks up somebody who could never have reached the gate of a ministry and appoints him or her minister, they go crazy. They will glorify Museveni as a god because you know you could never ever have reached there.
Even those who are intelligent enough to know that this is a wrong system, the moment they are put in a position, they get completely compromised and blinded and this is what is happening.
Looking back what has been your utmost contribution to this country?
It was the fight for the return of multipartyism which I did without fear or favour. Whether you thank me or not, I have made a tangible contribution and the evidence is there overwhelmingly.