Dr Kizza Besigye, stung by harsh criticism that his new political pressure group; the Peoples’ Front for Transition (PFT) launched last week, will fail to oust President Museveni just like the post-2016 election People’s Government he superintended – said in a an extensive interview that the most useless Ugandans are those who say his ideas won’t work and yet they don’t have ideas of their own.
“Unfortunately, we have a large supply of these idiots,” he said in a weekend interview with The Observer.
See excerpts as transcribed by MUHMMAD KAKEMBO.
We saw you launching another front to push President Museveni out of power. How different is it from previous attempts?
It doesn’t have to be different and I don’t know why people keep asking. When you have a task, you must keep at it until it’s done. How you carry out the task doesn’t have to be different. So, the challenge for Uganda is that our country was taken over by gunmen who rule us by force, who control all our wealth by force.
They have caused a crisis of poverty; people work hard but they work for them. They have caused a crisis of ignorance. We don’t have so many people who can solve human problems; we have a crisis of disease. These intensifying problems coming from state capture are problems for everybody except those who captured the state.
I would want to have a conversation with those who think there’s no problem. If there’s a problem, the question then is how does that problem go away? It’s a question for everybody, not for Besigye alone. What we have kept on trying to do is suggest ways of getting rid of the problem.
If those ideas have not yet solved the problem, we must keep at it. If somebody thinks those ideas are not good enough, let them bring theirs. The most useless Ugandans would be those saying his [Besigye’s] ideas won’t work and yet they don’t have ideas of their own. Unfortunately, we have a large supply of these idiots.
But because they can’t provide alternative ideas doesn’t mean they shouldn’t talk about yours, which have failed to work…
Rather than looking at my idea, which is not working, they should get their own ideas that work so that we will all be happy to join them and work with them. If you are not bringing anything on the table and then you are spitting at someone who is bringing a solution, then you are as bad as the problem we are trying to solve.
You are a total idiot and we have a large supply of these idiots. It’s part of the problem we are trying to solve; the lack of knowledge. The other reason I’m very bitter with this regime is the fact that despite the lack of knowledge, they are still keeping schools closed.
Today, Uganda is the only country in the whole world that is still closing schools because of Covid-19. For 36 years now, the man with knowledge provided by colonialists cannot provide education to people. People complete universal primary education (UPE) when they can’t write their names.
Isn’t it tiresome to work in an environment where you are opposed by those you are fighting with and for – and those you are fighting against?
The reason I keep fighting is because I was born here. I have no other country I call mine. I’m very keenly aware that in order for me to live a decent life in a country that respects my rights, I have no choice but to keep struggling, however long it takes.
The only other option I have is to migrate to another country. But the only problem is that I will not be in my country. I will be called a foreigner. I have lived in exile before and I know I will never live happily in a country where they call me a foreigner and treat me with indifference.
Many people believe we should create a better Uganda but the question is, must it be Dr Besigye to lead those efforts to create a better Uganda?
Absolutely not. I don’t have to lead anything. But what is there for me to join? If there was something created, I would be happy to join it and fight but where is it? What is there that I have refused to be part of?
It’s the idiots I have told you who don’t want to do anything but are very anxious to criticize anybody who is trying to do something. Let them start something and I will join them or let them lead this platform if anybody wants to be the leader.
I will be happy for them to be my leader. I’m not paid to do anything I’m doing. I don’t have any personal benefit out of it. But the greatest majority of those talking are the people who captured Uganda and have perfected the art of disguising themselves.
Quite often, the voices you hear talking like that are the voices of the same problem because they want to create confusion among people they want to hold hostage.
What was eye-catching was that when you launched the front, NUP, which has majority electoral seats in the opposition, were not present... How do you move ahead without those who lead the opposition?
It depends on what you want to do. Recently they [NUP] unveiled the legislative agenda in parliament. If they want to do something outside parliament, they should do it, nobody has stopped them. I don’t think they also want to stop anybody else who wants to do something.
But in doing this, everybody was engaged, including NUP. If they looked at this front as something that should be done, they should have joined us and maybe they would have led it but they didn’t. If for any reason you are not ready to do something, others will do what needs to be done.
In 1980, the leading opposition political party was DP, Museveni’s party actually got only one seat in parliament and even that MP didn’t enter parliament. Museveni didn’t believe parliament would cause change; so, he went to fight.
Now would those who were in parliament say why are you fighting when we are the leaders of opposition? No! Of course if they also wanted to fight, they would have gone and fought; they just chose to work from parliament.
When people see disharmony among the forces of change; doesn’t this cause confusion among the people?
Yes and it’s unfortunate. I think to have a harmonious kind of approach; I have been suggesting that we should have a public conversation among the different change-seeking actors. We sit around the table (kimeeza) mediated by the media and we discuss so the public can know what seems to be causing confusion amongst us.
Do we need transition; if yes, what type? Two, what strategy should be adopted to end the NRM Museveni junta because there are all sorts of ideas. Some think we should go for elections, some think we should have dialogue with Museveni, some think we should fight with guns.
Let’s discuss it and come to an understanding and even if we don’t, we see our differences. Thirdly, let’s discuss how we will manage change when we get it because people just look at only having change without interrogating what that change will bring.
You have applied for and got bail several times. What do you make of President Museveni’s push to deny bail to capital offenders?
t is entirely unjustifiable because even in the best of times when you have proper functioning institutions in open democratic societies, a suspect is a suspect and should be treated as such. They should have the benefit of doubt that they are innocent until there is proof that they committed certain offences.
So, taking away the liberty of somebody who might be entirely innocent and you keep that person in jail for long is extremely harmful to that person. Pretrial detention isn’t supposed to be a punishment. It is only intended to ensure that the suspect is subjected to a trial and if found guilty, he or she can be held accountable.
Court in our case can be moved not to grant bail if evidence shows that granting it may lead to a suspect not being available for trial. It would be helpful if Museveni showed Ugandans how many suspects have been granted bail and disappeared or they used bail to interfere with investigations.
In Uganda, bail is even more important because pretrial detention goes on up to five years. I have been imprisoned in different prisons in Kabale, Karamoja, Mbarara, Luzira, Nakasongola and many other places and in all these prisons, you find people who have been on remand for more than five years.
And for many suspects with cases, which had good evidence, they lost them because of the lengthy trials. Witnesses died or shifted. Five years is a stiff sentence for anybody; so, you punish people before they are tried.
He’s talking about six months only…
Now even if we are talking about six months, what is the justification? Detention normally should happen after you have collected evidence against a person. But here, there is no effort at all to inquire into who committed an offence. They just want political accountability that Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi has been shot dead; we have arrested 30 people.
They torture them so badly and then detain them for years. And then you say you are serving the interest of justice. You are a criminal yourself and that’s the trouble we have now. You cannot seek justice without clean hands. In Uganda, we have a criminal state that breaks the law, kills people, tortures people, detains them longer than the law allows. So, when you the state are a law breaker, and then you turn around and say you want to detain people legally without bail, you convince nobody.
Do you still have a recollection of how many times you have been granted bail?
I don’t know how many times I have been detained, produced in court and granted bail. Many times I’m not even charged with anything. I’m detained and after sometime they give me a police bond and it ends there. Certain times I’m taken to court, remanded and later given bail and it ends there.
Nobody follows up to try me. I have never run away. Other times I have actually been tried and acquitted including on cases of rape and treason. In all the cases I have been arrested and charged, I have never presented any defense to any court. All the cases have been dismissed without any need for me to defend myself.
In other words, all the charges have been trumped-up, totally without any merit or evidence that I needed to counter. So, you who is charging me must be in jail because you are using state resources to arrest, detain and to try me yet you know you have nothing. This is abuse of office clearly.
So, Justice Richard Buteera is the deputy chief justice now who prosecuted me (then as director of public prosecutions) for rape and my younger brother who later died as a result of that imprisonment for the murder of someone who never lived and, therefore, never died.
He should be in jail for abuse of office. So, we have a criminal state and a politically insecure government, which uses imprisonment against its opponents as a means of maintaining power. In those circumstances, it would be extremely reckless for anybody to give them power to simply put a charge on a piece of paper and then keep people in jail for a long period of time.
You said you have been in different prisons and found people who have spent years in jail. Why should such people care whether there is a law against bail or not?
It matters because even now getting bail on a capital offence is tough. One needs lawyers that have a lot of competency to get bail. The cost of lawyers is very unaffordable to ordinary people who are rotting in these prisons. So, the law helps because it creates an opportunity for those who can use it to secure their freedom.
The other thing is that the law is for the vigilant; if somebody slaps you and you don’t go to seek justice, nothing will happen unless you move the levers of justice. But if the law abolishes a right, those who could use the law to secure their freedom like me, and I’m not alone, wouldn’t have a chance.
But injustice has no boundary; it can be applied to any ordinary person. The law may start with other people who are not you but for as long as it’s unjust, it will stretch and reach you. That’s why even lawmakers who will be involved in making unjust laws would be absolutely stupid because those unjust laws will not stop when their power stops.
They can be applied directly to them by different holders of power or even the same holders of power because the MPs have very little power. You should also know that nobody wants a criminal to go free but the trouble we have is that criminals in Uganda are going free.
We are coming from an election, which the NRM decisively won; so one would ask why would they be feeling insecure…?
After a stolen election where the regime brought out soldiers to kill people, break their skulls and emptied the bank to buy support in order to create an impression that they won; that creates a lot of anger in the country and the anger they face generates fear in them; they are terrified of angry people.
To manage that anger, two things are done; instill fear in peoples’ minds that even more terrible things will happen to them. That’s why every after an election you see a lot of violence. I believe it’s state-inspired violence. Kill people in broad daylight, pile mass graves, detain people and then everybody is terrified. That has repeatedly been done every after an election.
That’s why even in this election my first suspect in the bijambiya killings in Masaka is the state itself. Now that they are talking about denying bail strengthens my suspicion that on top of creating fear, they also want to create justification for the abolition of bail. They arrest prominent people to create debate about bail; I see a lot orchestration in this.
If President Museveni is serious about banning bail; do you see him failing to push it through parliament?
Of course he can. But parliamentarians will be extremely stupid to pass it. But we are not short of such level of stupidity here. So, I will not be surprised if that law were passed. It won’t be the first time such a thing will be done. In 1968, a Detention without Trial Act was passed and it was actually abolished by NRM in 1986.
Now Museveni is shy of reproducing the same. Don’t forget that after the 2011 elections, he wanted the same law to be enacted for crimes such as murder, economic sabotage, rioting and rape. He just hides behind the other crimes but the real thing for him is demonstrators he calls rioters.