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Thursday, 1 March, 2001, 15:04 GMT
Profile: President Yoweri Museveni
President Museveni at campaign rally
On the campaign trail
By Anna Borzello in Kampala

President Yoweri Museveni, faces the first real political challenge of his career in the 12 March elections. 

The 56-year-old has until now been the undisputed boss. 

His only opponents have come from the outside - branded "multi-partyists", a word for those who support the cause of a return to a pluralist system of government.   

Now the situation has changed. 

Mr Museveni has been challenged by an insider, who has struck at the heart of everything Mr Museveni says he stands for.  

Early years

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was born into a family of cattle keepers in Ankole, Western Uganda. 

His name was taken from the Abasuveni, who were Ugandan servicemen in the Seventh Regiment of the Kings African rifles. 

He says in his biography - which tells much about his political development and almost nothing about his personal life - that he became politically aware while still a secondary school student.

Idi Amin
Museveni helped rid Ugandan of Idi Amin
He later went to the University of Dar es Salaam and studied Economics and Political Science, and while there forged alliances with other politically active "revolutionaries" from around the region.   

Mr Museveni's political career took off in the 1970s, after a coup by the notorious Idi Amin Dada. 

He helped form the Front For National Salvation, which was one of the rebel groups that, backed by Tanzania, ousted Amin from power. 

Mr Museveni served as minister in the new governments that took power but then claimed that the 1980 elections were rigged. 

On 6 February 1981, Mr Museveni went to the bush, and launched a guerrilla struggle based in the swamps of central Uganda.

His National Resistance Army eventually took power in January 1986.  

In power

He went on to form the National Resistance Movement government, which was first of all described as a transition and then as an alternate form of democracy.   

Poverty levels have dropped by 20% since 1992

Mr Museveni argues that political party activity splits underdeveloped countries like Uganda along ethnic, tribal and religious lines. 

He therefore introduced Movement, what he describes as a broad based, alternate system of democracy in which people compete for political office on individual merit.

Under this system, political party activity is restricted.

Over the next 10 years Mr Museveni became a darling of the West. 

Uganda's economy began to grow steadily and poverty levels have dropped by 20% since 1992. 

Primary school education enrolment has doubled, HIV levels have dropped because of an impressive anti-Aids campaign spear-headed by the president. 

Mr Museveni also began carving out a position as an African statesman.

In 1996, Mr Museveni faced a test of his popularity in presidential elections. 

He ran against Dr Paul Ssemogere, the head of the Democratic Party who headed a coalition of pluralists and  won with a resounding 75% - partly by associating his opponents with the country's troubled past. 

1998 was Mr Museveni's highest point. 

He was visited by US President Bill Clinton and described as the head of a new breed of African leaders. 


That image, however, soon began to crumble when Uganda and Rwanda invaded neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in support of rebels fighting to overthrow the government. 

Kizza Besigye
Dr Besigye's opposition is seen as a betrayal
  Uganda's involvement in the war - which has since dragged in six foreign countries - damaged Mr Museveni's reputation at home and abroad.  It also took up much of his time. 

During this period there were increasing complaints that Mr Museveni was growing more hardline and relying increasingly on a kitchen cabinet of hardline supporters.  

Dr Besigye's challenge has deeply shocked Mr Museveni, who has cast it as a "betrayal". 


Mr Museveni is a man with a vision.   He is also a man who believes strongly that he has the capacity to lead Uganda.. 

The force of his convictions is both his strength, as it enables him to get things done, and his weakness, as it has led him to find it increasingly hard to brook opposition.   

If Mr Museveni wins the 12 March election the real question is: What will he do next? 

Will he continue the trend of the last five years and become increasingly hardline, personalising the issues of his opponent and refusing to recognise that they reflect genuine grievances?  

Or will he open up and accommodate the views of his challenger? 

  The road Mr Museveni chooses to travel will determine his legacy: The president who returns Uganda to democracy, or a typical African Big Man, who, when it comes to giving up power, can go so far but no further.


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See also:

23 Feb 01 | Africa
Ugandan opposition 'intimidated'
11 Jan 01 | Africa
Uganda election fight kicks off
02 Jul 00 | Africa
'No-party rule' wins
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