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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 18:10 GMT
Museveni's longevity takes its toll
By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC News

President Yoweri Museveni

By the time of Uganda's next election, in March next year, Yoweri Museveni will have led the country for 20 years.

A recent change in the constitution means that - if he chooses - he will be able to stand for president again, with no limit to the number of times he can be re-elected.

But despite his very real achievements there is growing pressure on him to stand down and accept that he has been in power for long enough.

He originally came to Kampala at the head of a victorious army, following a long period of repression and instability.

And although the government he set up was appointed, not elected, it was inclusive, bringing in a variety of other parties.

Stability

His argument for many years was that party politics in Uganda had proved so divisive that a more consensual system was needed.

Kizza Besigye
Kizza Besigye and his wife are both former Museveni allies

Debate was allowed and alternative candidates could stand for election, but only under the umbrella of the National Resistance Movement - known as "The Movement".

At first Ugandans were clearly overwhelmingly grateful for the stability this brought.

President Museveni oversaw a striking economic revival, throwing out the state socialism of the past, and encouraging private enterprise and foreign investment.

He was also one of the few African leaders to speak out frankly about HIV and Aids.

And although Uganda was one of the counties first hit and worst hit by the epidemic, public education campaigns and government action have gradually brought down the number of new infections.

So Uganda was hailed as one of Africa's success stories, with donor countries prepared to overlook its lack of conventional forms of democracy.

Complaints

But 20 years is a long time to stay in power and complaints against President Museveni have mounted both inside and outside the country.

He has become embroiled in a series of quarrels with his neighbours and - perhaps a legacy of his military past - has been quick to take direct action where he though Uganda threatened.

The biggest military intervention was in Democratic Republic of Congo, where Ugandan troops moved in to prevent rebels attacking from safe havens over the border, but were accused of staying on to exploit the wealth of eastern DR Congo for national and personal profit.

It was at this point that some of President Museveni's international backers began to get exasperated with him, and the United States suspended military aid until the Ugandan army pulled back.

Within Uganda it has become clear that political action within the Movement imposes few constraints on presidential power and is unlikely to lead to real change.

The person who has come the closest to challenging President Museveni is Kizza Besigye, whose return to Uganda sparked the present tumult.

He took nearly 30% of the vote in 2001, but later fled the country, saying he feared for his personal safety.

The next elections are due in March, and this time political parties will be allowed to fight them on a party basis, but the change in the law has left them little time to prepare, and the treason charges against Mr Besigye makes it harder for him to be a candidate.




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