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Page last updated at 01:18 GMT, Wednesday, 30 November 2005

Museveni: Uganda's fallen angel

By Will Ross
BBC News, Kampala

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has for years been hailed by western donors as part of the "new breed" of African leaders but many now say his halo has slipped.

Uganda's Yoweri Museveni (l) and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe (r)
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They are particularly alarmed by the arrest this month of Kizza Besigye, seen as the man likely to pose the strongest challenge to Mr Museveni in elections due early next year.

Some analysts say the involvement of the military in Dr Besigye's case is a sign of the growing influence of the army in various aspects of Ugandan life.

The authorities accuse Dr Besigye of contacting rebel groups in order to topple Mr Museveni and they say they have the evidence to back up the charges.

Dr Besigye was charged with treason - and rape - in the High Court but a judge has agreed to grant him bail.

However, he has also been charged in a military court with terrorism and unlawful possession of weapons and he remains in custody.

Militarization

A further cause for alarm came during a bail hearing for 14 of Dr Besigye's co-accused.

As the judge considered whether to free them, a group of armed men wearing black T-shirts surrounded the court.

Gunmen outside Uganda's High Court
Judges said the presence of armed men outside court was 'despicable'
Bail was granted but they preferred to stay in prison rather than walk into the hands of what the Ugandan press has dubbed the "Black Mambas Urban Hit Squad".

The army later said they were part of the anti-terrorism unit. When the same men were at the court next wearing police uniforms, eyebrows were raised even higher.

The High Court's top judge James Ogoola described the incident as "a despicable act" and a "rape of the judiciary".

He also made comparisons to the dark days of Idi Amin.

Rural support

Several newspaper articles have suggested that Dr Besigye's own trial is being eclipsed by the trial of Mr Museveni and his commitment to good governance.

"Besigye's greatest contribution to this country has been to unmask Museveni and expose his true colours as a militarist who disregards the rule of law and shuns due process," says Ugandan political commentator Andrew Mwenda.

Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye leaves a military court
Many Ugandans are unhappy at the military's involvement in the Besigye case
Mr Museveni's Presidential Guard Brigade is reported to number more than 10,000 soldiers. While some see this as a necessary security measure to protect a leader in a troubled region, others say this is effectively Mr Museveni's private army.

Journalists and others are also dismayed by a recent change in the board of the state-run New Vision newspaper.

The new chairman of the board is Colonel Noble Mayombo - a former head of military intelligence, the current permanent secretary in the ministry of defence and a soldier considered to be one of Mr Museveni's most loyal colleagues.

Information Minister James Nsaba Buturo, however, denies that the military is taking over.

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"Uganda is not under the leadership of the armed forces. I admit the action at the High Court was unusual but it was a one-off and was considered the best way of handling the matter."

And many ordinary Ugandans, especially in rural areas, still support Mr Museveni, saying: "The army does not harass us any more."

Mr Museveni has been praised for liberalising the economy and he appealed to the Asian business community expelled by Idi Amin to return and invest.

He was also one of the first African leaders to face up to the challenge of HIV/Aids. Uganda is one of the few countries where the rate of infection has fallen.

'Warning lights'

But corruption has remained a serious problem in Uganda and Mr Museveni has faced criticism for not taking a stronger line.

In August, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria suspended some grants to Uganda, citing alleged financial mismanagement.

If I'm being reviled now this is one of the phases of being misunderstood
President Yoweri Museveni
The president set up a high level inquiry and funding has since been restored but it was another blow to Uganda's international image.

Equally, recent threats to shut down radio stations or newspapers which break a government ban on discussing the Besigye case have raised serious questions about the government's commitment to freedom of the press.

The international community does have influence in Uganda as donors fund close to half of Uganda's budget.

The European Union and the US have expressed deep concern over the arrest of Dr Besigye and the way the case is being handled.

Donors were already concerned when the constitution was changed to allow Mr Museveni to stand for a third term in office and withheld some aid.

So far these cuts have been in order to register concern and are not large enough to cause great changes on the ground but that could change.

Even before the Besigye case, out-going US ambassador Jimmy Kolker warned of a failure to stamp out political violence and corruption, saying: "Red warning lights are flashing."

Some analysts suggest the reaction of the World Bank has far more influence than individual donor countries.

However, the World Bank has for years held up Uganda as its African success story and it would take a monumental shift for there to be an admission that all is not well.

The new Mugabe?

Following Mr Museveni's visit to Zimbabwe last year, commentators in Uganda have been drawing comparisons with President Robert Mugabe.

Both men are former freedom fighters, lauded for their initial work.

Man looks at burning car in Kampala
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Then as they proved to be reluctant to leave power, they started to come in for increasing criticism. And both responded in the same way - by banging the anti-colonial drum.

In both countries, opposition leaders have been arrested and charged with treason as elections approached.

Mr Museveni has also spent a reported $1.2m of tax-payers' money to enlist the help of a London-based public relations firm to counter the growing criticism.

It has launched a drive to bring in the tourists under the slogan: "Uganda: Gifted By Nature."

But even on that website is the admission: "Branding a country is a formidable challenge."

Despite employing the PR firm, some analysts suggest Mr Museveni's actions give the impression he does not care as much as he used to about his international image as staying in power is his primary objective.

"I became a good man after I'd been a bad man for 20 years," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

"When I was a guerrilla fighting the regimes, I was always being called a vagabond - being called all sorts of names, until my usefulness showed up much later.

"Therefore, if I'm being reviled now this is one of the phases of being misunderstood because the people have not seen what you're trying to do."

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