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Meeting Uganda's master tactician


By Mike Wooldridge
BBC world affairs correspondent, Kampala

Yoweri Museveni seized power in Uganda in 1986 with a pledge that this was "no mere change of guards" - that Uganda was in for fundamental change.

Cameraman Mo Amin films Mike Wooldridge and Yoweri Museveni in 1986
Mike Wooldridge interviews Yoweri Museveni in 1986
He remains Uganda's leader 19 years on and there could now be another presidential term in prospect.

His critics suggest this flies in the face of his promise that he would provide a different kind of African leadership. He insists that he has.

I was in Kampala when Mr Museveni and his guerrilla force, the National Resistance Army, took over after a four-year bush war.

We had badgered our way into Uganda from neighbouring Tanzania and had an "escort" of the NRA's youthful soldiers as we sped from the border to Kampala.

The greatest toll of the conflict had been in rural areas where government soldiers confronted the rebels - civilians caught in the middle paid a heavy price.

We were to discover just how heavy when we travelled to these areas and were shown piles of skulls and talked to those who had often only narrowly escaped with their lives, including women and girls who had been repeatedly raped.

That - and a decade of the brutality of the Idi Amin regime beforehand - was the background against which Yoweri Museveni came to power in the nation known as the "Pearl of Africa".

Plans for presidency

When I interviewed him at that time, he said Uganda had been plagued by intrigue, subterfuge and power-seeking politicians.

Yoweri Museveni

He wanted to unite Uganda and rid it of sectarianism. Yoweri Museveni was in military uniform for that interview and it took place in a capital city that bore the evidence of recent fighting.

Kampala may now have been in Mr Museveni's hands but the NRA was yet to secure the north. He said they would do so "in a short while".

Today there is still conflict in the north, severely scarring the landscape of a country that has otherwise seen a significant return to stability.

The notorious tactics employed by the Lord's Resistance Army - especially the abduction of children as fighters and sex slaves - have kept the population of a large swathe of northern Uganda living in fear.

I have just spent several days in parts of Uganda consumed much less by this unending conflict than by the politics surrounding the presidency.

Parliament appears to be on the way to lifting the present two-term limit, which means that Mr Museveni could stand again when his current term expires next year.

Critics charge that he wants to be president-for-life.

Military tactician

Speaking on the BBC's Talking Point programme, Mr Museveni was adamantly non-committal about his own continuing ambitions, putting his fate in the hands of the political movement that currently runs the country and in the hands of the people.

Idi Amin
Idi Amin left a legacy of brutality in Uganda

Uganda is now three weeks away from a referendum on whether to return to multi-party politics - a move Mr Museveni is backing.

Sitting opposite him, I was taken back to the various encounters with him when he was a guerrilla commander newly-turned president.

He would talk as the tactician, someone steeped in the history of military conflicts.

It remains a mystery to me why such a strategist has not succeeded in bringing the northern conflict to an end, though he lays the blame largely on external factors.

At this moment, his people - and the world - are watching the strategy he pursues to take Uganda into a new political age.



SEE ALSO
Uganda's invisible war
22 Oct 04 |  Africa
Museveni wins referendum appeal
02 Sep 04 |  Africa

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