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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 February 2006, 12:18 GMT
Uganda's silent presidential candidates
By Will Ross
BBC News, Uganda

Uganda's first multi-party elections for 26 years are to be held on 23 February. As polling day draws closer, Will Ross finds voters have found novel ways to highlight their passionate support - including building effigies of their preferred candidates.

Makeshift helicopter covered with Besigye posters
Supporters attempt to outdo each other to get noticed

I am sitting on a chair next to a busy road in central Kampala.

I am not alone. Sitting next to me is the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

He is not surrounded by his usual security entourage. In fact he is not looking particularly presidential at all - he is just relaxing.

But with elections just days away, this is surely a golden opportunity to secure a lengthy interview with the man who came to power through a rebellion 20 years ago.

"So, Mr President, just how confident are you that you'll still be in State House after this election?"

At this point an incumbent leader in Africa would normally say something about the love the people have for him and then perhaps predict a tidy 80% victory at the polls.

But no. Yoweri Museveni does not say a word. He just stares at me from under his wide-brimmed hat with just a hint of a smile.

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Let's try another question. "Mr President, I know the BBC is not your favourite radio station right now but perhaps you could just give me a brief idea of what your vision is for Uganda."

Still no response. "But there are precious few days to go until polling day, why aren't you out campaigning Mr President?

Not a word.

On the other side of town I drive past President Museveni's great rival, Dr Kizza Besigye.

With a handful of supporters around him, he is standing with his arms in the air, waving his political party's two-fingered salute.

Silent response

So let us see if we can get any predictions from the man who was once President Museveni's personal doctor until they fell out on such a spectacular level that they have not spoken to each other for the past six years.

Museveni supporters with effigy
Museveni took power before many of his supporters were even born

"So, Dr Besigye, should you win this election, would you be prepared to bury the hatchet and work with Yoweri Museveni?"

Dr Besigye just smiles back at me, his characteristic bulgy eyes looking straight ahead and his arms still aloft. But still no response.

The opposition politician may be short of words right now but has caused quite a stir in recent months.

Dr Besigye lost the election five years ago and returned from exile late last year.

After drawing large crowds, he was then arrested and charged, before both civilian and military courts, with terrorism, treason, rape and the illegal possession of firearms.

He is now out on bail and has mounted a serious challenge.

"If you win, Dr Besigye, won't you still have to clear your name before the courts? Or will you have presidential immunity?"

But just like Mr Museveni, he is not uttering a word. Surely a strange approach for the front-runners in this election.

The election campaign has been all about personalities not issues and with mudslinging by both sides the battle of the effigies has perhaps been a cleaner fight.

Could these be the rudest, most media-unfriendly presidential candidates of all time?

Well, no. These men are, in fact, dummies or effigies of the presidential candidates.

Supporters with a bit of time on their hands have built the effigies to highlight the passion of their support.

The Museveni I have failed to get an interview with is an elaborately decorated replica of the Ugandan leader.

Everlasting smile

His head has been cut out of his glossy campaign poster, and he has been dressed in an assortment of smart clothes from a second hand market.

A presidential primrose shirt goes well with his green and yellow checked jacket.

Sadly, his supporters have not filled out his blue trousers with quite enough stuffing so the president's legs look slightly withered dangling over the front of the chair.

He does not seem to mind though - the smile is everlasting.

Kizza Besigye effigy
Competing effigies have shown a lighter side to the campaign

These Museveni and Besigye effigies have sprung up in all sorts of places.

As you negotiate the chaos of a Kampala roundabout, it is not unusual to see a presidential candidate smiling back at you.

Some supporters have even laid out bottles of water and fizzy drinks in case their leaders need refreshment.

Umbrellas shield them from the sun.

But they have also caused a bit of friction as supporters compete in the battle of the effigies and the police are taking it seriously.

"People are free to erect effigies," a spokesman said last week. "You may place drinks next to them or even prostrate yourselves before your effigies."

"But", he warned, "the effigies must not be placed in such a way as to provoke each other. If that happens, you will be arrested and the effigy confiscated."

In one bizarre incident in western Uganda the authorities even arrested Dr Besigye's effigy and wouldn't release it until a bond had been paid - apparently those guarding it were demanding money from passers-by.

In a campaign which has seen plenty of mudslinging, the battle between the effigies has perhaps been a cleaner fight.

The election campaign has been all about personalities, not issues, and with mudslinging by both sides the battle of the effigies has perhaps been a cleaner fight.

There are five candidates in this race but everyone agrees three have no realistic chance of getting the key to State House.

One man, Abed Bwanika, has a good manifesto but has faced a large problem.

When he first started campaigning, no-one knew him. It turns out he is an experienced vet - responsible for keeping many a Ugandan goat on four legs.

He also runs a small church. If only Uganda's God-fearing goats could vote - he might secure a landslide.

Interestingly I have not seen an effigy of Pastor Bwanika. Maybe the line "Thou shalt not worship false idols," has something to do with it.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 17 February, 2006, at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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