Page last updated at 10:52 GMT, Saturday, 7 May 2011 11:52 UK

Would Uganda's Museveni recognise his former self?

By Will Ross
BBC News, Uganda

Concerned about the future of his 25-year rule, Uganda's once-popular President Yoweri Museveni is taking drastic measures to prevent an opposition uprising like that witnessed in the Arab World.

Kampala's largest bookstore is impressive.

President Yoweri Museveni
Museveni has started using violence against his people

Just next to the motivational publications that tell you how to think like a millionaire even if you are broke, there is a Ugandan section.

State of Blood is sadly not a novel, it is the inside story of Idi Amin.

The Dungeons of Nakasero is another tough read.

I was looking for a copy of the book, What Is Africa's Problem?

In it, the author says, back in 1986: "The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power."

And who wrote it? The current president, Yoweri Museveni, who has been in the job for 25 years.

I know what it is like to live under Idi Amin, to have roadblocks, to hear gunshots
Diana Nkesiga

The government will not admit it, but all is not well in Uganda right now.

Food and fuel prices have gone through the roof and seizing an opportunity to hurt the government, the opposition called walk-to-work protests, a cunning way of getting around the ban on demonstrations, as President Museveni has seen enough evidence of their impact in the Arab world.

But when politicians started strolling to work they were arrested.

Walking, it seemed, had become a crime.

Each time the main opposition politician Doctor Kizza Besigye resisted arrest, there were ever more violent clashes.

Ugandans watched the evening news and were horrified.

The sight of plainclothes policemen smashing the politician's car windows and spraying him with chemicals before dumping him on the back of a truck was the tipping point.

Angered by what people condemned as police brutality, riots erupted.

Out came the army and the tear gas and the bullets.

Former allies

The service at Kampala's All Saints Cathedral started with an unusual announcement.

FDC leader Kizza Besigye is arrested by plainclothes policemen in the capital Kampala
Images of the arrest of Kizza Besigye sparked riots

"We will be praying for the president and we will also be praying for Doctor Besigye," said the vicar, Diana Nkesiga.

The president and opposition leader used to be allies but have not spoken to each other in more than 10 years.

During the 1980s bush war that saw Yoweri Museveni shoot his way into power, Kizza Besigye was his personal doctor.

But after serious disagreements they have since stood against each other in successive disputed elections.

The white-robed Diana Nkesiga knows a thing or two about reconciliation, having spent years trying to heal wounds across the colour divide in South Africa under apartheid.

She told me now was the time for talking not fighting.

"I grew up in Kampala in the 1970s. I know what it is like to live under Idi Amin, to have roadblocks, to hear gunshots," she said.

If the Yoweri Museveni of 1986 were to meet the Museveni of today they would fight on sight - they would shoot each other
George Kanyeihamba

"For me as a child those were our deepest nightmares, we don't want to go there."

Sharing this view, different religious leaders popped up on television calling for dialogue.

The president's response?

He told them to keep their noses out and stick to their religious work.

"Do you see me baptising people?" he asked.

Outside the gates of Makerere University there was a bizarre sight.

A mosquito net under a tree, a mattress on the ground and a jacket and tie swinging on a coat hanger.

There was also a sign: "Hunger Strike. End Police Brutality Now!"

The one-man protest had only been going a couple of days, when the young student collapsed and was taken to hospital to recover.

At the High Court, there was a bigger show of dismay.

Lawyers striking against violence
Uganda Law Society on strike over the breakdown in the rule of law

Uganda's lawyers had agreed to go on strike.

In their black gowns they thronged the court grounds to hand over a petition to the chief justice.

"We are mourning the death of rule of law in Uganda," the law society president, Bruce Kyerere, told me.

A lot of lawyers did not join in perhaps fearing the possibility of tear gas.

"The lawyers like money too much. It won't last long," a Ugandan journalist said with a smile.

Changed man

Whilst most Ugandans are disgusted by the way police have handled protests, the government has appeared out of touch, stubbornly defending the use of force.

President Museveni used to be seen as very much in touch with the people and almost everyone agrees he did a fantastic job for the country for part of his time in office.

But now with increased reliance on the military, the signs are not good.

In a Kampala restaurant I met George Kanyeihamba. He was a minister and attorney general when President Museveni came to power in 1986.

He retired from life as a Supreme Court judge last year and is extremely worried about where Uganda is headed.

He suggested the very issues of injustice that led to Yoweri Museveni taking up arms were coming back.

I asked him to compare the Museveni he knew then and the man now.

"They are two different people," he said.

"Some Ugandans have said that if the Yoweri Museveni of 1986 were to meet the Museveni of today they would fight on sight - they would shoot each other."

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SEE ALSO
Country profile: Uganda
29 Apr 11 |  Country profiles


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