Uganda 2016 vote hots up; opposition's Besigye plans to take on president Museveni for fourth time

Uganda leader is one of longest-serving African rulers after Equatorial Guinea's Nguema, Angola’s dos Santos, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe and Cameroon’s Biya.

KIZZA Besigye, the Ugandan opposition leader who has lost the past three elections to President Yoweri Museveni, plans to run for president in elections scheduled for the first quarter of next year, his party said.

Besigye, 59, is seeking the nomination of the Forum for Democratic Party (FDC) to be its candidate in the vote, party spokesman Ibrahim Nganda Semujju said Monday by phone from the capital, Kampala.

Party president Mugisha Muntu and a city lawyer, Moses Byamugisha, are the other aspirants for nominations that will take place July 1 to July 22, he said. The candidate will be elected at a national delegates’ conference on Sept. 2, he said.

Besigye, a former colonel in the military who was President Yoweri Museveni physician during the guerrilla war in early 1980s that brought the Uganda leader to power eventually in 1986, dramatically fell out with him in 2000.

Old battles

Besigye has lost elections to Museveni, one of the longest-serving African leaders, three times. In 2001 he gave the Ugandan leader his first real electoral challenge, but it was a time when Uganda was still largely a one-party state, and he lost the election.

He rejected the election as stolen, and went to court to dispute Museveni’s election. Though the Uganda Supreme Court ruled that the vote was rigged, it also said the irregularities were not enough to merit overturning the result.

The two men tangled again in 2006, but by that time Uganda had returned to a multiparty system in a 2005 referendum, which however also scrapped presidential term limits, that has allowed Museveni to continue contesting elections. Besigye again went to court, and lost again.


A Museveni supporter with his campaign poster.

He lost the election for a third time in 2011, but this time didn’t contest the outcome, declaring that it was not possible to get justice in the country’s courts because they were not politically independent.

Anti-government protests

Besigye has led widespread several anti-government protests, and been arrested and jailed over a dozen times. 

In protests shortly after the last vote in 2011, which sparked a security crackdown that left at least nine people dead, he was beaten and badly injured in view of media cameras, and had to be flown to a Nairobi hospital to save his life.

In 2012, he stood down as leader of  FDC, Uganda’s biggest opposition party, and the party elected former Army chief, and also once a trusted lieutenant of Museveni and comrade in the bush war before they fell out, to head it.

 A stern studious figure with a reputation for fearlessness that evokes passionate support as much it polarises, many had expected that Besigye would bid his time and sit out the next election.

Enter Mbabazi

His entrance in the nomination, adds more drama to the development that has caused the most ripples in the east Africa country most lately - the decision by former prime minister and secretary general of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), Amama Mbabazi to join the presidential  race.

 Former Uganda prime minister Mbabazi with supporters.

Mbabazi, 66, once one of the most powerful figures in Museveni’s government, was for long his presumed successor.

Last year, however, he was bundled out of both the premiership and party  eading for “harbouring presidential ambitions”. 

Some had expected that the 71-year-old Museveni would hang up his gloves in 2016 after 30 years, and hand over the mantle to a younger or different hand in the party.

After a party convention late in 2014 adopted a resolution to have him as their “sole candidate” in 2016, and also formally replaced Mbabazi, Museveni looks set to stand for a seventh term, two of them unelected.

He is already the longest-ruling east African leader, and the fourth longest among serving presidents on the continent.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, and Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos top the table at 36 years a piece.

Zimbabwe’s 91-year-old Robert Mugabe is next with 35, not too far ahead of Cameroon’s Paul Biya’s, in power now for 33 years.

Museveni then pulls in at 29 years.

-Additional reporting by Bloomberg.

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