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UGANDA: Does Besigye still stand any chance of becoming Uganda’s next President?

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Dr Kizza Besigye, President Yoweri Museveni’s perennial opponent, turned 64 on early this year. His birthday is happened some 21 years since the he wrote the famous 1999 missive titled “An Insider’s View of How the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Lost the Broad Base’ that set the stage for his journey into political opposition.
His absence from next year’s Presidential ballot thus means he will be 70 in 2026 when the following general elections will be held.
A former political ally of Museveni until the close of the last millennium, Besigye has been the President’s fiercest critic for about two decades. Before he made up his mind to oppose Museveni for whom he had been personal physician during the five-year bush war, Besigye had served in different capacities in government. He had been Minister of State for Internal Affairs, Minister of State in the President’s Office, National Political Commissar, commanding officer of the mechanised regiment in Masaka and the army’s chief of logistics and engineering.
When he left his job as a medical doctor to join the bush war in 1982, Dr Besigye says he was convinced that Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) was the right vehicle to drive Uganda to democracy. But 13 years into Museveni’s government, Besigye accused the Museveni leadership he had helped come to power and served for over a decade of being dishonest, opportunistic and undemocratic, raising dust for stinging government in a wrong forum after his missive leaked to Daily Monitor newspaper.
Standing against President Museveni four times since 2001, Besigye has given Uganda’s longest serving leader a run for his money. In return, he has suffered at the hands of the State machinery more than any opposition politician in Museveni’s Uganda. From ‘trumped up’ rape and treason charges, several arrests and court appearances, being pepper-sprayed and teargassed, to detention, Besigye has seen how far the State can go to protect the interests of the head-of-state. In brief, he has seen it all.
But after losing to Museveni in four presidential elections, the fact that he disputed the results notwithstanding, how long can Besigye keep pushing to become Uganda’s 10th head-of-state? 
Besigye has argued that he is not in political activism in search of positions but co-working with other Ugandans to bring about “a stable democratic and peaceful Uganda.” So, why then has he taken part in four political contests for the country’s top seat?
“I have pointed out; the struggle is not about me and being a leader, not at all; the struggle is to end the rule of the few. I have never set out to seek leadership,” he replied to critics. “We use elections, simply as an opportunity to advance our broad cause; as a cause for regaining our power to decide, to have the rule of law in our country, to have our rights and freedoms respected and, indeed, to have a country where our resources are applied for the benefit of all equitably.”
In his long career as opposition leader ( a title he doesn’t want people to use to refer to him), Dr Besigye’s status as Museveni’s most prominent critic has been threatened by two people in the last five years: former Prime Minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi and new kid on the political block Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine.
In 2015 and 2016, pollsters had projected that Mbabazi, the former National Resistance Movement (NRM) Secretary General, would have eclipsed Besigye as opposition leader. They had even predicted that the 2016 presidential race would be tighter between Mbabazi and Museveni. But Besigye emerged second with 35 per cent of the vote ahead of Mbabazi who struggled to even garner two per cent.
Just over a year after the election, Bobi Wine won the Kyadondo East MP byelection that had hitherto been occupied by Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)’s Apollo Kantinti. A year later, Bobi had gained prominence after rallying behind moderates to win byelections. The one in Arua Municipality gave him more political capital after he stole headlines for alleged torture in detention. He subsequently picked courage to declare his intentions to challenge Museveni in 2021 and indeed,he is a duly nominated candidate.
The rise of Bobi Wine  prompted some to tell Besigye to leave the opposition stage for a new leader they seem to see in the singer-turned-politician. Even Bobi himself wondered why Besigye was claiming Museveni was undemocratic yet he had taken part in four elections against him. Besigye’s response to his detractors who were accusing him of overstaying in the opposition was that opposing Museveni was not a beauty pageant but a struggle.
“Is this a beauty contest to require a new face on the block? We are looking for as many fighters as we can have. That is the name of the game. If what they are talking about is leadership of the fighting, I have been very clear. Whoever wants to lead the fight should come and lead it. I have never stopped anyone,” Besigye fired back.
At 64, Besigye has spent a considerable part of his adult life in opposition. He has been a leader of the FDC, relinquishing the party leadership to bush war comrade Maj Gen (Rtd) Mugisha Muntu who has since left to found the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) party after losing to Besigye-allied candidate Patrick Amuriat Oboi. Besigye has been using his People’s Government (PG) as a vehicle for his activism.
But critics have argued, as early as 2017, that Besigye had supported Amuriat to kick out Maj Gen Muntu simply because the former army commander was seen as a strong contender for the FDC ticket in the 2021 presidential election. While Besigye’s PG has severally said it planned to see that Uganda is liberated from Museven’s ‘junta’ before next year’s election, the parallel government and FDC are left with months to either ensure Museveni removal or eat humble pie and relinquish the responsibility of being the face of opposition to Kyagulanyi and his National Unity Platform party. 
But as Besigye’s chances start running out as age catches up with him, he has made it clear that only death would make him give up on the struggle. “The only time when a freedom fighter’s time is up is when he is dead and buried,” said Besigye. “As long as these objectives [of the struggle] are not met, it means if I give up, not only will I live the remaining part of my years in a bad situation, but it means I have condemned the young people, our children to suffer the kind of situation that I suffered all these years.”

This means he will keep in active politics for a lot more to boost his chances of ever leading Uganda. By 2031, Uganda will have held three more elections and Besigye will be 75, President Museveni’s current age (Museveni will be 86 then). Besigye has had four chances already; will three more be the difference? To stay relevant and keep dominating opposition politics or even march to State House in victory, Besigye will not only have to keep doing what he has been doing right, but also do more to reinvent and endear himself to more Ugandan voters while maintaining the ones he currently has – and also pray that new opponents either rally behind him or suffer the same fate as Mbabazi’s – political oblivion.    

—— AUTO – GENERATED; Published (Halifax Canada Time AST) on: November 24, 2020 at 07:49PM

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