Uganda’s Ruler Museveni Defends Violent Crackdown In Bid For 6th Term

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Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986. His police chief has warned that anyone causing trouble on election day “will regret being born.” Museveni is facing a formidable electoral challenge from Bobi Wine, who has been arrested multiple times and said Tuesday that the military had killed his driver and that his home was raided.John Muchucha/AP

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni arrived at his ranch in Kisozi, about a five-hour drive from the capital Kampala, by helicopter. As the 76-year-old leader walked into an interview with NPR, he was jovial, cracking jokes, eager to show off the 10,000 cows that roam this ranch.

But just days away from an election on Thursday, the mood in the country is far more grave. Museveni is facing a formidable challenge from Robert Kyagulanyi, a singer-turned-politician better known by the stage name Bobi Wine.

At 38, Bobi Wine has electrified young people across Uganda. And Museveni, who has historically clamped down on anyone who poses a real threat to his power, has unleashed his security forces on him. In a press conference on Tuesday, Bobi Wine said the military had killed his driver and that his home was raided.

Even before the electoral campaign began, Bobi Wine was arrested several times. In one instance, he was tortured so badly, he flew to the United States to receive treatment.Article continues after sponsor message

In November, he was arrested once more, and 54 people were killed after protesters took to streets demanding his release. Journalists were attacked and detained while trying to cover his arrest.

Uganda has already changed the constitution twice, allowing Museveni to remain in power. In the past week, his government shut down social media and his police chief warned that anyone causing trouble on election day “will regret being born.”

NPR spoke to Museveni for more than an hour last week, about the elections, his opponent and why, after 35 years in power, he is seeking a sixth term. These are some highlights of the conversation, edited for clarity and length.

Interview Highlights

On pre-election violence

[Protesters] were attacking other people. Because they have been told that they should cause an uprising here like happened in Libya, like happened in Syria… so they are [American] agents. They are no longer part of a protest movement. They are now agents of foreign schemes, here.

According to the police procedures, if people are protesting, there is a way you handle it — but if now they overrun — overrun, for instance, a police station — you will have to stop it by using lethal fire. Rioting and attacking civilians and attacking property, it is something that we cannot accept.

On opposition leader Bobi Wine’s arrests

He’s not been arrested for putting forward ideas. He’s being arrested for rioting and causing danger to other people. That’s why he’s been arrested. But there are other opposition leaders who are not being arrested. Why, why him?

There are other opposition leaders who have never even seen a police station. But these ones whom you are talking about, they want to use violence to influence people, and that one our society cannot allow.

On why he thinks he needs to be president for another term

[Ugandans] don’t have to work hard. Now, that’s a big struggle, which these know-it-all from [the] outside don’t know, because in other parts of the world, people are pressured to work either by the environment, which is hostile, or by competition between man and man. But here, fools can survive.

On why he believes George Washington could leave office after eight years, but he can’t after 35 years in power

Anybody can run [the U.S.]. The problem is that in our case, the direction is not set. So it’s very risky, very risky. It actually showed the lack of seriousness of those who [say] that you just go, just [leave power]. People don’t know whether to go north or south, and you say, “You just go.”

Yes, if people are already clear that the direction is the north and … there’s no more argument about that, then anybody can lead. I can say now, you know the way, let me go.

On freedom of the press

Yes, we are committed to the freedom of the press, but see, the press, especially the Western press, is arrogant. You don’t want to learn; you know it all. Then you come on and impose your ignorance on our society.

So that’s the problem we are having. How can we continue dealing with these arrogant ignoramuses? So if they change their attitude from arrogance to inquisitiveness and investigation, I’m very happy.

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