Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Uganda's Museveni Faces Tough Challenge In Presidential Election


This week, Ugandan's will go to the polls. President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 35 years, is facing a strong challenge from Bobi Wine, a young singer turned politician who's half his age. NPR's Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta is in Uganda's capital of Kampala, and he interviewed the president, and he joins us now with this exclusive. And, Eyder, where did you meet the president?

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: So we met at his ranch in Kisozi, which is about a five-hour drive from Kampala, and his cows were grazing in the distance.


PERALTA: And, you know, he came in making jokes. He was carrying a travel mug and wearing his signature broad-brimmed hat, and we sat under this big tree to talk.

MOSLEY: I guess before we dive in, can you tell us a little bit more about him?

PERALTA: Yeah. So he helped topple two dictators in the '70s and '80s. But now, he has been in power since 1986. Uganda has changed the Constitution twice to allow him to stay in power, and he is now running for a sixth term in office. The election is on Thursday. So I started with a pretty simple question - what is it that you haven't accomplished in 35 years that you plan to accomplish this time around? And as Museveni is bound to do, he gave me a history lesson in colonialism, and he said that he wants to work to bend the arc of history on the continent, including to change what he said was a culture of not working hard.

PRESIDENT YOWERI MUSEVENI: No. With this huge continent with a small population, has got a mentality for its people. They don't have to work hard. Now, that's a big struggle, which these know-it-all from 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.

PERALTA: That's a really harsh thing to say about your people.

MUSEVENI: I'm telling - you just record it 'cause you have got a recorder. You just record it.

MOSLEY: That is really harsh. So he didn't talk about a five-point plan about issues like building roads or improving schools.

PERALTA: No. I think he was insulted by the question because he said that it implied that he should leave office after 35 years. He says that he's trying to accomplish historical things. And he looked to George Washington as a model.

MUSEVENI: The Americans are the most powerful country in the history of man. I want to do what Washington did - to work for the economic and, in some cases, even political integration of Africa.

PERALTA: So using the United States as an example...

And here, I told President Museveni that George Washington gave up power after eight years to make a point that the American presidency was not a lifetime appointment. And Museveni argued that Washington could leave because the American electorate and its economic system was more sophisticated.

MUSEVENI: When the social direction of a society is already set, anybody can run it. The problem is, in our case, the direction is not set, so it's very risky, very risky. Actually, it showed the lack of seriousness of those who talk the way you're talking, that you just go. Just go (laughter). 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 everybody is no longer - there's no more argument about that, then anybody can lead. I can say now you know the way. Let me go.

PERALTA: But your people are smart, and they're entrepreneuring (ph). And, I mean, to be totally honest here, I think what you're saying sounds really condescending toward your people.

MUSEVENI: It's not condescending. It is a struggle to change a society, which we know well, which, of course, you don't know very well.

MOSLEY: So transition is risky, he's saying. But, Eyder, what does his record after 35 years actually show?

PERALTA: Look, there's no denying that Museveni has brought peace to Uganda. There's a saying in the rural parts that suffered tremendously under the terror of the LRA's Joseph Kony that at least they can sleep. But look, Uganda is still deeply poor, and corruption is endemic. And I asked him specifically about his foreign minister. A few years ago, the FBI found that he took a $500,000 bribe from a Chinese businessman, you know, after they looked through some emails of his. Yet Sam Kutesa is still one of President Museveni's most trusted men.

What do you tell Ugandans who see this pass by when you don't fire your foreign minister?

MUSEVENI: That one is terrible. I have not read it. But I will read it, and I am really - I despise and condemn all parasites.

PERALTA: I'm happy to send you the indictment, which has the email in it...


PERALTA: ...That you can read.

MUSEVENI: Please do.

PERALTA: But look, the truth is he has had years to read this, so he must have known about this.

MOSLEY: OK. Elections, as we've mentioned, are on Thursday. Is he campaigning?

PERALTA: He is. He's everywhere in Uganda. But he did still take the time to drive me around his farm to show me his cows.


PERALTA: These - and these cows are his prized possessions, and, you know, they're beautiful. And he has 10,000 of these cows. But as he was walking away, he wanted to explain what made him different from his young opponent. He says Bobi Wine is too focused on the lumpenproletariat or the thoughtless masses.

MUSEVENI: Because the money, the income generated by the - by us, the farmers, the industrialists that will help the ghetto people.

PERALTA: So he's saying - if you can't hear it - that it is the rich like him who will help the ghetto people. And this is coming from a man who has 10,000 cows in a country where many people eat meat for special occasions, maybe for Christmas or for Eid.

MOSLEY: This is so fascinating. Eyder, we'll have more of your interview later today. What will we hear?

PERALTA: So we will ask him about elections. We'll talk about his opponent and why security forces have reacted so violently to protests. And maybe it won't surprise you, but President Museveni is unrepentant.

MOSLEY: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta. Thank you, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Tonya.


Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.