Uganda's Museveni Defends Violent Crackdown In Bid For 6th Term President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, spoke to NPR ahead of Thursday's election. His main challenger, Bobi Wine, said Tuesday the military had killed his driver and his home had been raided.
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Uganda's Ruler Museveni Defends Violent Crackdown In Bid For 6th Term

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

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

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

As here in the U.S., we continue to grapple with fallout from election-related violence, including the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol, we have an exclusive interview now that focuses on a deadly election season underway around the world, in another country. That country is Uganda. Security forces there have opened fire on protesters, killing dozens. Opposition leaders and journalists have been beaten, have been arrested.

Now, the man at the center of this is President Yoweri Museveni. He has been in power 35 years. In the presidential election on Thursday, he'll be trying to fend off a challenge from Bobi Wine, a singer-turned-politician who has electrified young people in Uganda.

Well, Uganda is where we find NPR's Eyder Peralta. He's in the capital, Kampala, and he sat down with the president and asked about his latest moves to stay in power. Eyder is here to share that reporting now.

Hey there.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So what does President Museveni say about all this violence - violence, again, just to stress, in which dozens of people have died?

PERALTA: He was totally unrepentant. In November, huge crowds came out to protest the arrest of opposition leader Bobi Wine, and just as quickly, security forces cracked down. More than 50 Ugandans were killed. And last week, one of the big newspapers here printed their pictures and their biographies. And I asked President Museveni about that.

They were chapati sellers. They were carpenters, students. I mean, how do you excuse this kind of violence against your own people?

YOWERI MUSEVENI: A chapati seller - when he attacks other people, he becomes a terrorist. They were attacking other people. Because they have been told that this would cause an uprising here - like happened in Libya, like happened in Syria, like happened - so they were agents. They are no longer part of a protest movement. They are now agents of foreign schemes here.

PERALTA: So the death penalty...

MUSEVENI: No. No. No.

PERALTA: ...Is correct for somebody who throws a rock.

MUSEVENI: It's not the death penalty. According to the police procedures, if people are protesting you, there's a way you handle it. But if they now overrun - overrun, for instance, a police station - you have to stop it by using - use of fire.

KELLY: Eyder, did I hear right? He's suggesting that the protesters are foreign agents and, therefore, use of fire is justified.

PERALTA: That's right, yeah. And a few days ago, his top police officer said that if anyone causes trouble during the elections, they will regret that they were ever born. But I pushed the president on this. We spoke before the storming of the U.S. Capitol, but I told him that, for the most part, in the U.S., police rarely use live ammunition during civil unrest.

MUSEVENI: Again, you are comparing uncomparables (ph). You see there, the streets are wide. The infrastructure is better. It's a different story.

PERALTA: They attacked police stations. They burned down police stations.

MUSEVENI: Yeah, well, in the U.S., they had free labor of Africans for 300 years, so they can build new police stations. For us, we are struggling to build one police station. When we have just built it, you come, and you burn it, and then we'll build another one. So sorry, police.

PERALTA: Yeah.

MUSEVENI: No, sorry.

KELLY: Such a different perspective there. And I'll - notice he's invoking slavery on the way to not really answering your question, Eyder. You said people have been protesting because Bobi Wine, Museveni's opponent in the election, has been arrested. Where is he now? Has he been freed? Is he still under arrest?

PERALTA: He is free, but he says that he hasn't been able to campaign for the past five days because his whole campaign team has been arrested. And he says that last night, his driver was shot dead by the military...

KELLY: Oh, my goodness.

PERALTA: ...And that his house was raided early this morning. And, you know, the government says that they're arresting Bobi Wine and his supporters for flaunting COVID regulations. But look. The reality is that Museveni doesn't tolerate any serious challenges to his power. And Bobi Wine is a serious threat to him. I asked the president why his forces treat his opponents this way.

But you still believe that a core part of democracy is the open exchange of ideas, right? And...

MUSEVENI: Of course.

PERALTA: But right now, your opposition leader, your main opponent, Bobi Wine, is being arrested. I mean, I've lost count how many times he's been arrested.

MUSEVENI: He's not being arrested for putting forward ideas. He's being arrested for rioting and causing danger to other people. That's why he's being arrested.

PERALTA: But is that...

MUSEVENI: There are other opposition leaders that aren't being arrested. Why him?

PERALTA: Sure. But is this not a pattern here in Uganda? I mean, I think your previous opponent, Kizza Besigye - I think there was a joke, you know, that he had the Guinness World Record of most arrested man.

MUSEVENI: No, that...

PERALTA: I mean, should we not look at that as a pattern?

MUSEVENI: No, 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's something our society cannot allow.

PERALTA: And look, Mary Louise. Some protesters have thrown rocks and attacked police officers. But human rights groups say that the majority of the violence in Uganda is coming from the state.

KELLY: I'm told, Eyder, that your sit-down with the president went on for more than an hour. What is your big takeaway?

PERALTA: So I didn't get any sense that the president was worried about this upcoming election or that he intended to leave power anytime soon. He told me that he has enough money, so he doesn't need this job. But he says that he barely sleeps, working on the problems of the country. And he seems convinced that after 35 years, Uganda still needs him and that he is the only one who can lead the country into prosperity.

KELLY: That is NPR's Eyder Peralta talking from Kampala about his interview with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Eyder, thank you - cannot wait to hear the rest of your reporting about the elections all this week.

PERALTA: Thank you, Mary Louise.

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