Museveni and I share political philosophy – Otafiire


By Zadock Amanyisa

Minister for East African Affairs Gen Kahunda Otafiire says he will oppose his boss, President Museveni should he divert from their political philosophy.  During an interview with Saturday Monitor’s Zadock Amanyisa,  Gen Otafiire reflects of the 34 years of his party’s rule. 

How is the election season in your constituency? How are you doing in the campaigns?

The season is strange. It is dominated by the pandemic. Previously, we used to address large gatherings, connect with people, allow them to sing and jump, now we are very conscious about the possibility of transmission of Covid-19.

As leaders, we are restrained from having groups of not more than 50 people and gathering big groups. We are restrained from the activities that we can engage in. For example, I personally cannot engage in addressing big crowds, so I am forced to reach small units. It is inconveniencing, but it is nobody’s fault because we didn’t bring the disease. 

Are you headed for victory?
Of course, when you are canvassing votes, you are headed for victory, unless there are abnormal circumstances that halt the electoral process. We should win not until exogenous factors come in that results change.

So far, I have not seen any hostile incident, I have not heard of issues and anything unbecoming in this constituency. 


In the previous election when the people of Ruhinda chose to vote for someone else, you said your constituency is Statehouse.

Now, you are contesting in another constituency to be sent to Parliament yet you are a minister. Why are you struggling to get back to Parliament?
No, no, no! That’s naïve on your part. There is no guarantee that I will be appointed in Parliament. 

Secondly, I don’t run for Parliament because I want to be appointed in Cabinet. It is because I want to speak for and on behalf of my people, who have been missing a voice for the last five years. 

In the last election, I did not lose. I told you there were exogenous factors that altered the so-called results. I don’t want to go into that because that’s history. I have forgiven but not forgotten.

As you know, my replacement has never said anything in Parliament and if you ask around the constituency, there is nothing for him to show.

You are struggling to go to a Parliament that keeps expanding to include all sorts of groups; this has been deeply criticised by a section of the public as having very poor standards as far as dealing with  national issues is concerned. Are you proud to join such a Parliament? 
Yes, that’s where I am going but I will not waste my time making a contribution on the floor of Parliament. There are other things I can do as a spokesperson for my people. I can  lobby and solicit services. I don’t have to shout or stand on the table.

I agree with you that the size of our Parliament is untenable. It is a drainer on the taxpayers, but Ugandans demand it. We are not the ones who created constituencies; It is Members of Parliament who demand on individual level. I don’t know whether for selfish means or it is a mistaken view. They say it is a popular demand.

During the liberation war, did you envisage that we would get here?
No, I didn’t. My honest view is that this Parliament is ineffective. It is congested and members don’t have an opportunity to express themselves.

Will you miss attending sessions because the House is congested? Won’t you be speaking to your people?

Why not? As a senior Parliamentarian, I don’t think I will lose out. It is not speaking for my people as such. 
Making noise in Parliament is not service delivery. You sit in Parliament to give views about things that affect the country, lobby and network service delivery.

Recently, Brig Deus Sande commented that UPDF is not ready to hand over power to people “who are ideologically bankrupt”. What does this ideological bankruptcy mean?

First of all, I didn’t hear that. Secondly, it has not been brought to my attention. Thirdly, I have no guarantee that he said it. Fourth, army officers are not supposed to make political statements. So, how do I comment on something that I do not conceive?

But do you believe we have some people who are ideologically bankrupt? 
They are many, including you. Actually, they are the majority. People who promote their tribes, religion, people who believe in stealing government money.

People who promote sectarianism, those who believe in looting the State, people who believe in ethnic hegemonism are ideologically bankrupt. People who do not believe in Pan Africanism are ideologically bankrupt. 

Why should the army be concerned about people who are ideologically bankrupt?
Because when you start illegitimate wars, the army fights those wars. That’s why the army should be concerned. So, if he made that statement, the question that they will not hand over power, it is unfortunate because that’s not his ruling.

That’s not his power, but for him to express himself, which I don’t think he did because I have no evidence. The question of bankruptcy is relevant, but not handing over power is not in the mandate of the army but the outgoing government and the people of Uganda.

The people of Uganda will choose who to lead them. He may be upright or crooked – that’s their choice and they will regret it for as long as they are engaging in democracy and constitutionalism, no problem.

But, it is not incorrect for the army to say that the people of Uganda should desist from choosing people who are ideologically bankrupt because they will cause suffering like the one we endured up to 1986 or that the northern where people suffered for 20  years.. 

As a general and Cabinet minister, would you hand over power to such people?
That’s beyond my control. It is the people of Uganda to decide who they will hand over power to. If power belonged to me, then I wouldn’t be here in the constituency seeking mandate.

The fact that I am here means that I am applying for the job to speak for and on behalf of my people and exercise authority on their behalf. When they take it away from me, I have no residual power to strain myself and handing over what doesn’t belong to me.

Minister for East African Affairs Gen Kahinda Otafiire (left) engages some members of the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament in 2017.PHOTO/ALEX ESAGALA

We have 11 presidential candidates, including  24-year-old John Katumba. What do you think about Katumba and the two Bush War generals standing against the incumbent Gen Museveni? 
It is their democratic right to run for office. Some want to make their point, others want to make fools of themselves. Why should they be stopped? It is not my job to stop people from making fools of themselves. 

Others are enjoying their gamesome hours. It does not bother me. What I am bothered about is the inability of Ugandans to tell what is right, to make right choices, but if people want to run for office, let them go.

How do you digest the fact that two generals are running against the incumbent?
I said, that’s their democratic right. 

Dr Kiiza Besigye, your former political commissar, is out of the race. He says Museveni cannot be defeated by an election as the NRM government has failed to organise an election of sufficient efficacy to give every candidate a chance to reach their potential.

What does this mean to you?
I am not Kiiza Besigye, and I will never become him. But, that’s his opinion and he is entitled to it. May be he noted irregularities in the election and he is free to express himself. 

[Former prime minister]Amama Mbabazi saw irregularities in the last election and he went to court and courts sorted us out. So, there is nothing wrong with that. 

That is what we call democratization. We go to vote, there are irregularities, we go to court, and court examines the circumstances and pronounces itself. One wins and the other loses and life goes on.

There is a Bobi Wine phenomenon. A performing artist of almost zero political experience coming to the stage and exciting as much interest as we have seen from members of the public. Did you ever envisage having Bobi Wine as Museveni’s biggest challenger? 

Bobi Wine is not popular because of his excellent political philosophy. Now, what do we want? A musician or a political philosopher? For us, we were fighting against Idi Amin. It was a do or die. This man has been singing.

They go wrong. The circumstances are entirely different, our challenge is not his challenge, he is a nappy kid, we are peasants. He is a singer and composer, we are political philosophers and revolutionaries.

So, there is absolutely no contact between Bobi Wine’s agenda and ours. Let those who want music go with Bobi Wine, but those of us who want proper governance and democracy and national progress, we look for people who have an understandable, readable and discernable political philosophy. If I want music, I will listen to Mariah Carley, Franks Natarra or any other artiste. 

When you look around, an estimated half a million people died during the Luweero war and many of the war combatants say they suffered in vain. What do you say?

Well, I have not heard that. If you heard it, then it is unfortunate. If there are reasons why people are complaining, they should bring it to the relevant authorities. Of course, when you fight a war, there is disruption and people die.

There are winners and losers. But, fighting is not the problem. How to resolve the conflict and restore normalcy and peace is the problem. Without peace you can’t have development. 

You and Security minister Gen Elly Tumwine are the only surviving Bush War combatants in Cabinet. Many have been falling by the wayside the latest being Gen Henry Tumukunde. Do you think the many people who have fallen out with the big man and criticized him over time have a point? 
Well, my political outlook and philosophy more often and not is in concurrency with what Gen Museveni is saying. Our political vision is similar.

Not until he does something that is different from our vision that I will oppose him. If he diverts from my political philosophy and objectives, then I will leave him.  As long as he is on the same path, I will support him. It is not a question of leadership, but a question of shared vision. 

From your heart of hearts, haven’t you at one time seen your boss divert from the cause?

What was our mission? Democratisation, pan-Africanism, prosperity, and good governance. So, for as long as I see these tenets still holding, I will support him. 

If my memory serves me right, you were in the Constituency Assembly. You and others wrote a Constitution that you have changed many times to an extent that it is now very difficult to recognise it. What do you feel now that there have been many changes, some of which have been bitterly opposed by Ugandans and your former comrades?

When you drive a car, do you change tires after some time? Do you change oil? Why do you do that? Because they no longer suit the obtaining conditions on the road. The Constitution is not cast in stone. They wrote this Constitution because there were challenges.

Whenever we get any challenge, when it necessitates, we change the Constitution and who says we change the Constitution? And who says our successors will go back to what we did. Only fools and children don’t change their mind. We could have said yes, we remove term limits. 

Who says 2026 Parliament will not vote for returning term limits? Who says we will not go back to Movement system in 2031? Because the changing of the Constitution will be dictated by the obtaining circumstances. For example, we used to hold rallies, now there is Covid-19.

We cannot hold rallies. So, the circumstances dictate the modus operandi of changing the Constitution. We are working towards the East African Federation. Are you going to stick to the Ugandan Constitution? You will cut the shoes to fit the foot, not the other way round.

From the time you were in the bush until now, do you think all is well? Where are we? If you think nothing has gone wrong, what do you make of these comrades who have fallen out with the regime?

As a player in the field, we have been scoring. I cannot say all has been well. No! There are areas where we have made errors and those, we admit. Those errors should be corrected and of course to error is human because you can’t say you are doing everything perfectly.

Time comes and we say, by the way, we made a mistake. 
We know there are decisions that we made and have come to regret like the land question and quite a number of things where we made errors, which have come to haunt us like the land question, government projects have stalled because of the land question.

You find people demanding compensation of sums government cannot afford, which frustrates government development projects and development does not wait for anybody. So, it means the land question was not properly handled. 

That’s regrettable! There are other things that we have done like this Parliament that you are talking about. The size of our Parliament is a mistake, but there is nothing we can do, but we believe time as a healing factor will correct these shortcomings. We failed to control corruption. 

Addressing the question of corruption is still haunting us. It is regrettable, but it is because of our legal regime. For you to take someone to court, you must have evidence beyond reasonable doubt and to obtain that is next to impossible. 

To obtain evidence that will stand the test of time in court is a problem. Some of the laws that we have actually abet corruption, but you cannot ignore them because you might end up punishing people who are innocent. But when you out it on balance, eight out of 10, we succeeded. 

The other day, Gen Mugisha Muntu, while addressing supporters in Bushenyi, compared  President Museveni with a child that has grown old, but is refusing to leave his mother’s breast. Do you think this person, who is your former army commander is right?

That’s his view and he is entitled to it. I have a different view and I am entitled to it. I don’t support his view but I am not going to criticize him because that’s his view. Let his listeners support or reject it. I still support President Museveni because of what I see.

There are things that we can still do in the remaining years of our lives because I told you, we have a shared vision and for as long as I share that vison, I will support President Museveni. 

Some time back, President Museveni told people that he is working for himself and his family and now, he is promising to secure Ugandan’s future. How does such a person working for himself and his family secure our future?

When he says “I am working for myself and my family,” it means I am working so that I also as a family benefit because when I do a good road from Bushenyi to Rukungiri, do I travel on that road? If I provide safe water, do I drink that safe water? I am the one who brought it and because I am utilising it, I am working for myself because I am a beneficiary. I am part and parcel to the good I do for the country. I am working for my country, but also for myself. 

Many people say Uganda is on the wrong trajectory. If you think Museveni is the man and should stay in power, what is your projection of how Uganda will transition from President Museveni? Is it something to worry Ugandans given what we have seen in other countries like Somalia, DRC, Libya, and others where long-serving leaders are forced out of power and the countries being left to disintegrate? 

If there was no periodic elections, I would be worried. As long as we exercise our democratic right to choose our leaders through periodic elections, which are conducted in accordance with normal practices of conducting elections, I have no problem, but if anyone does something outside what is legitimate and legal, then I will get worried.

Do you fear that Uganda could one time become a failed State? What do you think of transition from Museveni to another leader?

I have told you that there is a mode of transition from one leader to another leader. So long as the rules of transition are followed, there will be no fear and anybody who tries to tamper with that method of transition and method of power handover should be resisted and when you break the rules, you have to pay for it. There are sanctions for breaking the rules. 

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