Shaka Ssali: You used to be the hunter and now you are the hunted. How does it feel to be the hunted now?
Gen David Sejusa: What I must say is that hunting has differences. There is the legal hunting. If you are hunting, you hunt according to the law. But when you start hunting outside the law, you’re called a poacher. You cease to be a hunter. So while I was doing my job, I was doing my job within the precincts of the law. I never broke the codes of conduct or the rules under operational procedures, contrary to what is happening now when you have a regime going to other capitals of other countries, trying to look for people to harm them. So that is a differential scenario and I should be differentiated from that type of hunting.
SS: If I remember correctly General, as a young man more than 30 years ago, you went to the bush under the leadership of the incumbent President Museveni and the argument at the time was that you guys were actually liberators. You were fighting to restore democracy. You came back in ’86, seized power, as it were, and since then, President Museveni has been saying that he brought democracy back to the people of Uganda. As a matter of fact, his spokesman Tamale Mirundi is on record as saying that Uganda now has total democracy. So would you agree or disagree with those statements by your former commander-in-chief?
DS: Well! It’s not the first time in history that we have got people who have sold out and subverted the ideals for which they stood for in the past. There is no doubt that the reasons which took us to the bush in 1980-81 up top ’86 was to liberate our people from the regimes of terror of the time. Unfortunately with time, we have ended up doing exactly what we went to fight against, including abuses against our people, including incredible corruption, including breaking of constitutional rule, including, really, abuse of power because the highest mode of corruption is abuse of power, be it personal power, be it state power, these are the things you see at play.
I saw some of the captions you played, how the opposition leaders are being handled, how senior leaders of the movement are now in exile, how people are dying and you see how parliament is being subverted, so the situation.. But it is not the first time you have some of these incidents, especially when you have a leadership which has overstayed in power. There’s nothing surprising about that. As you know, Judas was the most trustworthy disciple. He used to keep the money. He was the financial controller but you know how he ended up. So there is nothing new about that. This is the scenario we have in Uganda today.
SS: Gen Sejusa, you’re probably one of the fewest insiders really as it were, who has split with the Movement government as it were under President Yoweri Museveni. I guess the logical question would be; why now? You’ve been with Museveni since the early 1980s up to this year. Why now? And in fact, looking at your record, you tried to leave in 1997 and didn’t leave. Why should people trust you now that you are really serious and are ready to take on your former commander in chief?
DS: You are right. Those are the occupational hazards of serving a dictatorship. Ultimately you are stuck in there and your credibility suffers. But as you have pointed out, my history speaks for itself. It is not the first time that I am moving out. I have been standing [up] to this regime, some of its excesses, I did so in the constitutional assembly in 1994-95. It brought me a lot of problems. I stood up against the regime publicly in 1996-97 when I went to court and I was actually conscripted (laughs) and put back as is the want with Mr Museveni that you must stay in the military until maybe you die in the military or until you are useless to do anything or threaten his power base. So it is not the first time. But at that time why I went back during the constitutional process. We had put up there term limits and therefore Mr Museveni would have served until 2006. At worst some people thought he would stay until 2001.
In 2005 he reneged as usual again on the promises he had made and changed the constitution. So maybe you are right it was a failure on my part of judgement. I should have done what I am doing today. I should have done it in 1998-98 and become an ‘outlaw’ and done what I am doing now, and gone to exile and resisted the regime as I am doing now. But this is not the first time. But when you are resisting a dictatorship or someone who abuses his power, you are a captive within that system, to such an extent that you must be held with that guilt. And this is the unfortunate part, even with those comrades who are still at home and trying to serve the dictatorship. They must know that the (word unintelligible) will somehow hang around their necks.
At this juncture, Dr Ssali turns to his second studio guest, Prof Joel Barkan of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Washington DC who did his undergraduate studies in the early 1960s at Uganda’s prestigious Makerere University before returning once again in the mid-1960s to carry out his research for his PhD.
SS: (After exchanging a small banter about their meeting in Kampala at a restaurant a few years ago) You’ve listened to Gen Sejusa’s allegations or positions vis-à-vis of course the government in Kampala, a government by-the-way that frankly owes a lot to him because this was a young man [who] after Makerere joined the police and joined the liberation struggle as it were and so many years later, he doesn’t seem to put any value on what he fought for. Is he being fair when you look back?
Prof Joel Barkan: I don’t think he is unfair. He knows the situation within the army and with the succession far better than I do. But generally speaking, this is a government that has been on a slow and steady decline roughly since 1998 and certainly since 2001. Rising corruption as he noted, particularly during the third term and the fourth term, and to put it more succinctly, a man who was once described as one of the new leaders of Africa along with [the late Ethiopian Prime Minister] Meles Zenawi, in fact resembles the old. There is no difference between Yoweri Museveni of 2013 [and] Daniel arap Moi of 1992 or Mobutu Sese Seko of that period. This is a classic big-man rule that maintains power through patronage, and patronage is sustained through rising corruption because we have a situation that I call ‘inflationary patronage’.
Leaders of this nature need to dish out more and more resources in order to just stay in place. And eventually like all inflationary situations, they are overwhelmed. They start to print money, which is what Moi did in 1992, and in fact which occurred in Uganda prior to the last election where you had a very rapid rise in inflation. So Museveni is under a lot of pressure these days. There were aspects of the early years of his governance which were extraordinarily good with respect to Aids and the rising economy. But the fact of the matter is that the economy has declined in the last year and Aids is rising and social services are declining. And these are the realities.
SS: You seem to agree with some people who have suggested that if Museveni of 1986 to 1996 were to meet the Museveni of post 1996 up to today that they would probably go to war; that one would probably be a Joseph Kony and the other one would be the liberation fighter, Yoweri Museveni. Do you agree with that?
JB: Well! I am not sure they would go to war and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that someone going into resistance as Museveni did back in the ‘80s, would be akin to Kony. He would be more of a liberator rather than a savage, a thug who committed atrocities on his own people. So I wouldn’t make the analogy with Kony at all. But the fact of the matter is this is what happens when regimes stay in power too long. The 1995 Constitution which the general refers to was actually a democratic process that brought it into being. It had term limits and it is very important to remember that 22 countries in Africa have voted for two term limits, and only two, to my knowledge, Uganda and Namibia have overturned term limits. And even in Namibia, term limits is now adhered to. And so you’ve had a regular turn of governance even if it is the same party that has maintained itself in power, in Tanzania for example, in Namibia more recently and in other countries like Malawi and in Zambia where there has been an alternation of power. And in Kenya too, even Daniel arap Moi, although he came to term limits late, abided by his constitution.
SS: But term limits now seems to be really an endangered species because you can go to Chad, you can go to Guinea Conakry, you can go to Cameroon, you can go to a lot of countries including Algeria which have been removing those term limits so that individuals can hang on to power.
JB: I am not sure it has been removed from all those countries you have suggested but it has also been adhered to in those that I have mentioned, particularly in eastern and southern Africa and let’s not forget Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent with Gen Obasanjo who in very similar position to Museveni, tried very hard for a third term and he failed and was denied. Nigeria has moved forward.
SS: Let me come to a very important First Lady here in Washington DC, Michelle Obama. She once said that becoming a president, does not change you. Rather, what it does, it reveals you. Why should we think frankly that Yoweri Museveni has actually changed from what he used to be, to being what he is today? Isn’t it possible that those of us who are observers frankly who probably have been changing?
JB: No. I would disagree because when Yoweri |Museveni came to power particularly during the first four or five years, you had a dramatic change on the African continent; the transition to democratic governance in South Africa; the end of the cold war; the expectations of people that democratic governance was the way for the future, not big-man one party rule. And this is what Museveni said he stood for. It was packaged under a rather unique way under the Movement system in Uganda. But as you know, when the constitution was changed in 2005, Uganda also accepted multi-party politics as is the trend across the rest of the continent.
SS: I see! Multi-party politics. But really the temperate freedom march remains: One party state because frankly there is no difference between the ruling party and the state. They are fused. The two are fused.
JB: I would agree with you entirely on that. The state is Museveni. It’s actually not so much a party state. It’s a one-man regime who, as I have said before, rules through patronage. People acquire office. They acquire access to wealth. The current Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi would be a good example. The current Foreign Minister, one of the most corrupt officials in Africa, who I am told is about to become president of the UN General Assembly. This is an embarrassment to the Assembly. Whether it’s an embarrassment to Uganda is another question.
SS: I see! What kind of evidence do you have against Mr Kuteesa really? He has been exonerated by the local courts.
JB: Well! Ask him how he obtained his wealth and the businesses he is in. He has acquired these over time. Perhaps he acquired them out of good fortune in that respect. But when you are in a position of power, you have opportunities that come your way that others do not have. And what you also have in Uganda is the expansion of the First Family that’s somewhat different in some other Big-Man regimes. I believe Sam Kuteesa’s daughter is married to Muhoozi (President Museveni’s son).
SS: As a matter of fact his late wife Jennifer (Kuteesa’s) and that of Museveni were cousins.
David: (A caller from Washington DC) I would like to ask Gen Sejusa’s views on the raid of the High Court of Uganda by the Black Mambas in November 2005 and of what his role was in that raid?
DS: Going through the different excesses that have been committed is really to address the wrong issue here, be it the Black Mamba, [and] be it the abuse of political leaders from the opposition and so on. It all boils to abuse of power by the person in charge of state affairs. The person who asked me on the raid of the High Court, I wish to tell him that the Chief Justice is the third seniorest (sic) person in the country, in the hierarchy of the country. No one. No one can raid the High Court without the express authority and instructions of the highest office in the country. It never happens. No one can raid…it is like raiding the State House. You cannot raid parliament because the Speaker is the second in hierarchy to the president politically. The Chief Justice is the third. Therefore we all know where the abuse originates. There is no question about that. So I wouldn’t go into details that these were coming from military intelligence, these were coming from what. That is irrelevant. As long as there is a dictator and [is] abusing power…because a leader must account for the power they hold. If you don’t, then abuse of power takes a different form. You can raid a court, you can abuse political leaders, you can steal people’s property, people, you know, cannot get their justice within the legal regime. So it takes different forms.
SS: But General. What about a very ordinary person frankly looking at this thing called ‘the government’? How do you convince that person that there is only this one man, for example in the case of Uganda, a one Gen Yoweri Museveni who is retired but certainly not tired at all but is the only guy that calls the shots. What about the generals surrounding him like you?
DS: Yes. That is an important point too. You see! That is the real crisis of the African neo-colonial state; its structure, the structural behaviour of the African state. Those are the challenges even when you talk about democratization, issues of accountability, [and] issues of control. There is no way, if the system does not work on systems, on defined modes of operation, there is no way it can check power over an individual. It is known world over, it has been tested world over. Like your colleague in the studio has said, once a system works on patronage, runs on an elite family of a cabal of people and then uses all methods of corruption, of sustaining power, of using force, of using bribery, including trickery really, there is no reason.
I can give you many examples, as you know, that anyone who has tried to speak out, be him a general, be him a member of the cabinet, has had to be dealt with; either they frame charges against him or they’ll arrest him, or they will get another way of dealing with him. So when you say one person, a system evolves where there is no longer one person but it is people who think there is nothing they can do about it. So they join the band wagon and those are many even right now. That’s why you see not everybody is…because the cost is very high. You speak against some of these issues then you face an existential threat. So it is true he has a system which he has woven over time; a system of power, even corruption, because as we speak now, corruption has generated a power sense of its own. You cannot say that anyone can just remove it. But it has become a system of political management. Corruption now is a mechanism of managing the country politically.
Last part of interview to be posted here later this week.