Profile of main opposition leader Kiiza Besigye

[Uganda] Opposition leader, Kiiza Besigye, and his wife Winnie Byanyima at a campaign rally.
Opposition leader, Kiiza Besigye, and his wife Winnie Byanyima at a campaign rally. (Vincent Mayanja/IRIN)

Kiiza Besigye, a former colonel in the Ugandan army, is the presidential candidate for the country's largest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

Widely regarded as incumbent President Yoweri Museveni's main challenger in upcoming elections on 23 February 2006, this is Besigye's second stab at the presidency. He lost to Museveni in 2001.

Warren Kiiza Besigye Kifefe was born in Rukungiri, southwestern Uganda, in April 1956. He attended Kinyasano Primary School and Mbarara Junior School. Both his parents died before he finished primary school. He later joined Kampala's Kitante High School and then Kigezi High School in the southwest.

Besigye enrolled at the prestigious Makerere University in 1975, graduating with a degree in human medicine in 1980. He then worked briefly for the Aga Khan Hospital and then the Kenyatta National Hospital - both in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi - before joining Museveni's rebel National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) in 1982.

While in the bush, he became Museveni's personal physician. When the NRM/A came to power in January 1986, he was appointed - at the age of 29 - minister of state for internal affairs. He later held the positions of minister of state in the president's office and national political commissar. In 1991, he became commanding officer of the mechanised regiment in Masaka, central Uganda, and in 1993 was appointed the army's chief of logistics and engineering.

In 1998, he married Winnie Byanyima, who was then a member of parliament for Mbarara municipality in southwestern Uganda. Byanyima, an aeronautical and mechanical engineer who worked at Uganda's high commission in the United Kingdom and served as ambassador to France in the 1980s and 1990s, is a childhood friend of Museveni's and a former member of the NRM/A who later joined the opposition. She and Besigye have one son, Anselm.

In 1999, Besigye wrote a document critical of the government, entitled "An Insider's View of How the NRM Lost the Broad Base". The document accused the NRM of becoming a sectarian kleptocracy and a one-man dictatorship. Besigye was charged before a court martial for "airing his views in the wrong forum". He later brokered a deal in 2000 in which the charges were dropped in exchange for an apology for publishing the document.

In October 2000, Besigye announced that he would run against Museveni in the 2001 elections. He retired from the Uganda People's Defence Forces in 2001, having attained the rank of colonel.

During his campaign, Besigye, who was Museveni's strongest opponent, accused the government of widespread corruption and pushed for an end to Museveni's "Movement" system, which he said had served its purpose as an instrument in Uganda's political transition to multiparty democracy.

He lost the election, which was marred by claims of widespread vote rigging, violence and coercion of voters. In March 2001 Besigye petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify the election results. A panel of five judges voted 5-0 that there had been cheating but decided 3-2 not to annul the elections.

In June 2001, Besigye was briefly arrested and questioned by the police over allegations of treason. The government accused him of being behind a shadowy rebel group - the People's Redemption Army (PRA) - allegedly based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Besigye's supporters said the government had fabricated the existence of the insurgents to harm his credibility among Ugandans and the international community.

In August 2001, Besigye fled the country, citing persecution by the state. He said he was afraid for his life. He lived in South Africa for four years, during which time he continued to criticise Museveni's government.

Besigye returned to Uganda on 26 October 2005, just in time to register as a voter in the 2006 elections. He was greeted by thousands and hit the campaign trail almost immediately, addressing throngs of supporters across the country.

In November 2005, William Lacy Swing, the United Nations special envoy to the Great Lakes region, confirmed the existence of the PRA, naming it as one of the foreign, armed groups operating in the eastern DRC.

Besigye's campaign came to an abrupt halt on 14 November when he was arrested on charges of treason and rape. The treason charges pertained to his alleged links to the PRA and the notoriously brutal, 20-year-old northern Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebellion. The rape charge related to a 1997 accusation by the daughter of a deceased friend.

His arrest sparked riots in Kampala and around the country. Museveni was accused of trumping up charges against his main rival in an attempt to discredit Besigye or even prevent him from standing in the election. Both the local and international community came down heavily against Museveni's administration, urging it to release Besigye on bail.

The government reacted by banning all public rallies, demonstrations, assemblies or seminars related to the trial of Besigye. It further barred the media from discussing the trial, threatening media houses with the revocation of their licences should they refuse to heed the ban.

On 25 November, Uganda's high court granted Besigye bail, but he was immediately sent back to jail on military charges of terrorism and the illegal possession of weapons. Besigye denied the charges against him and has argued that as a retiree from the armed forces, he should no longer be subject to an army court martial.

He was freed on bail by the high court on 6 January. Although the charges against him stand, Besigye continues to pursue his ambition to become the next president of Uganda.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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