What trends should be on your radar this year? Join us for an online conversation about Crises to Watch in 2021.

  1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. East Africa
  4. Uganda

Profiles of presidential candidates

Following an announcement late on Thursday, Uganda’s presidential elections have been put back five days as the electoral commission is not yet ready for the poll. News organisations quoted the commission’s announcement as saying the elections would now be held on 12 March, instead of 7 March, because of anomalies in voter registration lists.

Following is a list of the six candidates:

YOWERI KAGUTA MUSEVENI, 57, became Uganda’s President in 1986 after leading a five-year liberation struggle.

Born in Ankole, western Uganda during the Second World War, his name was taken from the “Abaseveni”, who were Ugandan servicemen in the Seventh Regiment of the King’s African Rifles into which many Ugandans had been drafted. Museveni attended local primary and secondary schools in western Uganda and studied political science and economics at the University of Dar es Salaam.

In 1967, while at the university, he, along with students from other parts of Africa, formed a self-help ideological study and activist group known as the University Students African Revolutionary Front (USARF).
With Museveni as its chairman, the group identified closely with African liberation movements, especially Frelimo in Mozambique, which the group supported by producing pamphlets for its publicity.

In 1971, after former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin came to power, Museveni formed the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa) which together with Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces finally ousted Amin’s regime in 1979. He served briefly as defence minister, minister for regional cooperation and vice chairman of the military commission in the governments which succeeded Amin.

In 1981 he launched a guerrilla struggle against Milton Obote’s government because he said Obote had rigged the 1980 elections, in which he had also vied for the presidency. He returned to the bush and organised the National Resistance Army (NRA). On coming to power in 1986, he formed a broad-based government which was to help unite the country’s political groups. The Movement government is said to have ended the vicious circle of vengeance and hatred that had ruined the country. Museveni said that third world problems of poverty, illiteracy, disease and general backwardness had nothing to do with religion or ethnic origin. He has always taken a very independent political stand, saying: “We take from every system what is best for us and we reject what is bad for us. We do not judge the economic programmes of other nations because we believe that each nation knows best how to address the needs of its people. The National Resistance Movement (NRM) is neither pro-West nor pro-East, it is pro-Uganda”.

In 1996, he offered himself as candidate for President in the first general elections since the abortive attempt of 1980. It was a landslide victory, in which he gained more than 75 percent of the vote to become the first directly elected president in Uganda’s history. He initiated grassroots-based programmes in health, safe water provision and mass education. He introduced macro-economic stabilisation policies which have kept inflation below 10 percent for the last nine years. The country’s GDP has also doubled over the 15 years that he has been in power and absolute poverty has been reduced from 56 per cent to 44 percent.

According to Museveni, the Movement system means “pluralism without factionalism”. He believes that if there is political harmony for long enough, based on all-inclusive national organisational structures, democracy will be achieved without the risk of unhealthy polarisations.

KIZZA BESIGYE, 45, - Museveni’s closest rival for the presidency - was born in Rwakabengo, Rukungiri district, western Uganda. He attended the local primary and secondary schools and later Makerere University, Kampala where he graduated with a degree in medicine. He joined the National Resistance Army (NRA) guerrilla struggle in 1982, after quitting his job at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. He underwent the normal military training. In the bush, he was responsible for the team’s health and particularly attended to the-then chairman of the high command, Yoweri Museveni. He also selected and trained many young people to act as medical aids and to run medical services. He was responsible for mobile forces which carried out major combat military operations.

Besigye was appointed director of medical services of NRA in 1985 until 1986 when he was appointed Minister of State for Internal affairs. In 1988, he was appointed Minister of State in the President’s office and National Political Commissar. In 1991, he was appointed Commanding Officer of the Mechanised Regiment in Masaka. In 1993 he was appointed Chief of Logistics and Engineering. In 1998, he was appointed Senior Military Adviser to the Ministry of Defence until his retirement in October 2000.

Besigye on several occasions took a tough stance on controversial issues.
In 1989 as a member of the cabinet, he opposed the motor vehicle co-ownership scheme, whereby, ministers and senior civil servants would get vehicles at 10 percent of duty free value, payable in four years, while at the same time receiving hefty motor vehicle allowances. He argued that this was immoral, irresponsible and amounted to promoting corruption by policy. Though he was overruled, he refused to benefit from the scheme and neither did his department of the secretariat.

In 1990, he opposed the Insurgency Bill, which intended to zone off certain areas, subjecting residents to Emergency Laws (field court martials, kangaroo courts) on the grounds that they would curtail the residents’ rights. As a result of his arguments and stand, the Bill was amended. He also continuously advocated for the Movement System to be viewed as, and to remain a transitional arrangement, rather than entrench it as an alternative political system.

Besigye said he was inspired to stand for president upon the realisation that the Movement leadership was “incorrigibly off course”. He had tried to point this out consistently with no success and “someone had to step in and get things back on course”. He said open and frank discussions within the Movement had ceased and degenerated into “clique formation and an environment of mutual distrust and suspicion”. He said corruption had also taken root and there was “clearly no political will to redress it”. He cites cronyism, sectarianism and nepotism and failures to resolve internal and regional conflict as other factors which motivated him to vie.

If elected, Besigye says he would like to review and reform programmes on the economy, unemployment, social services, cultural institutions, security, foreign policy and the army/police/prisons. He also hopes to fight corruption and hold consultations with all political forces in the country to establish “a clear road map towards immediate full democratisation”.

The other four presidential candidates, rank outsiders, are:

AGGREY AWORI, an MP and member of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC).

FRANCIS BWENGYE is a member of the Democratic Party.


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: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.