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"...only two people besides Museveni knew the president was ordering troops across the Congolese border."

UGANDAN OPPOSITION LEADER TARGETS WEST'S AID

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 2, 2001; Page A20


NAIROBI -- Losing a disputed presidential election in Uganda in March was only the start of trouble for Kizza Besigye. Since then, plainclothes government agents shadowed the former candidate's house and tailed his car. When Besigye boarded a flight abroad, "internal security" dragged him off the plane.

In the central African country so often celebrated for breaking the mold of "big man" rule, the life of the opposition politician was settling into a trough all too familiar on a continent where lip service to democracy tends to exceed its practice.

The usual scenario appeared to be holding true when Besigye emerged in suburban Washington last month. Besigye said he escaped Uganda in secret, just hours ahead of arrest and "possible physical harm." By long African custom, Besigye's next move would be "back to the bush," the announcement of a guerrilla movement to unseat President Yoweri Museveni, who came to power 15 years ago by just such a war.

Instead, Besigye said he will hit Museveni where he lives, by taking aim at foreign aid.

"The budget of Uganda is still more than 50 percent from the Western donors," Besigye said in a telephone interview from suburban Virginia. "The money he's using to commit this oppression is coming from U.S. taxpayers.

"I am here to tell people in the administration that Uganda, contrary to what they have come to expect, is no longer hewing to the path of democratization and has in fact become a dictatorship."

That message will find an attentive but hesitant audience in Washington, according to diplomats and aid officials in East Africa and the United States.

Museveni has enjoyed generous support from Western donors impressed by Uganda's economic progress and often thoughtful governance. Museveni's pioneering fight against AIDS helped reverse the scourge in Uganda.

But Besigye, a former adviser to Museveni and official in his government, impressed outside observers with his presidential campaign, which focused on burgeoning corruption. And though he lost, 69 percent to 28 percent, Besigye appeared more the statesman afterward. Already under surveillance, he vowed to continue his reform movement through peaceful means, including an unsuccessful court appeal of the election results.

Meanwhile, Museveni, whose government has tightly restricted political activity since he came to power, called Besigye a "traitor" and suggested he was linked to pipe bombings in Kampala, the capital, which have previously been blamed on minor rebel groups. Museveni also said he would punish areas that failed to support him in the March election by reducing government services there.

The imperious flourishes further marred Museveni's standing, already reduced by corruption scandals at home and military misadventure in neighboring Congo. Besigye, a retired colonel in the Ugandan army, said only two people besides Museveni knew the president was ordering troops across the Congolese border in August 1998. Once there, the army fought with its nominal ally, Rwanda, and drew allegations that senior Ugandan officials were looting timber, gold and other resources.

Besigye said the World Bank and International Monetary Fund should demand "democratization benchmarks just like you have economic benchmarks." Museveni's penchant for personalizing rule -- and failure to create democratic institutions that will survive him -- are at least as important to Uganda's future as macroeconomics, Besigye said.

While the World Bank threatened Museveni with a cut in aid after the fighting against Rwanda, the bank and IMF prefer to leave it to individual donor countries -- led in Uganda's case by Britain, the United States and Scandinavian countries -- to set political conditions for aid.

A State Department official noted that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with both Museveni and Besigye during a visit to Uganda in May. Afterward, he urged Uganda toward greater political freedom. "We have never been that easy on Museveni," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.




2001 The Washington Post Company



    
    
    
    
    

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