Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (born 15 September 1944) is a Ugandan politician who has served as President of Uganda since 1986. Museveni was involved in rebellions that toppled Ugandan leaders Idi Amin (1971–79) and Milton Obote (1980–85) before he captured power in 1986.
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
Museveni in September 2015
9th President of Uganda
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
15 September 1944 (age 76)
Rukungiri, British Protectorate of Uganda (now Uganda)
National Resistance Movement
Janet Kainembabazi (m. 1973)
University of Dar es Salaam
In the mid- to late 1990s, Museveni was celebrated by the West as part of a new generation of African leaders. During Museveni’s presidency, Uganda has experienced relative peace and significant success.
Museveni’s presidency has been marred by involvement in the Congo wars, the Rwandan Civil War, and other Great Lakes region conflicts; the rebellion in Northern Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Army, which caused a humanitarian emergency; and the suppression of political opposition and constitutional amendments scrapping presidential term limits (2005) and the presidential age limit (2017). On 16 January 2021, the electoral commission of Uganda announced that Museveni won re-election for a sixth term with 58.6% of the vote, despite allegations of electoral fraud, violent suppression of the opposition, and human rights abuses.
Early life and education
Museveni was born on 15 September 1944 to parents Mzee Amos Kaguta (1916–2013), a cattle keeper, and Esteri Kokundeka Nganzi (1918–2001), a housewife. He is a Muhima of the kingdom of Mpororo (now part of Ankole). Museveni gets his middle name from his father, Mzee Amos Kaguta. Kaguta is also the father of Museveni’s brother Caleb Akandwanaho, popularly known in Uganda as Salim Saleh, and sister Violet Kajubiri.
His family migrated to Ntungamo, Uganda Protectorate. Museveni attended Kyamate Elementary School, Mbarara High School, and Ntare School. In 1967, he went to the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. There, he studied economics and political science and became a Marxist, involving himself in radical pan-African politics. While at university, he formed the University Students’ African Revolutionary Front activist group and led a student delegation to FRELIMO territory in Portuguese Mozambique, where he received guerrilla training. Studying under the leftist Walter Rodney, among others, Museveni wrote a university thesis on the applicability of Frantz Fanon’s ideas on revolutionary violence to post-colonial Africa.
The exile forces opposed to Amin invaded Uganda from Tanzania in September 1972 and were repelled, suffering heavy losses. In October, Tanzania and Uganda signed the Mogadishu Agreement that denied the rebels the use of Tanzanian soil for aggression against Uganda. Museveni broke away from the mainstream opposition and formed the Front for National Salvation in 1973. In August of the same year, he married Janet Kataha.
In October 1978 Ugandan troops inkvaded the Kagera Salient in northern Tanzania, initiating the Uganda–Tanzania War. Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere ordered the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) to counter-attack and mobilised Ugandan dissidents to fight Amin’s regime. Museveni was pleased by this development. In December 1978 Nyerere attached Museveni and his forces to Tanzanian units under Brigadier Silas Mayunga.
1981–1986: Ugandan Bush War
With the overthrow of Amin in 1979 and the contested election that returned Milton Obote to power in 1980, Museveni returned to Uganda with his supporters to gather strength in their rural strongholds in the Bantu-dominated south and south-west to form the Popular Resistance Army (PRA). They then planned a rebellion against the second Obote regime (Obote II) and its armed forces, the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). The insurgency began with an attack on an army installation in the central Mubende district on 6 February 1981. The PRA later merged with former president Yusufu Lule’s fighting group, the Uganda Freedom Fighters, to create the National Resistance Army (NRA) with its political wing, the National Resistance Movement (NRM). Two other rebel groups, the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) and the Former Uganda National Army (FUNA), engaged Obote’s forces. The FUNA was formed in the West Nile sub-region from the remnants of Amin’s supporters.
The NRA/NRM developed a “Ten-point Programme” for an eventual government, covering: democracy; security; consolidation of national unity; defending national independence; building an independent, integrated, and self-sustaining economy; improvement of social services; elimination of corruption and misuse of power; redressing inequality; cooperation with other African countries; and a mixed economy.
The Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook estimates that the Obote regime was responsible for more 100,000 civilian deaths across Uganda.
1985 Nairobi Agreement
On 27 July 1985, subfactionalism within the Uganda People’s Congress government led to a successful military coup against Obote by his former army commander, Lieutenant-General Tito Okello, an Acholi. Museveni and the NRM/NRA were angry that the revolution for which they had fought for four years had been “hijacked” by the UNLA, which they viewed as having been discredited by gross human rights violations during Obote II.
Despite these reservations, however, the NRM/NRA eventually agreed to peace talks presided over by a Kenyan delegation headed by President Daniel arap Moi. The talks, which lasted from 26 August to 17 December, were notoriously acrimonious and the resultant ceasefire broke down almost immediately. The final agreement, signed in Nairobi, called for a ceasefire, demilitarisation of Kampala, integration of the NRA and government forces, and absorption of the NRA leadership into the Military Council.These conditions were never met.
Battle of Kampala
While involved in the peace negotiations, Museveni was courting General Mobutu Sésé Seko of Zaire to forestall the involvement of Zairean forces in support of Okello’s military junta. On 20 January 1986, however, several hundred troops loyal to Amin were accompanied into Ugandan territory by the Zairean military. The forces intervened following secret training in Zaire and an appeal from Okello ten days previously.
By 22 January, government troops in Kampala had begun to quit their posts en masse as the rebels gained ground from the south and south-west.
Museveni was sworn in as president on 29 January. “This is not a mere change of guard, it is a fundamental change,” said Museveni, after a ceremony conducted by British-born Chief Justice Peter Allen. Speaking to crowds of thousands outside the Ugandan parliament, the new president promised a return to democracy: “The people of Africa, the people of Uganda, are entitled to a democratic government. It is not a favour from any regime. The sovereign people must be the public, not the government.
Rise to power: 1986–1996
Political and economic regeneration
Uganda began participating in an IMF Economic Recovery Program in 1987. Its objectives included the restoration of incentives in order to encourage growth, investment, employment, and exports; the promotion and diversification of trade with particular emphasis on export promotion; the removal of bureaucratic constraints and divestment from ailing public enterprises so as to enhance sustainable economic growth and development through the private sector and the liberalisation of trade at all levels.
Human rights and internal security
The NRM came to power promising to restore security and respect for human rights. Indeed, this was part of the NRM’s ten-point programme, as Museveni noted in his swearing in speech.
The second point on our programme is security of person and property. Every person in Uganda must [have absolute] security to live wherever he wants. Any individual, any group who threatens the security of our people must be smashed without mercy. The people of Uganda should die only from natural causes which are beyond our control, but not from fellow human beings who continue to walk the length and breadth of our land.
Although Museveni now headed up a new government in Kampala, the NRM could not project its influence fully across Ugandan territory, finding itself fighting a number of insurgencies. From the beginning of Museveni’s presidency, he drew strong support from the Bantu-speaking south and south-west, where Museveni had his base. Museveni managed to get the Karamojong, a group of semi-nomads in the sparsely populated north-east that had never had a significant political voice, to align with him by offering them a stake in the new government. The northern region along the Sudanese border, however, proved more troublesome. In the West Nile sub-region, inhabited by Kakwa and Lugbara (who had previously supported Amin), the UNRF and FUNA rebel groups fought for years until a combination of military offensives and diplomacy pacified the region. The leader of the UNRF, Moses Ali, gave up his struggle to become the second deputy prime minister. People from the northern parts of the country viewed the rise of a government led by a person from the south with great trepidation. Rebel groups sprang up among the Lango, Acholi, and Teso peoples, though they were overwhelmed by the strength of the NRA except in the far north where the Sudanese border provided a safe haven. The Acholi rebel Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA) failed to dislodge the NRA occupation of Acholiland, leading to the desperate chiliasm of the Holy Spirit Movement (HSM). The defeat of both the UPDA and HSM left the rebellion to a group that eventually became known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, which would turn upon the Acholi themselves.
The NRA subsequently earned a reputation for respecting the rights of civilians, although Museveni later received criticism for using child soldiers. Undisciplined elements within the NRA soon tarnished a hard-won reputation for fairness. “When Museveni’s men first came they acted very well – we welcomed them,” said one villager, “but then they started to arrest people and kill them.
In March 1989, Amnesty International published a human rights report on Uganda, entitled Uganda, the Human Rights Record 1986–1989. It documented gross human rights violations committed by NRA troops. In one of the most intense phases of the war, between October and December 1988, the NRA forcibly cleared approximately 100,000 people from their homes in and around Gulu town. Soldiers committed hundreds of extrajudicial executions as they forcibly moved people, burning down homes and granaries.In its conclusion, however, the report offered some hope:
Any assessment of the NRM government’s human rights performance is, perhaps inevitably, less favourable after four years in power than it was in the early months. However, it is not true to say, as some critics and outside observers, that there has been a continuous slide back towards gross human rights abuse, that in some sense Uganda is fated to suffer at the hands of bad government.
However, on 13 September 2019, Museveni’s former Inspector General of Police (IGP) General Kale Kayihura was placed on the United States Department of the Treasury sanctions list for gross violation of Human rights during his reign as the IGP (from 2005 to March 2018). This was due to activities of the Uganda Police’s Flying Squad Unit that involved torture and corruption. Kayihura was subsequently replaced with Martin Okoth Ochola.
First elected term (1996–2001)
The first elections under Museveni’s government were held on 9 May 1996. Museveni defeated Paul Ssemogerere of the Democratic Party, who contested the election as a candidate for the “Inter-party forces coalition”, and the upstart candidate Kibirige Mayanja. Museveni won with 75.5 percent of the vote from a turnout of 72.6 percent of eligible voters. Although international and domestic observers described the vote as valid, both the losing candidates rejected the results. Museveni was sworn in as president for the second time on 12 May 1996.
In 1997 he introduced free primary education.
The second set of elections were held in 2001. President Museveni got 69 percent of the vote to beat his rival Kizza Besigye. Besigye had been a close confidant of the president and was his bush war physician. They, however, had a fallout shortly before the 2001 elections, when Besigye decided to stand for the presidency. The 2001 election campaigns were a heated affair with President Museveni threatening to put his rival “six feet under”.
The election culminated in a petition filed by Besigye at the Supreme Court of Uganda. The court ruled that the elections were not free and fair but declined to nullify the outcome by a 3–2 majority decision.The court held that although there were many cases of election malpractice, they did not affect the result in a substantial manner. Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki and Justices Alfred Karokora and Joseph Mulenga ruled in favor of the respondents while Justices Aurthur Haggai Oder and John Tsekoko ruled in favor of Besigye.
Perhaps Museveni’s most widely noted accomplishment has been his government’s successful campaign against AIDS. During the 1980s, Uganda had one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world, but now Uganda’s rates are comparatively low, and the country stands as a rare success story in the global battle against the virus (see AIDS in Africa). One of the campaigns headed by Museveni to fight against HIV/AIDS was the ABC program. The ABC program had three main parts “Abstain, Be faithful, or use Condoms if A and B are not practiced.In April 1998, Uganda became the first country to be declared eligible for debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, receiving some US$700 million in aid.
Museveni was lauded by some for his affirmative action program for women in the country. He was served by a female vice-president, Specioza Kazibwe, for nearly a decade, and has done much to encourage women to go to college. On the other hand, Museveni has resisted calls for greater women’s family land rights (the right of women to own a share of their matrimonial homes).
The New York Times in 1997 said about Museveni:
These are heady days for the former guerilla who runs Uganda. He moves with the measured gait and sure gestures of a leader secure in his power and his vision. It is little wonder. To hear some of the diplomats and African experts tell it, President Yoweri K. Museveni started an ideological movement that is reshaping much of Africa, spelling the end of the corrupt, strong-man governments that characterized the cold-war era. These days, political pundits across the continent are calling Mr. Museveni an African Bismarck. Some people now refer to him as Africa’s “other statesman,” second only to the venerated South African President Nelson Mandela.
In official briefing papers from Madeleine Albright’s December 1997 Africa tour as Secretary of State, Museveni was claimed by the Clinton administration to be a “beacon of hope” who runs a “uni-party democracy”, despite Uganda not permitting multiparty politics.
Museveni has been an important ally of the United States in the War on Terror.
Following the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the new Rwandan government felt threatened by the presence across the Rwandan border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) of former Rwandan soldiers and members of the previous regime. These soldiers were aided by Mobutu Sese Seko, leading Rwanda (with the aid of Museveni) and Laurent Kabila’s rebels during the First Congo War to overthrow Mobutu and take power in the DRC.
In August 1998, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the DRC again during the Second Congo War, this time to overthrow Kabila, who was a former ally of Museveni and Kagame. Museveni and a few close military advisers alone made the decision to send the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) into the DRC. A number of highly placed sources indicate that the Ugandan parliament and civilian advisers were not consulted over the matter, as is required by the 1995 constitution :262–263 Museveni apparently persuaded an initially reluctant High Command to go along with the venture. “We felt that the Rwandese started the war and it was their duty to go ahead and finish the job, but our President took time and convinced us that we had a stake in what is going on in Congo”, one senior officer is reported as saying. The official reasons Uganda gave for the intervention were to stop a “genocide” against the Banyamulenge in the DRC in concert with Rwandan forces and that Kabila had failed to provide security along the border and was allowing the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) to attack Uganda from rear bases in the DRC. In reality, the UPDF were deployed deep inside the DRC, more than 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) to the west of Uganda’s border with the DRC.
Troops from Rwanda and Uganda plundered the country’s rich mineral deposits and timber. The United States responded to the invasion by suspending all military aid to Uganda, a disappointment to the Clinton administration, which had hoped to make Uganda the centrepiece of the African Crisis Response Initiative. In 2000, Rwandan and Ugandan troops exchanged fire on three occasions in the DRC city of Kisangani, leading to tensions and a deterioration in relations between Kagame and Museveni. The Ugandan government has also been criticised for aggravating the Ituri conflict, a sub-conflict of the Second Congo War. In December 2005, the International Court of Justice ruled that Uganda must pay compensation to the DRC for human rights violations during the Second Congo War.
Second term (2001–2006)
In 2001, Museveni won the presidential elections by a substantial majority, with his former friend and personal physician Kizza Besigye as the only real challenger. In a populist publicity stunt, a pentagenarian Museveni travelled on a bodaboda motorcycle taxi to submit his nomination form for the election. Bodaboda is a cheap and somewhat dangerous (by western standards) method of transporting passengers around towns and villages in East Africa.
There was much recrimination and bitterness during the 2001 presidential elections campaign, and incidents of violence occurred following the announcement of the win by Museveni. Besigye challenged the election results in the Supreme Court of Uganda. Two of the five judges concluded that there were such illegalities in the elections and that the results should be rejected. The other three judges decided that the illegalities did not affect the result of the election in a substantial manner, but stated that “there was evidence that in a significant number of polling stations there was cheating” and that in some areas of the country, “the principle of free and fair election was compromised.
Political pluralism and constitutional change
After the elections, political forces allied to Museveni began a campaign to loosen constitutional limits on the presidential term, allowing him to stand for election again in 2006. The 1995 Ugandan constitution provided for a two-term limit on the tenure of the president.
Moves to alter the constitution and alleged attempts to suppress opposition political forces have attracted criticism from domestic commentators, the international community, and Uganda’s aid donors. In a press release, the main opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), accused Museveni of engaging in a “life presidency project”, and for bribing members of parliament to vote against constitutional amendments, FDC leaders claimed:
The country is polarized with many Ugandans objecting to [the constitutional amendments]. If Parliament goes ahead and removes term limits, this may cause serious unrest, political strife and may lead to turmoil both through the transition period and thereafter … We would therefore like to appeal to President Museveni to respect himself, the people who elected him, and the Constitution under which he was voted President in 2001 when he promised the country and the world at large to hand over power peacefully and in an orderly manner at the end of his second and last term. Otherwise, his insistence to stand again will expose him as a consummate liar and the biggest political fraudster this country has ever known.
As observed by some political commentators, including Wafula Oguttu, Museveni had previously stated that he considered the idea of clinging to office for “15 or more” years ill-advised.Comments by the Irish anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof sparked a protest by Museveni supporters outside the British High Commission in Kampala. “Get a grip Museveni. Your time is up, go away,” said the former rock star in March 2005, explaining that moves to change the constitution were compromising Museveni’s record against fighting poverty and HIV/AIDS. In an opinion article in the Boston Globe and in a speech delivered at the Wilson Center, former U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Johnnie Carson heaped more criticism on Museveni. Despite recognising the president as a “genuine reformer” whose “leadership [has] led to stability and growth”, Carson also said, “we may be looking at another Mugabe and Zimbabwe in the making”. “Many observers see Museveni’s efforts to amend the constitution as a re-run of a common problem that afflicts many African leaders – an unwillingness to follow constitutional norms and give up power.
In July 2005, Norway became the third European country in as many months to announce symbolic cutbacks in foreign aid to Uganda in response to political leadership in the country. The UK and Ireland made similar moves in May. “Our foreign ministry wanted to highlight two issues: the changing of the constitution to lift term limits, and problems with opening the political space, human rights and corruption”, said Norwegian Ambassador Tore Gjos.Of particular significance was the arrest of two opposition MPs from the FDC. Human rights campaigners charged that the arrests were politically motivated. Human Rights Watch stated that “the arrest of these opposition MPs smacks of political opportunism”.A confidential World Bank report leaked in May suggested that the international lender might cut its support to non-humanitarian programmes in Uganda. “We regret that we cannot be more positive about the present political situation in Uganda, especially given the country’s admirable record through the late 1990s”, said the paper. “The Government has largely failed to integrate the country’s diverse peoples into a single political process that is viable over the long term…Perhaps most significant, the political trend-lines, as a result of the President’s apparent determination to press for a third term, point downward.
Museveni responded to the mounting international pressure by accusing donors of interfering with domestic politics and using aid to manipulate poor countries. “Let the partners give advice and leave it to the country to decide … [developed] countries must get out of the habit of trying to use aid to dictate the management of our countries.The problem with those people is not the third term or fighting corruption or multipartism,” added Museveni at a meeting with other African leaders, “the problem is that they want to keep us there without growing.
In July 2005, a constitutional referendum lifted a 19-year restriction on the activities of political parties. In the non-party “Movement system” (so-called “the movement”) instituted by Museveni in 1986, parties continued to exist, but candidates were required to stand for election as individuals rather than representative of any political grouping. This measure was ostensibly designed to reduce ethnic divisions, although many observers have subsequently claimed that the system had become nothing more than a restriction on opposition activity. Before the vote, the FDC spokesperson stated, “Key sectors of the economy are headed by people from the president’s home area…. We have got the most sectarian regime in the history of the country in spite of the fact that there are no parties.Many Ugandans saw Museveni’s conversion to political pluralism as a concession to donors – aimed at softening the blow when he announces he wants to stay on for a third term. Opposition MP Omara Atubo has said Museveni’s desire for change was merely “a facade behind which he is trying to hide ambitions to rule for life.
Death of John Garang
On 30 July 2005, Sudanese vice-president John Garang was killed when the Ugandan presidential helicopter crashed while he was traveling to Sudan from talks in Uganda. Garang had been Sudan’s vice-president for only three weeks before his death.
Widespread speculation as to the cause of the crash led Museveni, on 10 August, to threaten the closure of media outlets that published “conspiracy theories” about Garang’s death. In a statement, Museveni claimed that the speculation was a threat to national security. “I will no longer tolerate a newspaper which is like a vulture. Any newspaper that plays around with regional security, I will not tolerate it – I will close it.The following day, popular radio station KFM had its license withdrawn for broadcasting a debate on Garang’s death. Radio presenter Andrew Mwenda was eventually arrested for sedition in connection with comments made on his KFM talk show.
February 2006 elections
On 17 November 2005, Museveni was chosen as NRMs presidential candidate for the February 2006 elections. His candidacy for a further third term sparked criticism, as he had promised in 2001 that he was contesting for the last time.
The arrest of the main opposition leader Kizza Besigye on 14 November – charged with treason, concealment of treason, and rape – sparked demonstrations and riots in Kampala and other towns. Museveni’s bid for a third term, the arrest of Besigye, and the besiegement of the High Court during a hearing of Besigye’s case (by a heavily armed Military Intelligence group dubbed by the press as the “Black Mambas Urban Hit Squad”), led Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom to withhold economic support to Museveni’s government because of their concerns about the country’s democratic development. On 2 January 2006, Besigye was released after the High Court ordered his immediate release.