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Museveni, Yoweri 1944(?)–

Yoweri Museveni 1944(?)

President of Uganda

At a Glance

From Collegian to Freedom Fighter

Back to the Bush

Trying to Stem the Tide


Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, has faced the staggering task of restoring peace and prosperity to a nation devastated by fifteen years of civil war. Museveni assumed the presidency of Uganda on January 29, 1986, after troops under his leadership stormed the capital city of Kampala. Since then he has tried to reverse two decades of army brutalities, government corruption, and economic decline in Uganda, formerly one of Africas most prosperous countries. Ive got a mission, he told Time magazine, to transform Uganda from a backward country to an advanced country. In Africa Report he noted that his army arrived here to find a bleeding nation. Insecurity was the order of the day. The moral fabric was in decay.... The crucial thing is to show [the Ugandan people] that there is a way out, that it is within our means to overcome this backwardness.

Musevenis National Resistance Army (NRA) has restored peace to most of Uganda. His National Resistance Movementthe only legal political organization in Ugandais seeking to reassure and unite a populace comprising some forty different ethnic groups. As Keith Richburg put it in the Washington Post, Museveni dominates the government and has set the tone for the new Ugandan economic outlook. Yet he remains something of an enigma: a military man who came to power after leading a bush war but speaks more like a scholar with a firm grasp of international economics. Richburg added that the presidents popularity appears to lie in his ability to remind the outside world that, despite his governments flaws, it is still far better than what preceded it.

Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa that is approximately the size of England. Although it has no coastline, it shares massive Lake Victoria with neighboring Kenya and Tanzania, and its rivers are plentiful. Once known as the pearl of Africa, its picturesque game reserves formed the backdrop for the filming of John Hustons movie The African Queen. Unlike other African nations that suffer deadly droughts, rainfall and soil quality are good in Uganda, and crops are grown for consumption and export.

Atlantic contributor Robert D. Kaplan explained why the country has come to be known more for its bloody dictatorships than for its scenic waterways. Uganda... whose arbitrary borders are the result of the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference of European powers, is so tribal that it is more like a loose association of many nations than like

At a Glance

Born Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, c. 1944 (Museveni is reportedly unsure of the exact year of his birth), in Ntungamo, Ankole, Uganda; son of Mzeyi Amosi Kaguta (a cattle rancher) and Esteri Kokundeka; married Janet Kataha; children: four. Education: University College, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, B.A., 1970.

President of Uganda, January 29, 1986. Government research assistant, 1970-71; leader of resistance movements against dictators in Uganda, 1971-86, including Front for National Salvation, 1974-79, and National Resistance Army, 1980-86; entered capital city of Kampala by force in January 1986 with aid of majority of Ugandan citizenry, Founder and head of National Resistance Movement, Ugandas only legal political organization.

Addresses: OfficeOffice of the President, Republic of Uganda, Kampala, Uganda; or c/o Ugandan Embassy, 5909 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20011.

one. wrote Kaplan. It is as culturally diverse as India, as politically fragmented as Lebanon. A Western diplomat in Kampala says, There are no horizontal linkages hereno unifying elements of history, ethnicity, or even religion. Nation-building can only start with particular groups and work upwards.

The British arrived in Uganda in 1862. At that time the country was a series of small nations, each with its own leadership, army, and ethnic identity. England granted Uganda protectorate status in 1894. Fewer white settlers moved in than in other areas of Africa, but Asia provided a mercantile class for the region during the first part of the twentieth century. Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived and added more religious rivalries to an already tense ethnic situation.

Yoweri Museveni was born in a village in the Ankole province of southwestern Uganda. Even he is not sure exactly what year he was born, but most sources give the date as 1944. His father, a cattle rancher, was a proud veteran of World War II, having fought under the British flag in the Kings African Rifles brigade. Musevenis family illustrates the complicated tribalism of the region. His father was a member of the Banyankole tribe, and his mother was a Banyarwanda, both subgroups of the Bantu peoples.

Musevenis father insisted that all his children receive a thorough education. At the tender age of nine, Museveni was sent to boarding school, and he attended high school and took preparatory college classes at Ntare School in Mbarara, the district capital. He was a teenager when Britain granted Uganda its independence in 1962.

It was a shattered polity that emerged at independence, contended Kaplan. Under the protectorate, the British had promoted an Asian merchant class, a national army made up of minority tribes from northern Uganda, and a civil service run primarily by the Baganda peoples. The first prime minister, Milton Obote, came from a northern tribe, the Langi.

From Collegian to Freedom Fighter

While Obote was struggling to control the various factions in Uganda, Yoweri Museveni emigrated to study political science and economics at University College in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. Museveni obtained a bachelors degree in economics in 1970 and returned to his homeland to work in the Obote government. His tenure as a government official was short-lived, however. In January 1971 Obote was deposed by his top-ranking army officer, Idi Amin Dada. Immediately Amin launched a reign of terror that sent thousands of Ugandan academics, professionals, and businessmen into exileand many thousands more to their graves.

As Kaplan explained: Amin soaked this lush, sylvan country with the blood of several hundred thousand people. Several hundred thousand more were made homeless. The suffering was widespread, but not completely indiscriminate. All [northern tribesmen] were in danger. So was any Bantu with a house, a cat, or another possession that one of Amins thugs might covet. Amin was the first dictator of Uganda to give his armed forces free reign over the citizenry. The countrys strong economy declined precipitously as crops and cattle were stolen, the mercantile class was expelled, and wanton torture and extortion prevailed.

Museveni took shelter in Tanzania, where he formed the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), a group of exiles determined to oust Amin. He and his soldiers trained in Mozambique with a nationalist guerilla group and prepared to invade at the first sign of Amins weakness. In 1979, FRONASA united with a larger rebel band loyal to Obote, as well as Tanzanian forces, to drive Amin from Uganda. A hastily assembled coalition group known as the Uganda National Liberation Front took over Kampala in March of 1979. The entire country had been devastated by Amin and his army.

The task of rebuilding was enormous, and it was made even harder by the power struggle within Ugandas coalition government. Museveni took the important job of defense minister in the Military Commission and was given the task of routing Amins army. Museveni used his FRONASA troops as well as other fighters recruited from his Banyankole tribe, and soon other government officials began to worry about the young commanders growing strength. Museveni did not run the Military Commission, thoughit was headed by a man loyal to Obote. Museveni watched with cynicism as the interim government called for national elections. These were held in December of 1980, and Obote, leader of the Uganda Peoples Congress, won the presidency by a large margin.

Back to the Bush

Claiming that the election was rigged in Obotes favor by his henchman on the Military Commission, Museveni returned to the bush with 26 followers on February 6, 1981. From that small cluster of supporters he forged the National Resistance Armyone of four rebel groups seeking to undermine the Obote regime. In Africa Report, Catharine Watson noted: Musevenis force grew slowly, based in Luwero, a fertile coffee-growing region just north of Kampala. Highly disciplined, its soldiers were mostly peasants from the south and the west, its commanders mostly from the west. What made Musevenis army unique was its respect for the citizenry. Museveni decreed harsh punishments for any NRA soldier found guilty of brutality or corruption. The tactic endeared him to the populace, and soon young orphans were flocking to his flag and embracing his vision of a better Uganda.

Kaplan has noted that Obote helped to undermine his own regime by resorting to the same tactics Amin had used. To quote Kaplan, the new government army quickly disintegrated into a rampaging mob. The atrocities accelerated after 1980, and Obote made no visible attempt to stop them, the observer claimed. It seems that nothing was sacred to Obotes soldiers. Skeletons exist of small children with their hands tied behind their backs. There are documented stories of gang rapes of girls as young as four. Torture, in which molten rubber was dripped onto a victims face from a burning tire suspended above, was administered by a paramilitary police unit.... Many Ugandans died from starvation; caught up in the turmoil, peasants frequently could not stay in one place long enough to harvest their usual crops.

Musevenis small army stood in stark contrast to this anarchy, and it gained power as the atrocities escalated. Obotes regime fell in 1985 to a coup by army officers from a northern tribe. Still the government-sanctioned violence continued, especially against anyone perceived as a Museveni loyalist. Luwero, where the NRA was based, lost a third of its population in genocidal purges. Watson estimated in Africa Report that as many as 300,000 people died for supporting Yoweri Museveni.

Finally, in 1985, Museveni agreed to negotiate with the new military government of Tito Okello. Museveni refused to disband his army, however, and even as peace talks proceeded in Nairobi, Kenya, the atrocities continued in Uganda. A cease-fire was called by both sides, but it lasted only a few weeks. In January of 1986, Museveni mustered his forceshaving grown considerably due to the governments heavy-handed tacticsand marched on Kampala. Okello fled into exile, where he died in 1990. Museveni was sworn in as Ugandas new president on January 29, 1986.

Trying to Stem the Tide

Dressed in army fatigues for his inauguration, Museveni declared, as printed in Time: No one can think that what is happening today, what has been happening in the last few days, is a mere change of the guard. This is a fundamental change in the politics of our country. The president emphasized that his administration would respect human rights and would not use a standing army as a tool for civilian intimidation. He promised to curtail government corruption and to try to restore Ugandas failing economy.

At first Museveni attracted few believers elsewhere in the world, especially since his NRA troops continued to fight pitched battles against tribes in the northern sections of Uganda. Confidence has grown steadily since 1986, largely because Museveni himself shows no signs of personal corruption, and he has promoted cabinet members from every ethnic group in the diverse nation. Signs of improvement are apparent, even though the economy is still weak. The Red Cross has returned to Uganda after an absence of two decades. New trade agreements have been initiated with the United States and other nations. The World Bank has issued much-needed loans to buy equipment and repair roads and utilities. Recently, Museveni was elected president of the powerful Organization of African States. In a 1991 piece for Africa Report, Watson wrote: On balance, the Uganda of today is leagues away from that of six, 10, or 20 years ago.

Troubles remain, however. It is estimated that one million Ugandans are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (commonly referred to as the HIV virus, which causes AIDS), even though Museveni has been aggressive in his attempts to use state power to control the contagion. A great proportion of national expenditures still go to the military, and rebel activity continues sporadically among the northern tribes. Export profits have risen each year since Museveni took control, but Uganda is still in the grip of an enormous debt incurred by the current president and his predecessors. Most importantly, the general movement toward multiparty democracy in Africa has placed a burden on the Museveni regime because it is essentially a dictatorship. Museveni has called for a revised constitution and has claimed that presidential elections will be held by 1995.

Government corruption is still widespread in Ugandaand scattered human rights violations persistbut wanton violence is no longer the norm. As Watson put it, Security, both physical and psychological, has been restored. Museveni has brought Uganda back from a rule of terror and is presiding over the rebuilding process. A Kampala businessman commented in Time magazine: Gone are the days when you had to hide your car from greedy soldiers and carry cash in your pockets to pay them off when they stopped you. As for his own future as leader of Uganda, Museveni told Time: Im not enjoying being president. I want to finish rebuilding the army, the police and the judiciary, and leave the country with a new constitution. And then I want to leave office.



Africa South of the Sahara: 1991, 20th edition, Europa, 1991.


Africa Report, January/February 1988; July/August 1991.

Atlantic, April 1987.

Christian Science Monitor, March 17, 1992.

Current History, May 1990.

Economist, July 16, 1988; September 21, 1991.

Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1991.

Macleans, November 11, 1985.

New York Times, February 18, 1991.

New York Times Magazine, March 12, 1989.

Time, February 10, 1986; November 23, 1987; November 6, 1989.

Washington Post, March 3, 1992.

Anne Janette Johnson

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Museveni, Yoweri

Museveni, Yoweri 1944-


Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, president of Uganda, was born among the Banyankore Bahima nomads of south-western Uganda in about the year 1944 (Museveni 1997, p. 1). In 1970 he graduated with a BA in political science from Tanzanias University of Dar-es-Salaam. While there, Museveni enjoyed the tutelage of the pan-Africanist scholar Walter Rodney (19421980) and the Trinidadian American civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael (19411998). Musevenis early Marxist inclinations evolved during this period, although he is more of a nationalist cum pragmatist than an ideologue. When the dictator Idi Amin (c. 19242003) took power in Uganda in 1971, Museveni joined the anti-Amin movement. After Amin was overthrown in 1979, Museveni occupied several ministerial portfolios in two interim governments in Uganda before a rigged general election in 1981 resulted in a second government for Milton Obote (19242005). Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) and National Resistance Army (NRA) then launched a protracted guerrilla war against Obote that ended in 1986 with Musevenis takeover as president.

Upon assuming power Museveni was faced with two daunting challenges: a collapsed state and a subsistence-level economy. The NRM initiated several reforms geared toward the reconstruction of the state: the institutionalization of local councils (LCs), general elections for parliament and president, constitutional reform, the construction of a national army, the resuscitation of civil society, and a crusade against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. By 1996 Museveni had reestablished statehood, security, and relative peace, but his nineteen-year ban on political party activity and his role in the constitutional repeal of presidential term limits have constrained political competition and blocked the much-heralded transition to democracy. Political corruption among top government officials including cabinet ministers has tarnished the image of the NRM government at home and abroad. Most notably, scandals such as the ghost soldiers debacle, through which military officers were paid for nonexistent staff, and the importation of defective helicopters from Belarus in 1997 earned Uganda the ignominious rank of 113 in the Transparency Internationals corruption index. Finally, Uganda has received a lot of criticism for its counterinsurgency tactics against the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that has destabilized northern Uganda and brutally massacred thousands.

Museveni revolutionized Ugandas economy by enacting liberal reforms in monetary and fiscal policy and paving the way for a free-market economy; in particular, the Uganda shilling was devalued and floated against other currencies, and forex bureaus facilitated foreign exchange. Government subsidies and state controls were removed. Through privatization, parastatals were sold and social expenditures cut. Finally, trade was liberalized, deficits minimized, and inflation kept in check. However, over 50 percent of Ugandas recurrent expenditure is serviced by donors, and notwithstanding the poverty-reduction programs such as Entandikwa, Bonna Baggaggawale and Universal Primary Education (UPE), unequal wealth distribution and poverty continue to be major challenges. A small, politically well-connected clique has emerged that is adept at rent-seeking and wealth accumulation, and with a per capita income of about $170, in 2007 Uganda ranks among the poorest countries in the world.

In the mid-1990s Museveni was hailed as one of a new breed of African leaders, but his exploits in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Sudan have harmed his status. Ugandas incursion into the DRC in 1998, ostensibly conducted to rout out antiUganda rebels, became a pretext for exploiting Congos wealth. In December 2005 the International Commission of Jurists ruled that Uganda had violated Congos sovereignty and plundered its natural resources, and it identified top Ugandan military officers, including the presidents brother, Salim Saleh, as culprits. Relations between Uganda and Rwanda deteriorated as the two sought control over the mineral-rich area of eastern Congo. Until recently, Uganda has perennially accused Sudan of providing safe haven to the LRA. Sudan in turn has blamed Uganda for supporting the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA). Thus the off-and-on relations between Kampala and Khartoum have been shaped by these cross-border conflicts.

Museveni has been at the vanguard of reestablishing the East African Community (EAC). Although the EAC is still in its infancy, he can be credited for providing strong leadership by speaking to the virtues of an expanded and integrated regional market. The jury is still out with regard to the success of the EAC, and only history will determine the achievement of Musevenis statesmanship in the region.

SEE ALSO Amin, Idi


Bussey, Erica. 2005. Constitutional Dialogue in Uganda. Journal of African Law 49 (1): 123.

Hansen, Holger B., and Michael Twaddle, eds. 1998. Developing Uganda. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain.

Kassimir, Ronald. 1996. Reading Museveni: Structure, Agency, and Pedagogy in Ugandan Politics. Canadian Journal of African Studies 33 (23): 649673.

Mugaju, Justus, and J. Oloka-Onyango, eds. 2000. No-Party Democracy in Uganda: Myths and Realities. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain.

Museveni, Yoweri K. 1997. Sowing the Mustard Seed: The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Uganda. London: Macmillan.

Rubongoya, Joshua B. 2004. Political Leadership. In Democratic Transitions in East Africa, ed. Paul Kaiser and F. Wafula Okumu, 6482. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate.

Joshua B. Rubongoya

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Museveni, Yoweri

Yoweri Museveni (you´ərē mōō´səvā´nē), 1944?–, Ugandan political leader, president of Uganda (1986–), b. Ntungamo. He studied economics and political science at the Univ. of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania (B.A., 1970), where he headed a leftist student group. He worked briefly as an intelligence official in the government of Milton Obote. When Idi Amin took power, Museveni went into exile (1971) in Tanzania, organizing an opposition group that had a pivotal role in overthrowing (1979) Amin. Museveni lost to Obote in the 1980 presidential elections, which were widely believed to have been fixed. He then founded the National Resistance Army (NRA), which ultimately won the five-year guerrilla war; Museveni was declared president.

Pledging to restore peace and end ethnic strife, he instituted a number of reforms, e.g., the privatization of state-owned companies and promotion of a free market to help rebuild Uganda's ravaged economy, cutbacks in government spending, and an independent judiciary, and instituted an effective program to control the spread of AIDS. He also long opposed multiparty democracy, maintaining that it required a thriving economy and viable middle class. Generally considered a leading African statesman and power broker, Museveni has called for Africans to stop blaming colonialism for their problems and to attempt to operate without Western aid. However, Uganda also has intervened in the political affairs of neighboring countries, including Congo, Rwanda, and Sudan. Museveni's reputation has been tarnished by profiteering and looting by Uganda's forces in the Congo and by his increasingly autocratic rule and intolerance for political opposition.

Uganda's first direct presidential election (1996) returned Museveni to office by an overwhelming majority, but a referendum that approved (2000) continuing his so-called no-party state saw a large drop in voter turnout. He was reelected president by a large majority in 2001, but this time there were cleared indications of vote fraud, although it seemed to have inflated rather than ensured his win. A 2005 referendum, which approved returning to a multiparty system, was supported by Museveni. He was elected to a third term in 2006 after the constitution was amended (2005) to permit him to do so and won a fourth term in 2011.

See his Selected Articles on the Uganda Resistance War (1986); G. Ondoga Ori Amaza, Museveni's Long March (1998).

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