26 August 2009

Uganda: How Besigye, Kanyeihamba Kept Museveni in Power

The controversial extension of President Museveni's interim rule in 1989 was planned and executed by some of the President's harshest critics todate - opposition FDC President Kizza Besigye and retiring Supreme Court Justice, George Wilson Kanyeihamba, The Observer can reveal.

Kanyeihamba, who retires from the bench this November told The Observer in an exclusive interview last month, that as Attorney General in 1989, he wrote the law extending Museveni's rule while as National Political Commissar, Col. Besigye lent him full support.

"I was the Attorney General and I am the one who asked for the extension [of the NRM rule for another five years] as Attorney General in 1989. We had come in for only four years, and there would be elections. So I prepared [a statement] with the support of Kizza Besigye, the President, and so forth," Kanyeihamba said in an interview, which forms part of his life story being serialised in this newspaper.

The document that came to be known as the "Attorney General's statement" on the extension of the NRM, according to Kanyeihamba, was discussed in Cabinet, in caucuses, and Col. Besigye occasionally visited Kanyeihamba's residence to discuss it.

"The extension was discussed in Cabinet, in caucuses and they said the Attorney General should prepare the statement. But several times, Besigye came to my residence, I was then living in Kololo and then we would discuss the content. [Eriya] Kategeya would also come," he said.

"So it was a collective effort but in the end, I am the one who prepared the statement and presented it in Parliament. Of course, the statement was approved by Cabinet and the Movement. Museveni chaired that Cabinet," he added.

Kanyeihamba moved on to become Senior Presidential Advisor and later Supreme Court judge, while Besigye fell out with the NRM after penning a stinging missive criticising the government and eventually stood against President Museveni in the 2001 election, before doing it again in 2006.

However, Kanyeihamba who was widely expected to become a yes-man for the NRM in the Supreme Court, having been one of them, surprised many by turning out to be one of the most vocal and independent judges Uganda has seen.

Following a petition filed against the 2006 presidential elections by Dr. Kizza Besigye, the losing candidate, Kanyeihamba was one of three Supreme Court judges that ruled in favour of annulling President Museveni's re-election.

However, looking back, Kanyeihamba still believes they were right to extend President Museveni's rule beyond the four years agreed when he came to power in 1990.

"I think we were right...when we extended [NRM to another five years]," he told The Observer.

Some political observers say that the NRM's October 1989 extension of its interim rule until 1995 broke the most important promise the NRM had made on taking power.

However, realists point out that four years was a very short time within which to do anything under the circumstances. The country had been battered by war and badly needed rehabilitation, the economy was in a shambles, and insurgency was still going on in some parts of northern and eastern Uganda.

Besides, the new government had committed itself to writing a new constitution for Uganda and was no where near this goal by 1989.

Being the dominant force in the National Resistance Council (NRC), the Parliament of the time, the NRM managed to pass legislation for the five-year extension within one week, despite demands from some parliamentarians for time to consult their constituents.

Only Wasswa Ziritwawula, a DP supporter at the time, went as far resigning his seat in Parliament to protest the hurried extension.


Asked to comment on his role in the extension of 1989, Besigye told The Observer on Tuesday that he was in full "agreement" with the extension of the NRM interim period because the issue was not only "inevitable" but also "contentious".

"That time [1989] we were in agreement to extend NRM rule because we had to give room for the constitutional transition," he said.

"The four years were not used very well. In 1989 we had just begun work. Even the [Justice Benjamin] Odoki Commission had just started. So it was inevitable. We had to give time for the constitutional transition."

Commenting on why he used to visit Justice Kanyeihamba's residence in Kololo back then, Besigye argued that the extension of NRM rule was "a point of contention".

"This was a point of contention. Some of us wanted a two-year extension. While people like [President Yoweri] Museveni wanted 5 years. So as Political Commissar then, I used to go to Kololo [Justice Kanyeihamba's home then] to discuss the principles involved; not the content," he said.

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