Dr. Warren Kifefe Kizza Besigye, was a personal physician of President Yoweri Museveni during the 1980-1985 protracted bush war that brought the National Resistance Army (NRA) into the leadership of Uganda.
NRA later divided factions and rebirthed the military wing in the current Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and sent the political wing to the present day National Resistance Movement (NRM) that President Museveni chairs himself.
Dr Besigye, a Colonel by rank in the army (before he retired), has contested for President of Uganda four times now in 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016. Losing all four elections to President Museveni, his former ally, who has been in power since 1986.
Perhaps his most memorable campaign rallies have been from the recent 2016 election where, while his bitter opponent President Museveni was handing out favours in envelopes and sacks of money, Besigye’s supporters turned the tables and instead donated to their candidate.
Consequently, everyday, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) frontman went home with items including bunches of bananas, live chickens and goats. Besigye has consistently said that his previous elections have been rigged and that he has been the victim of campaign of intimidation by the Ugandan security forces.
As a revolutionary against a government he calls dictatorial, Dr. Besigye has been arrested, not once or twice but numerous times throughout his political career. He has been shot in the hand, and one ocassion doused in pepper spray during an arrest by the Police.
Besigye studied from Kitante High School (O-level) and Kigezi High School (A-level) before joining Makerere University for a degree in Medicine and Surgery. At the time, he was at university, Uganda was under the leadership of the world famous dictator Idi Amin Dada.
Amin’s regime (1971-1979) was so notorious, he constantly drew comparisons to Joseph Stalin and at his peak, he was compared to the Nazi butcher Adolf Hitler himself.
Amin reigned terror on Uganda, and Makerere University, the best university in the region at that time was not spared. 18 year old Besigye faced Amin regime oppression first hand while at the university.
“Aged 18, he was in a Kampala hotel about to have dinner. Walking to the toilets, he stopped to talk to a former classmate. A huge man lifted him up by the collar, slapped him hard across the face and sent him sprawling to the floor. He said he never made it to the toilets, and never ate his dinner. He picked himself up and ran for his life. It was that chaotic!” A colleague of Besigye’s intimated to us.
When Amin was overthrown, Dr Besigye joined Museveni’s Uganda People’s Movement (UPM). Museveni and the movement faced grave defeat in the 1980 elections that brought Dr Apollo Milton Obote into power, for a second time. The election however, has been widely considered to have been rigged.
In several interviews, Besigye has noted that he didn’t immediately join Museveni in the bush. He was imprisoned for two months in the Nile Hotel (1981) on accusations of working with rebels (NRA), and according to him, tortured.
He however fled to Nairobi and in 1982 joined Museveni in the bush, where he became his personal doctor. Rarely at the battle front, Besigye was deployed in divisions which were sent into battle where he treated the casualties.
After their success in the bush, a 29 year old Besigye was appointed State Minister of Internal Affairs and National Political Commissar. His appointments reportedly didn’t go down well with members that had been in the bush with him and many were said to have been ‘terribly shocked’ since Besigye had not been so involved in the politics of the bush war.
He was promoted to Colonel in the army and he retired just before the 2001 elections, having authored a document that accused the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) of being undemocratic, dishonest and corrupt.
Besigye lost the 2001 election and challenged it in court, where he lost again on split decision. He went into exile and returned just ahead of the 2006 elections, upon which he was arrested and charged with treason and rape.
These charges were to later be dismissed, long after the polls with the rape prosecution (needless to say, his prosecution then was led by the current Electoral Commission – EC Chairman Justice Byabakama) being dismissed as “crude and amateurish”
Besigye polled 37% in the 2006 election, challenged it in court and even when court noted widespread malpractice and disenfranchisement, he lost the petition.
Besigye would later lose the 2011 and 2016 elections as well but stay standing till now. He’s perhaps the modern definition of never give up, in Uganda’s election history and who knows, his persistence may eventually pay out.
He has opposed constitutional amendments to remove the presidential term limits, and most recently, the removal of the age limit for the president. Some of these amendments he has admitted were okay but he opposed them because they were ‘not in good faith’ and ‘only sought to extend the regime’s grip onto power.’
Born in 1956 in Rukungiri (South Western Uganda), he is married to Winnie Byanyima – the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV & AIDS (UNAIDS). Together, they have a son, Anselm Kizza Besigye.
Happy birthday Daktari.