KAMPALA, Feb 9 – Ugandans are losing patience with their 25-year-old leadership and are ready for an Egypt-style uprising, President Yoweri Museveni\’s main rival in next week\’s elections said Wednesday.
"I can\’t tell you how many of our people are following the events internationally, in Egypt and elsewhere, but they don\’t have to, because the conditions are the same in Uganda," Kizza Besigye told AFP.
Besigye is challenging President Yoweri Museveni for the third time in February 18 elections. He lost to Museveni in 2001 and 2006, but both votes were tainted by intimidation and rigging, according to multiple reports.
Besigye said that while he is often criticised for making alarmist predictions about unrest, the political turmoil in north Africa demonstrates that desperate people can revolt without prompting from politicians.
"The government should understand that it is not the opposition that would provoke violence or protest. It is the government that created these conditions of oppression and despondency, conditions of frustration, unemployment, that can lead to violence," he said.
Besigye served as a top commander in the National Resistance Army rebel movement that brought Museveni to power in 1986.
He was Museveni\’s personal medical doctor through much of the 1981-1986 rebellion, but was forced out by the regime in 1999 after publishing a letter critical of the president\’s record in his first 13 years in power.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptian demonstrators have been calling for President Hosni Mubarak\’s departure in an unprecedented three-week-old revolt that has sent shockwaves across the Arab world and beyond.
Museveni on Sunday insisted that "there will never be any election violence in Uganda," in statement released by his offices, echoing security officials who have pledged to clamp down on anyone seeking to spark unrest.
Speaking to AFP while travelling to a campaign stop in Western Uganda, Besigye said the brutality previously unleashed on peaceful political demonstrators only delays and worsens future chaos.
"The brutality of the state represses people until they explode. And once they explode no amount of brutality can stop them," he said.
"Yes, this brutality may postpone problems, but it only serves to intensify those problems once they erupt."
In 2007, large crowds protested in Kampala against plans to sell parts of national forest to sugar cane developers.
Since then, Ugandan authorities have aggressively blocked large political demonstrations in the capital, including several recent attempts by Besigye to organise protests against Uganda\’s election panel, which he says is biased.
Besigye has repeatedly insisted that peaceful demonstrations are legal under Uganda\’s constitution.
Asked Wednesday if he would join a protracted protest as seen recently in Cairo, he said, "if people are demonstrating for the right reasons, I will support them."
He also insisted that if vote counting is credible, he will win the February 18 election.
"In terms of popular support, there is no doubt," he said.