Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who stood for re-election yesterday, took power at the head of a bush army in 1986 and has ruled ever since, making him one of the world’s longest-serving leaders.
As a young rebel leader, Museveni helped topple Ugandan president Idi Amin in 1979, before retreating to the bush to wage a guerrilla war against Ugandan president Milton Obote.
Shortly after ousting the government and taking power in 1986, Museveni said: “The problem of Africa in general, and Uganda in particular, is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power.”
Museveni received early praise for returning some stability and prosperity to Uganda, which after years of coups, tyrants and civil war was among the world’s poorest.
He was returned to office in 1996 in the country’s first direct presidential election since independence from Britain in 1962.
Uganda’s economy grew rapidly in the 1990s, as Museveni undertook sweeping reforms, pleasing foreign donors and financial lenders.
Museveni’s early successes combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic and reducing poverty burnished his image in the West as a modern African leader committed to good governance.
However, his moral standing took a hit when Uganda and Rwanda invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) twice in the late 1990s.
Both armies were later charged in The Hague with looting the DR Congo’s resources, killing and torturing civilians, and using child soldiers.
In 2001, Museveni defeated his main opposition rival Kizza Besigye at the ballot box, and committed to standing down at the next election.
However, he changed the constitution in 2005 to do away with presidential term limits.
The following year — his 20th in power — he again defeated a popular Besigye in a vote marred by violence and irregularities.
Museveni pleased Washington — a close friend that has provided Uganda with billions in foreign aid — by sending troops to serve under the US in Iraq and to Somalia, where they formed the backbone of an African Union mission to confront militant group al-Shabaab.
In 2010, the UN accused Ugandan troops of war crimes in the DR Congo, and Uganda threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers from Somalia, South Sudan, Darfur, Ivory Coast and East Timor.
Museveni in 2011 won a fourth term over Besigye, who again decried the vote as a sham.
Security forces were deployed to violently suppress major street protests, as food and fuel prices soared and the economy teetered.
Uganda fought alongside South Sudan’s forces, as the new country descended into civil war in 2013.
At home, the crackdown on critics intensified, with radio stations taken off air and newspapers raided for airing suggestions that Museveni was grooming his son for succession.
In 2014, Museveni signed a controversial anti-gay bill into law.
“I am not power-hungry, but mission-hungry” Museveni said in 2015, describing the economic transformation of Uganda as his only purpose.
He won the 2016 election and in 2017 changed the constitution again by removing age limits for presidential candidates, clearing his path to run for a sixth term this year at the age of 76.
The leader faced an energized campaign by opposition leader Bobi Wine, a musician-turned-lawmaker who calls Museveni a “dictator.”
Museveni, whose increasingly violent reprisals against Wine have drawn global condemnation, has accused outsiders and “homosexuals” of backing the opposition leader, and was expected to win yesterday’s vote, which observers said would be neither free nor fair.
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