Yoweri Museveni lives in a palace in Entebbe, on the banks of Lake Victoria, far away from the noise and chaos of the capital Kampala. Armed soldiers guard the entrance.
Museveni seems relaxed as he welcomes the journalists from DER SPIEGEL for an interview. He has been mired in crisis since he barely won the election in January against his challenger, the pop star Bobi Wine. But if he is nervous at all, he doesn’t show it.
Museveni has Uganda’s leader for three-and-a-half decades and has increasingly shown autocratic tendencies during this time. The elections in January were overshadowed by violence and accusations of fraud.
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. President, you were considered a freedom fighter and reformer when you took office 35 years ago. Today, many Ugandans see you as an autocrat. How did this come about?
Museveni: I haven’t just been in politics for 35 years, but for 60 years. I was active in the student movement, in the resistance, and now I’m in government.
DER SPIEGEL: You can’t let go of power?
Museveni: Uganda is one of the most democratic countries in the world. Every five years, we ask the people: Do you want a new president? At the same time, we face completely different challenges in Africa than in Europe. If you make a mistake in the election here, it can quickly end badly.
DER SPIEGEL: You believe it will take a firm hand to overcome Uganda’s challenges?
Museveni: Our critics don’t understand the situation in Africa. We are working nonstop to change Africa. In 1969, 96 percent of people in Uganda worked in the informal sector; today it is far less. We need to wake people up, give them access to new markets.
DER SPIEGEL: You apparently believe that a politician like your challenger Bobi Wine would plunge the country into chaos.
Museveni: Absolutely. The risks in Uganda are much greater than in Europe.
DER SPIEGEL: Is that justification for arresting Wine’s supporters and for blocking the internet for several days?
Museveni: The man was arrested because he broke the law. We have banned large gatherings of people because of the coronavirus pandemic. Wine refused to accept that. He put our people in danger.
DER SPIEGEL: During the protests on Bobi Wine’s behalf in November, more than 100 people were killed by security forces, according to observers.
Museveni: It was a kind of riot. People attacked security forces and were shot, some were accidentally caught in the crossfire. Mistakes were made. The investigation is ongoing.
DER SPIEGEL: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has criticized what he calls “excessive violence” by state security forces.
Museveni: The Europeans suffer from arrogance. Such lectures are not acceptable. People don’t even know what they are talking about.
DER SPIEGEL: How do you plan to win back the many young people who support Bobbi Wine?
Museveni: I won almost 60 percent of the vote, up to 90 percent in many districts. Do you think it’s possible to get that kind of result if the youth don’t vote for you?
DER SPIEGEL: The opposition has filed a complaint against the election results with the Supreme Court. Was the election rigged?
Museveni: No. The court is reviewing this right now.
DER SPIEGEL: Observers complain that they have been denied access to social media.
Museveni: If you’re talking about the all-powerful rulers of Facebook, I can tell you it was the other way around. Facebook blocked my party’s accounts. Is that freedom of expression? If the people at Facebook think they’re silencing me, they’re wrong.
DER SPIEGEL: It wasn’t just about Facebook. The entire internet was blocked in Uganda for days.
Museveni: That was done for security reasons. The internet was misused to stir up trouble. The opposition spread misinformation about the election results. The block has long since been lifted.
DER SPIEGEL: How do you intend to make Uganda fit for the future?
Museveni: Take a step back in history. My father was not yet part of the so-called capitalist system, he followed a traditional way of life. You produced and you ate, you didn’t sell anything. At that time, there were 80 factories in Uganda. Today there are 5,000.
DER SPIEGEL: You’ve cut spending on education. Is that what a sustainable policy looks like?
Museveni: We put a lot of money into roads, electricity and defense. That’s why Uganda is an island of peace in the region. Some people think that defense has nothing to do with education. But that’s not true. Because if you don’t take care of defense, at some point, there will be no education. Just look at Somalia.
DER SPIEGEL: Critics have accused your family and friends of corruption and nepotism.
Museveni: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Only one of my children owns a factory. The entrepreneurs I know come from China and India. There are only a few Europeans in Uganda; they obviously find it too strenuous here.
DER SPIEGEL: In Transparency International’s anti-corruption ranking, Uganda has slipped to 142nd place.
Museveni: There is corruption, but we have set up an anti-corruption group. We will defeat corruption. And things can’t be all that bad for Uganda, because our economy is growing fast.
DER SPIEGEL: Observers call Uganda a military state.
Museveni: We are a polite people, but I find it hard to take the lectures from the Europeans. Our democracy is one of the most advanced in the world. Unlike Germany, for example, we have seats specifically for women in parliament.
DER SPIEGEL: China has expanded its investments in Uganda. Do you now prefer the Chinese to the Europeans as a partner?
Museveni: The Chinese certainly don’t interfere in our affairs. They don’t waste our time. China wants to do business. Period. In conversations with other nations, I’m often forced to remain polite, to listen, even when I feel like saying: “Go to hell.”