35 years under Ugandan President Museveni

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The posters of two most popular candidates for Uganda’s presidential election,incumbent President Yoweri Museveni (right) and Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, the pop star-turned-opposition leader in Kampala, Uganda, on January 4. AFP

President Yoweri Museveni, who is seeking re-election in Uganda on January 14, 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.

Rebel to Ruler

As a young rebel leader, Museveni helps topple dictator Idi Amin in 1979 before retreating to the bush to wage a guerrilla war against his repressive successor, Milton Obote.

Shortly after ousting the government and taking power in 1986, Museveni declares: “The problem of Africa in general, and Uganda in particular, is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power.”

Museveni receives early praise for returning some stability and prosperity to Uganda, which after years of coups, violent tyrants and civil war is among the world’s poorest countries.

He is returned to office in 1996 in the country’s first direct presidential election since independence from Britain in 1962.

Darling of the West

Uganda’s economy grows rapidly in the 1990s as Museveni undertakes sweeping reforms, pleasing foreign donors and financial lenders keen to sponsor a burgeoning African success story.

Museveni’s early successes combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic and reducing poverty burnish this image in the West as a modern African leader committed to good governance.

But his moral standing takes a particular hit when Uganda and Rwanda invade Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) twice in the late 1990s. Both armies are later charged in The Hague with looting the DRC’s resources, killing and torturing civilians and using child soldiers.

Museveni would also be accused of supporting rebels in the region – an allegation that would resurface time and time again during his long tenure.

Broken promises

In 2001, Museveni defeats his main opposition rival Kizza Besigye at the ballot box, and commits to standing down at the next election.

But instead, he changes the constitution in 2005 to do away with presidential term limits.

The following year – his 20th in power – he defeats a popular Besigye again in a vote marred by violence and irregularities.

That same year, the Lord’s Resistance Army is largely driven out of northern Uganda after a grinding and brutal 20-year insurgency – although Ugandan troops hunt the rebel leadership in Sudan, DRC and Central African Republic for another decade.

Museveni pleases Washington – a close friend which has provided Uganda billions in foreign aid – by sending troops to serve under the US in Iraq and to Somalia, where they form the backbone of an African Union mission to confront the al-Qaeda linked jihadists al-Shabaab.