Uganda's old-breed leader

Museveni: Strongman re-elected in Uganda, in an election marred by fraud and violence.

March 19, 2001

A FEW YEARS AGO, it was fashionable to discern a new breed of leader in Africa: better prepared and more dedicated than the "big men" who had achieved independence. Democratic, perhaps.

Yoweri Museveni, who seized power in Uganda from the despotic Milton Obote in 1986, was the poster child for the new breed. He commanded a bush war with efficiency. After he became president, corruption diminished, schools reopened and efficiency rose. Uganda emerged as Africa's leader in combating AIDS. Ugandans took pride in their new order.

But he never quite quashed rebellion in the north. He intervened in Rwanda, Sudan and Congo. The peace-bringer became the war-exporter. Politics was suppressed. The would-be democrat became the clinger-to-power.

After ruling 10 years, Mr. Museveni brought in a constitution allowing two five-year terms as president, starting then. He won election in 1996 and ran for a second term last week. He was challenged vigorously by a former follower, Kizza Besigye, and four negligible candidates.

The campaign was marred by violence, intimidation and scandal. There were enough reports of ballot-stuffing to create suspicions about the result, officially 69.3 percent for Mr. Museveni and 27.8 percent for Dr. Besigye. Observers had little doubt that, even with a fair count, the president won.

All right, Mr. Museveni is not a new breed of leader but, at 56, a new generation old breed. He is an effective president, capable of good or harm, who should be held to account for international conduct, especially in Congo.

He also ought to know that everything from foreign investment to help against AIDS rests on public safety and honest government.

Mr. Museveni can yet earn the reputation that, 10 years ago, he enjoyed on faith: for bringing civil order, honest government and freedom. The best way would be to honor his own constitution, encourage diversity of opinion and make this term his last.

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