Who is Col. Rt. Dr Kizza Besigye Kifefe? Flash Uganda Media looks at his Biography, Early Life, Education, Family and Political Career of the former president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
Col. Rt. Dr Kizza Besigye Kifefe is a Ugandan physician, politician, and former military officer in the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF). Colonel (about his military rank before he left the army), he is also known as Ssenyondo (“Big Hammer”).
He served as the president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), a Ugandan political party and was an unsuccessful candidate in Uganda’s 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016 presidential elections, losing all of them to the incumbent Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who has been President of Uganda since 26 January 1986.
The results of the 2006 elections were contested in court, where the court found massive rigging and disenfranchisement. He allowed an early internal FDC election for a successor president, which took place on 24 November 2012.
Besigye decided that the successor president should be in place earlier than planned to allow the new president enough time to prepare the party for the next cycle of general elections.
Kizza Besigye Kifefe – Early Life and Education
Col. Rt. Dr. Kizza Besigye Kifefe was born on 22, April 1956 in Rwakabengo Rukungiri District, South Western Uganda.
Kizza Besigye is the second born in a family of 6, both his parents died before he finished primary school, his father was a policeman. Olive Kobusingye, Joseph Musasizi Kifefe, Margret Kifefe are some of his siblings.
Warren Kizza Besigye Kifefe attended Kinyasano Primary School and Mbarara Junior School for his Primary School education. Later, Besigye joined Kitante High School in Kampala for his Ordinary Level (O-Level), and then Kigezi High School in Kabale District for his Advanced Level of education (O-Level).
From Kigezi High School, Besigye enrolled at Makerere University, the oldest and prestigious university in Uganda in 1975, graduating with a degree in human medicine in 1980.
Idi Amin Dada was president of Uganda at the time and his army was causing misery in many areas of the country, including on the university campus.
Mr Besigye did not escape that treatment. He was in a Kampala hotel about to have dinner. Walking to the toilets, he stopped to talk to a former classmate.
A huge man lifted him by the collar, slapped him hard across the face and sent him sprawling to the floor. He said he never made it to the hotel, and never ate his dinner. He picked himself up and ran for his life.
Following Amin’s overthrow, the qualified doctor became a member of the Uganda People’s Movement headed by Yoweri Museveni in 1979.
The movement had little success in the 1980 election which saw the return of Milton Obote to power and which is widely considered to have been rigged.
Mr Besigye says that he did not immediately join Mr Museveni in the bush war. But he was imprisoned for two months in the Nile Hotel in 1981, accused of working with the rebels, and tortured seriously.
Mr Kizza Besigye Kifefe fled to Nairobi and in 1982 joined Mr Museveni in the bush, where he became his doctor. Although rarely at the battlefront, Mr Besigye was deployed in divisions, which were sent into battle where he treated the causalities.
Kizza Besigye Kifefe – Work and Experience
After graduating, Besigye briefly worked at Mulago National Referral Hospital. He later went into exile in neighbouring Kenya. While there, he applied to the Medical Board for registration to work as a doctor.
After getting registered, he applied for a job at the Aga Khan Hospital which he was given and then started working as a doctor and later at Kenyatta National Hospital – both in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
He became Yoweri Museveni’s physician. When the then National Resistance Army (NRA) now the National Resistance Movement (NRM), the ruling Party in Uganda went to the bush to fight a liberation war and took over power in January 1986.
Kizza Besigye Kifefe – Political Life
In 1999, Besigye wrote a document critical of the government, entitled “An insider’s View of How the NRM Lost the Broad Base”. The document accused the NRM of becoming a sectarian kleptocracy and a one-man dictatorship. Besigye was charged before a court-martial for “airing his views in the wrong forum”. He later brokered a deal in 2000 in which the charges were dropped in exchange for an apology for publishing the document.
In October 2000, Kizza Besigye Kifefe announced that he would run against Museveni in the 2001 elections. He retired from the Uganda People’s Defense Forces in 2001, having attained the rank of Colonel.
During his campaign, Besigye, who was Museveni’s strongest opponent, accused the government of widespread corruption and pushed for an end to Museveni’s “Movement” system, which he said had served its purpose as an instrument in Uganda’s political transition to multiparty democracy.
He lost the election, which was marred by claims of widespread vote-rigging, violence and coercion of voters. In March 2001 Besigye petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify the election results. A panel of five judges voted 5-0 that there had been cheating but decided 3-2 not to annul the elections.
In June 2001, Besigye was briefly arrested and questioned by the police over allegations of treason. The government accused him of being behind a shadowy rebel group – the People’s Redemption Army (PRA) – allegedly based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Besigye’s supporters said the government had fabricated the existence of the insurgents to harm his credibility among Ugandans and the international community.
In August 2001, Besigye fled the country, citing persecution by the state. He said he was afraid for his life. He lived in South Africa for four years, during which time he continued to criticize Museveni’s government. Besigye returned to Uganda on 26 October 2005, just in time to register as a voter in the 2006 elections.
He was greeted by thousands and hit the campaign trail almost immediately, addressing thongs of supporters across the country.
When Mr Museveni came to power, Mr Besigye, aged just 29, was appointed state Minister of Internal Affairs and national political commissar.
These appointments shocked some who had been heavily involved in the political side of the bush war. Some believe Mr Besigye’s rapid rise led to him being viewed as a potential threat to the president, and as a result, he was given less demanding work during the 1990s.
Mr Kizza Besigye Kifefe rose to the rank of Colonel in the army but did not retire from it until shortly before the 2001 elections – having written a document that accused the ruling National Resistance Movement of being undemocratic, dishonest and corrupt. It almost earned him a court-martial.
A few months before the election, he emerged as a presidential candidate.
Having lost to Mr Museveni, he went to court and challenged the result because the state had used force, intimidation and violence.
He lost the case on a split decision and then fled the country.
On his return in 2005 Kizza Besigye Kifefe said: “I left to continue to be politically active rather than being behind bars or six feet under as had been threatened.”
Then in November 2005, William Lacy Swing, the United Nations (UN) special envoy to the Great Lakes Region, confirmed the existence of the PRA, naming it as one of the foreign, armed groups operating in the Eastern DRC.
Besigye’s campaign came to an abrupt halt on 14 November when he was arrested on charges of treason and rape which sparked riots in Kampala and other parts of the country but was later acquitted on both counts 12 years later.
The rape charge was acquitted in 2006 by the then High Court Judge, John Bosco Katutsi ahead of the heated 2006 Presidential race, where he was President Museveni’s main rival.
During the hearing of the case in 2006, Dr Besigye denied the charges, reasoning that the charges were politically motivated to frustrate his political career.
In his verdict in 2006, Justice Katutsi described the investigations headed by then CID boss Elizabeth Kutesa as “crude,” “amateurish” and betrayed the intentions behind the case.
Ms Joanita Kyakuwa had in her testimony told the court that between 1997 and 1998, Dr Besigye was her guardian and that she went to live at his home in Luzira in 1997 after her A-Level.
The charges were later dismissed, but after they had distracted him from campaigning.
The rape prosecution was dismissed as “crude and amateurish” but the treason charges hanging over his head until 2010. His lawyers unsuccessfully challenged the 2006 results, alleging widespread fraud. Mr Besigye won 37%.
The treason charges pertained to his alleged links to the PRA and the 20-year old northern Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion (LRA). The government said Mr Besigye had connections with a rebel group, and this accusation led to charges.
He denied any rebel link, although he has said he would not rule out going to the bush to battle the government if the constitution was overthrown and needed to be reinstated.
On 25 November, Uganda’s high court granted Besigye bail, but he was immediately sent back to jail on military charges of terrorism and the illegal possession of weapons. Besigye denied the charges against him and has argued that as a retiree from the armed forces, he should no longer be subject to an army court-martial.
He was freed on bail by the high court on 6 January before the election date.
During the hearing of the case in 2006, Dr Besigye denied the charges, reasoning that the charges were politically motivated to frustrate his political career.
Museveni was accused of trumping up charges against his main rival in an attempt to discredit Besigye or even prevent him from standing in the election.
Both the local and international community came down heavily against Besigye on bail. The government reacted by banning all public rallies, demonstrations, assemblies or seminars related to the trial of Besigye.
It further barred the media from discussing the trial; threatening media houses with the revocation of their licenses should they refuse to heed the ban.
February 2006 elections
The general elections of 2006 saw FDC as the main opposition party and Besigye as the main challenger against Museveni for the presidency. He stood with Miria Kalule Obote, the first female presidential candidate for the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), Abed Bwanika, who stood as an independent, the late John Ssebana Kizito for Democratic Party (DP).
Museveni was elected the next President of the Republic of Uganda, having won 59% of the vote against Besigye’s 37%. Besigye, who alleged fraud, rejected the result.
The Supreme Court of Uganda later ruled that the election was marred by intimidation, violence, voter disenfranchisement, and other irregularities.
However, the Court voted 4-3 to uphold the results of the election.
February 2011 elections and aftermath
In the 2011 elections, Besigye for the third time in a row lost to his main challenger, the incumbent Yoweri Museveni with a sharp decline from previous polls, failing to win in a single region.
Though the election was lauded as one of the freest and fair in Ugandan history, Besigye claimed that his challenger used intimidation and rigging to win a third term in office.
Following his poor performance in the 2011 presidential elections, Besigye directed his party members elected to the 9th parliament to boycott it. This was rejected by the newly elected MPS, claiming that the election victory was out of their effort and not Besigye’s or the Party, contributing to rising tensions within the FDC Party.
Besigye was arrested for a fourth time on 28 April, during a “walk-to-work” protest over the high prices of food and fuel. He was sprayed with pepper spray and dragged from his car by police. This was the catalyst for additional protests leading to riots across Kampala, in which at least two people were killed and 120 people wounded, leading to some 360 arrests.
After he lost the last election in 2011, Mr Besigye said all the votes were flawed.
Before the 2011 polls, Mr Besigye had called for popular uprisings in the event of fraud. And after gaining 26% to the president’s 68% in the vote, the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) claimed it was rigged.
After the election, he continued to campaign against the result, along with the rising cost of living, by staging “work to work” protests.
He was arrested four times, accused of inciting violence and beaten by police during the protests before all charges were dropped.
Human rights groups condemned the brutality of the police and military. His critics see him as a power-hungry attention seeker. But others, praise him for standing up to authority.
Mr Besigye himself says his mission is “to work with millions of other Ugandans in bringing about a stable democratic and peaceful Uganda”.
The US condemned Besigye’s arrest. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in the incident called into question Uganda’s commitment to a transparent election free from intimidation.
2016 Election and Aftermath
In the 2016 elections, Besigye again stood as the FDC presidential candidate, going up against other popular candidates Amama Mbabazi and Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the President of Uganda for three decades.
Besigye again lost to Museveni, receiving only 34 per cent of the vote, while Museveni won 62 per cent.
In the aftermath of this election, he urged his supporters to protest peacefully against the results, claiming that the electoral process had been rigged “using intimidation of voters, imprisonment of opponents, sabotage of rallies, late delivery of election materials, delayed opening of election centres, and bribery, among other malpractices.
On May 11, 2016, he secretly swore himself in as President of the Republic of Uganda, a day before the official swearing-in ceremony of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. He was arrested by the Ugandan Army moments into his swearing-in.
Kizza Besigye Kifefe used to be President Yoweri Museveni’s doctor while in the bush, but he went on to become an opposition leader and has referred to Uganda’s leader as a dictator and junta.
The 2016 presidential elections were Mr Besigye’s fourth time to run against Mr Museveni, and in all attempts losing to the incumbent.
He promised in a media interview in 2013 that he would not run again but would use other means “to dismantle the dictatorship”.
A year later he was still insistent that he would not run, saying that it is impossible to win an election that is being controlled by Mr Museveni.
But in 2015, Besigye changed his mind. His campaign rallies for the 2016 election have been characterized by supporters handing over donations, including bunches of bananas and live goats – a stark contrast to most campaign rallies on the continent, which see the candidates distributing gifts hoping to secure the votes of the beneficiaries.
Mr Besigye says previous elections have been rigged and that he has been the victim of a campaign of intimidation by the security forces.
Some seven months before the 2016 elections, Mr Besigye was arrested ahead of a campaign rally, accused of violating public order laws by attempting to hold public meetings without the government’s permission.
On his way to another rally three days before the election, he was briefly held by police who accused him of disrupting the traffic.
Mr Besigye has been arrested on numerous occasions.
On one occasion he was shot in the hand, on another he suffered eye injuries after being doused in pepper spray. The authorities have said Mr Besigye is provoking them and he has been charged with inciting violence.
Kizza Besigye Kifefe – Family
The charismatic Dr Kizza Besigye Kifefe, who currently resides in Kasangati along Gayaza road, Wakiso District is married to Winnie Byanyima, a former MP and currently the Executive Director of UNAIDS who is seen as intelligent and ambitious and who was once a close personal friend of Mr Museveni. The two got married on 7 July 1999.
KKizza Besigye Kifefe and Winnie have a son named Anselm Kizza Besigye.
Besigye forms People’s Government
After losing the 2016 elections, Besigye formed the People’s government formed in 2016; the government was set out with the major aim of reclaiming the allegedly stolen victory by president Museveni in the general elections.
The decision to form a people’s government was reached by the FDC and other political platforms that sponsored and supported the candidature of Dr Kizza Besigye during the 2016 general elections which they believe Besigye won.
Besigye’s allies said Mr Museveni tampered with the outcome of these elections like he had done before and got the Electoral Commission (EC) to declare him a winner. We were accorded no opportunity to legally challenge this declaration as our candidate was kidnapped from Kampala streets and flown to Moroto by Kale Kayihura (former Inspector General of Police) who was later flown back to Kampala and charged with treason and locked in Luzira Prison.
Claiming to restore the Constitution of Uganda, Besigye and other leaders in the opposition in 2018 launched a campaign dubbed ‘Tubalemese’ (let’s disable government) to counter the recent amendment of the constitution to scrap Presidential age limits which they again lost.
Besigye in a Press Conference held at his office along Katonga Road in Kampala said the people’s government is embarking on awakening Ugandans as well as to intensify the process of organizing the citizenry to take back their power.
“We intend to crystalize our structures and the People’s Government will be formally sworn in so that they commit themselves to serve the country.”
The so-called People’s Government according to Besigye is not partisan, but rather brings together those who have Uganda’s interests at heart.
The opposition will form what they call People’s Assemblies which will from time to time deliberate on various issues of national interest. These Assemblies will also have district structure as well as at the regional and national levels. Their assemblies will sit were they deem convenient.
When he was defeated in 2006, apart from petitioning the election results in court, Besigye generally lived a low profile life, except for the court appearances on treason and rape charges.
Having survived these court battles, Besigye resumed his ebullience were in 2011, following a humiliating defeat in which he got 27%, he mounted a protracted insurrection using Kampala urban rogues disguised as ‘walk-to-work. Besigye claimed that he was walking to work, and yet at the same time saying the economy had collapsed.
His political rallies faced sabotage from security personnel
Constitutional Court declines to handle Besigye’s case
Don’t run to us since you are the people’s president, judges tell off Besigye.
A panel of five Constitutional judges has dismissed an application by four-time presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye Kifefe asking the court to nullify the offence of unlawful assembly in the Penal Code Act on grounds that it was unconstitutional.
In his suit, Besigye noted that the offence contravenes Articles 21, 27, 29 and 43 of the Constitution of Uganda, which guarantee equality and freedom from discrimination, right to privacy of persons, home and other property, protection of freedom of expression, movement, assembly, association and human rights freedoms.
Kizza Besigye Kifefe ran to court after he was picked up various times and arraigned before Kasangati and Nabweru Magistrate’s court for staging unlawful assemblies when he led the walk to work protests in 2011 that was prompted by high commodity prices.
He asked the Constitutional court to declare his arrest and subsequent prosecution in various courts unconstitutional. However, the five-member panel of Constitutional court judges unanimously dismissed the application in their judgment read by Constitutional court registrar, Dr Agnes Nkonge.
The justices noted that they have looked at Kizza Besigye’s political background and found that he has been in contempt of Supreme Court orders resulting from the Amama Mbabazi presidential election petition challenging the declaration of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni as the winner of 2016 elections.
The judges said they heard the merit of the petition and concluded that Museveni was the validly elected president. However, the judges noted that Besigye defied the orders and went ahead to swear in himself as the legitimate president of Uganda, appointed a cabinet and national assembly known as “People’s Government”
The judges note that since Besigye argues that there is no validly elected government, it implies that there are no legally constituted courts of law and therefore they can’t grant him the remedies he is seeking.
“I would, therefore, decline to grant him the remedies he seeks in the petition; maybe he will have to seek audience before his court or before the “judge”, who swore him in as president, reads the majority judgment written by justice Kakuru.
However, the justices note that the action by police to criminalize citizen’s rights of political expression and association as set out in the petition and association as set out in the petition is unconstitutional. The judges noted that hadn’t they looked at the previous political conduct of Besigye; they would have allowed his application.
Until today, Besigye’s arranged rallies, meetings, Radio and TV political talk shows faces sabotage from security under claims that they are illegal just to frustrate his political ambitions.
Of recent, at the start of 2020, Besigye’s critics from opposition section made calls asking Besigye to quit active political and pave way for the young and fresh minds. They accused him of being power-hungry and aggressive.
Responding to his critics, Besigye said that he won’t budge in the face of mounting criticism from opposition quarters. He said giving up his struggle against Museveni would be tantamount to giving up his rights.
Kizza Besigye Kifefe said he’s not fighting for Ugandans who are exerting much pressure on him to quit politics but rather for his liberation.
“I’m not fighting for you. I am fighting for myself to be free. Those who have been telling me to go away because I have been in the struggle for a long time, I assure you that I am not going to leave until I liberate myself. My mission is not to be a leader, but to be in a free county where I can walk with “swag” and I am sure I will achieve this one day.”