On 12 May 2001, John Nagenda, a long time Uganda presidential adviser on media affars and columnist with the New Vision newspaper opened his column, 'One Man's Week,' thus:
'By the time you tear your New Vision in your ungovernable eagerness to get to this column, the whole of our country will be pulsating to the big drum of President Museveni's second and last swearing-in as elected President of Uganda. It is an overriding occasion for all of us, friend or foe; those who will be at Kololo and the many millions who wont. And, if a Ugandan can say it without being labelled fanatical, for Africa and beyond. This after all will be the start of Museveni's last five years in the presidential office and, by the time it ends, Inshallah, he will have been in power since January '86, a stretch of twenty years. It is not a world record, nor even a regional one, but he who has done it and lived will know they have been on some journey! And it has been perfectly legal, for the Constitutional requirement that no president serve more than two terms found him ten years into the job. The counting started from there, and any one who knows Museveni's strict adherence to the law can be sure that he will fulfil its every provision. There will be no hanky panky to have the term extended, no lines of anxious pleaders begging on bended knee for the Great Leader to reconsider and stay on.'
This was only two short years before sycophants started begging the President never to leave power and as a result more senior leaders of the Movement left or were let go. The new wave of departures included Eriya Kategaya a long time friend of the President and Deputy Prime Minister who had remained with the government in 2001 naively believing that Museveni was being honest when he wrote in his election manifesto that this would be his last term in office. In 2005 the constitution was amended to remove presidential term limits altogether, paving the way for Yoweri Museveni to run for President for as long as he desired.
12 May 2001 was also the day of President Museveni's swearing-in ceremony for a fourth term as Uganda's President because some of us insisted on counting the first two terms he served prior to the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution. Two days to the event the government had not yet decided whether or not to invite Besigye to the swearing-in ceremony, even after two other presidential candidates Muhammad Kibirige Mayanja and Francis Bwengye, confirmed that they had been invited and would attend. Eventually, the invitation arrived and on the eve of the ceremony we consulted on how to proceed. I knew the effect that Kizza Besigye had on crowds, and I felt that we could make a double political point by demonstrating that we were conciliatory whilst giving the world an opportunity to witness the KB effect, especially in Kampala where many people insisted on calling him 'President wa Kampala' (President of Kampala) owing to the large number of votes he garnered in the city. Prince Vincent Kimera was adamant that the candidate and his team do not participate in the swearing-in ceremony and the nay-sayers took the day so we stayed at home and followed the proceedings on television.
I viewed the ceremony on television and sat through the whole event with a thick lump in my throat, watching the world continue in its usual pattern when it should have stood still to address our grievances. I was joined by a few other depressed activists and we could hear the proceedings through the windows of my apartment which was a stone's throw away from Kololo Airstrip Independence Grounds. There was no pretending that this hurt so badly and many of us were close to tears.
Then it was Gaddafi of Libya's turn to speak. His relationship with Uganda went back several decades; he was Idi Amin’s strongest political and military ally, and he also helped fund the five-year rebellion that brought President Yoweri Museveni to power in January 1986. Gaddafi, who had been in power since 1967, described Museveni as a “revolutionary” who should rule without having to undergo elections.
“Museveni has a revolutionary programme to transform Uganda from underdeveloped to a developing country. People with such ideas should not have time limit through elections…. Managers can resign; retire; not revolutionaries. It’s a matter of death."
Indeed Gaddafi was retired by death ten years later in October 2011, killed by his own people who were tired of a revolutionary that refused to retire!
As if that was not enough Gaddafi then announced that he had promoted Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, then only a second lieutenant, to the rank of major, a rank that State House later clarified was honorary but which Muhoozi continued to hold until he underwent several courses to legitmize the rank and earn more promotions.
A few weeks after the swearing-in ceremony I was a guest at Robert Kabushenga's radio talk show, The Capital Gang; with Deputy Prime Minister Eriya Kategaya. The President had just handed out a bunch of medals to 'heroes' of the five-year bush war and we were debating the merits and demerits of the decorated heroes and why the list had not included Dr. Kizza Besigye, a medical doctor who saved lives and limbs in that bush war. Kategaya at some point remarked that the problem with Reform Agenda was that we moved too fast and were ahead of the population. I wondered if this was not what leadership was about: Being ahead and leading from the front.
At 50 I know that our consolation during this time of desolation was that it did not take long for the issues that we raised so passionately and the outcomes we predicted in 2001 to become concrete realities and vindicate us.