- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is in Washington this week meeting with U.S. government and business leaders. On Tuesday, he met with President Bush in the Oval Office, and the two presidents were later entertained as the Watoto Children’s Choir of Uganda sang and danced for them in the Rose Garden. The children were orphaned by AIDS. Mr. Bush has cited Uganda as a model for how increased U.S. aid to fight the disease should be spent. Later, Mr. Museveni was interviewed by reporter Sharon Behn of The Washington Times.

Question: Terrorism has hit East Africa particularly hard, and in late May, the British and American governments placed Uganda on a terrorism threat list. How is Uganda dealing with this problem?

Answer: We were among the first to be targeted by terrorism, and we treated it many years ago. You know we have a border with Sudan, and since 1986, Sudan launched two types of terrorists against us. First, they launched the rural-based terrorists who are targeting the population. We have contained that threat over rural terrorism. Then, in 1996, they launched urban terrorism, which we have defeated. Therefore, yes, there is terrorism in the region, but we have evolved a strong capacity to defeat it and cope with it.

Q: Are you coordinating with the United States, asking you to work with them regarding intelligence on international terrorism?

A: We always work together with the United States and other peace-loving countries in the world who don’t believe in the use of terrorism as a method of influencing events.

Q: Are you training or about to begin training counterterrorism forces?

A: We have them.

Q: I understand you are here to talk about trade and investments in Uganda. At the recent Group of Eight meeting, African leaders were given the promise of increased aid, but G-8 leaders also demanded proof of economic stability and the promotion of democracy. What steps are you taking to achieve these objectives?

A: The objectives of democracy are our objectives. They are not the objectives of the donors. We fought for many years in order to bring democracy about, and we have been having a democratic system for many years now. The form was slightly different from the forms in the West, but it was thoroughly democratic, and now we are going into a more Western type of democracy. So the question of governance is not a problem for us. This was resolved long ago.

Q: And how do you feel it would be best to attract more trade and aid? And which do you feel is more important to Uganda right now?

A: Trade is more important than aid. Aid is only important if it is together with trade. Otherwise, aid by itself is useless and even counterproductive.

Q: And how do you hope to attract more trade during this visit?

A: Oh, by proving that I can supply them with good-quality goods at a lower price than what they are paying.

Q: Are you meeting with private businessmen?

A: Oh, yes. I don’t want to talk about them without their prior consent. But Uganda is a very rich country in terms of natural resources. The only problem is that we sell them in the raw form and we lose money by a factor of 1-to-10. That’s what we want to end. We want to export finished products rather than raw materials, and we want investments for that.

Q: You spoke about democracy and how you have a slightly different system in Uganda. You have now been in power 17 years. In the next elections, would you consider seeking another term?

A: That is speculation. We have a constitution, and we go by it. So I do not want to be involved in speculation.

Q: The political system that you have, you said it was beginning to evolve. Can you tell me more about how it is evolving?

A: Yes, our movement has recommended that we open for interorganization, an interparty constitution.

Q: Would you consider establishing a party of your own, a separate one?

A: We have already started setting up our organization. We have started.

Q: Would you run in an election as the head of that particular party?

A: That is all speculation. What is important, what you should write in your paper is that what I consider to be most important is a vision, a vision of how to transform a pre-industrial society like Uganda into an industrial society. This is the most important point. Once you sort out the personal vision, then the person who leads is secondary. Whoever leads, if he leads according to our vision, what does it matter? That’s why very often the personal vision is primary, the personal leadership is secondary.

Q: About the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo: More than 700 French soldiers completed their arrival in Uganda [on Tuesday] to take part in an European Union operation in northeastern Congo in the Ituri region. What are the consequences of this latest bloodletting?

A: It’s a big shame, and it’s a lot of suffering for the people. I’m glad the international force has come. I hope they have the right mandate so they can act sensibly against problem-makers so that the transitional government of Congo can take off.

Q: Do you think that they came too late? Would you like to see a greater international involvement?

A: Well, they are too late, but it’s all right. The situation has not, a lot of people have not been killed, unlike Rwanda. Yes, some people have been killed, in the hundreds, but not in the scale of Rwanda. So it is good they have come now.

Q: Would you like to see greater international involvement, or is this sufficient?

A: No, I would like to see more.

Q: More from the EU? The U.N.? The United States — you’d like to see more involvement in what way?

A: Anybody who’s able.

Q: Would Uganda consider sending troops again?

A: No. We wouldn’t like to go back there. We’ve been neighbors with Congo. We have got a lot of linkages with the Congolese people. None of those tribes in eastern Congo are similar to our tribes. Therefore, our involvement only brings confusion. People think we are involved in Congo for partisan reasons, because we are saving some of the tribes. So it’s better that we rely on the distant countries, which are responding.

Q: You’ve been recognized internationally as a leader on the AIDS problems, and you’ve done some fantastic programs there in Congo regarding that. I actually traveled there about 15 years ago to write about it, and …

A: You are a very young lady to have been writing at that time …

Q: It was a great trip, and I remember there were a lot of programs beginning — on how to train people who had gotten AIDS, how to train others. What would you recommend now for other countries fighting the same scourge?

A: I would recommend that … AIDS is not a serious sickness, really. It is not serious because it’s not very contagious. … Yes, once it has infected somebody, it’s incurable. But it can be easily avoided, so I would like to recommend to countries of the world: to know that it is avoidable.

It’s not like influenza, which … [can be transmitted by] following somebody in the bus. It is actually benign, so it can be avoided. That is the thing I’d like to say to other countries in the world.

Q: What particular programs would be most helpful? I believe you’ve met with people of the pharmaceutical industries, as well as the [nongovernmental organizations]. How have you been able to bring these two groups together?

A: Well, I don’t know if we brought them together — I think they brought themselves together. Maybe this is because our form has worked. Then I’m sure they were able to bury the hatchet and come to work.

Q: What was your chief objective in coming to speak with President Bush? What would you like to see coming out of this visit?

A: Trade. And the fact that there is terrorism. We are all together in the anti-Saddam [Hussein] coalition.

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