Tuesday,August 20,2019 12:40 PM

15 minutes with Kizza Besigye

By Vision Reporter

Added 14th August 2009 03:00 AM

As I travelled along Gayaza Road’s pockmarked tarmac, I had no idea that I was about to arrive at what looked like a wine estate in northern California, or at least a small bit of paradise outside Kampala.

As I travelled along Gayaza Road’s pockmarked tarmac, I had no idea that I was about to arrive at what looked like a wine estate in northern California, or at least a small bit of paradise outside Kampala.

Despite running late, clearly taking the concept of Ugandan time to heart, I did not feel particularly worried.

I got out of the taxi and asked a boda-boda rider to take me to his home, as Dr. Kizza Besigye had directed. He nodded, asking for sh1,000 to transport me and my colleague.

His home and land, which seemed inspired directly by the delicious vineyards of northern California, had a stunning view of Uganda’s lovely hills.

It was surrounded by acres of rich, green land, as well as a piggery, one of Besigye’s many businesses. Everything felt so tranquil and calm, as if just walking through his land was a private meditation.

Inside, the home was decorated with colorful, high-end Afrocentric art, designed by an Italian painter and sculptor who had lived in Uganda for many years.

I had been to many beautiful homes in New York, my home state, but few seemed as thoughtfully designed or tranquil as Besigye’s quiet oasis along Gayaza Road in Kasangati.

Bookcases displayed Besigye’s diverse reading taste — I spotted everything from Dilbert comics to John Updike and a book about Saddam Hussein by Adel Darwish, a British journalist.

Clad in an orange and blue striped shirt, the FDC party leader welcomed me warmly into his home, offering me organic apple juice and chatting with me about my love of Uganda.

His sitting room had a faint, delicious scent of incense.

His house had both a touch of Western elegance and traditional Ugandan culture. His sleek, black leather couch was juxtaposed with paintings depicting Ugandan life and traditional art, such as statues.

Besigye gave me a tour of the different rooms in his house and talked to me about the farm, which his family had run for 13 years, about 13 kilometers from home.

I loved that the head of the FDC had no problem mixing tasks like writing speeches or attending rallies with tending a piggery in the yard.

Although I had read much about him, I went to his home with no expectations.

We began by chatting about his childhood and how he grew up near the Congolese border in southwestern Uganda. I had always dreamed of visiting the DR Congo, so I asked him if it was different from Uganda.

“No, it’s the same, the line that separates the country is artifical,” he said.

“People have farms (across the border) and grow food in both Uganda and Congo.” He said you could cross the Uganda-Congo border and not see any difference.

As we chatted, he seemed relaxed, as if he had given hundreds of interviews and made easy eye contact throughout the afternoon.

Besigye told me he originally planned on doing farming and business, as well as working as a doctor. He said he was ready for 2011, but worried about the state of elections in Uganda.

He didn’t think that anything had changed since the last elections and told me he was very concerned about the potential for rigging.

Ominously, he added that people will take alternative paths towards change if they don’t feel their vote will count, which is why the electoral process is important.

Besigye’s home was empty that day, but he told me that his family from upcountry comes to his home at least a month.

His wife, Winnie Byanyma, well known in Kampala for her political career, currently lives in New Jersey with their ten-year-old son, Anselm.

The thought that I could potentially pass Besigye’s wife on the PATH train visiting friends in New Jersey amused me. What a small world, I thought. It was obvious, of course, why Anselm was in the U.S.

Besigye told me about how Anselm had been almost traumatised by his and Winnie’s frequent visits to jail during their political careers, and how Anselm even accepted his FDC nomination at a rally.

When I asked him if there was anything to be hopeful about in Uganda, his eyes lit up, and he said although many Ugandans look very passive, they are aware of where they want to go and demonstrate silent resilience.

As the interview wound down, Besigye hit me up for information about The New Vision, asking about Kabushenga and the company’s recent problems with the Buganda kingdom.

I felt a bit defensive and stuck up for my paper.

As the curtains closed on our rendezvous out of town, Besigye offered me a ride to The New Vision’s main offices. We waited for a driver from the FDC to come with a car and then stopped at a petro station for fuel.

I thought the gas attendant would recognise him when he paid for the fuel, but she barely batted an eye, looking bored.

Although both his eloquence and openness during the interview had impressed me, I definitely didn’t envy his job of running an opposition party!

As the car moved along Jinja Road, I remembered a funny response he had given me when we talked about corruption in Uganda.

“How do you deal with corruption in your own party?” I asked, “since it is systemic throughout the country?”
“Our party doesn’t have any money,” he said. “So there’s none to steal.

And we don’t attract people who want money.” This made me laugh, as I realised the ironic benefit of running a cash-strapped party.

We said good-bye and I shook his hand through his car window.

The reporters waiting at the stage near the office looked at me with stunned smiles as they saw who had given me a lift.

“You must have a story,” they teased.

15 minutes with Kizza Besigye

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