Profile of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

With general elections scheduled for 23 February, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni faces the toughest challenge of his 20-year presidency.

Donors - who for years hailed him as part of a "new breed" of African leaders - have become increasingly impatient with his handling of corruption and the slow progress of political transition in the country. Most recently, he came under heavy international criticism for the November arrest of his strongest opponent, Kiiza Besigye.

Museveni’s failure to defeat the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has fought to overthrow his government for 20 years, has also put into question his commitment to ending the war, which has displaced some 1.7 million people in northern Uganda - close to 90 percent of the region's population.

Born in southwestern Ntungamo district in 1944, Museveni attended Kyamate Primary School, Mbarara High School and completed his secondary school education at Ntare School. He went to Tanzania's Dar es Salaam University in 1967, where he obtained a degree in economics and political science. At university, he was an active Marxist and pan-Africanist, receiving guerrilla training in Mozambique.

In 1970, he joined Uganda's intelligence service under President Apollo Milton Obote, but fled to Tanzania when Idi Amin seized power in 1971. While working as a lecturer in the northern Tanzanian town of Moshi, Museveni formed the opposition Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) in 1973.

He married Janet Kataha, a former flight attendant who also hails from Ntungamo, in 1973. They have four children.

In 1978, when Amin ordered the invasion of Tanzania to claim Kagera province, FRONASA joined other opposition groups to form the Uganda National Liberation Front, which together with the Tanzanian army attacked Amin's forces and toppled him in 1979. Museveni was named defence minister and later minister for regional cooperation under various administrations.

Museveni formed a political party, the Uganda Patriotic Movement, which won one out of 126 seats in parliament in general elections in 1980. He rejected the election results and in 1981 began a rebellion against the new administration of Obote, popularly known as "Obote II".

Museveni’s National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) fought for five years as Obote faced growing international criticism - Amnesty International estimated in 1985 that his administration had been responsible for over 300,000 civilian deaths in Uganda.

In 1985, following the overthrow of Obote by Tito Okello, Museveni agreed to peace talks mediated by then Kenyan leader, Daniel arap Moi. The talks were unsuccessful, and a tentative ceasefire broke down almost immediately.

On 22 January 1986, the NRA made their final push for the capital city of Kampala, captured it and toppled Okello's government. Museveni was sworn in as president on 29 January, promising to implement a 10-point programme for development and democracy. The NRA was later turned into the national army, adopting the name Uganda People's Defence Forces.

First 10 years

Museveni's first decade in power was a period of regeneration for Uganda's economy, which had been shattered by years of political upheaval. At its height, the country achieved growth rates of close to 10 percent per year. Shrugging off his Marxist ideas, Museveni adopted a policy of liberalisation, privatising government parastatals and embracing the International Monetary Fund's structural adjustment programmes.

Politically, Museveni introduced a system of elected de-centralised government known as resistance councils - later changed to local councils - to manage affairs from villages to districts. This introduced the concept of democracy to Ugandans at the grassroots level.

He maintained, however, the so-called "Movement" system, essentially a one-party state. Political parties were not expressly forbidden, but they were not permitted to field candidates officially for elections. Museveni blamed political parties for dividing Uganda along religious and ethnic lines, leading to the civil strife the country suffered following independence.

Museveni enjoyed the support of donors as the economy recovered. He also won widespread acclaim for his aggressive stance against HIV/AIDS, managing to lower the prevalence rate from over 20 percent in the late 1980s to roughly 7 percent today.

Regional politics

Museveni has been deeply involved in regional politics. He is accused of assisting the invasion of Rwanda by the then rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was composed of Rwandan members of the Ugandan army, many of whom had helped Museveni himself gain power in 1986. Museveni helped the RPF take power in 1994 following the Rwandan genocide.

In 1995, he severed diplomatic links with the Sudanese government in protest against its alleged support of the LRA. Sudan in turn accused Museveni of backing the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). Ties were renewed in 2002, when Uganda was allowed to send soldiers into southern Sudan to pursue LRA rebels. The SPLM/A has subsequently become part of the Sudanese government, easing tensions between the two countries.

The death of SPLM/A leader and Sudanese Vice-president John Garang, a personal friend and long-time ally, in July 2005 was a severe blow to Museveni. Garang died in a Ugandan presidential helicopter crash following a visit to Museveni.

Museveni's presidency has been marred by Uganda's invasion - twice - of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the 1990s, first to oust long-term leader Mobutu Sese Seko, then to remove his successor and former ally, Laurent Kabila. Museveni defended the invasion by claiming Kabila had allowed a Ugandan rebel group, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), to attack Uganda from bases in the DRC.

In 2005, the DRC sued Uganda for plundering its resources and committing atrocities. The International Court of Justice found Uganda guilty in December 2005, and the country is liable to pay the DRC up to US $10 billion in damages. Museveni's brother Lt Gen Caleb Akandwanaho, alias "Salim Saleh", and his son Maj Muhozi Kainerugaba have both been implicated in the plunder of the DRC.

The DRC war also led to tensions between Uganda and former ally Rwanda; relations between Museveni and Rwandan President Paul Kagame - once a senior officer in the Ugandan army - have been decidedly frosty since the two countries' armies clashed in Congolese city of Kisangani in 2000.

Two terms in office

Following the promulgation of a new constitution in 1995, Museveni won his first elected term in office in May 1996 with a majority of 75 percent. International observers found the elections to be free and fair.

In 2001, he won a second election, again with a significant majority. However, the elections were marred by widespread claims of rigging as well as violence and voter intimidation. His main opponent, Kiiza Besigye, was his former ally and personal physician during the guerrilla war. Besigye challenged the results, and although a panel of Supreme Court judges voted 5-0 that the elections had been seriously flawed, they voted 3-2 against a recount.

Unlimited terms and multiparty politics

Shortly after the 2001 elections, Museveni's allies began to lobby for constitutional amendments that would lift the two-term presidential limit. Museveni gradually eliminated members of government who disagreed with the move, and a cabinet reshuffle in January 2005 saw him surrounded by loyal supporters.

In June, parliament endorsed the proposed unlimited presidential terms, effectively opening the door for Museveni to stand for a third consecutive term in office. He officially announced his candidacy in November.

In July, a constitutional referendum paved the way for a return to multiparty politics. In a turnaround from his longstanding opposition to pluralism, Museveni came out strongly in favour of multipartyism. Observers felt this was a concession to donors, a few of whom had already cut budgetary support to Uganda. Museveni himself said he supported the move to rid the Movement of "traitors" who were working against it from within.

The opposition boycotted the referendum, saying political pluralism was a fundamental human right that could not be put to a vote. They also accused Museveni of using multipartyism as a smokescreen to hide his desire to prolong his rule indefinitely.

Museveni continues to campaign on a ticket of economic development and security, the two factors that have won him support in the past. However, the arrest of main challenger Besigye in November led to violent riots in Kampala and other towns - a sign, some observers say, of dwindling support for the man who has ruled Uganda for 20 years.