The Wife of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)’s Col Dr Kizza Besigye was once again on the defensive this week, as more Ugandans questioned the seemingly bountiful life that she and her 16 year old son Anselm Besigye are enjoying abroad as her husband languishes in confinement.
Dr Besigye has remained under house arrest at his home in Kasangati since last month’s presidential elections which he grudgingly lost to the incumbent Yoweri Museveni.
Mrs. Byanyima is known to be very interactive especially on social media. She has extensively used this platform to air out condemnation of the treatment of her husband by government security operatives.
Recently however, she came under scrutiny from a certain section of Ugandans that accused her of shielding their youthful son in the safety and comfort of the first world, while his fellow youths in Uganda suffer in poverty and political unrest.
In the heat of Dr Besigye’s “defiance campaign” in which he called upon Ugandan youths to raise against government’s efforts to rig last month’s elections, the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission Eng. Badru Kiggundu questioned why the Besigyes hadn’t put their son at the frontline of this struggle.
Kiggundu ranted, “You cannot claim to identify with the common man when the people following you are left to suffer with teargas. Where are your own kids as a leader? Put them on the forefront!”
He added, “His son is in New York, London and Copenhagen enjoying cheese burgers and ice-cream cakes.”
Mrs Byanyima responded angrily to the accusations, clarifying that her son is a vegetarian and doesn’t eat cheese burgers.
But that wouldn’t suffice. Early this week, Byanyima once again came out to clarify about her son’s stay in the Diaspora, in response to one of her followers who asserted that Anselm was “living the American dream.”
The head of Oxfam International explained that she was compelled to get her son out of Uganda, to keep him away from the police arrests. Byanyima noted that Anselm had been arrested once in Kampala, aged only three.
She tweeted, “At age 3, Anselm suffered trauma which I took him away from and had him cured,” before promising, “We will return.”
Born in September 1999, Anselm first tested the wrath of Ugandan politics in 2003 after his father lost in the 2001 presidential elections and run to exile.
Government security operatives — reportedly the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) led by the late Brig. Nobel Mayombo (then Colonel) — raided their house in Kampala “to check” on the little boy.
At the time, his mother Winnie, a Member of Parliament representing Mbarara Municipality was away on a trip in Manila in the Philippines.
The boy was consequently picked by his grandmother from Kampala and rushed to their country home in Mbarara before being flown out of the country to South Africa in September.
He has since lived with her mother in South Africa, Ethiopian, the US and England where she currently works as the Oxfam International’s Executive Director, although he studies in a distant US.
Mrs Byanyima says her son was the very reason she quit Ugandan politics, in the middle of her term as a parliamentarian.
“He was only three years old and had started seeing me as a jailbird,” she said in an interview. “He was constantly frightened of police coming to my house to take statements, my appearances in court all the time.”
“He was getting traumatized. I took the decision of not risking the health and future of my son at the expense of a public role.”
“I was in the middle of my term in parliament, I hard strong connection with the electorate but I had to take some years out, at least up to an age where he could understand the challenges of a politician in a post conflict country.
At 16 years, Anselm has been seen to live an outwardly splendid life abroad. He has met with numerous global figures including Pope Francis in 2014.