“What did you eat, Mr. Kasujja?” »
These are the first words I hear from President Yoweri Museveni, smiling as he walks towards me through the garden of the State House in Kampala.
I can’t say I’m surprised. The last time I met him, he exclaimed “who is this monster?”
The time before, he asked me how many people I had eaten for breakfast.
We get used to these comments when we measure 1m80.
It’s a brief moment of levity. Once he’s seated – 30ft in front of me, still cautious about Covid – Mr Museveni is utterly professional.
Speaking to him for the BBC’s Africa Daily podcast, I remember that Uganda’s president, often seen as a soldier or a strongman, is a scholar at heart.
When I ask him if Uganda is getting closer to Russia and China, he tells me that these countries were not colonizers or slave traders in times gone by. He says they have always approached the mainland as friends.
When I wonder about the role of the opposition in Uganda, it takes me back to 1789 – the French Revolution and the evolution of democracy in Europe. Uganda is on a different path, he says.
When explaining his position on the war in Ukraine, he compares NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
I wonder how these responses resonate with Uganda’s increasingly young population. More than 77% of people here are under 30 years old.
From conversations I’ve had over the past week, they’re focused on their immediate needs – whether they can afford the rising cost of formula, medical bills and whether they should pursue a career here or travel abroad.
The President does not see this distinction. He said to me: “What you call history Mr. Kasujja, I call current events.”
But looking to the future, it looks like he’s ready to commit to the idea of change.
I asked him a question that came up in a discussion I had with young professionals in the capital – if they’re being asked to tighten their belts, why can’t politicians limit their spending on big cars, drivers and executive travel?
Mr. Museveni says that is a fair point.
When I ask him why he hasn’t issued a directive to that effect, he replies that it would be a good idea.
On rising fuel prices, he says the country should switch to electric cars and trains. This would reduce the price of goods for everyone, he believes.
But what about his own future?
I share with him an observation that many of Uganda’s prominent leaders – the Prime Minister, the Vice President, the Speaker of Parliament – belong to a new generation in their 40s and early 50s.
I ask if we are witnessing the beginning of a power transition. “Yes” he told me, “people are coming.”
He denies grooming his son – Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, commander of the Ugandan land forces – to take over the presidency.
But he insists that the next generation of leaders should come from his own party, the National Resistance Movement.
So, after 35 years at the helm, is he ready to spend more time on the ranch with his beloved cows – perhaps retiring?
“It’s very comfortable there. I could go anytime,” he said, “I don’t need a job.
But I have to remind him… he told me the same thing when we spoke in 2013.
Listen to the full interview here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0cr7sjk