That was the chronological order. Moses Ali was the first to be promoted from a lieutenant general to a full general. Then Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the youthful soldier we all fondly refer to as the son of the son of Kaguta, was promoted from a colonel to the more befitting rank of brigadier. In quick succession, a 23-year old marathon runner, Stephen Kiprotich, leapt seven ranks from prison warder to – wait for it – an assistant commissioner of prisons!
Now, not many Ugandans follow Moses Ali closely, because they believe there is nothing much about his politics or his soldiering that would be going on when they are not looking. His role as a perennial deputy prime minister is not known to have involved any kind of military service. As a soldier, perhaps his most famous exploit in recent years has been his operation in the case of a monkey.
When a driver knocked down a monkey on Entebbe road some years back, Moses Ali, with no troops, no tanks, and without air-force cover, was reported to have single-handedly arrested the driver and handed him over to the relevant authorities. So the people must be forgiven if they are puzzled by the promotion of Mr Moses Ali.
The general himself has of course been following his dream very closely, and when asked what he thought was the reason for his promotion, he is reported to have replied that it was “persistence”.
Yes, persistence, persistence, or pestering. Ah… do you now remember? Somewhere in the history and mythology of the general, who was once Idi Amin’s soldier and later a rebel leader, there was a rumour about Museveni promising to recognise or to promote Ali to a general as part of the reward for the latter’s capitulation. A kind of vanity thing. Periodically, you would hear that the great son of West Nile was grumbling, or sulking, or reminding Gen. Museveni.
If this is what paid off, then Uganda has added persistence to the list of qualifications that make a soldier eligible for promotion.
However, as if by design, this long-awaited event was perfectly timed to justify a very fast rise. With the son of West Nile now a general, you could not say that soldiers who are not sons of the son of Kaguta were not rising.
So, a couple of weeks later, when Muhoozi Kainerugaba rose from colonel to brigadier, it was harder to complain. Moreover, Muhoozi’s case was even stronger than highway monkey business. The son of Kaguta had been around the globe, perhaps not fighting, but reading military things. So any soldiers who may be grumbling should go back to military school, the trick only being how a more ordinary soldier accesses more military schools. But then again, you cannot have an army where everyone old enough to have a beard will be a general.
Which brings me to Mr Stephen Kiprotich. We know that even a very decent modern country can do without an Olympic gold medal, but it seems no country in our times can do without some kind of prison.
Although Ugandans tend to celebrate to the point of losing a sense of proportion, the excitement about Kip’s gold should not have spilt into the gears of the prisons establishment. A great runner does not necessarily make a great prison officer. To train and run at his level, Kip might have even sometimes been dodging core prisons duty. So, Kiprotich could be dignified and celebrated as a runner in his own right. The shower of gifts he received need not have included the rank of Assistant Prisons Superintendent.
As a layman, I suppose that this rank goes with a range of skills, experience and administrative responsibility. You also have peers to deal with; those of just yesterday (prison warders) and those at your new rank. You could find yourself in a psychological reality gap and even end up more or less redundant.
Together, the three promotions in varying degrees suggest a weakness that is very Ugandan; that those who have power sometimes do not take our institutions seriously enough.
Alan Tacca is a novelist and socio-political commentator.