David Sejusa: The daring general

Gen David Sejusa in the dock at Makindye General Court Martial on Tuesday. PHOTO BY STEPHEN WANDERA

Kampala- Those close to him describe him as intelligent, defiant and daring. His defiance has pitied him against the three previous governments. Gen David Sejusa, formerly known as Tinyefuza, was first arrested by president Idi Amin in 1976 when, as a student at Makerere University, he told the military leader that he was a dictator.

When he changed his name from Tinyefuza to Sejusa in 2012, those familiar with Ankole Kingdom history knew the controversial general was sending a strong rebellious message.

“Whenever a person would disagree with the king, he or she would migrate to another kingdom and even change his name.

For Gen Sejusa, he was probably sending a rebellious message to show he was cutting off ties with some authorities, not Ankole because the kingdom is defunct,” says Eliphaz Rwabiino, a 72-year-old resident of Kashari, Mbarara District.

But others say changing to Sejusa, the equivalent of Tinyefuza [I don’t regret my actions], the general wanted to forget his past persona that was associated with violence and ruthlessness.

Gen Sejusa, the first UPDF four-star general to be tried in the court martial, who was remanded to Luzira prison on Tuesday on charges of insubordination, participating in political activities and being absent without leave, has a long history of controversies.

His Bush War comrade, Maj John Kazoora, in his book Betrayed By My Leader, says Gen Sejusa led a strike at Nyakasura School in Kabarole District in early 1970s.

“While in my O-Level, David Tinyefuza held a grudge against the headmaster who later wanted him expelled over a disciplinary matter. The teacher prevailed on him because of David’s outstanding qualities both in academia and in extra-curricular activities,” Maj Kazoora writes.

Later, Gen Sejusa and his friends covertly organised a strike to “gain revenge” on the headmaster by disrupting a school dance with the neighbouring Kyebambe Girls School which the headmaster had organised.

“The function flopped, lights were switched off; girl visitors scampered in darkness while others walked back to Kyebambe and a few took refuge in Damali House. The main building and dining hall were destroyed,” writes Maj Kazoora, who also has since fallen out with the NRM regime.

Gen Sejusa carried his defiance to Makerere University where he and his colleagues were picked up from the campus and detained at Makindye Military Barracks.

It was very risky to openly criticise Amin but a young Sejusa [Tinyefuza] dared the most feared man in Uganda at the time.

In 1981, while serving as a police officer, he was arrested for subversion and detained at Jinja Road Police Station together with Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi and another friend.

The two escaped from the cells and joined the NRA bush war, but their colleague feared to escape and was later killed.

In the bush, Gen Sejusa was in and out of jail for defying the status quo and orders of rebel leader Yoweri Museveni.

He is perhaps the only UPDF soldier who has threatened or defied Museveni leadership from the early days of the NRA Bush War to-date.

In the same book, Kazoora recounts how, during the Bush War, Museveni ordered all commanders to chase away their spouses from the camp with exception of his brother Caleb Akandwanaho, alias Salim Saleh, and Maj Gen Pecos Kutesa, now UPDF’s Chief of Doctrine, who were allowed to keep their partners inside.

This infuriated the rubble-rouser Sejusa who accused Museveni of applying rules selectively and being dictatorial.

“Hearing of Tinyefuza’s behaviour, for the first time in a long time, the CHC [Chairman High Command, Yoweri Museveni] moved with Light Machine Gun [LMG] in broad daylight.

He said he had come to quell a rebellion and that he was ready to break Tinyefuza’s legs into pieces,” Kazoora says.

Sejusa was arrested and suspended from the High Command and imprisoned for six months in an underground cell [endaaki] for defiance and disobeying orders of the High Command.

Not even the arrest and detention diminished his defiance. He would constantly ridicule those guarding him as a prisoner. He would tell them to be “independent-minded, not follow dictatorial orders” of Museveni.

He was released in March 1985 and forced to apologise. In 1986, when NRA captured Kampala, Sejusa was deployed in northern Uganda where he commanded the Operation North counterinsurgency offensive against the Lord’s Resistance Army.
He is accused of torturing civilians during that operation, a charge he has persistently denied.

In 1991, he placed the entire northern Uganda, from Karuma to South Sudan border, under a security lockdown to hunt down the notorious LRA rebels and suspected collaborators.

He also ordered arrest of the then State minister for Foreign Affairs, Omara Atubo, and 18 other prominent political leaders in the north. They were later caned like school children at Lira Barracks on Sejusa’s orders.

His ruthlessness during the operation earned him the nick name “Schwarzkopf of the North” in reference to Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the US-led coalition forces during the Gulf war in Iraq in 1991.

With hindsight, Gen Sejusa recently said he should have handled the Operation North better. Gen Sejusa was reported to cane his own troops, especially those who fled the frontline under heavy enemy fire.

He was recalled from the north and later testified before a parliamentary committee on Defence and criticised the way the army was handling the insurgency.

Gen Sejusa was summoned to appear before the UPDF High Command, but instead he wrote resigning from the army. In his March 12, 1996 resignation letter to President Museveni, the general wrote: “I am of the strong view that I will not have that Constitutional right before the UPDF High Command for obvious reasons. It is therefore, because of the above that I must resign from the Army and subsequently its High Command.”

“I find it unjustified to continue serving in an institution whose bodies I have no faith in or whose views I do not subscribe to...I know my own faults very well and I do not suppose I am an easy subordinate; I like to go my own way. But you have kept me on the rails in difficult and stormy times, and have taught me much. For all this, I am grateful.”

He petitioned the Constitutional Court which approved his resignation. But the State appealed to the Supreme Court which overturned the ruling. To-date, he is still pursuing that “unrealised” retirement from the army.

In a surprise move in 2004, Gen Sejusa apologised to Mr Museveni for the 1996 fallout. He reconciled with Museveni and one time during the marriage ceremony of his daughter, he regretted having fallen out with the regime and told the President that he had been “misled.” He added that he had seen the “light.”

New role
He was subsequently appointed coordinator of intelligence services.
In 2005, Sejusa was instrumental in the arrest and torture of Opposition leader Kizza Besigye who had returned from exile in South Africa.

However, in 2013, Gen Sejusa was back to where he had left off.

He wrote to the Director General of Internal Security Organisation to investigate reports that there was a scheme to assassinate senior government and military officials perceived to be against the plan to have Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba succeed his father, President Museveni.

He later fled to exile and declared war on Museveni’s government.