Intelligent, intransigent, vindictive and even vengeful! This is the verdict of peers, foes and victims about the disposition of Gen. David Sejusa, who until last year was David Tinyefuza. Sejusa is the Luganda equivalent of the Runyankole name Tinyefuza both of which literally mean: I don’t regret my actions.
Put another way, the UPDF general changed the nomenclature but not the meaning of his name. And so his fat ego and stubborn nature have persisted.
Sejusa is one of UPDF’s seven four-star generals, sits on the army High Command and is the country’s chief spymaster, which theoretically means he should have unlimited access to President Museveni, the commander-in-chief, to give regular sensitive national security updates.
Insiders say the general, however, holds just a coveted title without commensurate power or perks. Subordinates skirt around him to brief President Museveni directly, undermining him. And the hefty budget that Intelligence organs previously enjoyed under classified expenditure, that has been moved to Police and the Force’s head, Lt. Gen. Kale Kayihura, understood to be closer to the First Family, is the new juggernaut the Commander-in-Chief taps for most of the biggest national security assignments such as terrorism.
The all-powerful Special Force Command, commanded by First Son Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, has morphed from within the UPDF as a more versatile elite outfit, downgrading the role and relevance of traditional security institutions.
Brig. Kainerugaba’s meteoric rise into a colossus of sorts in security circles has the public somewhat nervous about the promotions – its import and what future role he might play in Uganda’s leadership. Before Sejusa, former minister and Soroti Municipality MP Mike Mukula in 2009 told American diplomats that “Museveni may be interested in setting up his son, Muhoozi, as dauphin (successor),” according to leaked US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks.
The First Son further bruised the ego of the old guards by publishing a book titled, Battle of the Ugandan Resistance; A tradition of Manoeuvre, about a five-year guerrilla war that brought his father to power but one fought when he was a child. And Kayihura, 58, launched the book to the chagrin of already displeased historicals, as the NRA fighters, some with battle scars as badge of honour, proudly call themselves.
Both Kayihura and Salim Saleh, Kainerugaba’s uncle, deny allegations in Sejusa’s letter that they are behind the alleged scheme to snuff out top government officials unreceptive to the First Son taking over from his father Museveni, in power since 1986.
Analysts say one way of understanding the current restlessness generated by Gen. Sejusa’s claim of being targeted for elimination, alongside Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi and Chief of Defence Forces, Aronda Nyakairima, for their perceived opposition to Museveni’s alleged scheme to install his son as a successor, is to frame it in the realm of the bitterness, frustration and power contest hitting some individuals in the army, which in Uganda drives the exercise or loss of political power.
The other likely aspect is that the stubborn spirit has yet again seized Gen. Sejusa, who has courted numerous controversies throughout his professional career, to nudge the President to re-think, if not abandon, his supposed succession plan. In that context, the general, who shares the same ethnicity as Museveni, on the one hand comes off as a caring relative offering genuine counsel that a Kainerugaba president would be inappropriate. On the other, he comes off as a disgruntled officer, aspiring to have a shot at power himself as his critics have intimated.
Should Sejusa succeed in cajoling Museveni, he would have weakened the President’s hands and re-invented himself, threatening the incumbent’s interests and those close to him. And a runaway spymaster would show the Commander-in-Chief is losing grip over his troops, which is why some hawkish courtiers are pressing for robust action.
That Museveni, who has time to settle petty land wrangles and take a “night-out” at the residence of the European Union Ambassador Roberto Ridolfi’s Kololo residence, has chosen silence about Sejusa’s saga is telling of his painful dilemma: He knows a Sejusa on the loose is a hazard. Yet a tough tackle such as commando-style arrest and incarceration could potentially polarise their shared relatives and fracture the President’s cohesive power base in Western Uganda.
Sejusa is perhaps the only man who threatened Museveni in adult life to constantly carry an assault rifle for self-protection, according to those familiar with the bush war exploits.
It was in September 1984. When government forces cornered the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels, Mr Museveni who was the Chairman of the High Command ordered that women that were not combatants leave the lairs at once.
In his book, Betrayed by My Leader, bush war hero John Kazoora, who has since fallen out of favour with the establishment, recounts that Museveni for unexplained reasons created an exception that his brother Caleb Akwandanaho, who is better known by the nom de guerre Salim Saleh, and now UPDF’s chief of Doctrine, Pecos Kutesa keep their partners, Jovia and Dora, respectively.
With a concubine he had grabbed from comrade Julius Aine for keeps, Sejusa felt short-changed and loudly protested Museveni’s directive, and openly accused him of favouring those close to him, discriminating against other fighters and being a dictator. At the time, Sejusa and Henry Tumukunde were recovering from gunshot wounds, but the patient nonetheless worrisomely managed to kick up a storm and energise like-minded comrades.
The rabble-rousing Sejusa forcibly demanded that his wife stays with him, and Museveni responded by ordering his arrest and detention in a trench (andaaki) until March 1985. Still unsure what might happen, Museveni, according to Maj. Kazoora’s accounts, began wielding a light machine gun openly in breach of concealment rules under which combatants of the enemy force could carry weapons only at night to avoid detection.
“Hearing of Tinyefuza’s behaviour, for the first time in a long time, the Chairman of the High Command (CHC) moved with light machine gun in broad day light, Kazoora writes, “He (Museveni) said he had come to quell a rebellion and that he was ready to break Tinyefuza’s legs into pieces.” He never fired a shot at Sejusa though, but humiliated him with a long confinement.
But Sejusa’s stubborn spirit never died, if it ever will. He is said in the bush to have regularly mocked now Col. Kibirango assigned to guard him while caged.
At the time of his suspension and detention on September 23, 1984, he was a member of the High Command and Director General of Intelligence and Security, a designation similar to his present portfolios in government.
By other accounts, Sejusa’s insubordination came about then, as now, in part by power going into his head.
Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza, in manuscript of his book on Agony of Power, noted that Sejusa in the 1984 saga should have known that he had crossed the Rubicon by publicly scorning and undermining the Chairman of the High Command at a time when the NRA was well-structured with a well-thought-of hierarchy.
He writes that: “Tinyefuza may have thought he meant well. But going overboard to undermine the CHC might have been in bad taste. That shows just how much power can put us in trouble.”
When truth tellers were victimised
Ugandans are fairly familiar with Sejuja’s excesses in the discharge of his official assignments. As such, his random eccentric behaviour surprises only the uninitiated.
For instance in 1991, then Tinyefuza as commander of Operation North placed the entire northern Uganda – from Karuma to the South Sudan border – under a security lockdown and allegedly employed scorched-earth approach to rummage through a region whose inhabitants he suspected aided notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.
He ordered for then State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Omara Atubo, and 18 other prominent political leaders to be rounded up, caned at Lira barracks and incarcerated at Luzira Prisons for a year over treason charges for speaking out against army brutality, and proposing talks to end the rebellion.
“What shocked me is the government was aware of what Tinyefuza did and President Museveni took no action, Mr Atubo said of his ordeal 22 years ago. “I’m surprised Museveni has tolerated Tinyefuza this long and I can’t understand why.”
The President in his apparent indecision draws parallels with his predecessor Milton Obote, also a political mentor. When Obote was warned of Idi Amin’s wayward behaviour, especially after the assassination attempt on him at Nakivubo in 1969, he instead promoted the ambitious soldier. Amin toppled Obote in 1971.
It is, therefore, interesting that Tinyefuza, who after manhandling the Atubos, was made a Presidential advisor, is being investigated over suspicion he might be plotting to overthrow Museveni.
So is Sejusa now a liability or is the perceived fall-out just political ping-pong? Insiders say his brilliance and networking would be cause for worry, if he swapped to the enemy side.
Angel of discord
The general has presided over some of this government’s most notorious public misconduct, the flattening of northern Uganda, brutal arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye in 2005, the military commandos’ assault on the High Court which former Principal Judge James Ogoola branded a “rape of the temple of Justice” and the arrest/imprisonment of three Buganda kingdom ministers.
Because he is easy to point out as a fall guy when things go wrong, and he has no regrets for his actions as his name suggests, Sejusa is therefore the handy asset to deploy if government is confronted with unimaginable challenge.
His unconventional conduct surprises friends too. While still in the bush where he was a senior commander, Sejusa imprisoned former schoolmates John Kazoora and others for a whole day for greeting him casually as he passed by instead of standing stiff and saluting as required by military decorum.
And his notoriety seems innate. While at Nyakasura School, Sejusa slapped Benon Biraro, then in O-level, in a confrontation premeditated to spark what turned out to be a destructive strike as a means to get back at the headmaster who wanted him expelled!
That explains why Maj. Kazoora holds the view that Sejusa is an unforgiving man and warns in his book, Betrayed by my Leader, that President Museveni, who subdued and humiliated the Intelligence coordinator again during his mid-1990s unsuccessful attempted to quit the UPDF, has not seen the last of Sejusa.
The options available to Museveni presently are two: Go on an all-out attack on Sejusa and subdue him or just totally ignore him so that the cacophony of voices and associated media coverage recreating him fizzles out on its own.
So, which way will the President walk, and will the (in) action tilt the balance of power?
Sejusa’s life like his military career is shrouded in controversy. He was rebellious as a teenager, led a destructive riot at Nyakasura School during S6 Leavers’ party to avenge against the school head who unsuccessfully pushed for his expulsion. Sejusa carried the stubbornness to Makerere University and Uganda Police Force, which he deserted in 1981 to join NRA rebels. In the bush, rebel leader Yoweri Museveni had to cage an intransigent Sejusa in a trench for six months for insubordination. It is like he became worse once in powerful government jobs.
As commander of Operation North, a counter-LRA offensive, Sejusa placed northern Uganda which was the epicentre of the rebellion under blanket security, allowing for highest levels of impunity by soldiers. This turned vulnerable citizens against government. Sejusa would order for the arrest of then State Minister Omara Atubo together with Lord Andrew Adimola, former Democratic Party Vice President Tiberio Okeny Atwoma and his successor Zachary Olum. The prominent leaders were frog-marched, and allowed to be publicly caned by child soldiers at Lira barracks and later locked up with 14 others for a year at Luzira Prisons until the treason charges against them were dismissed in 1992.
“How [President] Museveni has tolerated Tinyefuza this long, I just can’t understand. It reminds me of how President Obote tolerated Idi Amin until he overthrew him in 1971,” says Atubo.
The irony was that before taking up the Foreign Affairs docket, Mr Atubo had been the State Minister for Defence, making him a political supervisor of Tinyefuza at the time.
Sejusa testified before the Parliament’s Defence and Internal Affairs committee, and told lawmakers UPDF officers were corrupt, inefficient and had no will to end the LRA rebellion. His no-holds-barred revelations upset his superiors who summoned him for disciplinary action. Instead he snapped and wrote to resign from the army. “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,” he wrote.
Government rejected the resignation and Amama Mbabazi, who was the State Defence minister, decreed that the officer never followed the right procedure. Sejusa lost the case on appeal, was rehabilitated and taken by to the army and offered a juicy appointment.
During the wedding of his daughter Sharon Nankunda, Sejusa whom associates say had tasted the rough patch of life, swallowed his pride and publicly apologised to President Museveni for suing the army and keeping on the side of those pushing for the restoration of
Obugabeship in Ankole against the President’s will. “Mzee (Museveni), forgive me because I got advice from some people. It was as if I was possessed [by spirits] because I received advice from some circles but I later woke up to my senses and made a turn-around, the New Vision quoted Sejusa, who was then a Lieutenant General as having said. “I am prepared to work with you even more”.
His U-turn showed the damage lack of material safety outside government can to do self-esteem. Will Sejusa, previously David Tinyefuza-Muwungu-Bwajojo, humble himself this time around before Museveni when he flies back from the UK – if he does at all – and claim bad spirits had seized him afresh?
It remains to be seen.