2022 in review: Gen Muhoozi’s tweets

First Son Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba

What you need to know:

  • Many Ugandans speculated about what would have happened to any military officer had he or she even once posted any one tweet of the kind Gen Muhoozi did in 2022.

If news is events or developments that cause eyes to widen, heads to shake, or jaws to drop, then the biggest newsmaker of 2022 in Uganda -- if not in East Africa -- was Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
And 2022 in Uganda could have been summed up in just two words: Muhoozi’s tweets.
The last time Uganda had witnessed this kind of drama was during the eight years of Idi Amin, in which every few days or weeks produced startling statements by the president.
For the first time since 1986, Ugandans witnessed a spectacle they had never thought possible -- President Museveni faced with a situation that he had no control of or power over.
Had it not been that Muhoozi, like most people these days posts his thoughts directly onto social media platforms, this would have been private, classified information.\

History
Twenty years ago had a newspaper like Daily Monitor, acting on a tip from an inside source, published a front page lead story that alleged that President Museveni’s influential son in private conversations was talking positions contrary to the government’s official stance, the paper would have come under attack by the government.
Editors and reporters would have been dragged before the courts of law and the paper probably closed for two weeks.
This is what made Muhoozi’s tweets so fascinating. They contained material and views that ordinarily should have been seen by the general public.
Compared with what the President’s son was posting on Twitter, front page stories that had caused Daily Monitor to be shut down in the past were mild.
Muhoozi’s tweets were generally well-written or at least did not contain the numerous spelling and grammatical errors and typos typical of most educated Ugandans.

They clearly were deliberate, given the consistent tone and theme.
All this would have been fine had Muhoozi discussed only domestic issues.
It was when he ventured outside Uganda’s borders and commented on foreign affairs that the tweets went from being embarrassing and entertaining, to being alarming and thus becoming international news.
At a time of major world and regional events, from the Russo-Ukraine war to the civil war in Ethiopia and Congo and Kenya that had just emerged from a tense general election, Muhoozi chose the worst possible moment to comment on the most sensitive of situations.
He heaped praise on Russian president Vladimir Putin, when the Uganda government like most in sub-Saharan Africa was doing its best to remain non-aligned in the conflict.
He declared support for the renegade Tigray province, when the Uganda government’s official position was to support the unity of the Ethiopian state.

He described Congo’s M23 Tutsi insurgents as fighting for their rights, when the Museveni government was trying its best to act as though it had no side in this eastern Congo crisis.
Just when Kenya’s newly-elected president William Ruto was trying to get into the role and assert his authority, Muhoozi chose that ill-timed moment to joke about how “my army” (his words) if given a chance was capable of overrunning Kenya in two weeks, causing fury in Kenya.
Many Ugandans speculated about what would have happened to any military officer had he or she even once posted any one tweet of the kind Muhoozi did in 2022.
The only reason that Muhoozi got away with that was because he was the President’s son, and this caused a lot of resentment in the public and, obviously, in the army.
The nepotism that Museveni is often accused of was laid bare in embarrassing fashion.

The Museveni family is powerful in its public role, with a large fleet of vehicles forming the presidential motorcade; but in private, the family behaves in a low-key and modest way.
Festival days like Christmas, New Year, Easter Sunday, and various birthdays are marked quietly, often at the family country home in Rwakitura, away from public view.
When the President or First Lady’s birthdays come around, apart from mentions on social media, there is no fanfare or public celebration.
Muhoozi’s 2022 birthday celebration went against everything that his family does and believes.

The tweets left the government helpless. The normal procedures of public relations and damage control could not work.
The tweets could not be denied, since they came directly from Muhoozi’s account.
Even when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in various statements distanced the government from them, the author did not retract or explain them.
Following a trip to Kigali in late January and talks he held with president Paul Kagame, Rwanda agreed to reopen its border with Uganda that had been closed since March 2019.
What was the cause and what was the effect of this, is difficult to determine.
Did this successful diplomatic intervention go to his head and give him the impression that there was no trouble spot on the African continent he couldn’t resolve?

But from then on, he decide to comment expansively on matters around the continent -- M23 rebels in Congo, the Ethiopian civil war, Kenya.
He seems, though, to have been careful not to get a word wrong about Rwanda’s domestic affairs, since RPF Rwanda is one of those African countries one best treads carefully around.
In June, there was a clash of sorts between him and top-ranking army commanders over the issuance of the standby alert, class 1, during President Museveni’s visit to Kigali for the Commonwealth summit.
The series of events that came to be known as the Muhoozi at 48 birthday celebrations actually started quite casually, with the person in question musing on Twitter about holding an East African party.

However, because of who he is and because of the way political society is currently structured in Uganda, the wheels of State began turning to get preparations underway for the birthday.
Essentially, the First Family is informally a Cabinet within the Cabinet. It’s a political unit that sits above the government and to which the government reports.
There are no official laws and rules that require government officials to respond to the First Family’s wishes.
It is just an unwritten rule that what the Museveni family wants to have done gets done and few people have the courage to ask themselves what would happen if they turned down these requests.

So, this informal, unwritten set of rules that involve a lot of beating about the bush in as far as the First Family is concerned, is the real 1995 Constitution of Uganda.
The impunity that the political Opposition, the media, and civil society had warned President Museveni about for so many years now reached its logical expression in his son’s social media content.
The President had created a situation that was now outside of his control.
It was obvious that had they been able to restrain Muhoozi, the President and First Lady would have done so, and this was the important part.

Split within the family?
The only plausible explanation for why Muhoozi was behaving this way and putting his father in an awkward and embarrassing position and never bothering to delete the offending tweets, was that there was a split within the Museveni family.
It is striking that throughout the year, Muhoozi took to describing president Kagame as his “uncle”, and yet he barely mentioned his own flesh-and-blood uncle, the powerful Gen Salim Saleh.

If he had strained relations with his father, ordinarily he should have turned to Gen Saleh for support and guidance, not to president Kagame.
Given the recent tensions between Uganda and Rwanda, it must have given president Kagame quiet satisfaction that Muhoozi seemed more willing to listen to the Rwandan head of state than to the Ugandan one.
This left President Museveni looking uncharacteristically weak and indecisive and might have emboldened the elements that in the latter part of the year decided to start attacking police posts and military installations to seize what guns they could.

The consequences will be most felt in 2023.
If in 2023 Muhoozi keeps acting as he did in 2022, Museveni just might decide to pass up the “Muhoozi Project” and look around for somebody else to whom he can hand the reins of power.
By late November 2022, Muhoozi seems to have sensed this, because the defiant tone in his tweets had been toned down a little and he resumed dutifully tweeting about his trips as President Museveni’s unofficial Foreign minister.

And so, 2022 produced one of the ironies of history, in which the most embarrassing diplomatic moments for President Museveni were not caused by the political Opposition or the media, but by his own son and, by all accounts, designated political heir.

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It was when he ventured outside Uganda’s borders and commented on foreign affairs that the tweets went from being embarrassing and entertaining, to being alarming and thus becoming international news.
At a time of major world and regional events, from the Russo-Ukraine war to the civil war in Ethiopia and Congo and Kenya that had just emerged from a tense general election, Muhoozi chose the worst possible moment to comment on the most sensitive of situations,’’ Timothy Kalyegira, journalist.

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