Could Janet and Muhoozi benefit from the increasing family political successions?

L-R: Museveni, Muhoozi and Janet pose for a picture at a past function. Mr Muhoozi has since been promoted to the rank of Brigadier. Janet has also caused impact as minister for Karamoja.

What you need to know:

Legislators Robert Kasule (Kyadondo North) and Joseph Balikuddembe (Busiro South), are some examples of leaders who have been elected as successors to their deceased fathers. Elsewhere, Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner, the first woman to be elected president of that country, is now in her second term, having taken over from her late husband Néstor Kirchner.


With the recent election of Proscovia Alengot Oromait as Usuk County MP, voters passed the baton to yet another relative of a deceased political leader in a trend that seems to be growing. Ms Alengot, 19, beat nine others to the seat vacated by her father, Michael Oromait, who died suddenly on July 21, polling 11,590 votes with the second candidate garnering less than half her tally.

She joins fellow legislators Robert Kasule (Kyadondo North) and Joseph Balikuddembe (Busiro South), also elected as successors to their deceased fathers, leaving some of President Museveni’s opponents concerned.

Joseph Bossa, the UPC vice president, fears that with family members being elected to replace their deceased relatives, the stage is being set for Mr Museveni to prepare his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba, recently promoted to brigadier, or First Lady Janet Museveni, to succeed him.

And when Mr Bossa speaks, he feels he does it with experience. The UPC executive in which he serves, led by former UN Undersecretary Olara Otunnu, has been dogged by internal problems, largely due to what Mr Bossa calls a “sense of entitlement” on the part of the relatives of Milton Obote, its founding leader.

When Obote died in 2005, his wife, Miria, took over the party in a care-taker capacity and on retirement in 2010, her son James Akena sought to succeed her. He lost to Mr Otunnu but Mr Bossa says Mr Akena and his backers still feel that “Otunnu was the wrong choice”. This trend of family members taking over from leaders, Mr Bossa says, “legitimizes any schemes Museveni may have of fronting his wife or son to succeed him.”

In a space of 12 years, the First Son has risen from 1st lieutenant to a one-star general, separated by five ranks, in what a Daily Monitor analysis recently established as the fastest rise to the rank of brigadier during Mr Museveni’s 26 year rule.

Over the same period, Brig. Muhoozi has attended some of the best military academies in Europe, Asia, America and Africa, in the process being introduced to the most influential power centres in the world. Suspicions have been voiced that these manoeuvres smirk of an attempt at positioning the First Son high up in the presidential succession queue.

On the other hand, Mr Muhoozi’s mother, Janet Museveni, is also viewed as probably interested in the presidency, given her latest attempts at shoring her political profile. Having spent the first two decades of her husband’s reign largely in the background, concentrating on charity and preaching values, Ms Museveni thrust herself onto the national stage by vying for a parliamentary seat in 2006. She would later join Cabinet, first as a state minister and later at full Cabinet level.

Her portfolio, serving as minister for the problem-beset Karamoja, has been viewed by some as meant to demonstrate her ability to turn around situations. And help has been forthcoming. Observers agree that never during Mr Museveni’s rule had Karamoja received as much attention and resources as it has during her tenure as its minister.

A recent poll by the new polling firm Research World International showed that Ms Museveni would attract a following if she runs for president.

Then why not?
But Rubaga South legislator Ken Lukyamuzi says it would be wrong for the presidency to remain within one family. Mr Lukyamuzi himself drew in his daughter, Susan Nampijja, to “warm” his Rubaga South seat when he was barred by the Inspectorate of Government from defending it in 2006. After five years he regained it.

For this reason, some would argue that he is the wrong person to badmouth political succession by family members. Mr Lukyamuzi says even if he had been permanently replaced by his daughter, it still wouldn’t be comparable to Mr Museveni being succeeded by a family member. “The presidency is unique and cannot be kept within one family,” Mr Lukyamuzi says: “The president virtually owns the country and the position must rotate”.

The Rubaga South legislator is the first to admit that he called on Ms Nampijja to “protect my interests because I was being short-changed.” Former Inspector General of Government Faith Mwondah decreed against Mr Lukyamuzi’s nomination in 2006, saying she had the powers to do so since the legislator had failed to comply with the Leadership Code Act requirement to declare his wealth.

The Conservative Party president argued that the IGG had no powers to debar him from running for MP on that basis because the decision required to be taken by a duly constituted tribunal. After a long running battle, the Supreme Court ruled in Mr Lukyamuzi’s favour.

It is probably largely because the voters sympathised with him and felt he was being kept out of the parliamentary race unfairly that they decided to vote for his daughter.

In the case of the late Oromait, the people of Usuk likely felt that keeping the parliamentary seat in his family was the only way they would reward him for what he had done for them. Reports show that he had heavily invested in the constituency, fixing feeder roads and bailing out the dilapidated healthcare system with ambulances. Having just spent a year in Parliament, it could have been easy for his daughter to attract the sympathy vote.

Big question
So what if by the time Mr Museveni chooses to retire, Ugandans feel their destiny is safer in the hands of a member of his family? No problem, says Dr Yasin Olum, a political scientist at Makerere University. He says Mr Muhoozi and his mother have a right to want to be president so long as they are elected.

And talking of Mr Muhoozi, who some suspect could be higher than his mother in Mr Museveni’s plans, Dr Olum says his rapid growth through the army ranks could be “inconsequential” to the presidential succession. “He (Muhoozi) has to think deeply if he nurses presidential ambitions,” Dr Olum says, “And he has to appreciate that the military option may not be open to him.”

Chances of taking over power militarily are now very “slim”, he says, because the people and the international community would immediately demand a return to civilian rule. It would require that Mr Muhoozi first leaves the army, and therefore sheds his military ranks, for him to have a realistic shot at the presidency.

But even this doesn’t necessarily mean that the party machinery would accept him, especially since he doesn’t have known links to the wider NRM. “It is NRM which started the politics of queues,” Dr Olum says, “They will ask him where he stands in the queue.”

As regards the military, Dr Olum could be right and wrong. Right because indeed Mr Muhoozi would have to first retire from the army to be able to stand for president; wrong because Ugandans seem to trust former soldiers more as leaders.

When Kizza Besigye jumped ship and run against Mr Museveni in 2001, he sought to leverage his military service by claiming a 90 per cent support in the army. It could be because of his military service that he remains a potent opposition force a decade later.

In the on-going race to replace Dr Besigye as FDC president, polls show former Army Commander Mugisha Muntu as leading, and many say they support him because of his military background. After all, some soldiers, particularly Mr Museveni’s young brother Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho a.k.a. Salim Saleh have remained influential and closely connected to the army long after “retirement”.

Foreign experiences
Larbi Sadiki, a senior political science lecturer at the University of Exeter in the UK, who specialises in democratisation in the Arab Middle East, studied the schemes of rulers in three Arab republics – Egypt, Libya and Yemen shortly before the recent revolutions. In his essay Like Father, Like Son: Dynastic Republicanism in the Middle East, he found that they had “fallen into what could be referred to as ‘dynastic republicanism’—a form of government that translates roughly to an oxymoron: ‘monarchical presidency’,” Mr Sadiki wrote.

Mr Sadiki found that the leaders had strategically placed their sons to succeed them. Gamal Mubarak looked set to succeed his father Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Saif al Islam to take over from Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh seemed to be grooming his son Ahmed to take over.

Mr Ahmed was experiencing a “meteoric rise through the military ranks” and had been charged with “command of the deadliest forces in the land”. Mr Sadiki would probably use the same words to describe Mr Muhoozi’s situation. Ominously, however, none of the first sons Mr Sadiki was worried would take over from their fathers to perpetuate ‘dynastic republicanism’ actually took over power.

Forced to step down by popular protests, Yemen’s Saleh left the country with his children, while Egypt’s Mubarak is ill and in jail and his son’s ascendancy to power is a remote possibility.
In Libya, there is a new regime with Col. Gaddafi dead at the hands of a village gang and his son Saif in custody. In Syria, President Bashar Hafez al-Assad doggedly clings to the chair he inherited from his father in 2000, with a section of nationals, buoyed by western support, fighting to depose him.

On the other hand, however, examples elsewhere demonstrate that a democratic presidential transition to a family member is possible. Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner, the first woman to be elected president of that country, is now in her second term, having taken over from her late husband Néstor Kirchner.

In the US, there is now a tendency to think of Jeb Bush every time the Republican Party is shopping for a presidential contender. The former Florida Governor has an interesting line in his biography: “Son of the 41st president of the United States, George Bush, and brother of the 43rd president, George W. Bush, Jeb Bush has spent much of his life around politics.”

On at least two occasions, speculation has been rife that he would himself vie for the highest office in the land. He is not running in the November election, but may be one day he will. And it may be such considerations that may encourage Mr Museveni to consolidate the idea of a blood successor, if he harbours it. To confound his critics, he may point at Ms Alengot and others who have already been down the same path.