In stinging NRM, Muhoozi bit a feeding hand

President Museveni and his son Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba (R). PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA. 

What you need to know:

  • Gen Kainerugaba, who is also Mr Museveni’s senior presidential advisor on special operations, has already declared his intentions to one day become President, but his political strategy has been difficult to understand. Isaac Mufumba explains why Muhoozi bit a feeding hand in in stinging the NRM.

Eight days ago the Vice President, Ms Jessica Alupo, announced what most adult and politically aware Ugandans already knew – that barring a catastrophe of mega proportions - Mr Museveni’s name will be on the ballot paper when the Electoral Commission (EC) calls the 2026 general elections.

“President Museveni will be with us in 2026, therefore I appeal to you to support him like you have been doing,” said Ms Alupo, while speaking last Sunday.

Ms Alupo who was speaking in Entebbe during celebrations to mark 35 years of Entebbe Church of Uganda Archdeaconry became the first highest ranking government official and member of Mr Museveni’s Cabinet to make the declaration.

Before then, matters around Mr Museveni’s candidature had only been addressed by Mr Richard Todwong, the secretary general of the ruling NRM who declared on December 14 last year that the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) had already decided that Mr Museveni who is chairman of the party and also chairs CEC, would be the party’s presidential candidate in 2026.

Mr Todwong’s declaration came after a period in which President Museveni’s son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, had taken to twitter to sting his father and the NRM, accusing them of some of the very things that Dr Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s longtime critic and political rival has been accusing them of.

“I am listening to the outcry of our people for change. I am with the people! Whatever NRM has become certainly does not represent the people of Uganda,” Muhoozi tweeted.

Dr Besigye has always accused Mr Museveni of abandoning the ideals for which they waged a guerilla war.

In 1999, Dr Besigye authored a document, “An Insider’s View of How the NRM Lost the Broad Base”, in which he concluded that the Movement had lost its way. He has remained steadfast in accusing his former bush war colleagues of betraying the revolution.

“I certainly do not believe in NRM. In Marxist terms, it is probably the most reactionary organisation in the country,” he added in a subsequent tweet.

Borrowing from Trump
Gen Kainerugaba who is also Mr Museveni’s senior presidential advisor on special operations has already declared his intentions to one day become President, but his political strategy has been difficult to understand.

Whereas he held birthday parties in diverse parts of the country and presided over some sports events in places like Arua, it is difficult to understand how those are likely to translate into the kind of popularity that one would require to launch a successful bid for the presidency.

He seems to have chosen to use Twitter, where many of his followers refer to him as the “Generational Supreme Leaders” to build up his profile and generate support in much the same way as Donald Trump did ahead of his famous victory over Ms Hillary Clinton and during the years of his presidency.

A paper authored by Prof Ethan Pancer and Mr Maxwell Poole, which was published in the Journal of Social influence revealed how effective Trump’s messages were, having been better crafted and negative enough to appeal to the ordinary American voter.

“The current reality is simple: Negative posts are winning the voting public on social media,” the research paper read in parts.

Even after the election, Donald Trump, maintained Twitter as one of his main communication tools and the American media fed off those twits.

“Boom. I press it, and within two seconds, we have breaking news,” he once told a White House Conference.

With more than 22.5million followers, President Trump would use Twitter to get his messages - however controversial or personal they were – across. Is Gen Muhoozi trying to use his Twitter handle for similar effect? That is hard. Uganda is not America. It does not have the same levels of internet connectivity or social media awareness and literacy.

In Museveni’s shadow
Mr Peter Mukidi Walubiri, the leader of one of the factions of another opposition party, the Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) believes that whereas Gen Muhoozi is part of a small group of members of Mr Museveni’s family who wield a lot of power, that power is pegged to his father’s own power and influence.

Mr Walubiri says that it is by virtue of being Mr Museveni’s son that he rose to prominence in the military and that it can only be by the same virtue that he can be a factor in the politics.

“Some people in the NRM are trying to develop a plan B just in case his father, is by some act of God unable to offer himself for re-election. If that happens the son should be able and available. That is why they are trying to make him a bit recognizable and marketable as an alternative  pla,” Mr Walubiri told Monitor in a previous interview.

The problem though is that not everyone in the political setup that has been built up by his father are buying into the so called plan B. Among them is Internal Affairs Minister, Gen Kahinda Otafiire.
“For us who have a rational understanding and grounded in NRM, we said we still want Gen Museveni incharge. Come 2026, I am campaigning for Gen Museveni to come back as our flag bearer,” Gen Otafiire declared.

Others prominent NRM personalities who share Gen Otafiiire’s views include NRM Vice Chairman, Moses Kigongo, Mr Richard Todwong, Ms Jessica Alupo and Ms Evelyn Anite. 

That suggest that even if a plan B that Mr Walubiri is talking about were existent, its success and Gen Muhoozi’s success as the man at the front would be heavily dependent on his father’s power and networks.

Whereas Mr Todwong claimed to have taken Gen Muhoozi’s criticism of the NRM in good faith there are indicators that it did not go down well with sections of the party’s leadership.  That means that it would be tough for one to rally all the NRM forces around the candidature of Gen Muhoozi.

According to an insider who preferred not to be named, this has been largely on account of the fact that some of them feel insulted.

“It would be difficult for Gen Muhoozi to build his own structure outside the NRM. That means that he would have to rely on existing structures of the NRM, but how will he work with the existing structures when he is already suggesting that he does not believe in those of us who make up that structure,” the party official asked Monitor.

So did Gen Muhoozi in stinging the NRM, bite a hand that had been prepared to feed him?

Saving party and son
The situation according to observers, calls for Mr Museveni’s intervention if he is to save party cohesion and ambitions of his son. 

Those who are familiar with the story of Libya under Muammar Gaddafi certainly know about the story of one of his son, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi. Saif was the brain behind some of the changes that occurred in the Libya in the last decade of his father’s rule, but he was also once one of the biggest critics of his father’s management and leadership style.

On August 20, 2008, Saif al-Islam gave a speech in which he ripped into the political system over which his father was presiding. That was considered excessive. As a result, a satellite television channel that he had earlier formed was nationalised and he was forced to announce that he had retired from politics.

But in October 2009, Col Gaddafi called on Libyans to create a formal position for Saif “so that he could properly serve them”, That paved way for an announcement by the Libyan Socialist Popular Leadership, that Saif would be coordinator of its organising committee, a position that made him the second most powerful person in Libya after his father.

Mr Museveni too can chose to call on the leadership of the NRM to find a “suitable appointment” for Gen Muhoozi, but for now, such redemption can only be in interest of the future, for now, it would appear that the NRM is focused on “Museveni for 2026”.

Business as usual
It is historically known that Mr Museveni tours the country every two years after a general election. Ostensibly such tours are meant to either help him popularise a poverty alleviation programme or assess the poverty situation in the country, but it always gives Mr Museveni a head start, allowing him hit the campaign trail earlier than his opponents.

2023 fits in with that general timing and modus operandi. The timing cannot be more perfect given that it is only a few months since the Parish Development Model (PDM) was launched.

Going no where
In the circumstances, Mr Patrick Amuriat Oboi, the President of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) says, any talk of a Muhoozi candidature is a smokescreen.

“Muhoozi is just a smoke screen intended to fool Ugandans that there could be any contest. I think Muhoozi is just diversionary. Museveni will never relinquish power, not even to his own son. There is no way Museveni will just leave power voluntarily to anybody. I don’t see him doing so in 2026,” Mr Amuriat says.

It is not difficult to see where Mr Amuriat is coming from. Mr Museveni has always found a reason or “mission” as he usually prefers to call it, to justify his continued stay in power.

On November 2, 1993, eight years after he has taken power, Mr Museveni told the editor in chief of the Monitor newspaper, Mr Wafula Oguttu that he still needed to extend his rule beyond the transitional arrangement  saying that the Movement had been designed to be in order to combat poverty.

“(I need to remain in power) to consolidate and eliminate poverty, to do what has not yet been done; banish poverty in the rural areas and to expand infrastructure because now I want to cover the whole country with feeder roads. So these are very big issues…” he said.

Early in January 2006, he said that he would not wish to relinquish power before realising his dream of the East African federation and a greater African Union, both of which were part of a larger mission of the National Resistance Movement (NRM).

With no East African federation and no greater African Union in place it is clear that Mr Museveni’s mission remains is incomplete. That is reason enough for Gen Muhoozi’s ambitions to be put on ice, at least for now.