What you need to know:
- If it turns out that President Museveni has been grooming Gen Muhoozi, he will have become the latest addition to a list of long serving leaders who have at different points in time tried to create family dynasties.
Ten days ago, the President’s son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, took to Twitter and laid bare his ambitions.
“The only way I can repay my great mother is by being president of Uganda! And I shall definitely do it!” read the October 27 tweet.
The tweet summarily ended years of denials by both Mr Museveni and other government officials.
“That man is an army officer... certainly he will not be interested in politics in the short run,” Mr Museveni famously stated in a September 2013 interview.
The denials were precipitated by the contents of a May 2013 letter that the then coordinator of Intelligence Services, Gen David Sejusa, wrote to the director general of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO).
Gen Sejusa talked of the existence of a scheme, “the Muhoozi Project” through which Mr Museveni was reportedly planning to make his son, then a Brigadier in the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF), succeed him as President, adding that senior officials in both the government and military who were opposed to the idea had been lined up for liquidation.
Gen Sejusa was for all his troubles forced into exile while Monitor Publications, two of its sister radio stations, KFM and Dembe FM, and Red Pepper were the subject of police raids and closures for reporting on the matter.
Fast forward and it would appear that the tweets, the birthday run, birthday parties, the activities of Team MK and presiding over the “Muhoozi Project Tournament” in Arua on October 22, are well-choreographed moves aimed at keeping the General in the limelight.
One school of thought has argued that presiding over the tournament in Arua is yet the biggest indicator of which way the country will be going in a post-Museveni era. October 22, they argue, brought down the curtain on years of blurriness about the General’s own designs and ambitions amid what would appear to be a fuzzy succession plan.
Fuzzy succession plan
After the 2001 election in which former candidate Kizza Besigye was Mr Museveni’s main challenger for the presidency, former prime minister Amama Mbabazi accused Dr Besigye of having jumped the queue, which pointed to the existence of definitive list of who was in line to succeed him even when the criteria or order largely remain fuzzy.
It also suggested that Mr Mbabazi was much higher up on the said queue than Dr Besigye. Mr Mbabazi, who later rose to become secretary general of the ruling NRM and prime minister, was fired from Cabinet in September 2014 amid accusations of involvement in what Mr Museveni described as “divisive politics”.
When soldiers were accused of making political statements
Mr Museveni has so far resisted calls by even people close to him to name a successor. Mr John Nagenda, the President’s senior advisor on media and public relations, argued in an August 2017 interview with this publication that a move in that direction would forestall the possibility of plunging the country into chaos associated with a fight for power.
“If I was Mr Museveni I would start developing somebody. When you say that people say that, ‘but that person’s life might be in danger and so on’. Rubbish! Because if he was being talked about like that and if the President wants him to be that (heir) then that person would be defended, he would be protected,” Mr Nagenda argued back then.
NRM too does not have a definitive process on arriving at how it would identify who within its rank and file can take over from Mr Museveni as leader of the party and probably the country.
The positions of party chairman and that of presidential candidate have always been ring fenced. Mr Felix Okot Ogong and Mr Ruhinda Maguru attempted to contest against Mr Museveni in 2006 and 2011 respectively, but were never allowed. Mr Museveni has as a result never faced any credible challenge within the party.
Mr Richard Todwong, the NRM secretary general, has always insisted that the country would not be plunged into chaos.
“There is a lot of discipline in the NRM. The system and the organisation are very strong. I do not think there can ever be chaos in the unfortunate event that the President either dies or is incapacitated,” Mr Todwong told this publication in a previous interview.
Writing on the wall
If Mr Museveni has a succession plan, it is one that he has kept so close to his chest, but the English say, “If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”.
So the tweet from two weeks ago can only mean that Gen Muhoozi, whose supporters on social media refer to as “our next president”, “generational leader” and “the leader of our generation” etc. is ready to take a plunge into the murky waters of elective politics. The question is when?
Whereas it is difficult to tell with certainty whether Mr Museveni has been grooming Gen Muhoozi to take over from him, it is inconceivable that he is going about his intentions without the knowledge or approval of his father.
Family dynasty builders
If it, however, turns out that he has been grooming Gen Muhoozi, he will have become the latest addition to a list of long serving leaders from Africa and the Arab world who have at different points in time tried to create family dynasties.
The list has Idris Deby, Muammar Gaddafi, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, Omar Bongo, Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Laurent Desire Kabila who tried creating dynasties in Chad, Libya, Togo, Gabon, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen and DR Congo respectively.
Deby, Eyadéma, Bongo and Kabila succeeded, but Uday Qusay did not succeeded Saddam in Iraq, Saif Al Islam did not succeed Gaddafi in Libya, Gamal Mubarak did not succeed Mubarak in Egypt, and Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh did not succeed Saleh in Yemen.
Like Saif, Ahmed and Gamal
Gen Muhoozi has a bit of Saif Al Islam, Ahmed Ali Abdullah and Gamal Mubarak in him.
Seif played a key role in negotiating the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Libya and the West.
He helped mediate the release of six Bulgarian nurses who had been accused of infecting children with HIV; negotiated compensation packages for families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombings of 1988, the 1986 attack on a Berlin nightclub and downing in 1989 of UTA flight 772; and was heavily involved in the many diplomatic manoeuvres that led to the lifting of international sanctions against Libya.
Gen Muhoozi has also been heavily involved in diplomatic activity that saw him visit Kenya and engage former president Uhuru Kenyatta on at least two occasions; visited Somalia where he engaged Ugandan troops serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom); and Rwanda where he engaged president Paul Kagame in talks that ended the 35-month closure of the border between the two countries.
Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh al-Ahmar was also born in 1972. The man who held a Bachelor of Management and Economics degree from the American University in Washington and a Masters’ Degree in Military Science from Jordan was also a graduate of the Yemeni Military Academy.
He was the beneficiary of rapid promotions and attained the rank of Brigadier at a relatively tender age. He was chief of the Yemeni Republican Guard for eight years.
Gamal Mubarak was not a military man and did not venture into the world of diplomacy, but had the respect of his father. That is similar to what we see between Mr Museveni and Gen Muhoozi. It becomes evident in the comments that he made early in October when he promoted him to full General even after the diplomatic uproar he had caused with neighbours Kenya with tweets about the UPDF’s capacity to take over Nairobi in two weeks.
“Why, then, promote him to full General after these comments? This is because this mistake is one aspect where he has acted negatively as a public officer. There are, however, many other positive contributions the General has made and can still make,” Mr Museveni wrote in the October 5 statement.
Father in the way
Mr Museveni has been on record saying he is not grooming Gen Muhoozi to succeed him.
“Why should I groom my son? The people of Uganda are there. They will select whom they want,” Mr Museveni said in a September 7, 2021, interview with France 24’s Marc Perelman.
If he is, however, preaching water and taking wine and is therefore interested in having Gen Muhoozi succeed him, he finds himself in the same dilemma as Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi and Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The reasons and grounds may differ, but personalities in both Opposition and NRM are in agreement that the son’s aspirations are heavily dependent on the father’s plans.
The State minister for Sports, Mr Peter Ogwang, for example says he would openly support Gen Muhoozi’s candidature, but only if Mr Museveni is not in the equation.
“As of now, I am supporting Gen Museveni. After Museveni I am supporting my brother with all he deserves because he has all the potential to lead the country. As long as Mzee is still there, we shall still support him,” Mr Ogwang told this publication.
Last month alone, more than 10 groups of rival supporters of both Mr Museveni and Gen Muhoozi in the districts of Isingiro, Mitooma, Rukiga, and parts of Buganda sub-region publicly endorsed them as candidates in the 2026 general election.
A few days after the youth in Isingiro endorsed Gen Muhoozi for president, the vice chairman of the NRM, Moses Kigongo, joined other NRM party officials, notably vice president Jessica Alupo and a host of Cabinet ministers in endorsing Gen Museveni for President.
It is not clear what Gen Muhoozi’s game plan would be going forward, but he remains a serving officer of the UPDF which would perhaps pose legal challenges to a planned foray into politics.
“His activities contravene the law. He is still a still a serving military officer. He should not be engaging in partisan politics directly. The fact that he is allowed to freely do his politics shows that the law is selectively applied,” says Mr Peter Walubiri, leader of one of the factions of Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC).
He adds: “One would also wonder where he gets the finances to do this. As an army officer, we know his salary. Where does he get the money to carry on these activities? He is clearly abusing public funds and facilities because he is moving to go and engage in those activities he travels in a military convoy to go and do his politicking”.
Thin NRM roots
Gen Muhoozi is at the same time yet to find his way into the ruling NRM, or form his own party, and has not yet build the kind of network that one would require to run an election.
“It is very clear, as a party NRM always has to analyse and give a position. And I am very sure even my brother, Gen Muhoozi, if he wants to be president he will also be in the NRM. As far as NRM is concerned, we still believe that Mzee [Mr Museveni] is still strong ready to lead the country,” Mr Ogwang says.
Mr Patrick Amuriat Oboi, the president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and Mr Walubiri agree that the endorsements are an indicator that Gen Muhoozi’s name will not be on the ballot paper any time soon.
“Since the advent of Museveni we have not had elections. We have had selections backed by the military and money. So if the father stands down in 2026, he can easily be selected, but only if the father is no longer interested. The father is, however, still interested,” Mr Walubiri says.
Mr Amuriat thinks that Mr Museveni is unwilling to cede power to anybody.
“Museveni will never relinquish power, not even to his own son. There is no way Museveni will just leave power voluntarily to anybody,” Mr Amuriat says.
Mr Amuriat’s conclusion is yet to be put to the test. That would mean that it just might not be true that Gen Muhoozi is not walking in the footsteps of Saif-Al Islam, Gamal Mubarak or Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh who were heir apparent to men who were not about to go anywhere.