Muhoozi’s birthday: Launch of the ‘project’?

Supporters of Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba march through the streets of Kampalain April 2022. PHOTO / COURTESY  

What you need to know:

  • The ‘Muhoozi Project’ might be launched one day, but last weekend’s public activities were not that launch. The public in such a short period of time had already forgotten the events that led up to this birthday.

Last weekend, Ugandans were treated to a spectacle that most of them had not seen in decades or did not expect to see in their lifetime.

The commander of the army’s Land Forces who is also a son of President Museveni, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, held a series of events to celebrate his 48th birthday.

Public rallies, a road run flagged off at Kololo Independence Grounds, a party at Lugogo cricket oval in Kampala, and a dinner at State House in Entebbe.

The only person whose birthday is celebrated in this fashion is the Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi.

Not even President Museveni has anywhere near this kind of very public birthday.

Forty eight was an odd birthdate on which to hold this much public display. Most major anniversaries are the first, the 10th, the 20th, 25th, and 50th.

It would have fitted better had it been Kainerugaba’s 50th birthday.

Most Ugandans concluded that the birthday was not just a birthday; it was the official launch of the much-discussed ‘Muhoozi Project’, in Ugandan speak, the alleged plan by President Museveni to have Kainerugaba succeed him as head of State.

This analyst would like, however, to state that it was not so.

The ‘Muhoozi Project’ might be launched one day, but last weekend’s public activities were not that launch.

The public in such a short period of time had already forgotten the events that led up to this birthday fiesta.

Muhoozi several days earlier had deactivated his Twitter handle. When he reappeared, he claimed he had been busy with some work and for that, deactivated the account.

Now that he was back online, in a spontaneous moment he noted that his 48th birthday was approaching and he planned to celebrate it.

And then, in his typically expansive style, announced that all East Africans were welcome to this birthday bash.

From that innocuous tweet, the wheels of the NRM state began to turn into action. Hash-tags on social media, T-shirts designed, rallies in support of the birthday boy organised, cards printed, venues booked.

On Saturday April 23, roads leading to Kololo Independence Grounds and the Kampala Rugby Grounds at Lugogo were closed off to vehicle traffic.

The state TV broadcaster UBC and a private TV station NBS TV aired the events live.

A road run was flagged off at Kololo grounds.

Muhoozi, dressed in military camouflage uniform, addressed the crowd at Lugogo, glancing at points jotted down in a small notebook which he held as he spoke.

The Lugogo speech was somewhat of an anti-climax when contrasted with the frenzied logistical build-up by the organisers.

Muhoozi could only comment that when the youth are idle, they get restless and can cause social mischief, therefore, he said, government should invest more in youth programmes.

Not exactly a rousing, historic speech about national destiny.

What all this revealed was, more than anything else, that to the First Family, Uganda is now a playground.

When they fantasise about or wish to do anything, the state does their bidding.

In 2018 when Natasha Museveni was shooting her film 27 Guns, about NRA’s early 1980s Luweero guerrilla war, Parliament Avenue was sealed off by military trucks so that the shooting crew could film scenes from the steps of the national assembly where in January 1986 Museveni had taken his first oath of office.

If Muhoozi were to decide one random day in June or September to hold an army parade just to celebrate peace in Uganda or the army’s professional standing, the parade would be held.

The extent of the birthday bash, it should also be noted, appears to have caught President Museveni and First Lady Janet Museveni off-guard.

The Museveni family is not given to flamboyant celebration. Their Christmas, Easter, New Year and birthday events are usually low-key and private.

President Museveni and the First Lady were dressed casually for the dinner, as they would on any other weekend spent at home, unlike most of their guests.

However, once the momentum around the public events got underway, the First Couple had to respond somehow and own the narrative.

In his address to the guests on Sunday evening, President Museveni described it simply as a “dinner”. Not birthday dinner, not Muhoozi’s big day. Just a dinner.

There was no grand, historical speech by the President tracing Muhoozi’s journey from childhood to the helm of power.

There was no talk of Muhoozi as the avenger of his father, for which he had been named Muhoozi.

No narration of the birthday boy’s military achievements, from flushing out the LRA rebels from eastern DR Congo to disarming Karamojong warriors.

Museveni intentionally made his speech as uneventful as possible.

He thanked President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who was the chief guest at the party, for his friendship with Lt Gen Kainerugaba.

For Sunday Vision, a government-owned newspaper, the natural temptation was to go with the birthday party as its lead story for April 24.

Rationally, however, it would have come across as cheesy because, so what if Muhoozi was marking his 48th birthday? How was that national news?

The paper decided to publish it as a front-page story accompanied by a photo of Muhoozi flagging off the runners at Kololo, but the text story itself as the second story, not the lead story.

As for President Kagame’s visit, it was reported that the two heads of state held talks about matters of bilateral interest, which isn’t saying much since that is the standard when heads of state meet, however ordinary the occasion.

It’s not like they were going to hold a long conversation about their childhood days at Ntare School or of watching Muhoozi learn to ride a bicycle.

There was no formal communique following the two leaders’ talks or a joint press conference before Kagame’s departure for Kigali.

On Tuesday April 26, Muhoozi tweeted: “They were joking with us until they saw how strong we are! Uganda is ours! No one shall ever intimidate us! Uganda belongs to Team MK!”

Note the last line.

Seen with hindsight, this is how far NRM has come from the pan-African political and guerrilla organisation of the early 1980s to what it is today -- a family corporation to which the Uganda government and the general public are enlisted as support staff and observers.

But it also showed that Muhoozi, like most NRM functionaries, is not his own man.

Everyone who has become anyone in the NRM party and government has become so ultimately because Yoweri Museveni made them.