The crisis inside NRM

NRM chairperson Yoweri Museveni (right) campaigns during last year’s presidential elections. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s message in this October 18 tweet could not be clearer. He was declaring, in effect, that he is now his own man. What he wants to do, he does. What he thinks, he says.

In recent weeks, the drama that Uganda has been treated to via the Twitter handle of Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba has shifted to the wider East Africa and drawn in Kenya.
In one of his casual moments on social media, Gen Muhoozi, explaining the strength of the Ugandan army (he calls it “my army”), declared that if, for example, Uganda were to wage war on Kenya, it would take the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) just a couple of days to overrun Kenya.
Not knowing Muhoozi, Kenyans reacted with indignation, some demanding an apology, most pouring scorn on Uganda’s First Son.
Finally, President Museveni had to step in and issue a written apology to the Kenyan people on his son’s behalf.

The following day, Museveni as commander-in-chief promoted Muhoozi to the top rank of General, a four-star General.
In his apology, Museveni sent what is now becoming a mixed message: On one hand, he distances himself from what he terms Muhoozi’s “mistakes”, but asserts that his son is, overall, a pan-Africanist.
At the beginning of this week, Museveni had an interview with Sophia Wanuna, a news anchor with the Nairobi television channel, KTN News.
In it, he repeated this mixed message, apologising for his son’s tweets, pointing out how social media is good when used well, and stating that he had ordered Muhoozi to get off Twitter.
However, he was also quick to add that Gen Muhoozi is a good officer in the army.

In these mixed messages, Museveni never explains how a good army officer behaves the way his son does.
Nor does he account for the fact that a pan-Africanist is supposed to work toward harmonious relations with sister African countries, not sow endless discord.
He tries to balance a rebuke of his son with not humiliating him.
At exactly 11pm, on Tuesday, October 18, Muhoozi sent out this tweet, in response to the KTN interview:
“I hear some journalist from Kenya asked my father to ban me from Twitter? Is that some kind of joke?? I am an adult and NO ONE will ban me from anything!”

First, KTN’s Wanuna did not ask President Museveni to ban Muhoozi from Twitter. The statement came from Museveni.
Muhoozi’s message in this October 18 tweet could not be clearer.
He was declaring, in effect, that he is now his own man. What he wants to do, he does. What he thinks, he says.

Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba

No one, he emphasised in capital letters, will ban him from anything. No one, not even his father the commander-in-chief.
If this is the way Muhoozi views things, there are going to be many more dramatic stand-offs and utterances that put the Uganda government and the head of State in an awkward position.
This is the essence of his public conduct over the past few years, becoming more pronounced this year starting with the events around his 48th birthday in April.

As Sunday Monitor explained in early May, that series of birthday parties and public events was neither planned nor approved by State House.
They were Muhoozi’s own initiative and once they got going, the State machinery followed suit.
What all this shows, once again, is that there are deep divisions or at least contradictions within the Museveni government.
A section of it operates as though it is its own government, beyond the law or conduct expected of government officials.
That section, composed of relatives of the President, is embodied in Gen Muhoozi.
It would not be too far-fetched to speculate that there is, in turn, a crisis or rift within the First Family.

Appeasing both sides
The mixed messaging, in which Muhoozi is both reprimanded and complimented by his father in the same sentence suggests that Museveni is struggling to appease two opposing camps.
Otherwise, nothing explains why the First Son, who is a serving and senior army officer, can consistently and publicly do and say things that only bring embarrassment to his father.
He does not retract them or issue apologies. He doesn’t see the trouble they cause his father and the government, and even his own family.
It is now crunch time for Museveni.

Museveni is being reduced to some kind of spokesman and public relations officer to his son.
Many people are watching the unfolding drama and drawing conclusions.
Among those watching and taking note must be the army.
Gen Muhoozi has violated almost every rule and code of conduct that the army imposes on its officers and men.
They, like the general population, see the clear double standards in the way Muhoozi is allowed to go scot-free for conduct that would have landed other senior officers in the Court Martial or, as with Henry Tumukunde and David Tinyefuza in years past, put under house arrest.
Never since 1986 has Museveni looked this weak and lacking in authority.
Those old enough to know Ugandan history or who have read about it, no doubt see a situation similar to 1980-1985 emerging.

During the second Milton Obote administration, it was common knowledge among the public that president Obote had lost control of the army. 
There were reports and rumours about the army chief-of-staff, Maj Gen David Oyite-Ojok, telling off Obote to his face and reminding him of who had restored him to power.
Tensions erupted in the open between Acholi and Lango army officers in early July 1985.
The signs do not look good for President Museveni’s long grip on power.