Why did Museveni critics Sejusa, Mbabazi go silent?
When he was released from jail on court bail four years ago, Gen David Sejusa was asked by journalists what his next course of action would be.
His response was cryptic, but the message to his former boss, President Museveni, was clear: You can’t break me down.
Gen Sejusa, who had spent three months both in Makindye Military Barracks jail and Luzira prison after being charged in the court martial with absence without official leave, participating in partisan political activities and insubordination invoked an American collective action-thriller franchise spanning a film series, The Expendables.
“If you watched The Expendables, part one and two had different film stars; so was ‘the return of the expendables’ which was part three. My release today is part one of this episode whose film star has been President Museveni,” Gen Sejusa, who was formerly Tinyefuza, said.
He went on to say that on April 5, 2016, part two of ‘the expendables’ will have another star none other than him.
In part two, Gen Sejusa said he would prove to court that he was constructively retired from the army and that he was a civilian.
Sejusa added: “It is foolish for a good player to back off the pitch before the match is over unless substituted by his coach. So, keep cool and see the second part of ‘the expendables’ in court and God willing, you might even see ‘the return of the expendables’ which is the last part, again with a different film star.”
Indeed, Gen Sejusa was the star of part two when the High Court’s Civil Division agreed with him that the army had constructively retired him. By the army taking his “uniforms and guns, withdrawing guards, and not paying him his arrears and allowances,” Justice Margret Oumo Oguli ruled that the army had constructively retired Sejusa.
After being a victor in part two of the expendables, part three of the expendables as Gen Sejusa promised is yet to be seen.
Largely, after winning the court case it was anticipated that Gen Sejusa had been unshackled from the constraints of being an active army officer and would now engage in active politics in which he would be a leading figure in uprooting Museveni’s decades’ hold onto power.
Nothing like that has happened. Prior to the 2016 general election, Gen Sejusa gave a speech at the nomination rally of Forum for Democratic Change’s presidential flag bearer, Dr Kizza Besigye, at Nakivubo stadium and he also attended activities of the Democratic Party (DP).
These two actions led to his prosecution in the Court Martial which up to date had never been logically concluded since the High Court ruled that Sejusa retired.
For the 2021 elections, Gen Sejusa, the former coordinator of intelligence agencies, has not only avoided public appearances, but he has maintained silent on the political events of the day with his only activities restricted to Twitter where he still refrains from commenting on local politics.
Seeking out Gen Sejusa is hard as his known phone numbers are on, but the phone is managed by his handlers.
Upon taking your call, they tell you to text your questions, but they never get back to you until you give up.
Asked why his client has gone quiet since 2016, Mr David Mushabe, who led Gen Sejusa’s legal team during the various court battles, could only guess.
“I don’t know why. Maybe he doesn’t want to be involved in the current mess,” Mr Mushabe said in a phone interview.
Several sources who are familiar with Gen Sejusa said he decided to disengage from the political Opposition either because he found them disorganised or they didn’t embrace him.
“It seems he looked at the Opposition, which is divided and decided to give politics a break,” said one source.
According to Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a senior lecturer at Makerere University, it’s very hard to know why Gen Sejusa went silent since his motive of taking on Museveni isn’t known.
“Was he for the common good?” Mr Ndebesa, a political-historian, asks.
“If he was for the common good, then he wouldn’t have kept quiet since the problem is still around. But if he feared for his life and he got a deal with the regime, then that explains why he is silent.”
Interviewed for this story, some sources that have worked with Gen Sejusa for a long time said the Luweero Bush War hero stopped being vocal once negotiations with President Museveni had arrived to some concessions.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr Museveni agreed to withdraw the soldiers that were permanently stationed at Gen Sejusa’s home in Naguru, Kampala, and also agreed that the convictions and sentence of 15 years each handed to Gen Sejusa’s six aides by a military court be overturned.
In 2019, the case was transferred to the civil court and three justices of the Court of Appeal, led by then Deputy Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo, overturned the military court’s judgment and freed the aides who were jailed on accusations of treachery.
Though he is quiet, Gen Sejusa is a very opinionated person who has fallen out with Mr Museveni severally only to mend fences with him after some time.
For instance, on November 28, 1996, Gen Sejusa, RO 031, was summoned by the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, which was looking into how the army was managing the war against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which was raging in northern Uganda.
In his testimony, he meanderingly accused Mr Museveni of not doing enough to end the war, something that reawakened the Bush War bad blood between him and Mr Museveni.
In the aftermath, Mr Museveni ordered him to appear before the High Command to explain his remarks, but instead Gen Sejusa resigned from the UPDF, where he was a member of the High Command.
Then minister of State for Defence, Amama Mbabazi, declared his resignation null and void, forcing the General to go to court. He won the case in the Constitutional Court but his victory was reversed in the Supreme Court which reasoned that if Mr Sejusa’s resignation were to be allowed it would open floodgates in the army.
Soon after, he was rehabilitated and he took up new projects, including the arrest of Col Besigye in 2005 following his return from exile; the military siege of the High Court in 2006 by an urban anti-terror squad famously known as Black Mamba; and the July 18, 2008, arrest of Buganda Kingdom officials.
Gen Sejusa joins an illustrious list of former Museveni cronies, who include former Prime Minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, who having fallen out with him now have decided to take backstage.
The last significant political act Mr Mbabazi did was to file a petition challenging Museveni’s 2016 election in which the former Defence and Security minister was the candidate himself.
When he lost the petition when all the nine judges of the Supreme Court said he had not adduced evidence supporting his claims that the election was riddled with fraud, Mr Mbabazi quickly conceded and went quiet.
Even his very vocal lawyers such as Fred Muwema, Severino Twinobusingye and John Mary Mugisha, who were key cogs on his political juggernaut, stopped commenting about politics.
“We can only guess,” Prof Sabiti Makara, a lecturer at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, says.
“Probably he felt it was about time he let the young generation take on the struggle.”
In 2018, during the giveaway ceremony of his niece Bridget Birungi Rwakairu, which was attended by Mr Museveni, Mr Mbabazi seemed to have ruled out ever retuning to government as the rumours kept on surfacing that he was being reconsidered by his former boss.
“I’m not going back to the government, I am not going there,” Mbabazi said in a ceremony also attended by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, the father of Andile Ramaphosa, the bridegroom.
Despite the acrimonious fallout in the run-up to the 2016 election, Mr Mbabazi who had a close relationship with the President that spanned more than 40 years said they were no hard feelings.
“We may disagree politically, but the association we have is not affected,” Mr Mbabazi said. “This is what I call maturity in leadership.”
To many, this was yet another indicator of how Mr Mbabazi had been broken down and he was willing to go back to the NRM yet during one of the presidential debates he had rhetorically asked the public whether it “wants change or more of the same” in an apparent rebuke of the NRM government he had served with great loyalty.
Though Mbabazi had maintained his silence about the politics of the day, Mr Museveni when campaigning in the northern district of Kitgum this week claimed that he was in talks with his former leader of government business.
“Even with [Rt.Hon.] Mbabazi, recently we have been having meetings. I think you have been seeing our meeting,” Mr Museveni said.
Mr Museveni seemed to be alluding to how his former premier has been attending NRM functions and was also seen with Museveni at his farm in Kisozi in late 2019.
The continued interaction between the two former allies has amplified murmurs that Mr Mbabazi is set to return to Museveni’s Cabinet since he never returned his NRM card after the fallout.
But it’s still hard to figure out where Mr Mbabazi would fit in Mr Museveni’s Cabinet having served as Prime Minister and he seemed not interested in the Vice President’s docket since it has no clearly defined role.
Mr Mbabazi’s presidential ambition came to the fore in 2001 when he accused Dr Besigye, who was challenging Mr Museveni for the first time for “jumping the queue”, which was interpreted as him thinking that he was ahead of Besigye in the queue.
Motive wasn’t known
Was he for the common good? If he was for the common good, then he wouldn’t have kept quiet since the problem is still around. But if he feared for his life and he got a deal with the regime, then that explains why he is silent,’’ Mwambutsya Ndebesa, senior lecturer at Makerere University