Why Muhoozi loyalists want to cut umbilical cord with NRM

Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, his wife Charlotte, and a team dressed in NUP colours at the rally in Masaka city on March 15, 2024. PHOTO/ANTONIO KALYANGO 

What you need to know:

  • With President Museveni sure of being on the ballot come 2026, supporters of Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, his son who is eyeing the presidency as well, are divided into two camps, with some aiming to work within the framework of his father’s party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), while others want to register their party, writes Derrick Kiyonga.

Until March 15, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s public pronouncements had decreased. But the people aligned with him and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) recently announced a political pressure group they called Uganda Patriotic League (UPL). 

This provoked NRM to make it categorically clear that President Museveni, Gen Muhoozi’s father, will be on the ballot paper in 2026.

NRM secretary general Richard Todwong took it upon himself to declare that Museveni is still their man, saying the President has ensured peace and tranquillity, which should be galvanised until there is another candidate with the credentials to take Uganda forward.

“Unfortunately, he [Museveni] and the NRM, see none yet,” Todwong said.

As the 2026 General Election draws closer, political analysts have been paying attention to what Muhoozi does ever since he shocked the world by claiming that he had retired from the army without following the procedures laid out by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF). 

“After 28 years of service in my glorious military, the greatest military in the world, I am happy to announce my retirement. Me and my soldiers have achieved so much! I have only love and respect for all those great men and women that achieve greatness for Uganda every day,” Muhoozi controversially tweeted in 2022. 

Last year Muhoozi went around making political pledges in Acholi and Teso, which attracted a criminal charge filed by lawyer Male Mabirizi and a constitutional petition filed by lawyer and writer Gawaya Tegulle.

“The first respondent [Muhoozi] who also happens to be the son of the current President of Uganda, Gen Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni, is enjoying an unlawful and unconstitutional preferential treatment from the UPDF and is not being duly reprimanded, supervised, or otherwise called by the 2nd respondent [Chief of Defence Forces] simply because he is the son of the President which manifestly offends Article 21 that provides for equality before and under the law,” Tegulle said.

Muhoozi had since withdrawn from personally appearing at political                                          rallies, with his last appearance being, December in Kisoro District at the giveaway ceremony of the daughter of former police chief Gen Kale Kayihura.

“This time we have come for a function, but next time we shall come to meet the people. I know we have a lot of support in Kisoro. Thank you very much. Thank you for coming,” Muhoozi said.

And on Friday his rallies resumed, with him addressing supporters in Masaka City. 

“PLU is non-partisan, non-denominational and non-sectarian. We have people from every tribe, every race, every religion and every political party in PLU,” he told the crowd in Masaka. 

Making case for NRM
But Muhoozi’s hibernation had not stopped his supporters from being active and this was shown with the launch of the PLU, which replaced the MK Movement, but its leaders failed to agree on its intentions.   

When PLU was being launched in Naguru, a Kampala suburb, Muhoozi was absent but there were quite several theories advanced by its initiators, with NRM’s vice chairman for eastern Uganda Mike Mukula saying Muhoozi should use the NRM as a platform to lunch his presidential bid.

Mukula suggested that NRM should copy what the ruling parties in Tanzania and Cuba are doing.    

In Tanzania, politics has been dominated by Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CMM) since 1977 when it was formed following a merger between the mainland party, Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), and the Afro-Shirazi Party of Zanzibar.

Not until 1992 when CMM adopted multiparty politics, Tanzania was under a one party system and CMM has maintained a stronghold on power with opposition parties largely struggling to assert themselves.  

Another example that Mukula gave is that of Cuba that has been under the rule of the Communist Party, in power since 1959.  

Mukula painted a picture of a smooth transition within the NRM.

“We have reduced the load from you. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has done his part. It’s now incumbent upon you the young people to take Uganda forward. It was done in Cuba when Fidel Castro stepped aside. It was done in North Korea. It has been done in ANC. It was done in Tanzania with CCM.  We will do it in Uganda,” Mukula, a former State minister for Health, said.

Though Mukula claimed that there will be a peaceful transfer of power within NRM once Museveni retires, some analysts have been warning that with several competing interests, Uganda’s history of not witnessing a peaceful political transition might haunt it.

“Since independence, Uganda has not witnessed a peaceful political transition. Instead, the military has been the protagonist in deposing of old and ushering in new rulers amid civil war, coups, and military rule. After [more than] 30 years of relative peace and stability, how will the competing identities and interests of the men and women in this modern African post-liberation army be articulated and prioritised in times of large-scale political crisis and, especially, a likely contested political leadership transition?” Dr Anna Reus, a security expert, asks in her thesis Politicization, Professionalization, and Personalization of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).

Mr Michael Mawanda, who represents Igara East County in Parliament, has been a supporter of Muhoozi’s presidential ambitions.

“...The aim is to work towards reviving in Ugandans the spirit of good citizenship, national pride, national service, protection of vulnerable persons, combating corruption and wastage of national resources and protection of the environment,” Mawanda said.

The view that PLU isn’t partisan isn’t shared by some of Muhoozi’s staunch supporters who insist that they will register the outfit as a political party in the future.

“We are in the process of registering a political party. We are independent of the NRM. People want to mix us with the NRM but we are independent of the NRM. Our values are completely different from NRM,” Frank Gashumba, who was appointed as the PLU’s vice chairman of central region and was part of the now-defunct MK Movement, said.

People who are insistent on Museveni being President have been promoting what they call “Muzeeyi Tova ku Main” (old man don’t leave power) campaigns, with Todwong characterising PLU as a branch of the NRM.

“All these are tributaries to take water to the main river,” he was quoted as saying, adding that, “These fights are not logical, they are just fighting for positions and limited opportunities we have.”

However, PLU honchos dismissed the idea that they are an offshoot of the ruling party.  

“When did you last see them [NRM] having a baraza like we have been doing for the last two years because they see that we connect with the youth and other Ugandans they want the public to think they are one. We aren’t similar,” Gashumba said.

Muhoozi has previously dismissed the Muzeeyi Tova ku main group as a “brand for all the gangsters, criminals and disasters Uganda has” and that “it has nothing to do with my family”.

The tensions between Pro-Muhoozi and Pro-Museveni supporters have since escalated with clashes reported in the western district of Mitooma in early January.

Pro-Museveni supporters asked security agencies to stop the Muhoozi baraza citing security reasons, with the Minister of Internal Affairs Kahinda Otafiire, a dominant personality in Mitooma politics, clearly not supporting Muhoozi.

“We will not allow Mitooma District to be used by self-seekers in the MK camp. Mitooma isn’t a market to be used by MK group,” Bob Abemigisha, an NRM youth winger, said.

The pro-Muhoozi baraza was later held with the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Thomas Tayebwa, another imposing personality in Mitooma politics, presiding over the function.

The NRM, some Pro-Muhoozi supporters want to abandon, Dr Reuss says, beyond its liberation argument that it brought peace and stability, has never had any ideological foundation for its rule, and institutionalisation of the party had long been neglected.

“Under multiparty rule, the NRM does not rely on patronage alone: military force has equally played a significant role in keeping the NRM in power. Whereas patronage was legitimised by the rationale of an inclusive government based on anti-sectarian principles, military force, and coercion were equally embedded in a legitimising narrative of the liberation legacy,” Reuss says.

“This manifested itself not only in a militarisation of society but in a strong preference for military solutions, and also in dealing with political protest and Opposition. This has particularly been the case since the return to multiparty politics: The regime has increasingly been using the military to crack down on the Opposition. This has manifested itself in various ways, but, in essence, a heightened display of the martial force of the regime is common in the lead-up to elections.”

view on president useveni group
Gen Muhoozi has previously dismissed the Muzeeyi Tova ku Main group as a “brand for all the gangsters, criminals and disasters Uganda has” and that “it has nothing to do with my family”.