Museveni balancing act in Muhoozi rise

President Museveni (right) and his son Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba at the latter’s farm in Kisozi, Gomba District. Gen Mugoozi has been named Chief of Defence Forces. PHOTO/MUHOOZI X HANDLE

What you need to know:

  • Gen Muhoozi’s  appointment at the helm of the army and that of some of his key allies and supporters to prominent government positions seems to bolster Muhoozi’s trajectory towards the ultimate realisation of assuming the presidency.

In 2013, retired General David Sejusa penned a key letter, extensively quoted by this newspaper, which had significant repercussions from the state.

Within the contents of the aforementioned letter, Gen Sejusa raised concerns and called for an investigation into allegations surrounding the government’s purported plan known as the “Muhoozi Project.”

This initiative, as outlined in the letter, was perceived as a strategy to facilitate the succession of President Museveni by his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to the presidency.

Fast forward more than a decade later, Muhoozi, then a Brigadier, who already ascended to the rank of a four-star general, has been entrusted with the pivotal role of Chief of Defence Forces (CDF).

This is the second most influential position within the military hierarchy, following the Commander-in-Chief (C-i-C) whose reins Mr Museveni has held since 1986 when he shot his way into power following a five-year guerilla war.

For as long as his father is in charge, there seems to have been no doubt in Muhoozi’s vision of his destiny.  On January 18, 2023, Gen Muhoozi sent out a message on Twitter now X that:  “UPDF is still ‘My’ Army. Afande Mzee, I want my army back!!”

At the time Muhoozi had been dropped from active command of the military’s Land Forces service. Some individuals opined that he would likely retire and pursue his presidential ambitions outside the army.

On that very post, his vocal supporter and Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development (Youth and Children Affairs)-designate Balaam Barugahara Ateenyi offered assurance in response.

“You will soon have it as CiC all indicators are Clear Son of God,” Mr Balaam responded.

Peter Walubiri Mukidi, a constitutional lawyer and politician.

Recent developments show Gen Muhoozi, or Gen MK as his supporters fondly call him, is succeeding in his strategic manoeuvres. The army he craved for is firmly back in his hands.  His appointment at the helm and that of some of his key allies and supporters to prominent government positions bolster Muhoozi’s ambitions towards the ultimate realisation of his dream of assuming the presidency.

The omens do look good for the son after his father seemed to remove any doubt that Muhoozi is his preferred successor. Even before his elevation to the apex of Uganda’s army, Gen Muhoozi wielded considerable the state power albeit in the shadows.

In a show of who is in charge, Muhoozi has one of the presidential convoys at his disposal to move around the country. Not even Vice President Jessica Alupo, or the heads of the other two arms of the state, Anita Among (Parliament) and Alfonse Chigamoi Owiny-Dollo (Chief Justice) have access to such perks.

It is only Gen Muhoozi and, understandably, First Lady Janet Museveni who was also re-appointed as Education Minister by her husband.

President Museveni is 79 and exhibiting some of the ravages of a long life. Observers say it is only natural that he sets the stage for his chosen successor to join the power-play.

Mr Peter Walubiri Mukidi, a senior constitutional lawyer and veteran politician, told Saturday Monitor in an interview that any decision to foil President Museveni’s grand plan is in the hands of God and the people of Uganda.

“What he [Museveni] did has been coming for those who refuse to hide their heads in the sand. From the earliest his aim has been to rebuild the Bachwezi Empire (an ancient tribal dynasty which straddled DR Congo, Uganda and parts of Rwanda).

He believes it is his chosen path to do so. By all accounts, his son is his chosen successor. All the officers who were in the bush with him and two generations after have been side-lined or retired to give Muhoozi a firm grip on the army as he prepares to succeed his father in 2031,” Mr Walubiri says.

He predicts President Museveni will make more appointments from Muhoozi’s group and allies in the coming months.

“If, God forbid, Museveni would get re-selected, I don’t want to say re-elected, you will have a cabinet dominated by Muhoozi.  Museveni has been managing the military with his son and brother (Gen (rtd) Caleb Akandwanaho a.k.a Salim Saleh) but he has realised he needs to give more power to his son. That is his plan whether the Lord or the people accept is a debate for another day, but there is no surprise at all. If anyone is bothered by this then they should spend more time trying to change it,” he adds.

What others think
Monitor sought the opinions of two leading political figures who served under President Museveni and have since challenged him for power.

An aide of opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye told Monitor that the retired colonel—a four-time presidential candidate—had just left the country on Friday morning.

Former army commander and presidential candidate Mugisha Muntu did not take our calls. Mr Muntu leads one of the Opposition political parties that are seeking to unseat President Museveni, the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT).

Dan Muliika, the former prime minister of Buganda kingdom says it’s unproductive to discuss Muhoozi and President Museveni.

“There are signals and there is a sign behind it but I wouldn’t put my opinion on it. At the moment we don’t have a people’s constitution but one of individuals. The Constitution should have been made by delegates of the 15 nations that constitute Uganda. What we have doesn’t reflect the owners of the country but individuals,” he says.

“We have not had a Constitution of our will. We should have sat as Baganda, Banyoro, Banyankore, the Karimojong, Acholi, etc. and decided what we want and what power we should cede to the central government. These changes [Museveni reshuffles] are leading somewhere and we know but what is the use of saying… We don’t have political parties, we have political clubs,” he said.

Mr Mulika has called for the reintroduction of civics classes in Uganda’s schools to raise mass consciousness about how people are led and who leads them.

MK generation
Muhoozi’s appointment as CDF completes what analysts have previously described as a realignment of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces or UPDF. For a protracted period, the balance of power in the army was tilted in favour of officers and men who served alongside Mr Museveni in the trenches during the Luweero bush war. 

While retired four-star generals like Kale Kayihura, who were active during the bush struggle, are now being talked about in the past tense, another generation of soldiers that joined the army in 1985—including the likes of James Mugira and David Muhoozi—have had to make do with desk jobs. As have another generation headlined by Henry Isoke who now heads the State House Anti-Corruption Unit. 

Amidst all this has been the meteoric rise of the so-called Muhoozi generation. The closely-knit group includes the likes of Sabiiti Magyenyi, Dan Kakono, Allan Matsiko, and Michael Kanyamunyu to mention but three continue to command active roles in the army. Muhoozi’s appointment as CDF means that his generation will continue to be part of the conversation not just in the present but also in the future.