President Museveni on Friday appointed Brig Kayanja Muhanga as the coordinator of operations of security agencies in a move seen by many analysts as the President getting ready for any possible outbreak of violence during and after this month’s elections.
Brig Kayanja’s appointment, which will see him supervise operations done by the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and the police, comes weeks after Mr Museveni shook up the leadership in different security agencies, replacing Maj Gen Sabiiti Muzeyi with Maj Gen Paul Lokech as the Deputy Inspector General of Police (IGP), reinstating Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba as the commander of the Special Forces Command (SFC), among others.
Both Maj Gen Lokech and Brig Muhanga were commanders in war-torn Somalia at different times, which gave them experience in urban warfare.
Sources say Gen Lokech and Brig Muhanga struck a close working relationship while working in Somalia and are now expected to apply their shared experiences to working in especially Kampala and other urban areas, especially after the election.
President Museveni has in the past month spoken disapprovingly about the police in light of the violent protests in Kampala on November 18 and 19, which left at least 54 Ugandans dead mainly at the hands of security forces.
Mr Museveni spoke about “serious weaknesses” within the Uganda Police Force and vowed to send home those “officers who were not working well”.
A few days later, the changes came, with the former deputy police boss Brig Sabiiti left without official deployment.
Sources knowledgeable with the ongoing developments say Maj Gen Lokech has asked to be teamed together with officers he worked with in Somalia, and the appointment of Brig Muhanga to his new posting seems to be a response to that request.
In the new structure that will directly report to Mr Museveni, sources say Brig Muhanga, generals Lokech and Muhoozi are expected to work in a coordinated manner to see that Kampala is pacified during and after elections while avoiding civilian casualties.
In quelling the blood-filled November protests, a knowledgeable source says Mr Museveni was irked that there appeared to be lack of unified command.
“You saw the military police, you saw ISO, you saw the UPDF, you saw the police. So who was in charge?” the source said in an interview with Sunday Monitor.
Indeed, in Mr Museveni’s radio message in which he relieved Maj Gen Sabiiti of his duties, sent out both a warning to future protestors, and a rebuke of the police and an expression of his displeasure with the force personnel.
“I congratulate the UPDF for defeating the insurrection that the traitors, with their foreign backers, attempted to stage a few weeks ago,” he said in reference to the November protests.
“The police force must be made to do its duty of defending Ugandans from lawlessness, threat to life and property. Any police person who does not do this must leave the police. There are thousands ready to replace them.”
The protests followed the arrest of National Unity Platform (NUP) party presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, as he arrived to campaign in the eastern district of Luuka on November 18. His arrest was relayed live on online platforms and spontaneous demonstrations broke out in Kampala and other towns. Security appeared unprepared for the protests and a bloodbath followed.
Mr Museveni and his backers, including Security minister Gen Elly Tumwine, insisted that the protests were premeditated, arranged by Mr Kyagulanyi’s group. They accuse his NUP party of having a plan to cause mayhem and burn down Kampala and other towns should President Museveni and not Mr Kyagulanyi be declared winner of the January 14 election. Mr Kyagulanyi and his party deny the claims.
Mr Museveni’s opponents, in particular Dr Kizza Besigye and his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, have in the past been accused of similar plots.
Mr Kyagulanyi says in light of the current accusations that Mr Museveni and his party are just afraid of imminent electoral defeat, with Mr Kyagulanyi energised by the crowds he has pulled across the country since the campaigns kicked out on November 9.
The State and Mr Museveni have accused Mr Kyagulanyi and FDC candidate Patrick Oboi Amuriat of not abiding by the guidelines issued by the Electoral Commission (EC) to prevent the spread of Covid-19 during campaigns.
The guidelines require candidates to hold meetings with attendance not exceeding 200 people, but some of Mr Kyagulanyi’s crowds have run into thousands.
The police and the army have, therefore, consistently broken up the rallies of Mr Kyagulanyi and Mr Amuriat, citing the need to abide by the guidelines.
On the other hand, the candidates say the ruling party just runs scared of their support.
Whereas Mr Museveni has not addressed rallies this campaign season, sticking to small meetings of party leaders in the districts, other ruling party leaders and supporters have held meetings with big crowds and have not met the wrath of the security forces.
Away from foiling campaign activities, the security forces have arrested a number of Opposition supporters and mobilisers – Opposition parties say the arrested are in the hundreds – and most of the arrested have not been produced in courts of law.
FDC’s Justin Juuko, who is a leader in the party in Masaka District, for instance, was recently arrested and detained incommunicado for almost three weeks until he was released without charge.
Mr Juuko is a retired boxing champion.
Isaac Ssenyange, alias Zebra Mando, a former captain of Ugandan boxers, was gunned down earlier this week by government soldiers, according to President Museveni.
The President said in his New Year message on Friday that he had come to learn that Zebra was mobilising for the NRM party in his area of Kawempe Division in Kampala, but then there was other information that the former boxing champion had been training boxers who would in turn attack security personnel and other people.
Mr Museveni has in the past month spoken repeatedly about some players creating ‘no-go areas’ in some places of Kampala City.
His claims seem to point to boxers and, therefore, may explain the interest the security forces have taken in some boxers recently.
There are claims within security circles that NUP has as part of its post-election blueprint a plan to have citizens trained in martial arts to “defend its victory”. We could not independently verify this.
Whether there is a plan by NUP or not, this appears to be a key reason behind President Museveni’s decision to appoint generals Muhanga and Lokech to their new roles.
Military in police
The appointments continue the tradition of assigning military officers to man police roles.
In 2019, Mr Museveni appointed to the police Brig Jack Bakasumba as the Chief of Joint Staff, Brig Godfrey Goloba as director of human resource and training, Col Jese Kamunanwire as director of human resource and administration, and Col Chris Sserunjogi Damulira as director of crime intelligence.
The appointment of Brig Muhanga, according to those who know him, presents a possibility that security is to go back to the tactics that former police boss Gen Kale Kayihura used to pacify places such as Kisekka market, which was renowned for being a hotspot for violence whenever riots occur and had been a pain to security personnel.
“Kayihura’s methods of engaging people who even don’t agree with him are the real National Resistance Army methods,” a source said. “That’s what Gen Muhanga is going to do. There is need to talk to political Opposition even if you don’t agree it with them.”
Brig Muhanga, who has just returned from South Africa where he did a one-year course at the country’s National Defense College, and also previously served as the commander of UPDF 2nd Division based at Makenke, Mbarara District, is said to have started his latest assignment immediately.
It’s said he was in charge of operations that were done during the New Year’s celebrations.