Opposition read mischief into security shake-up ahead of 2026 polls

Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba (L) exchanges a document with his father, President Museveni on May 3, 2023. PHOTO/PPU

What you need to know:

  • The ruling party has vehemently denied the claims that security forces are only serving the interests of NRM and President Museveni. 

The Opposition has said the shake-up in the command and control of security forces is being done to tilt the ground for the 2026 elections in favour of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).

Mr Moses Matovu, the National Economic Empowerment Dialogue (NEED) spokesperson, cited the March 2024 appointment of Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba as the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) and changes in top police leadership as “ominous”.

“... When you see what he is doing now,” he said in reference to Gen Muhoozi, “when you relate it with police changes; the appointment of Inspector General of Police (IGP) Abbas Byakagaba, it is a clear manifestation that these perpetrators are putting those who are loyal to their commands”.

“Many preparations have come where many people are going to be put in different positions called cadres. Only those who can fulfil the orders are not working professionally,” Mr Matovu said.

However, this assertion has been swiftly denied by the army leadership who said these are normal deployments to enhance efficiency and effectiveness of the Forces in responding to security threats and maintaining peace and order.

Brig Gen Felix Kulayigye, the Defence public information officer, while speaking to this publication in a telephone interview said the Opposition must separate politics from the security of the country. 

He said the President made normal changes to the leadership of the army and, therefore, there is no need for alarm.

“First of all, changes are normal, if you may recall the former Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Wilson Mbadi, was appointed after the last elections, so which elections were we targeting then? The problem with our country is that the politicians think of the next election, they don’t think of the next generation. For that matter, the thinking is narrow,” Brig Gen Kulayigye said.

He said the changes have nothing to do with the next elections and that the President is just performing his normal constitutional mandate.

ACP Rusoke Kituuma, the police spokesperson, said he is not aware that the changes are in preparation for the 2026 elections.

“At least that is not the official position of police. As PRO, I have not been given a belief about that. The cause and the purpose were a reserve, something which is known by only the appointing officer,” he said.

However, Maj Gen (rtd) Mugisha Muntu, the president of Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), said in every electoral process, there are manoeuvres to manipulate the electoral process, which the ruling party is again up to. 

He said during 2021 polls, ANT were also victims of police deterrence, which he said is likely to surface again in 2026.

“I was stopped in Kasese from reaching Mpondwe, Kamwenge, in Bunyangabo, and many areas,” Maj Gen (rtd) Muntu said.

“Those who want change must not let anything divert their attention from the things we have to do ourselves, the president does what he does to hang himself on power, we have to do what we have to do to throw him out of power it’s a struggle,” he said.

He said ANT is concentrating on neutralising the acts of the President so as to kick him out of Uganda’s political arena. He seemed not to be surprised by the changes.

Mr David Lewis Rubongoya, the secretary general of the National Unity Platform (NUP), said they are not surprised at all by the changes. He said whether there are changes or not, the security forces will always serve their master instead of serving the country.

However, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) has vehemently denied the claims that the security forces are only serving the interests of the ruling party and the President. 

Mr Emmanuel Dombo, the director of communication at the NRM Secretariat, said police are responsible for internal security in the country and their deployment is done in anticipation according to the level of threat.

“If in their view they see that the political period is likely to come with its own threats, it’s upon them to access the threats and do the required deployment that is necessary,” he said. 

He added: “For us in NRM, we are a law-abiding organisation, we shall abide by the regulations as prescribed in the laws, and we shall also warn our members not to provoke the security agencies or to indulge into circumstances that may bring the party in dispute.”

Mr Dombo said in the last elections, NRM did not hold public rallies because of the Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the President.

“We were stopped from moving around the country, our President was just addressing meetings not rallies because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Recently, we were conducting the party activities registering new members and it coincided with the Dokolo by-election, they stopped us,” he said.

His assertion runs contrary to the actual facts during the Presidential and other campaigns. Across the country, the NRM party loyalists were seen holding processions, sometimes accompanied by the security forces while opposition party supporters were teargassed or even shot with live bullets.

At Najjanankumbi, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Deputy spokesperson, Mr Richard Muyombya, during a phone interview, said it is normal for President Museveni ahead of any election to make changes not only in security but also in other positions like Residents District Commissioners and District Internal Security Officers.

Mr Jimmy Akena, the president of Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), said regardless of what is going on, he is ready for the elections.

UPC has formed an alliance with the ruling NRM party where Ms Betty Amongi, the Oyam South MP, is a minister in Mr Museveni’s government.

Political commentators weigh in 

Mr Mwambusya Ndebesa, a lecturer at Makerere University, said Uganda has already militarised election policing.

“I don’t know whether the changes are making a fundamental statement because as usual, the election policing in Uganda has been militarised, I don’t see if there is much change. Of course, there could be what we may not know, you may find that the appointing authority looks through and says such individuals will not effectively handle the Opposition and therefore put who can handle Opposition,” he said.

“There is a lot of excitement within parties, in Opposition parties there likely to be violence there, then NRM the trend has been that during primaries there has been violence and i don’t see it subsisting,” he added.

Mr Ndebesa said Uganda’s politics has created wide gaps between the different actors in the politics, which in turn has created divisions.

“There are a lot of polarisations between the political players and political class and there is no minimum consensus or agreement on certain principles. Anything can happen because you know Uganda is an accident in waiting because of this political polarisation,” he said.

Mr Robert Sempala, who has monitored Uganda’s politics and elections for years under the Citizen Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCDU) before it was closed, said security in this country has never been separated from elections and that they play a key role in determining the outcome of the elections.