What you need to know:
- Political leaders and a former army commander urge President Museveni not to appease his son with a promotion when his twitter storm, which they claimed violates army code of conduct, triggered a diplomatic incident between Uganda and Kenya and prompted the Commander-in-Chief himself to publicly apologise.
A section of Ugandan leaders and scholars yesterday reacted with consternation over President Museveni’s speedy apology to Kenya on behalf of his 48-year-old son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, whom he sacked as Commander of Land Forces (CLF) on Tuesday and simultaneously promoted him to a four-star general.
Three of them - the Leader of Opposition Mathias Mpuuga, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba – variously called for Gen Muhoozi to instead be demoted and court-martialled for allegedly violating army rules barring serving officers from making divisive public commentary on political, military and foreign policy issues.
UPDF Spokesman, Brig Felix Kulayigye, in answer to a similar question on Twitter space conversation hosted by Africa Institute of Investigative Journalism (AIIJ) Executive Director Solomon Serwanjja, downplayed the matter, arguing that although Gen Muhoozi’s view had caused “discomfort”, the statements were “personal” and largely “inconsequential”.
In interviews for this article, both current and former leaders including National Unity Platform (NUP) party leader Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, who described tweets by the First Son as “thoughtless”, questioned why the Commander-in-Chief and not his son was the one apologising.
Gen Muhoozi kicked up diplomatic storm between Uganda and Kenya when he claimed in a tweet that he, and his army, which he did not specify, would need a fortnight to overrun Nairobi (the capital city of Kenya).
In another tweet, he propositioned that outgone Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whom he called his “big brother”, should have ignored constitutional term limits and run for president a third time.
The latter opinion cut through a combustible politics inflamed by a bitterly fought election in Kenya in August in which then incumbent President Kenyatta ganged with veteran Opposition politician Raila Odinga against then Deputy President William Ruto, the eventual winner.
Thus, praising Ruto’s political foe turned a powder-keg because the new Kenyan leader, who at his inauguration fondly called President Museveni “father of the region”, is expected in Kampala on Saturday, this week, to attend Uganda’s independence diamond jubilee on Sunday.
That planned trip, before President Museveni’s apology shared on his official Twitter handle yesterday, was holding in balance as the mass exasperation triggered in Kenya by Muhoozi’s tweets swept to the higher-ups.
Officials and ordinary Kenyans flooded the micro-blogging site to call out Muhoozi, beating him into a hasty retreat, before his father stepped in to apologise to Kenyans and Ugandans offended by First Son’s conduct.
State House through Deputy Presidential Press Secretary Faruk Kirunda defended President Museveni’s apology on behalf of Muhoozi that the backlash in Kenya over the tweets “had created unnecessary debate and tension … [and] gone out of hand”.
“The President is far-sighted and his intervention was timely. That’s why he apologised to the people of Kenya. What’s wrong with that? As for the promotion of Gen Muhoozi, let’s not mix issues, Mr Kirunda said, “The UPDF has clear procedures of handling such matters and the President is the Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces. He also respects the rule of law.”
In his apology, which followed a direct one to Kenya’s President Ruto, Gen Museveni wrote: “I ask our Kenyan brothers and sisters to forgive us for tweets sent by Gen Muhoozi, former Commander of Land Forces here [on Twitter], regarding the election matters in that great country.”
He added: “Very sorry, ndugu zetu Wakenya. Also, sorry to the Ugandans who could have been annoyed by one of their officials meddling in the affairs of brother[ly] Kenya.”
The President explained that he simultaneously elevated Muhoozi to a full general, which some analysts and insiders characterise as a soft landing, because, whereas the tweets were a “mistake” and “negative” act by a public officer, “there are, however, many other positive contributions the general has made and can still make”.
The Commander-in-Chief did not specify the contribution necessitating his son’s prompt promotion.
In multiple interviews, academics and politicians in Kampala said the sacking and apology did not go far enough in disciplining Gen Muhoozi whom Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago last night said should be court-martialled for making divisive political, military and foreign policy commentary against army rules.
“[Museveni’s apology] is some kind of political grandstanding and appeasement to Kenyans … he [the President] doesn’t expressly rebuke or reprimand him [Muhoozi], neither does he make any commitment to call him to order, but paradoxically goes ahead to promote him to the highest rank in the army. The aberrant conduct of Muhoozi would naturally call for a court-martial, not mere apology,” Mr Lukwago, an opposition politician, noted.
On his part, Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba told this publication that “if the diplomatic rift that Muhoozi has caused was so caused by any other serving military officer, I don’t think [Gen] Museveni would have [only apologied]”.
“Such an officer would not only be court-martialled, but also be compelled to personally apologise. This was an apology of a parent for the son’s blunders,” he added.
We were unable to reach Gen Muhoozi for his response to the gathering criticism against him, and he never tweeted yesterday, contrasting with his twitter meltdown from Sunday.
The diplomatic tiff with Kenya risked Uganda’s international trade whose main sea access is through the eastern neighbouring country, officials warned.
Mr Emmanuel Dombo, the spokesman of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, in reference to Gen Museveni’s intervention, said “civility demands that statesmen take responsibility for what their citizens may have said, in order in order to explain any situation that may lead to a misunderstanding”.
The Ugandan leader rarely apologises, at least publicly or timely, and his prompt action on the Kenya tweets demonstrated severity of the matter, government sources said last evening.
Maj Gen Muntu Mugisha, a former Army Commander-turned Opposition party leader, said the First Son’s conduct had placed the president “between a rock and hard place because of the critical nature of the relationship between Uganda and President William Ruto”.
According to Col Kizza Besigye who, like Maj Gen Muntu, is a veteran of the bush war that brought Museveni to power in 1986, “history repeats itself. Uganda’s generals seeking to take control of Kenyan territory 46 years after Idi Amin [threatened so]. It is now Gen Muhoozi; that is why Kenyans are not taking it lightly”.
Ms Miria Matembe, who served as Ethics minister in Museveni’s government, wondered why why Muhoozi was promoted to a full general “after the tweets”.
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Calling the matter “complicated”, Makere University history lecturer Ndebesa Mwambutsya argued that the promotion was likely a “compensation” to the First Son for losing the key deployment as Chief of Land Forces, the third-highest position in UPDF.
“… you can also say that he is being gradually retired from the army at a higher rank. Otherwise, why would he cause unease [with his tweets] and he is promoted within a short time, without achieving anything remarkable [to justify the rank]?” he added.
President Museveni yesterday put military and other public officers from meddling in internal affairs of foreign states.
“It is not correct for public officers, be they civilian or military, to comment or interfere in any way, in the internal affairs of brother countries. The only available legitimate forum is the Peer Review Mechanism of the African Union or confidential interactions among us or EAC (East African Community) and AU (African Union) fora–not public comments,” he noted in his apology.
Following a terse meeting with security and intelligence chiefs in Ntungamo town in June, President Museveni ordered Gen Muhoozi to stop discussing political, security and foreign policy matters on social media platforms.
Instead, he advised him to concentrate on developing the youth, Uganda’s biggest population segment, through promoting sports, culture and entertainment.
The gag order followed a flurry of tweets by the First Son on polarising internal politics and contentious international matters.
He tweeted support for Tigray rebels in their war against the federal government of Ethiopia and his choice to ally with Rwanda, at a time of its diplomatic fall-out with Kinshasa, stirred anger and the Congolese parliament resolved for UPDF soldiers involved in Operation Shujaa in eastern part of the country to leave.
For weeks after the order also radioed to all military units, Muhoozi went silent on the micro-blogging site, only to re-emerge with more rabble-rousing posts.
His enchantment with social media, particularly twitter, began when he rebounded to command the Special Forces Command, taking no prisoner. Muhoozi has sparred with UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima and threatened to reverse a coup in Guinea (Conakry) if authorised.
In various posts, he has mocked Bobi Wine, who accuses him of masterminding abduction of opposition supporters, of being a loser who will never become Uganda’s president.
“Someone tell this young brother of mine that we are going to beat him very badly in the polls,” Gen Muhoozi tweeted in the run up to last year’s elections.
Following a public outrage, Gen Muhoozi deleted the tweets.
In September, last year, he announce on his twitter handle that his father had instructed him to recruit 2,000 graduates into the army. The Defence ministry later said it was unaware of the arrangement.
In the same month, he tweeted about the coup in Guinea (Conakry) and how Ethiopia’s government was handling the situation in the Tigray region. Gen Muhoozi said he needed a day to depose Guinea (Conakry) the coup leader Mamady Doumbouya.
The then defence ministry spokesperson, Brig Flavia Byekwaso, said Gen Kainerugaba’s comment in his personal capacity, but not as a military commander and therefore they didn’t reflect the institution’s stand on the stated issues.
What they say...
Mathias Mpuuga, Leader of Opposition in Parliament
... In his Tweets, Gen Muhoozi did not only make a mockery of the democracy and rule of law in Kenya which by far supersedes the scorn and regional pariah that Uganda is today, but threatened Uganda’s national security by dragging the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces into a useless argument.
This act should not be taken lightly by all peace loving Ugandans. The Opposition condemns with utmost disgust, the careless use of social media by a high ranking army general and public officer which has caused diplomatic controversy...
As you may know, Kenya is Uganda’s main gateway to the sea and an economic powerhouse across the region. Anything that affects the relations between the two countries will have far reaching effects on Business and livelihood of the ordinary Ugandans.
We acknowledge the apology by Gen Museveni but we also observe that although it is in order for President Museveni to apologize on behalf of his errant son, his apology falls short of punitive measures.
We are concerned that... Mr Museveni chose to promote his son to a four-star General, the highest rank in the UPDF. Acceptable practice would demand that Gen Muhoozi would be demoted.
By promoting his erratic and careless son, Mr Museveni is showing no concern to the reputation of a national army which needs insulation from erratic and dangerous behaviour moreso from one of its top officers .
The behaviour of Gen Muhoozi, which is no secret to many Ugandans should offer a sobering reflection as to what is required to promote men in uniform beyond blood relations.
NUP government would never accept such carelessness and provocation of a friendly sovereign country. We are left wondering as to the nature of presidential advisor a man who requires parental pampering would offer!
Alice Alaso. ANT party coordinator
There is no demotion here. The best every soldier would like is to be promoted to that rank. Deployment is [not a problem], he can still be appointed Chief of Defence Forces because that is an administrative appointment. What is depressing is that the day he did all the annoying tweets is when he was rewarded with a promotion
Erias Lukwago, Lord Mayor.
It’s some kind of political grandstanding and appeasement to Kenyans, otherwise his purported apology is coached in equivocal terms. He doesn’t rebuke or reprimand him, neither does he make any commitment to call him to order but paradoxically promotes him to the highest rank. The aberrant conduct of Muhoozi would naturally call for court martial action.
Wilfred Niwagaba, shadow attorney general
If the diplomatic rift Muhoozi has caused was caused by any other military serving officer, I don’t think Mr Museveni would have apologised but rather such an officer would not only be court martialed but also compelled to personally apologise!! This was an apology of a parent for the son’s blunders.
Miria Matembe, Former Ethnics minister
I don’t know why they promoted Muhoozi. If he angered Kenyans, maybe for the sake of regional cooperation that is why he was removed as Commander of the Land Forces. But still, at what rank is the person who replaced him? Doesn’t it mean that the Major General still has to take commands from the General?
Faruk Kirunda, Deputy Presidential Press Secretary
The matter had created unnecessary debate and tension. It had gone out of hand and the President decided to intervene. The President is farsighted and his intervention was timely. That’s why he apologised to the people of Kenya. What is wrong with that? As for Gen Muhoozi, let us not mix issues. UPDF has clear procedures.
Patrick Oboi Amuriat, FDC president
The demotion from Commander Land Forces is meant to repair the damage caused between Uganda and Kenya and the promotion is meant to appease some section of the military.President Museveni sees Muhoozi as his avenger but what he did is stupid and an embarrassment to Museveni.
Gregory Mugisha Muntu, ANT party leader
The President is stuck between a rock and hard place because of the critical nature of the relationship between Uganda and President William Ruto. He retained him [Gen Muhoozi] as a special presidential advisor and promoted him to a general to please those who follow him within the army.
Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, NUP leader
When Gen Museveni ‘apologised’ for his son’s thoughtless threats against Kenya, I asked who apologises to the countless people he abducts and tortures with reckless abandon? Who ensures that they all get justice? God willing, there will be accountability for those crimes.
Emmanuel Lumala Dombo, director of Innformation and publicity in the NRM secretariat.
Civility demands that statesmen take responsibility for what their citizens may have said in order to explain any situations that may lead to a misunderstanding.
Hadijah Namyalo Uzeiye, presidential advisor/ head of the office of the national chairperson
It’s unfortunate that some characters, especially the Opposition, are trying to politicise the issue. They forget that Uganda has a president who is an expert in conflict resolution, a distinguished freedom fighter, a pan-Africanist and a prominent advocate of rule of law and peace for Africa.