The rise of Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba

Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba and his wife Charlotte Nankunda Keinerugaba. PHOTO/ABIBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The Commander of Land Forces, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, also the First Son, has in the recent past stirred controversy over his views on social media that many say as a departure from the tenets of a serving soldier. Yesterday’s announcement caught many off-guard, writes Emmanuel Mutaizibwa.

On July 3, 1997, the Crusader newspaper reported that Gen Kainerugaba had recruited a coterie of fresh graduates from Makerere University to join the army.

The Muhoozi recruits, about 100 in number, were supposed to train at Kasenyi on the shores of Lake Victoria and “evolve into an elite presidential guard”. Within years, the Presidential Guard Brigade was crystallised.

The First Son had just completed his studies at Nottingham University in the United Kingdom, and had no military background. His role was debated in the sixth Parliament where the MP for Bufumbira East, Eddie Kwizera, called for his arrest.

“If Muhoozi is recruiting and training the army, then he is violating the Constitution. He should be arrested and charged,” Kwizera said. 

“To raise an army, you must be authorised. Who authorised Muhoozi? If it is the President, he violated the Constitution”.

Then junior Defence minister Amama Mbabazi told the plenary in August 1997 that Muhoozi was not recruiting on behalf of the army, but for another quasi-military outfit, the Local Defence Unit (LDU).

“People have been encouraged to carry out recruitment of LDUs. Government is ready to facilitate you to help train cadres,” revealed Mr Mbabazi.

President Museveni had earlier on, during a news conference, defended his son’s activities.

“He did so with my knowledge. I see nothing wrong with that,” Mr Museveni said.

At the briefing, Mr Museveni said it would be erroneous for people to refer to Kainerugaba as a soldier, equating him to an LDU. 

Mr Norbert Mao, who represented Gulu Municipality in the Sixth Parliament, said the recruitment was dubious, illegal and unacceptable.

“He is only entitled to recruit a boy’s brigade as a non-governmental organisation, but not a national army,” Mr Mao said. 

In September 2001, the officer graduated at the Gadaffi School of Infantry as a Second Lieutenant in the Sixth Intake and was handed an army number R08643.

Gen Kainerugaba later attended Sandhurst and Fort Leavenworth military academies before he was appointed to head the Special Forces Command, which is tasked with protecting the President and guarding national assets like oil fields.

Today, most of his recruits occupy senior positions in the UPDF as the army gradually shifts from the hands of the Luweero liberation struggle comrades to the Young Turks.

Barely after he dropped Gen Aronda Nyakairima in May 2013 and replaced him with Gen Katumba Wamala, the President revealed during a High Command meeting that Gen Kainerugaba alongside Gen Katumba Wamala were the only officers able to synthesise and author the UPDF military doctrine.

Muhoozi puzzles in Twitter ‘retirement’ 

Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s account on Twitter, the micro-blogging platform, has long served up a wide range of views, from controversial comments on contemporary conflicts, to musings on ancient mythical muses.

As a result, many were yesterday left wondering whether a tweet on the account announcing Gen Kainerugaba’s retirement from the military was fact or fable.

“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 allthose great men and women that achieve greatness for Uganda every day,”  the tweet said. 

The social media announcement of the retirement of the Chief of Land Forces, who is the third-senior most commander of the army, left the Uganda People’s Defence Force unusually quiet.

By yesterday evening, the UPDF was yet to publicly comment on the announcement. The conventional communication method for a retiring senior army-officer is through a radio-call message. 

None of the several military officials contacted for comment could confirm whether the UPDF Promotions and Retirement Board had received and approved a retirement application from the General.  
Gen Kainerugaba’s account later retweeted a video in which he and his friend and businessman Andrew Mwenda said he would retire in eight years. The video was undated but was part of a tweet put out by Mr Mwenda late  yesterday.

Then CDF Gen David Muhoozi decorates Kainerugaba with the rank of Lieutenant General in Mbuya, Kampala, in 2019. On the right is Muhoozi’s wife Charlotte Nankunda Keinerugaba. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Gen Kainerugaba is a son to President Museveni and, apart from his military role, also serves as a senior presidential advisor for Special Operations. This role has given him an ambit rarely seen or given to serving military officers, to engage in political processes, including recent discussions with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame to reopen the common border which had been closed since 2019.

During a visit to Mogadishu where he addressed Ugandan troops serving under the African Union Mission to Somalia, he also met withPrime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble. He also recently visited Kenya twice in four months and met with President Uhuru Kenyatta, before meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa.

Unusually for a serving military officer, Gen Kainerugaba also routinely hosts delegations of diplomats and business executives. He also actively uses his Twitter account to engage with friends and foes in cyberspace.
 One of the veritable subjects he recently commented about was the Ukraine conflict where he tweeted: “The majority of mankind [that are non-white] support Russia’s stand in Ukraine. Putin is absolutely right.”

His unusually vocal stance on social media – and the many accounts that cheer him on – have suggested that there might be a presidential run in the making in future. The law bars serving military officers from engaging in partisan political contests.  

Yesterday’s announcement led to raised eyebrows partly because of the difficulty and bureaucracy of resigning military commissions.

The UPDF Act establishes a Commissions Board in charge of retiring military officials. It is chaired by the UPDF Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) and includes the deputy CDF, all service commanders and the Joint Chief of Staff.
It is also a requirement that the Commander-in-Chief must authorise the retirement of officers at the rank of brigadier and higher.

Army ambitions

Many senior officers, especially those seen as vocal or likely to have political ambitions, have often had to wait for many years before being allowed to resign their commissions.
Gen David Sejusa, a member of the historical UPDF High Command, says these rules are akin to holding military officers ‘hostage.’  

In February 2022, the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court decision by Justice Margaret Oguli Oumo who had postulated that Gen Sejusa was entitled to constructive discharge because he had ceased to be a serving officer in the army after his salary, allowances and other benefits were withdrawn.
Shortly after the judgment, Sejusa said he would not appeal the decision at the Supreme Court.

Earlier, in 1996, Gen Sejusa announced he had resigned from the army citing harassment and intimidation after he accused the senior army leadership of being complicit in the delay to end the LRA insurgency in northern Uganda.
The Army High Command, the highest UPDF organ, rejected his resignation. He petitioned the Constitutional

Court which in 1997 allowed his resignation on the premise that he ceased being an army officer after he was appointed a senior presidential advisor in 1993. But the Supreme Court overturned the Constitutional Court judgement.

Later he was reintegrated into the army and appointed Coordinator of Intelligence Services until 2013 when he again fell out with the regime.

A letter he authored asking former Director of Internal Security Organisation Brig Ronnie Balya to investigate information that there was a plot to assassinate top government officials against the “Muhoozi Project, an alleged underground scheme to groom Gen Kainerugaba to succeed his father as president, jolted the establishment.

Gen Sejusa fled to exile in London and returned in December 2014.
He applied to the army for retirement but his application was once again rejected.

In 2013, the army issued new retirement guidelines under the UPDF Conditions and Terms of Service where officers aged 50, at the ranks of major and below are allowed to voluntarily apply for retirement.

For instance, if at the age of 40 a captain is not promoted to the rank of major, the army must retire the officer.