UPDF clears the air on Muhoozi status

Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba (left) and his wife Charlotte Nankunda attend an event at  Mbuya in Kampala in 2019. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • UPDF says Lt Gen Kainerugaba is still an active-duty service member with the Force.

The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) has said the Commander of the Land Forces, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, has not retired from the army.

Gen Kainerugaba, who is also the senior presidential advisor on special operations, announced on Tuesday via his official Twitter handle that he was calling time on his tour of duty in the army after nearly three decades of service.

“After 28 years of service in my glorious military, the greatest military in the world, I am happy to announce my retirement,” he tweeted.

In a telephone interview, Brig Felix Kulayigye—the UPDF spokesperson—told Sunday Monitor in no uncertain terms that Gen Kainerugaba is still an active-duty service member with the Force. 

Gen Kainerugaba on Tuesday boasted that “he and his soldiers have achieved so much” during the years of service.

Brig Kulayigye said Gen Kainerugaba is “working normally” if anything because “he is neither sick nor arrested.”

Since dropping the bombshell on Tuesday, Gen Kainerugaba’s Twitter account has gone into hibernation. The Sandhurst-trained General has recently taken to the use of Twitter as a tool for communicating and engaging the public on current affairs.

Presidential ambitions?
The tweet led to speculation among members of the public that the First Son was leaving the army in order to prepare for an entry into elective politics. 

Several social media platforms—especially Facebook—are awash with pages that tout the First Son as the next president of Uganda. Gen Kainerugaba has never declared whether he has sights on the presidency.
Yet the tweet came at a time when Gen Kainerugaba has been engaging shuttle diplomacy with Uganda’s south-west neighbour, Rwanda. The First Son also twice held talks with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta. 

He has also been to Somalia where he spoke with Ugandan troops under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom). Trips to Rwanda culminated into the reopening of the common border between Uganda and Rwanda after 35 months of closure.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Henry Oryem Okello, has described President Museveni’s decision to dispatch Gen Kainerugaba, for talks with president Paul Kagame of Rwanda as a game- changer. 
Mr Oryem went so far as to describe Gen Kainerugaba as the “last card”.

“Muhoozi’s appearance, I would say, was the last card in a situation where the different avenues had been utilised [and not yielded results] and you do not use your last card until it is necessary and the timing is right. You also must be very mindful to use it in a very strategic way,” Mr Oryem said.

‘Muhoozi Project’
The closest Gen Kainerugaba—commonly known by his first name, Muhoozi—has come to discussing a perceived interest in the presidency was in June 2013 when the spokesperson of the Special Forces Command at the time, Edson Kwesiga, issued a statement attributed to him.

In the statement, Gen Kainerugaba denied allegations that his meteoric rise, placement in positions of command was aimed at oiling a process that would see him succeed his father as President.

“Uganda is not a monarchy where leadership is passed on from father to son. This so-called (Muhoozi) project is a people’s creation,” the statement read.

Prior to that, Gen David Sejusa, who was at the time the coordinator of Intelligence Agencies, alluded to what he described as the “Muhoozi Project.”

Gen Sejusa alleged that some senior military and government officials perceived as hostile to the so-called project were being targeted for elimination.

Mr Mike Mukula, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party vice chairperson for eastern region, is one of the high-ranking officials that lent credence to the “Muhoozi Project.” The US embassy officials in Kampala, diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks reveal, told Washington that the former minister believed President Museveni was preparing his son as “dauphin.” 

Capt Kwesiga, however, insisted that the Muhoozi project was nonexistent.
Mr Museveni has also been on record saying he is not grooming Gen Kainerugaba to succeed him as President.

In an interview with France 24 last September, Mr Museveni said it would be up to Ugandans to decide who they want to lead them after he retires.

“Why should I groom my son? The people of Uganda are there. They will select whom they want,” Mr Museveni said.

Announcing resignation from the armed forces via twitter had until Tuesday not been heard of in the UPDF. It essentially goes against the provisions of Section 66 (1) of the UPDF Act.

“An officer may in writing tender the resignation of his or her commission to the board but shall not, unless otherwise ordered by the Chief of Defence Forces, be relieved of the duties of his or her appointment until he or she has received notification, in writing, of the approval of his or her resignation by the board,” the Act reads in part.

This means that one’s intent to retire is subject to the approval of the Army Board.
It is not clear whether Gen Kainerugaba had submitted his request to the board by the time he sent out his tweet on Tuesday. 

Defence and Army spokesperson, Brig Kulayigye could not be drawn to tell whether indeed Gen Kainerugaba had submitted such a request or not. 

Brig Kulayigye, however, told Sunday Monitor that Gen Muhoozi is still a serving officer of the UPDF.
“Where have you been? He (Gen Muhoozi) sent out a video saying that he is retiring in eight years’ time. Anyway I am telling you that he is not retired,” Brig Kulayigye clarified.
Feared impact on Shujaa

The resignation via Twitter came less than four months after the UPDF sent its troops into the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to back up Congolese forces fighting rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The rebels are blamed for suicide blasts that rocked Kampala last November, leaving at least seven people—including the suicide bombers—dead. Dozens more were left nursing serious injuries.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the ADF’s violence and the bombings.

Maj Gen Kayanja Muhanga, the overall commander  of operation Shujaa in a video posted on Twitter, indicated that the UPDF would target four main ADF camps namely Yayuwa, Tondoli, Beni One and Beni Two.

He also indicated that the UPDF would stay in the Congo for as long as necessary to defeat the ADF and the Islamic State.

“The duration of this operation will be determined by the military-strategic end-state... to defeat the rebels and defeat their will to fight,” Gen Kayanja Muhanga said in the video.

Whereas the UPDF has not declared how many soldiers it sent to DR Congo, it is known that a combination of soldiers drawn from the infantry, artillery, armoured and Special Forces have been deployed on the ground under operation Shujaa, which translates to ‘hero’ in Swahili.

Those forces are backed up by the airforce, which has already carried out a number of air raids on suspected ADF camps and positions.

Gen Kainerugaba, who formerly commanded the Special Forces, has—as commander of Land Forces—tweeted extensively and glowingly about Operation Shujaa as if it were his pet project. This has prompted fears among sections of Ugandans—real or imagined—that the abrupt resignation would plunge the operations and command structure into some kind of confusion. But Brig Kulayigye has since come out to say that Gen Kainerugaba is still discharging his duties as commander of the Land Forces.

“I have told you (that) he is not retired. One is definitely working normally unless he is sick or arrested. He (Gen Kainerugaba) is none of those” Brig Kulayigye told Sunday Monitor.