What next for Muhoozi after removal from top army post?

Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba (centre) has been dropped as the UPDF Chief of Land Forces.  PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • At 48, he becomes the youngest serving four-star general, giving him a wider clout in the aftermath of the mass retirement of generals of the Bush War that catapulted Museveni to power in January 1986.

Yesterday’s removal of First Son Muhoozi Kainerugaba from the UPDF Chief of Land Forces (CLF) post, and his simultaneous promotion to a four-star general in a mini-reshuffle, signalled an upcoming military leadership shake-up, multiple sources have said.

One State House source briefed on the matter linked Muhoozi’s removal as CLF to the tweets, suggesting his promotion to a full general provided a soft landing. Another highly-placed source contrasted the narrative, hinting that the first son was now in pole position for bigger and better things.

The sacking of Gen Muhoozi after only 15 months on the job followed his Twitter meltdown a day earlier that sparked a diplomatic incident between Uganda and Kenya whose capital Nairobi he claimed he, and his army could capture within a fortnight.

Kenyans on Twitter (KoT) pilloried him over the virtual condescension. Hours later, the country’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary-designate Alfred Mutua tweeted that he yesterday “shared a social cup of tea with Amb Dr Hassan Galiwango … [and] discussed interesting matters”.
There are different accounts of why the two met. Dr Galiwango is Uganda’s High Commissioner to Kenya, and a top Ugandan diplomat in Kampala, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Nairobi summoned him to explain Gen Muhoozi’s tweets.
Another source explained that Dr Galiwango sought audience with the Cabinet nominee on instructions of Kampala after indications that President William Ruto’s expected trip on Saturday to attend Uganda’s independence diamond jubilee on Sunday had been paused in the wake of the Twitter firestorm, pending clarification.

As public furore and diplomatic pressure piled, Uganda’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement that avoided direct mention of the First Son’s polarising tweets, noted that that it does not transact diplomatic business with sovereign states “through social media…”
“The ministry wishes to emphasise that that the government and the people of the Republic of Uganda treasure the existing strong bilateral relations between the people and government of the Republic of Kenya based on our shared history, common values, mutual respect, trust and the desire to build a unified East African Community,” the ministry noted in the unsigned October 4 statement.

Dr Mutua shared the note verbale on his twitter handle, offering a curt commentary that “we appreciate the clarification”.
Daily Monitor yesterday was the first to break the story on its social media handles that Muhoozi had been promoted to a full general, but stripped of his CLF position and replaced with Kayanja Muhanga, who was elevated to the rank of a Lieutenant General.

The latter until now commanded Operation Shujaa that UPDF launched jointly with Congolese counterparts on November 30, 2021, to flush out Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels with lairs in eastern Congo.

Gen Muhoozi tweeted plans to celebrate his new rank in a street bash and the announcement triggered memories of his mega birthday parties held between April and June, this year, in different parts of the country until his father, President Museveni, applied brakes on the fun.
Speeches at many of the jamborees carried political undertones. At some of them, Gen Muhoozi explicitly spelled out his political ambitions, including referencing intentions to take state power – a taboo subject for serving Ugandan military officers.

His flurry of tweets at the time in which he backed Tigray’s rebels against Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fomented trouble for Uganda both within and foreign policy conundrum regionally and overseas.
The no-holds-barred comments opened the army to criticism that it was affording special treatment to Gen Muhoozi because he is a son of the commander-in-chief yet, previously, other serving officers were court-martialled for scant and often off-the-cuff political remarks dwarfed by the avalanche dripping on his twitter handle.

Asked about the irony then, Army Spokesman Brig Felix Kulayigye said the First Son had a constitutional right as a citizen of Uganda to express his views.
However, the lines of what of the things he posted were official or private were often blurred by the fact that he occupied the third highest military position in Uganda and as son of the President, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, his proximity to his father’s earshot meant his words carried heavier weight.

It was by drawing from this clout, for instance, that Gen Muhoozi announced that he had brokered normalisation of relations with Rwanda where, in his words, Ugandan diplomats had failed in two years.
His bravado was understood to underline that he was different, a mover and shaker. That was when he deployed his clout neither in favour nor against anyone or entity.
But a relentless praise on social media of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and an unconditional offer to support the country in its fight with any country, and a time of diplomatic fall-out between Kigali and Kinshasa, riled the Congo government and prompted its Parliament to pass a resolution for Ugandan troops to leave.

Whereas the resolution was not implemented, the problems the tweets birthed confronted Ugandan officials during their visit to Congo to exhibit trade and investment opportunities across the border.
But now Gen Muhoozi’s more problems were not only outside military confines.
His June decision to countermand a Standby Class One order issued by Deputy Chief of Defence Forces, Lt Gen Peter Elwelu, showed an outsized projection of his cumulative power and prompted a terse meeting between the President, himself and chiefs of Uganda’s security and intelligence outfits.

Following the meeting held in Ntungamo District, near the border with Rwanda where the president had visited at the time, the commander-in-chief stopped his son from discussing politics, security and foreign policy issues on social media.
Instead, Mr Museveni, a retired military general in power now for 36 years, directed the First Son to concentrate on youth development by promoting entertainment, culture and sports.

Gen Muhoozi played pliant for weeks, but erupted on Twitter again – on some occasions making eccentric and incendiary posts – with the multiple tweets on Monday, this week, bruising what diplomats christened a good neighbourliness and cooperation between Uganda and Kenya.

Despite his removal, which he confirmed followed a meeting with his father, State House courtiers and highly-placed security sources in Kampala noted that the buoyant general is neither down nor out.
He continues to hold the portfolio of senior adviser to his father on special operations – euphemism, according to national security sources, for anything and everything done in the name of defending the First Family and the State and government of Uganda.

At 48, he becomes the youngest serving four-star general, giving him a wider clout in the aftermath of the mass retirement of generals of the Bush War that catapulted Museveni to power in January 1986.
Hours after the UPDF confirmed the changes, its service chiefs filed for a high-level meeting at Uganda’s State House in Entebbe for discussions that sources familiar with the issues said were likely to yield a major shake-up of the military top brass, which could culminate in a more powerful rebound for the First Son.

Gen Muhoozi, who enlisted in the army in 1999 initially as a Local Defence Unit (LDU) operative, has had faster rise through the ranks than his peers, and he has lately, in characterisations echoing the commander-in-chief, adopted calling the UPDF “my army” in contrast to the constitutional provisions.
Among his many assignments was commanding the Special Forces until 2017. He was removed and named a senior presidential adviser on special operations, but he rebounded to command the elite force again until 2021 when he was in June named the UPDF Land Forces Commander.

Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s clout
Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba is a son to President Museveni and, apart from his military role, also serves as a senior presidential adviser 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 with Prime 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.

Who is gen muhanga?
Maj Gen Kayanja Muhanga has been the commander of Operation Shujaa in DR Congo. Operation Shujaa is being carried out by a joint force of  UPDF and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) against the Allied Democratic Forces. Maj Gen Muhanga has previously served as the commander of Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) 2nd Division based at Makenke, in Mbarara District. For more than two years, Maj Gen Muhanga was the UPDF Contingent commander in Somalia. During his tenure, he battled Al-Shabaab militias that had made Amisom operations almost impossible with Improvised Explosive Devices, commonly known as IEDs.