Why Museveni moved top army, police chiefs

Maj Gen Paul Lokech

What you need to know:

As the Commander-in-Chief, the President has the power, sometimes with the advice of the army leadership, to appoint or designate any military officer.

President Museveni yesterday re-appointed his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba, a Lieutenant General, to command the Special Forces and tapped Maj Gen Paul Lokech as the new deputy Inspector General of Police.

Maj Gen Lokech, a battle-hardened Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) commander, replaces Maj Gen Muzeyi Sabiiti, who until his deployment as deputy IGP 33 months ago, deputised Lt Gen Muhoozi as the commander of the Special Forces Command (SFC).

Maj Gen Sabiiti was recalled to the army general headquarters, pending deployment, in the mini-reshuffle that the Defence and Military spokesperson, Brig Flavia Byekwaso, last evening referred to as “normal changes”.

As the Commander-in-Chief, the President has the power, sometimes with the advice of the army leadership, to appoint or designate any military officer to any command positions any time without giving reasons for the choices.

Yet, the tone of President Museveni in yesterday’s radio message was starkly different: a warning to future protestors, a rebuke of the police and an expression of his displeasure with the force personnel.

“I congratulate the UPDF for defeating the insurrection that the traitors, with their foreign backers, attempted to stage a few weeks ago,” he said, in reference to the November 18 and 19 protests over the arrest of presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine.

At least 54 people were killed, the police and Mr Museveni announced days later, with many of the victims succumbing to gunshot wounds after armed men in civilian clothing fanned out to subdue the two-day disturbances as police appeared restrained.

The President noted: “The police force must be made to do its duty of defending Ugandans from lawlessness, threat to life and property. Any police person that does not do this must leave the police. There are thousands ready to replace them.”

Despite the displeasure, the President surprisingly renewed the tenure of IGP Martins Okoth-Ochola, a 62-year-old lawyer and career police officer who is serving on contract after official retirement. Yet, he dropped the 45-year-old Muzeyi, a career soldier, sent to police only about three years ago.

There are currently four other senior UPDF officers serving as directors in the Uganda Police Force, and yesterday’s addition of Maj Gen Lokech shows army men will continue to retain a dominant foothold in the civilian force. It also remains to be seen how Mr Lokech will apply his battle-front skills to steward police whose responsibility is to protect life and maintain internal law and order. 

The failure to assign Maj Gen Muzeyi, which in Ugandan military parlance is being placed on katebe, signals the commander-in-chief’s probable displeasure with the deputy IGP, which is a cue to the replacement to do things differently if he is to avoid a similar fate.

Maj Gen Sabiiti’s problem may have sparked on different terminals. On December 9, the chairman of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Mr Elliot Engel, named him and outgoing Special Forces commander, Maj Gen James Birungi, among senior UPDF officers that he asked the US government to sanction for alleged rights violations.

Mr Mike Pompeo in a rejoinder said they were closely monitoring the individuals. Shipping out the two officers early would prevent the Magnitsky Act sanctions, which includes travel and financial transaction blockades, from crippling operations of the key police and SFC offices they hold, if punished by Washington.

Maj Gen Birungi is heading to Juba to replace Maj Gen Lokech where a UPDF team is, on behalf of the guarantors of the South Sudan peace signed in February, working with Sudan forces to monitor the parties’ compliance with the pact.

The former director of Intelligence for UPDF Land Forces, Col Paul Muwonge, who worked with Maj Gen Lokech, was recalled and early this month sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo where there is a reported infiltration by terrorists and threats of subversion. 

Col Muwonge, who was cleared over unproven 2019 allegations of spying for Rwanda, has been replaced in South Sudan by Lt Col David Nyero, the former operations officer for Alpine Division.

Maj Gen Sabiiti’s replacement by Maj Gen Lokech suggests that President Museveni is turning to older and more experienced commanders to make possible that he thinks the current police leadership failed to do.

Maj Gen Sabiiti and Lt Gen Muhoozi joined the military at the same time, in the famous Intake 6 of May 1999, and many in that cohort comparably rose through the ranks faster and now occupy key UPDF command positions.

Maj Denis Omara, the SFC spokesman, yesterday said Lt Gen Muhoozi’s return to superintend the Special Forces is significant because modernisation of the Special Forces was brainchild of the First Son.

“As a former commander, he will fit in well and enable us achieve some of the things SFC needed since he pioneered our modernisation,” Maj Omara said.

Lt Gen Muhoozi’s return on an election eve to command SFC while doubling as Senior Presidential Adviser on Special Operations, is significant as it places him at the helm of Uganda’s most sensitive security operations, high-value military assets and specialised branches such as marines, airforce, paratroopers and artillery brigades.

Highly-placed sources told this newspaper that the rebound of the First Son to mainstream military leadership, after nearly three years on the sidelines, may be to prepare him for other possible assignments.  

The public says

“Museveni’s appointments are reshuffles having nothing do to with Uganda. They have everything to do with himself,” Mr Godber Tumushabe, the associate director of Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, said.

Presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name Bobi Wine, who has had terse conversations with the First Son on Twitter, said while campaigning in Kabale yesterday:

“This (re-appointment of Muhoozi as SFC commander) tells Ugandans that he (President Museveni) has lost trust of other (UPDF) commanders.”

Maj Gen Paul Lokech 

When one mentions Maj Gen Paul Lokech, Somalia comes into mind.

He came into prominence during his tour of duty as the Contingent Commander of Ugandan troops in Somalia between 2011 and 2012.

His eloquence and successful offensive operations against the al-Shabaab in Somalia endeared him to the Somalis and they nicknamed him “the Lion of Mogadishu”.

Sources close to him say he would at times go to the frontline and get dangerously close to the enemy positions which according to some commanders, bordered on being reckless.

That is why it was not surprising that the President of Somalia, Mr Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, alias Fermajo, made a passionate plea to President Museveni in 2017 to redeploy him as the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) Contingent Commander in Somalia.

Before his return to Somalia, Maj Gen Lokech shortly served as the Commander of the 2nd Division Infantry in Mbarara and before that, he was the military Attaché to Russia.

During his second tour of duty in Somalia, there was little fighting but the UPDF had to deal with a fragile political situation in Somalia. In 2018, Maj Gen Lokech rushed to the Somali parliament and told the MPs who were fighting to sort out their issues before the situation gets out of hand.

When he returned from Somalia in 2018, he served as Commandant of the Uganda Rapid Deployment Capability Centre in Jinja.

In 2020, he briefly worked as the AirForce Chief of Staff before he was deployed to South Sudan.

Throughout his career, Maj Gen Lokech has fought battles in DR Congo, northern Uganda and South Sudan.

Maj Gen James Birungi

Maj Gen James Birungi the outgoing Commander of the Special Forces Command

The outgoing Commander of the Special Forces Command (SFC) served in this position for one year and six months. Before his appointment as SFC boss, Maj Gen Birungi served as the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

Born in 1973 in Ngoma, Nakaseke District, he was among 11 men who joined the army in 1996 and did a one-year basic military training at Kasenyi in Entebbe, Wakiso District.

He later went to India for a cadet course where he spent a year and was passed out as a Second Lieutenant.

Upon his return from India, Maj Gen Birungi’s first deployment was under the Armoured Brigade, a specialised unit of the UPDF Land Forces with its headquarters at Kasijjagirwa Barracks in Masaka District.

At the time, the late Gen Aronda Nyakairima was the commander of the Brigade, which has several tank battalions and also has a maintenance unit at Armoured Warfare Training School in Karama, Mubende District.

A source close to Maj Gen Birungi said he later undertook different tank courses at Karama and was deployed to Kitgum District in 2002. He was commanding tanks and Amoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) to escort supplies for soldiers in the Forward Operating Bases.

Maj Gen Birungi was then moved to Karamoja to fight cattle rustling.

From Karamoja, Maj Gen Birungi was sent to Karama at the rank of Major as the Commandant of the training school.

 “From Karama, he joined the Presidential Guard Brigade, now SFC in 2008,” the source said.

This was after attending Junior Staff courses at Gaddafi Barracks (Kimaka) in Jinja.

He was in 2013 promoted to Colonel and appointed acting Chief of Staff of the Air Force until he was taken back to SFC as the commander.

Maj Gen Muzeyi Sabiiti

Maj Gen Muzeyi Sabiiti the outgoing deputy Inspector General of Police

The outgoing deputy Inspector General of Police was born in 1975.

 He has served in the military for more than two decades.

Before his appointment as the deputy Inspector General of Police, Maj Gen Sabiti briefly commanded the Military Police.

He previously served as Commander of the Presidential Guard Brigade, which later became Special Forces Commander when Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba went to South Africa for a military course.

He later served as Second in Command of Special Forces before he went to Russia for a military course and upon his return he was appointed commander of military police in 2017.

He has done several military courses in Jinja, America and Russia.

Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

First son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba. PHOTO/FILE.

Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, 46, joined the army in 1999.

He did a cadet course at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Britain.

Upon his return to Uganda in 2000, Lt Gen Muhoozi joined the Presidential Protecion Unit as 2nd Lieutenant and in 2001, he was promoted to the rank of Major.

He later went to Fort Leavenworth in the US and upon his return, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

He has been influential in the training and formation of the Special Forces.

He has also trained in South Africa, Egypt, and Israel.

Gen Muhoozi commanded a unit of Special Forces during Operation Lighting Thunder in 2008 against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in DR Congo.

He has also been in the planning and overseeing of Special Forces operations in South Sudan and Somalia. Sources close to him say he has been passionate about the military even when he was still young and that is why he chose to serve. 


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