What you need to know:
- Happy birthday Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba. I wish you the best as you embark on your rightful role of king-in-waiting. You may not have to wait until 2031 to ascend the throne.
The weekend-long, multi-venue festival, dubbed a birthday party for Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, was not a celebration of an event that happened 48 years ago. It was okwanjura (formal introduction) of the crown prince and heir to the Ugandan throne. With that kwanjura, President Yoweri Museveni Tibuhaburwa entered his last lap of a long walk towards the realisation of a 50-year-old dream to create dynastic rule.
The president’s supporters were understandably ecstatic. The small group of Ugandans that have enjoyed enormous social and economic benefits during Museveni’s reign were giddy with joy. Equally pleased was the emerging middle-class that has done well by picking up the crumbs from the high table of the land. They are assured of continued enjoyment of lavish weddings and funerals, sending their children to expensive private schools at home and abroad, building their city and country mansions, taking shopping holidays in Dubai, and generally living a Ugandan dream that eludes most of their fellow subjects.
Then there is the enigmatic majority that lives on the margins, their lives forever teetering on collapse, immersed in poverty in the era of “wealth for all”, assured of premature death without access to medical or surgical help. These are people that sell their votes to political candidates for Shs 2,000 (57 cents US.) They celebrate the Crown Prince with song, dance and ululation that feed an emotional need to be associated with the king and his winning team.
It is an illusion, of course. What they celebrate does not promise national stability or material change for them. The Wretched of the Earth will always be the worst hit by the negative consequences of the political game they celebrate. That said, I salute Museveni for brilliantly outsmarting millions of Ugandans in his quest for conquest, control and domination of our disunited collection of tribal principalities. Likewise, I salute those who, unlike me, were not conned by the great revolutionary that we supported for many years before he captured the Ugandan throne. One of those that I salute is Shaka Ssali, the Kabaare Kid that warned me in April 1984 that I was backing the wrong horse.
During a memorable visit to Shaka in Los Angeles, part of my agenda was to spread the message to Ugandans in that city that NRA/NRM/Museveni was the liberation package that Uganda was lucky to have. In one conversation, Shaka, who was doing his PhD studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, calmly told me that the man I was supporting was “fake.”
I thought that Shaka had gone mad, and I told him so. I can hear his laughter before he presented some of the evidence for his negative characterization of my hero. Shaka had heard from two Tanzanians who had been classmates and very close associates of Museveni at University College, Dar es Salaam. The Tanzanians, who went on to become top civil servants in their country, were doing their postgraduate studies at two ivy league universities in California.
They had urged Shaka to stay away from Museveni. In their opinion, “Uganda would be unfortunate to get a leader of Museveni’s character.” They told him that, contrary to his public claims, Museveni was “a sectarian, and a chauvinistic cultural nationalist that was fiercely undemocratic.” They reported that Museveni, with whom they had been involved in student politics, had “a pathological fear of fair competition.”
The Tanzanians observed that Museveni had created a myth of simplicity, and of sympathy and empathy for the common man. To them, he had falsely claimed to be a progressive pan-Africanist when his agenda was entirely different. They told Shaka that Museveni had told them that his role model was Kigeri IV Rwabugiri, the expansionist late 18th century king who ruled Rwanda for 42 years.
I foolishly ignored Shaka’s evidence-based advice, continued to support my hero, and celebrated his capture of the Ugandan state in 1986. It took me six years to see what the Tanzanians had warned Shaka about. It took me another six years before the scales fell off my eyes and I realised that the great freedom fighter was seeking to liberate himself, not the mass of Africans that had desperately pegged their fortunes to his promises.
When I finally parted with Museveni nearly a quarter-century ago, the first person I told before I went public with my decision was Shaka SSali. Naturally, I called him this past weekend to remind him of our conversation in Los Angeles 38 years ago. With his trademark humility, Shaka told me that he was sorry that he had been right. He repeated, almost word for word, what the Tanzanians had narrated about Museveni and Rwabugiri.
Shaka was not surprised when I told him that, indeed, according to people who were present during a meeting of over 200 NRM youth leaders at Rwakitura on December 28, 2021, Museveni had said that since he was still well and energetic, he would complete his task during his final term that he expected to begin in 2026.
Museveni reportedly told the youth that after that, his son, whom he had purposely named Muhoozi (the avenger), “naija kumporera enzigu” (he will retaliate against my enemies). My informers, diehard NRM activists, stated that the president had asked the youth leaders to back his son in the phase that was now beginning.
So, the weekend’s extravaganza was the launch of the next phase in Museveni’s brilliant execution of his grand plan. Not that anyone who has been listening to Museveni over the decades should be surprised by his anointment of Muhoozi Kainerugaba as the next ruler of Uganda. We are witnesses to the birth of the Tibuhaburwa Dynasty after 50 years of careful gestation.
Regrettably, millions of Ugandans, me included, have at one time or another, been enablers. While many of us have publicly walked away upon recognizing that we had been conned, many more, whose names we shall never disclose without their consent, have confided that they are trapped by economic opportunism and fear of retribution. This includes many of Museveni’s ethnic kinsmen who, unfortunately, unfairly get lumped together with the king’s courtiers. As they walk in our footsteps, today’s youth and others need to pause and figure out exactly who and what they are supporting. At a minimum, this may make their disappointment easier to handle when their turn to behold the emperor’s nakedness comes. Time will reveal the truth to them, as it did to us.
Happy birthday Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba. I wish you the best as you embark on your rightful role of king-in-waiting. You may not have to wait until 2031 to ascend the throne. Whatever you do, please remove Umwami Rwabugiri from your list of heroes. His death in 1895 sealed his kingdom’s fate. His successors did not do well.
Muniini K. Mulera is Ugandan-Canadian social and political observer. [email protected]