Uganda: What is next for Museveni’s son Muhoozi as he retires from the army?

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Tuesday, 8 March 2022 19:59

Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, centre,
Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, centre, son of President Yoweri Museveni at the Kasenyi SFG camp, east of Kampala in Uganda on 16 August 2012 (AP Photo/Uganda Presidency, File)

Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, 47 – the son of Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, commander of land forces of Uganda People's Defence Force and a presidential adviser on special operations – has announced his retirement from the army. Does this mean he is now one step closer to launching his political career?

Muhoozi announced his retirement in a tweet on Tuesday 8 March, surprising even some of the people close to him. “I was totally unaware of it,” a person close to him tells The Africa Report. For Muhoozi, the move requires applying for retirement and getting approval. Brigadier Gen. Felix Kulyigye, the spokesperson for the army, did not answer our questions and referred back to Muhoozi’s post.

ChimpReports, a local digital publication, reported last October that Muhoozi had threatened to retire after failing to receive about $56m that he had requested to improve the troops’ welfare. “If my soldiers’ problems are not sorted, I will retire from the army by next year,” he reportedly said.

In recent weeks, Muhoozi was in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo commanding Uganda’s army. Along with its DRC counterpart, the Ugandan army is fighting the Allied Democratic Forces rebels.

Succeeding his father?

In recent months, Muhoozi became a polarising figure due to his free-tweeting style. Many of his supporters see him going down the path of politics. That potentially means trying to succeed his father, who took power in 1986 after five years of guerrilla war.

There has been a growing movement of Muhoozi supporters who tout him on social media daily as his father’s successor. Hashtags such as #MuhooziProject and #MK2026, #MyNextPresident2026  and #MyNextCommanderinChief often trend on social media.

Muhoozi has not discouraged his fans. Balaam Barugahare, a businessman in the music industry who has been at the forefront of campaigning for Muhoozi, was quick to tweet his support.

Arinaitwe Rugyendo, a journalist and close friend of Muhoozi, tells The Africa Report that he sees “an increasingly political Muhoozi taking centre stage, which fuels speculation that he has political ambition.” Rugyendo says Muhoozi will be mobilising young people to embrace government initiatives that benefit them.

“I also see him taking up a possible ministerial role in the next cabinet reshuffle, which might happen around 2024,” Rugyendo says.  

Andrew Mwenda, another journalist and close friend of Muhoozi, argues that Museveni is the number-one stumbling block to the son succeeding. Museveni says he has no plans to retire. Mwenda suggested that there are no signs that Museveni will step down in 2026. If Muhoozi starts actively engaging in politics, it could be a sign that he has received a nod of approval from his father.

In an extensive interview with journalist Peter Mwesige in 1997 – which Mwesige recently shared – Muhoozi expressed sympathy for his father. Museveni was in the spotlight, and everything he said was blown out of proportion, Muhoozi said. “I really hope I never become the president,” Muhoozi explained.

Dining with heads of state

At the end of January, Muhoozi paid a surprise visit to Kigali and held talks with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. This resulted in the opening of the Rwanda-Uganda border, which had been closed for almost three years due to tensions between Kampala and Kigali. Muhoozi mentions the reopeing frequently on Twitter. He said he will return to Kigali in the coming days to “sort out all outstanding issues between Uganda and Rwanda”.

Muhoozi recently met South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta – twice. He also received the ambassadors of Turkey, Kenya, Egypt, Russia and Ethiopia.

Joining the army

Though Muhoozi said he has served for 28 years, he officially joined the army in 1999, meaning he has served for 23 years. But he began engaging in military activities as early as 1994 after completing secondary school.

First lady Janet Museveni wrote in her memoir My Life’s Journey that “a large group of friends and him [Muhoozi] enrolled at Kasenyi, close to Entebbe to do basic military training.” Kasenyi is a base of the Special Forces Command (SFC), an elite force that guards the president, his family and sensitive assets, such as oil fields.

“They learnt drills, assembling of a gun and other military exercises,” Janet Museveni wrote. Thereafter, Muhoozi went on to study political science at the University of Nottingham in Britain.

He resumed his military activities when he returned to Uganda in 1997. Muhoozi featured in a parliamentary debate in 1997 after claims emerged that he was recruiting soldiers illegally. A legislator suggested that Muhoozi should be imprisoned. Museveni defended him, saying he was not a soldier but a member of a Local Defence Unit (LDU). LDU members received basic military training and were armed to promote security in their communities.

The success of the SFC

Muhoozi’s biggest contribution in the army is the formation and shaping of the SFC. It is the most potent branch of Uganda’s army, with an estimated 10,000 soldiers. He commanded the SFC from 2008 to 2017 and then again from December 2020 to July 2021 during the heated presidential election season.

As early as 1997, speculations were rife that Muhoozi was setting up an elite unit of the army to guard his father. In 1997, Mwesige asked Muhoozi if he was establishing an army unit akin to that of Zaire’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko’s son. Mobutu Kongulu was a soldier in the Special Presidential Division of the Congolese army. Muhoozi laughed in response and said: “I don’t know.” He dismissed any comparison with Mobutu’s son.

Muhoozi is a politically sensitive topic in Uganda. Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, a writer now exiled in Germany, was arrested in December 2021 for calling the first son “obese” and a “curmudgeon”. He was tortured and accused Muhoozi of personally mistreating him.

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