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After more than 90 minutes of warming up and tens of promises that the chief guest was about to arrive, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s car arrived at Kololo Airstrip, situated in Kampala City at 8:43AM on Saturday 23 April. The festivities could finally kick-off.
Clad in army fatigue, Muhoozi, son of Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni serving as the commander of land forces and special presidential advisor, exited from an army green Toyota land cruiser to the cheers of about 200 fans who had gathered for the party. His official car was followed by a Toyota pickup full of bodyguards.
Friends of @mkainerugaba in Lira city joined the General in celebrating 48th birthday. Thank you our standby generator. Uganda is proud of you. @BaboCharity @Balaam1980 @olangpatricko @olangbismark @KagutaMuseveni @AndrewMwenda @ubctvuganda @nbstv pic.twitter.com/6osSw9L3ri
— Denis Okello (@DenisOk45659214) April 23, 2022
He was welcomed by five army colleagues, also clad in army uniform. They were: Maj. Gen. Leopold Kyanda, chief of staff of Uganda army; Maj. Gen. Don Nabasa, commander of military police and former commander of Special Forces Command (SFC); Maj. Gen. James Birungi, head of military intelligence; Brig Gen Johnson Namanya, currently deployed at Uganda’s immigration office; and Brig Gen Chris Serunjogi Ddamulira, a soldier deployed in Uganda police as head of crime intelligence.
Andrew Mwenda, a veteran journalist and one of the closest confidants of Muhoozi was equally present and clad in a shirt, trouser and cap hardly distinguishable from the army uniform.
— Jim Ntale 🇺🇬 🇩🇪 (@jimntale) April 23, 2022
Also in the vicinity was Brig. Gen. Felix Busizoori, the current commander of SFC, an elite force that guards Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni, his family and valuable national assets and Brig. Gen. Charity Bainababo, deputy commander of SFC. Their presence wasn’t announced and they didn’t line up to welcome Muhoozi.
This was the day’s first event to celebrate Muhoozi’s 48th birthday on 24 April. The magnitude of the celebrations was unprecedented. Parties across many parts of the country complete with free food, drink, and performances from some of Uganda’s top musicians and comedians beginning as early as Wednesday 20 April. Ahead of the festivities, the hashtag #MKAt48 had been trending on social media for almost a week.
The birthday celebrations were not strictly national in theme, they also incorporated a regional perspective. At Kololo for instance, women holding flags of various East African states lined up to welcome Muhoozi.
The son of the Ugandan president also made sure to invite several people from Rwanda, particularly President Paul Kagame, to partake in his festivities. An invitation was allegedly also delivered to Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, but did he did not respond positively.
Muhoozi ‘Chief of peoples of East and Central Africa’
After Muhoozi’s arrival at Kololo Airstrip, it turned out that the dozens of people who were stretching like athletes ahead of a marathon, were actually soldiers. They quickly jumped into position and began pushing people away getting close to Muhoozi.
After initial pleasantries, Muhoozi took a seat while the Ugandan and other East African national anthems were played followed by a birthday song. He was invited to the podium together with the generals who accompanied him. He received an award from a group of youth which calls itself the Uganda Patriotic Club for championing peace.
Mwenda provided lightened the moment through his salutes, and bestowed titles on Muhoozi whose length can only rival those of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator of the 1970s.
Mwenda introduced Muhoozi as the Chairman of communist parties of Vietnam, China, Cuba, North Korea, East and Central African Republics, Commander-in-Chief of all the revolutionary forces against the forces of imperialism and neo-colonialism; the paramount Chief of peoples of East and Central Africa. And most importantly, Mwenda added Muhoozi is Chief principal spokesperson of the downtrodden masses of this world.
Invited to greet his fans, Muhoozi thanked all who turned up for the festivities on a Saturday morning. “I know it’s not easy to wake up early on a Saturday to come to Kololo,” he said. Muhoozi noted that his birthday celebrations were happening all over the country. “The country is on fire because of MK 48th birthday. This is not about MK. It’s about all of you. It’s about your country. If you don’t defend your country, no one will.”
Muhoozi then officially flagged off the first morning party. There was a brief photo ops moment. He departed at 9:23AM.
Next: The mega party
Though critics and other observers were quick to label the first morning party as a flop and a huge blow to his apparent political ambitions, another mega party over at Lugogo Cricket Oval, was about to get started.
This party attracted thousands, and began at midday stretching onto midnight. Many roads were closed in Kampala on Saturday including the country’s main highway to Kenya. Bands marched on several of Kampala roads with big posters of MKAt48. This is the party that VIPs from Uganda’s political, military and the business class including Uganda’s Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, were attending
There was free food, drinks, as well as musicians and comedians entertaining the guests. Fine wine was reserved for the VIPs. Muhoozi arrived at about 7PM for the event that had already began at midday. But this time he stayed for about five hours.
Pandemic, improved relations with Rwanda
Muhoozi spoke a bit longer at this party, laying out the reasons for the massive public celebrations: the pandemic that ravaged Uganda and the world and improved relations with Rwanda. Visiting Rwanda twice for talks with Paul Kagame early this year, Muhoozi was the catalyst in convincing Rwanda head of state to reopen Katuna border that had been closed for nearly two years.
“We were experiencing bad relations with one of our closest and brotherly neighbours, Rwanda. You remember the border was closed for three years, no trade, no money,” Muhoozi said. “Our relations are good and are going to even get better. We thank God for these gifts. That’s why I think we should celebrate together,” he added.
Muhoozi then talked about his birthday celebrations bringing to the fore the strongest youth movement in Uganda. “What this whole MKAt48 thing is teaching Ugandans is that there is a strong and vibrant youth movement in this country. It is the strongest force in Uganda now,” he said. Muhoozi called for investment in sectors such as sports and entertainment that benefit young people.
A state dinner, Kagame visit, what’s up
The celebrations ended with grand birthday dinner on Sunday at the State House, hosted by Museveni and the first lady Janet Museveni. Paul Kagame attended the dinner, who was visiting Uganda for the first time since late 2019.
— Presidency | Rwanda (@UrugwiroVillage) April 24, 2022
Before the dinner, Museveni and Kagame held bi-lateral talks on regional peace, stability and cooperation.
Media wasn’t present at the dinner which ended at around 11PM. Both Museveni and Kagame spoke. Kagame said he was happy to be back in Uganda, one person attending the event told The Africa Report. Kagame recounted how tensions between the two countries ended after Muhoozi had successfully managed to get a hold of his direct mobile line through his close friends, to call him and his for a personal chat.
“Kagame said the two met and talked about the difficult problems between the two countries and that he felt he trusted the message and the messenger in particular well knowing it was not just Muhoozi Kainerugaba speaking, but Museveni himself through the son,” said a guest at the dinner.
At 48, Kagame praised Muhoozi for his maturity and also challenged him to keep the pace and aim higher. Kagame also gave a word of advice to Muhoozi on his controversial tweets and offered a free service to become his Twitter editor.
Museveni paid tribute to Kagame in particular and Rwandans in general for the role they played during the 1981-86 war that brought him to power. As to the role that Muhoozi has played in thawing the relationship between the two countries, Museveni said it wasn’t a surprise given that the son has known the Rwanda head of state for a long time.
More than a soldier
Muhoozi’s status in recent months has surpassed that of simply a soldier. Apart from visiting Kigali twice on a diplomatic mission, he has been sent to visit Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta twice and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa. The Russian embassy in Kampala also wished him a birthday.
The Russian Embassy in Uganda wholeheartedly congratulates Lt. Gen. @mkainerugaba, Commander of UPDF Land Forces, on his birthday and extends best wishes of good health, well-being, prosperity and further success in the state activities. pic.twitter.com/9A6HyGthGs
— Russian Embassy in Uganda 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUganda) April 24, 2022
As Muhoozi’s influence grows, he has become a much more divisive figure. A growing legion of supporters who say he should succeed his father in 2026 present him as a leader who has ripened to maturity during his two decades career in the army. Muhoozi supporters argue no one is better placed to succeed Museveni except the son.
Yet to his adversaries, Muhoozi is someone who has been handed everything on a silver platter. And as a serving soldier now engaged in apparent political activities, he should have been arrested and prosecuted, they argue.
If the party had been organised for Muhoozi, the private citizen, it would be fine, Mugisha Muntu, a former army commander tweeted.
If it was organised when Gen Muhoozi is out of uniform I would see nothing wrong with that. Some people seem not to understand the implications of what putting on an officers uniform means. Do think you could see that in Kenya, Rwanda or Tanzania with any serving General?
— Mugisha Muntu (@mugishamuntu) April 23, 2022
Politically, some observers predict problems for the ruling party.
Odrek Rwabwogo, an in-law to Museveni who in 2015 was blocked from contesting for a political office in the ruling party in February warned that continuous provocation of the ruling party members “by pushing narrow succession agendas will generate backlash that could reverse the party fortunes. I am warning people who are doing this to stop.”
This was a veiled attack on supporters of Muhoozi.
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