Uganda: Who is who in Muhoozi’s powerful network?

By Musinguzi Blanshe

Posted on Wednesday, 15 June 2022 11:18, updated on Thursday, 16 June 2022 12:09

April and the first week of May were revealing as friends of Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, a son of Uganda president Yoweri Museveni organised several splendorous parties across the country in honour of his 48th birthday. He is the commander of land forces, the largest section of the Uganda army and a senior presidential advisor on special operations.

The birthday parties were not out of the blue. Muhoozi sent out a strong signal when he appointed a birthday party organising committee at the start of April, headed by Kiwanuka Kiryowa, Uganda’s attorney general. Muhoozi is increasingly seen as a possible successor of his father by a growing legion of his supporters and he relishes what his supporters wish for him. As Muhoozi addressed party attendees, he spoke like a politician, promising that when his “grassroots movement” takes over power, it will increase investment in sports and entertainment.

On 1 May, Muhoozi tweeted an opinion poll of sorts saying: “All those who want me to stand in 2026 retweet, all those who don’t, like.” If he is to get into politics in 2026, Muhoozi will leverage the network of his friends who include soldiers, family members, childhood friends and heads of states.

The geographical distribution of his friends had a direct correlation with areas where parties were held. For instance, parties were held in central and western Uganda where almost all his close friends originate. There were no parties in the eastern and northern parts of the country. The Africa Report brings you a snippet of the first son’s inner circle of friends.

A veteran journalist, Andrew Mwenda is one of Uganda’s finest intellectuals who is loathed by elites in the country for ‘being in bed’ with the ruling family. In the 1990s and early 2000s when Mwenda was still an active journalist, he was among the fiercest critics of Museveni in Uganda. Mwenda is the founder of Independent Magazine based in Kampala, which had a sizable market in Kigali before the Museveni-Kagame relationship nosedived in 2017. A year older than Muhoozi, Mwenda has been a close friend of his for three decades. The two are also close friends of Kagame. Both Muhoozi and Mwenda were crucial in fixing broken relationships between Kigali and Kampala in 2007.

Mwenda walked shoulder to shoulder with Muhoozi when the latter went public with birthday parties. For instance, on the morning of Saturday 23 April, the first day that Muhoozi appeared at a birthday event in Kampala, Mwenda was there to welcome him and was also the MC.

Mwenda jokingly 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 drivers of imperialism and neo-colonialism; the paramount chief of peoples of East and Central Africa; and most importantly, the chief principal spokesperson of the downtrodden masses of this world.

Mwenda is seen as the lead architect of a possible Muhoozi presidency, despite having argued – several times – that he doesn’t think Museveni will give way to his son.

Kiwanuka Kiryowa is Uganda’s attorney general. His appointment in June last year was a surprise to many, but he has been in the first family circles for two decades, courtesy of friendship with the first son, according to people who know him. The first son is said to have had a hand in Kiryowa’s ministerial appointment. Kiryowa was a Museveni lawyer, representing him during the 2016 and 2021 presidential election litigations. He was also on the ruling party’s pay-cheque as its external legal consultant for a long time.

The first son’s appointment of Kiryowa as chairman of the birthday party organising committee was itself a clear indication of the duo’s firm friendship. Kiryowa was the only minister appointed to the committee but wasn’t publicly active in the birthday events because of the sensitivity of his position. Even so, as a result of the parties, Muhoozi has been sued together with the attorney general for engaging in active politics when he is still a serving army officer. This could be the first of the many litigations in which Kiryowa will have to defend his friend.

Nzeire Shadrach is Museveni’s younger brother who has succeeded in living an elusive life. He is a businessman, even though his businesses aren’t known publicly. In politics, he is the chairperson of the ruling party in the president’s home district. To his credit, Museveni has ensured that not many of his family members engage in active politics.

For the five mega parties that were held in honour of Muhoozi’s birthday, Nzeire is said to have been a key player in organising and financing them. Thus, his contribution was substantial in ensuring the success of the parties. Muhoozi likes referring to Nzeire as uncle and recently tweeted about him saying: “We used to look after Mzee Amos’s [Museveni’s father] cows together when we were kids. Maybe that’s why we became great friends!”

Michael Nuwagira aka Toyota is another of Museveni’s younger brothers who was key in organising and funding the first son’s birthday parties. He, too, lives an elusive life and is a businessman whose businesses aren’t known.

Balaam Barugahare is a renowned music promoter in Uganda and among the key promoters of the first son as the next head of state. Balaam got closer to the first family when the music started to play a key role in the country’s political campaigns. He would easily get musicians to sing at Museveni’s rallies, hence attracting huge crowds, which played a role in the first son’s birthday parties’ success metrics.

Muhoozi boasts of his supporters making up the largest and unparalleled grassroots movement in Uganda. However, the first son’s critics have retorted that the birthday parties were music concerts that people attended to see their favourite musicians performing free of charge as such opportunities usually come at a cost. If Muhoozi is to get into politics, musicians will be key in his journey and Balaam will supply them with plenty.

President Paul Kagame

One of the reasons Muhoozi gave for throwing mega birthday parties was to thaw relations between Kampala and Kigali. Muhoozi was a key architect in the discussions that saw Rwanda open the Gatuna border, which it had closed for almost three years. The first son visited Kigali twice for talks with Kagame. It was a great diplomatic achievement, his supporters argue, as they market the first son as the best candidate to take up after his father.

As a result of the improved relations between the two countries, Kagame flew to Kampala for one of Muhoozi’s birthday events – a state house dinner hosted by his counterpart, Museveni. He said it was the first time that Kagame was in Kampala for a social event in five years. He spoke glowingly of the first son. “The 48 years have been used very well,” Kagame said, adding that there are a lot of expectations that Muhoozi will “continue on the path of progress of Uganda and for the region for many years to come”.

Muhoozi started tweeting about Kagame in February this year, weeks before his first trip to Kigali. Since then, there isn’t anyone he has tweeted about more than Kagame, often referring to him as “uncle” and a man he has limitless respect for.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

Muhoozi has known Sisi since 2011 when he took a military course at the Egyptian Military Academy. Sisi was then head of Egypt’s military intelligence. Muhoozi has met the Egyptian head of state twice, with the most recent meeting in March this year. Apart from el-Sisi, Muhoozi seems to be friends with other Egyptian army generals who crossed to politics after the army ousted Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Apart from Kagame and Sisi, Muhoozi is a friend of Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, who he met in September 2021, January and June 2022. Muhoozi had invited Kenyatta for his birthday party, but the Kenyan head of state did respond positively. Muhoozi has also met South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, while Jacob Zuma sent Muhoozi a birthday message, describing him as a leader who will keep “the African and pan-Africanism flag flying on the continent of Africa.”

In informal discussions, Muhoozi’s close associates say his connection to some of these heads of state is deep and many of his meetings with them aren’t made public.

During the birthday celebrations, Muhoozi donned in army fatigues, presented himself as a soldier. At the events, he was accompanied by friends from the army, including Maj. Gen. Leopold Kyanda (chief of staff of the Uganda army; Maj. Gen. Don Nabasa (commander of military police and former commander of Special Forces Command (SFC)) and Maj. Gen. James Birungi (head of military intelligence).

Others were Brig Gen Chris Serunjogi Ddamulira, a soldier deployed to Uganda police as head of crime intelligence and Brig Gen Johnson Namanya, who works at the immigration office.

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