Uganda: 10 things to know about Muhoozi Kainerugaba

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Wednesday, 3 August 2022 09:36

Lt. General Kainerugaba attends his birthday party in Entebbe
Lt. General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, who leads the Ugandan army's land forces, looks on during his birthday party in Entebbe, Uganda May 7, 2022. REUTERS/Abubaker Lubowa

Revered by his supporters, loathed by his critics, the son of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and commander of the country's land forces has been sending out unmistakable signs since the beginning of the year that he is on a mission to succeed his father in 2026.

Meet Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the three-star general and presidential adviser on special operations who could well turn the page on Museveni’s four-decade reign.

1. Likely successor

In the decades since President Museveni first seized power in 1986, many names have been bandied about as potential successors. There was a time when the President’s longtime comrades in the fight to overthrow Idi Amin and Milton Obote in the 1970s were the odds-on favourites. But not anymore. Today, the only name people hear is Muhoozi’s. Meanwhile, his most ardent supporters have been intensely campaigning for him to succeed his father in 2026.

Clearly, Muhoozi likes the attention. Back in May, he even invited his Twitter followers to weigh in on whether he should run for president in 2026.

2. Guarding the father

A military man for almost a quarter of a century, Muhoozi has spent nearly his entire military career guarding his father. He was instrumental in developing the Special Forces Command (SFC), the semi-autonomous military unit that protects his father. Today, the SFC is the most sophisticated, best trained and equipped section of the Uganda army.

Muhoozi started his military activities by enrolling for basic training and recruiting many of his friends to sign up for the army in 1994. He officially joined in 1999 after graduating from England’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Muhoozi rose through the ranks to command his father’s bodyguards in 2008, a post he held until 2017. He returned to the unit during the violent 2020 election season. In July 2021, he was promoted to lead the Ugandan land forces, the army’s largest component.

3. Life in exile

Muhoozi was born in 1974 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at a time when his father was already engaged in the rebellion against Idi Amin. The family returned to Uganda in 1979 after the collapse of Amin’s regime.

However, their stay in Uganda did not last long: the family went back into exile in 1981 after Museveni launched a guerrilla war against President Obote’s government. The family only definitely returned in 1986 after Museveni took power.

4. Diplomatic role

When diplomatic relations between Uganda and Rwanda reached its nadir earlier this year, Muhoozi stepped up to take on his first official diplomatic assignment. In February, he visited Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame to start negotiations.

A second visit in March resulted in the reopening of Gatuna, the main border point between the two countries, which Rwanda had closed for almost two years. The relationship appears to continue to improve.

5. Birthday bash

Muhoozi turned 48 in April. He used the opportunity to make a statement, holding huge birthday parties and concerts that are still ongoing in some parts of the country. The parties were attended by a who’s who of politicians and business leaders.

Among the surprise guests were President Paul Kagame, who attended a dinner hosted by Museveni for his son’s birthday.

Muhoozi himself has not attended all of the events held across the country in his honour. Instead, an inner circle of his friends and relatives – a campaign team of sorts led by Museveni’s younger brothers – has been at the centre of organising and bankrolling the events.

6. Tweetstorms

Disregarding army norms that bar serving officers from engaging in or discussing politics, Muhoozi has shared opinions on Twitter that have proved damaging for Uganda. His tweets have also revealed that outside the country, he is often viewed as much more powerful than he actually is, with many foreigners taking his tweets as official government position.

From supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to declaring that the Ugandan and Rwandan armies are a united force that would fight together in case of threat, to supporting the Tigrayans in Ethiopia, Muhoozi has been generous in sharing his opinions.

His support for Rwanda has harmed Uganda’s relationship with the DRC. On 14 June, the speaker of DRC’s national assembly, Christophe Mboso, said the Congolese legislature would not ratify a treaty the government had signed with Uganda for cross-border road construction and security because Muhoozi had betrayed them by signing a treaty with Rwanda. Likewise, Muhoozi’s tweets have helped spark DRC suspicions that Uganda helped the Mouvement du 23 Mars rebels in eastern Congo capture the border post between the two countries at Bunagana.

Likewise, following Muhoozi’s tweets in support of the Tigrayans in Ethiopia’s civil war, the Ugandan minister of defence and chief of defence forces travelled to Ethiopia two months ago for talks with their counterparts to allay fears that Uganda was supporting the rebels. However, that was not the end of the matter and suspicions remained.

Toward the end of June, an anonymous report started circulating on social media claiming that Uganda government was training hundreds of Tigray rebels. The army has dismissed the claims.

7. Introvert

People who have known Muhoozi for decades describe him as an introvert. They say that during his school years, he did not mix freely with other pupils. Even today, he has no strong connection with his former classmates. In the army, colleagues saw him as difficult to reach. Instead, from office to office he keeps moving with an inner circle of aides who have been by his side for years.

8. Foreign friends

If he does not mix freely widely with many Ugandans, Muhoozi has however built close connections with other leaders in the region. Apart from Kagame, he has met with Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta three times as well as with Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa’s embattled predecessor, Jacob Zuma, recorded a video wishing Muhoozi a happy birthday in May.

Muhoozi’s close friends paint a picture of firm friendships with these leaders, arguing that there is much that has not been made public. For instance, they claim Muhoozi has had a strong connection with Kagame for decades and with Kenyatta since he came to power in 2013.

9. Sports fan

Many of the functions that Muhoozi has appeared at in recent years have been sports related. A big basketball fan, he bailed out the Ugandan team in Rwanda back in November when the team was short more than $50,000 on hotel bills.

10. Calm demeanour

Friends describe Muhoozi as a calm and thoughtful person who listens carefully but does not speak much. They say he spends much of his time reading books and academic papers on a wide variety of subjects and also likes to watch documentaries. He published a book titled Battles of the Ugandan Resistance: A Tradition of Maneuver back in 2011.

Unsurprisingly, Muhoozi’s critics paint a different picture. His actions provide plenty of ammunition, from his tweets to his March announcement that he was resigning from the army, which was quickly walked back by the presidency.

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