Museveni’s apology to Kenya: Genuine, or just to save son’s face? 

By Son Gatitu
Posted on Friday, 7 October 2022 18:01

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)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was forced to apologise to Nairobi over his son General Muhoozi Kainerugaba's provocative Twitter outbursts at the East African neighbour. What did it take to have a presidential apology and what are the stakes ahead? 

In an unprecedented apology, Museveni distanced his government from Muhoozi’s conduct in what could define Kampala’s relations with Nairobi at the start of President William Ruto’s tenure.

“It wouldn’t take us, my army and me, two weeks to capture Nairobi,” Muhoozi, who was the commander of the land forces of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), said on Twitter on 3 October.

He later defended himself saying he had posted the tweet as a joke. “I would never beat up the Kenyan army because my father told me never to attempt it, so our people in Kenya should relax.”

My only problem with my beloved big brother [Uhuru Kenyatta] is that he didn’t stand for a third term. We would have won easily!

By this time, Muhoozi’s messages had stirred up a controversy on Twitter, with Kampala’s ministry of foreign affairs forced to release a statement. “The [Government of Uganda] does not conduct its foreign policy and other official business through social media nor does it depend on social media sources in dealing with other sovereign governments.”

“[We] reiterate [our] cordial relationship with […] Kenya and assure the people and the government of […] Kenya of our harmonious relationship that we value.”

On 5 October, the Ugandan president apologised to Nairobi. “I ask our Kenyan brothers and sisters to forgive us for [the] tweets sent by General Muhoozi, [the] former commander of land forces here, regarding the election matters in that great country,” Museveni said. “It is not correct for public officers, be they civilian or military, to comment or interfere in any way, in the internal affairs of brother countries.”

Museveni has since removed his son from the command of the army, but promoted him to the rank of a full general, explaining that his son “made a mistake” and “there are other many positive contributions the general has made and can still make”.

Soft diplomacy

In response to the statement from Uganda, Alfred Mutua (the cabinet nominee for Kenya’s foreign and diaspora affairs ministry) said on Twitter: “We appreciate the clarification”.

Earlier that day (4 October), Mutua had met Uganda’s ambassador to Nairobi. “This morning I shared a social cup of tea with Amb. Dr Hassan Galiwango – Uganda High Commissioner to Kenya. We discussed interesting matters. Mambo iko sawa [things are okay],” he said on Twitter.

It would later emerge that Kenya had deployed ‘soft diplomacy’ tactics to pull out a presidential apology from Kampala.

One senior government source told The Africa Report euphemistically: “They did the right thing without pressure… just concern from us.”

Slap on the wrist

Despite the removal of Muhoozi from leadership of the army, it was apparent that Nairobi was not pleased with his promotion to the rank of full general amidst the disturbing utterances. “Why promote the guy?” said a top Ruto ally.

History repeats itself? Uganda’s generals seeking to control Kenyan territory: 46 years after Idi Amin, it’s now Gen. Muhoozi…

Despite the father’s efforts to make peace with both Nairobi and Ugandans, the son’s Twitter escapades escalated: From “saying a prayer [for his] soldiers” to teasing his followers more. “After I hand over to Lt. General Kayanja, I’m going to take a tour of this world. I’ll try to visit places I’ve never visited. Any suggestions?” he said on 4 October.

The 48-year-old Muhoozi seemed to be oblivious of the tension he had created. “I think I have to start with Rome, but how do I get 100 cows through customs?”

Regional diplomacy

Uganda marks 60 years of independence on 9 October. Officials at Kenya’s ministry of foreign affairs confirmed that President Ruto has been invited to Kampala. “Ruto and Museveni are very good friends, they were to speak last night [4 October],” says a source close to the Kenyan government on condition of anonymity.

On 6 October, Ruto began his first African tour by visiting Ethiopia for the launch of Safaricom Ethiopia as the giant telco begins its operations.

Ruto met his host, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, at a time when his predecessor – former president Uhuru Kenyatta – is set to join peace talks in South Africa over the ongoing conflict between the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. From Ethiopia Ruto is expected to visit Uganda and Tanzania.

Dear Kenyans, you now understand what it means to live in Uganda under Gen. Museveni and his son…

In November 2021, Muhoozi caused a Twitter storm when he expressed support for the TPLF, which put Kampala in an awkward position in the face of Addis Ababa. “Our great Tigrayan brothers and sisters cannot be defeated. They have an unconquerable spirit!” Muhoozi said on Twitter.

Even though Kampala continues to defend a neutral position in the internal affairs of its neighbours, the ‘tweeting general’ – as Muhoozi has come to be known in Uganda – could be more a liability than an asset in the region.

Perennial presidency

Museveni has been Uganda’s president since 1986. He has seen off three Kenyan presidents, including the late Daniel Moi – the longest serving president in Kenya’s history (24 years).

“My only problem with my beloved big brother [Uhuru Kenyatta] is that he didn’t stand for a third term. We would have won easily!” Muhoozi said on Twitter on 3 October.

The Kenyan constitution limits a president’s tenure to a maximum of two-five-year terms. Kenyatta marked his 10 years with the August 2022 election.

Museveni on the other hand has been president for 36 years and will have served for 40 years when his current term expires in 2026. It is not yet clear if he is ready to let go and if yes, if he will allow a democratic transition. It is believed that Muhoozi may be seeking to succeed him.

Opposition leader Bobi Wine, who ran against Museveni in 2021, said on Twitter: “Dear Kenyans, you now understand what it means to live in Uganda under Gen. Museveni and his son, whom he gifted the highest military ranks and put him in charge of our land forces!”

Kizza Besigye, another opposition leader, who has unsuccessfully contested against Museveni for the presidency four times, took Muhoozi’s threat over Nairobi more seriously.

[…] the correct method for Pan-Africanists is confidential interactions or using the available fora [the East African Community and African Union], especially if you are a public officer

“History repeats itself? Uganda’s generals seeking to control Kenyan territory: 46 years after Idi Amin, it’s now Gen. Muhoozi! That’s why Kenyans can’t take it lightly!” Besigye said.

In February 1976, then Ugandan President Idi Amin claimed that a large part of Kenya belonged to Uganda, causing a diplomatic tiff between Nairobi and Kampala that had then President Jomo Kenyatta ‘arming for war’.

Daga Dosal responded to Muhoozi on Twitter saying: “[He] is just doing one thing taught in military science… [Making] use of any stress absorbers medicine available. [He is just socialising militarily. […]Military men are human beings [too].”

For Museveni, his defence for the general was parental. “I know for a fact that General Muhoozi is a passionate Pan-Africanist. However, the correct method for Pan-Africanists is confidential interactions or using the available fora [the East African Community and African Union], especially if you are a public officer.”

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