Uganda: Can Museveni outpower his son Muhoozi ahead of polls in 2026?

By Musinguzi Blanshe

Posted on Wednesday, 19 October 2022 11:28
Yoweri Museveni and his son Muhoozi (Photo: TAR)

In his long and winding political career, Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has ruthlessly out-manoeuvred politicians who were scheming to oust him from presidency. However, he now faces his son, General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who wants power in 2026. Will Museveni continue ruling or might he bequeath the seat to his son in 2026?

In an interview aired by the Kenya Television Network (KTN) on Sunday 16 October, Museveni said he had discussed his son’s tweeting behaviour and it was decided that Muhoozi’s social media posts would now focus on non-controversial topics, such as sports, “but to talk about other countries, or even the politics of Uganda, is what he [Muhoozi] should not do, and won’t do”.

The discussion that Museveni was referring to happened in June, but Muhoozi has defied his father’s order, a rare occurrence in Ugandan politics. His defiance will likely be at play more often as he and his father send clear signals of who will be on the presidential ballot in 2026.

Muhoozi had been tweeting about local politics before he caused a Twitter storm with his comments about capturing the Kenyan capital Nairobi, causing a diplomatic spat. He also attacked Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, the face of Uganda’s opposition to his father’s rule, saying: “We will never allow him to be president of this country!”

Muhoozi then wrote about his wish to become Uganda’s president.  “In 2026, it will be 40 years of the old people in charge. That will change,” he said on Twitter on 3 October. “Those are instructions from Jesus Christ! Our generation will be in charge of this country.”

In another tweet posted on the same day, Muhoozi said the youth had been dismissed as ‘kids who can’t run the country’. “Letʼs prove to our elders that we can rule this country well!” He later deleted the tweets on taking charge, but still posts about succeeding his father in 2026.

A day before Muhoozi’s tweets, on 2 October, Vice President Jesica Alupo together with other ministers, Norbert Mao (recently appointed minister of justice), and Kahinda Otafiire (minister of internal affairs, the longest serving minister and a Museveni bush war comrade) presided over an event in which youths endorsed the head of state as a sole candidate for the ruling party in 2026. At the event, Mao said transition will happen in 2031 not 2026.

The president has received many such endorsements.

Rising profile

Before and after the 2021 election, there was optimism among many senior politicians that it would be Museveni’s last term. Politicians were talking nicely about Museveni’s son, wanting to associate with him and even organising birthday parties for him. This was due to the expectation that the son would take centre stage after the election and consequently succeed his father, who will be 82 years in the 2026 election cycle.

I am going to make it my number one mission to always interact with the youth of Uganda.

During last year’s election period, Muhoozi was recalled to command special forces, the most elite section of the army that guards his father. Months after the election, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and appointed commander of the land forces of the Uganda army. It was Muhoozi’s efforts in mending the Rwanda-Uganda relationship that led to the re-opening of the border in March this year after it had been closed by President Paul Kagame. This considerably boosted his profile as a diplomat.

This was followed by birthday fetes across the country in April and May when Muhoozi turned 48. Museveni even held a state dinner for his son, which Kagame attended. At the parties, Muhoozi supporters were wearing T-shirts bearing the words ‘Muhoozi as president’. All this was unprecedented, further playing into the narrative of Muhoozi’s 2026 presidency bid.

Palace succession politics

However, as the father signals that he will be on the ballot paper in 2026, these friends have gone quiet. They are cognisant of the consequences. “If things turn ugly between the father and the son, we are the people the fathers goes after,” a politician who openly backed the son last year tells The Africa Report. “The best thing you can do is to stay quiet.”

Even Muhoozi’s friends who aren’t occupying government offices have taken a back seat to see how the father-son politicking will unfold in the first family. Muhoozi’s chief campaigner of sorts is Michael Nuwagira Kaguta Toyota, Museveni’s young brother who leads a group that calls itself ‘Team Chairman MK project’. It’s the group that organises all activities about the first son. On social media, he is buttressed by hundreds of enthusiastic supporters promoting the first son’s bid for presidency on a daily basis.

Despite Muhoozi’s posturing, analysts say his father still has the last word. Mwambutsya Ndebeesa, a political historian at Makerere University says the ‘Muhoozi project’ is as clear as the sun, but given that Muhoozi is still a serving army officer, Ndebesa says his political fortunes are still in his father’s hands.

“He has not […] retired from the army. If need be, he will be disciplined because the powers are still with father,” Ndebesa says. “There won’t even be negotiations. If the father doesn’t want him to stand, that will be his end.”

Army officials are barred from participating in politics, but Museveni has – in the past – appointed many army officials to political offices, such as ministerial positions. Ndebesa says one scenario would be Museveni handing a powerful ministerial docket to his son, further helping him in building a national and international profile as the head of state in waiting.

Another scenario could be having the son not serving in any office, but wielding more power than ministers. For instance, Museveni’s young brother Salim Saleh, whose influence can only be compared to that of the president, holds no serious office. Ugandans joke that he is the real vice president.

Father-son relationship

As both Museveni and his son tacitly campaign, many political analysts will be watching them. A source with insider knowledge of the Museveni family who spoke to us describes the father–son relationship as “complex”. He tells The Africa Report that the son projects himself as someone above other family members because of the sacrifice he has made through soldiering. It was Museveni who insisted, in the late 1990s, that Muhoozi should join the army while his now influential young brother, Salim Saleh, thought that he should be left to do private business.

Indeed, once in a while, Muhoozi speaks about the sacrifices he has made. For instance, he recently talked about having no time for a honeymoon because two weeks after his marriage in 1999, he had to be on a flight to Sandhurst for military training. Interestingly, though Muhoozi drinks alcohol, his father doesn’t. He also wrote on Twitter that “he has saved him [Museveni] many, many times”, but later deleted the tweet.

Other people, especially Muhoozi’s friends, see the relationship with his father as solid as rock, arguing that even when both Museveni and his son are tacitly campaigning, that should not worry anyone. A Muhoozi supporter tells The Africa Report that Museveni may have made more mistakes than his son in the pre-internet era, but the errors were not broadcasted.

Onapito Ekomoloi, a former Museveni press secretary, also tells The Africa Report that Museveni has over years nurtured and continues to nurture the son. He says under no circumstances will he fall out with Muhoozi, whom he has publicly proclaimed as his “avenger”, which is what the son’s name translates to in English. Early this year, Museveni said he gave this name to his son “such that when someone wrongs me he avenges”.

The first son’s daunting task, Onapito says, is ensuring that he makes history “as the first person in post colonial Africa to succeed their living  parent as president”.

What next for the general

Muhoozi handed over the office of the commander of land forces on Monday. He retains the title of senior presidential advisor on special operations. “I am going to make it my number one mission to always interact with the youth of Uganda,” he told hundreds of people who had gathered at a playground adjacent to the military headquarters.

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