Uganda: Museveni will run in 2026. Can he outpace his son Muhoozi?

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Tuesday, 27 December 2022 17:39

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni speaks during a Reuters interview at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi district
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni speaks at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) in Kyankwanzi district, Uganda December 4, 2021. REUTERS/Abubaker Lubowa

Uganda’s ruling party has already named its presidential candidate for the next election: Yoweri Museveni, head of state since 1986. A Museveni advisor tells The Africa Report that the president still has 'fundamental' things to deliver. But analysts suspect the move is related to the ambitions of Museveni's son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who now wants the top job.

The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) pronouncement is unusual given that political parties formally select candidates about six months before the election.

Uganda’s next election cycle is more than three years away. But the move is an attempt to bring to an end uncomfortable succession debate triggered by Museveni’s son General Muhoozi Kainerugaba who has presented himself as his father’s successor.  

The year 2022 has seen Muhoozi excite supporters and vex his critics.

He has been Uganda’s newsmaker of the year, first mending Uganda’s diplomatic relations with Rwanda, then hosting mega birthday parties and rallies across the country.

More controversially, he has been churning out tweets touching sensitive domestic and foreign topics. One, which suggested Uganda’s military could capture Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, prompted Museveni to offer a rare public apology, 

At the start of December he started firing tweets at NRM.

On December 2nd, he described the ruling party as “probably the most reactionary organisation in the country…I certainly do not believe in NRM.”

In another, Muhoozi who claimed to be listening to the “outcry of our people for change” as he presented himself as the possible next president argued that “whatever NRM has become certainly does not represent the people of Uganda.”   

Disquiet

NRM stayed quiet momentarily, but the tweets were being discussed by other government officials.

The first response came from government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo who penned an article criticising the party’s lack of clarity but he didn’t refer to the tweets. “NRM is becoming a victim of mixed signals from its top leadership, where clarity is not only lacking but also studiously being avoided.”

He warned that if ruling party leaders fail in their responsibilities the voters will be right to “vote with their feet.” 

State Minister for investment Evelyne Anite – famous for kneeling during a party retreat in 2015 requesting Museveni to offer himself as the presidential candidate in 2016 elections – tweeted that Museveni will be on the ballot in 2026. In reference to Muhoozi, who has been christened a standby generator, Anite said the “generator will not start.” 

The most striking rebuke came from David Mafabi, a senior advisor to the president. Mafabi said succession discussion on social media had been dominated by “rabid hooliganism”.

“Others who claim membership of the movement have berated the president and purported to tell him to retire honourably. What happens if he doesn’t step down at their behest, do they retire him dishonourably?” Mafabi questioned.  

“The originators of this mischief should reign in this senseless hooliganism and indiscipline. It’s not useful to anybody. It’s certainly irrelevant in the revolutionary struggle for liberation of the people of Uganda,” he added.

The party’s word

NRM secretary Richard Todwong spoke on the subject at length on 14 December, declaring that a top party organ which sat in 2019 agreed that Museveni “should continue leading this country in 2021, 2026 and beyond.”

There has been a lot of skirmishing in the past months between supporters of Muhoozi and Museveni, largely among the youth, declaring support for their favourite candidate for presidency in 2026. Todwong said youth who are moving around the country expressing their wish to have Museveni rule past 2026 want the party resolution of 2019 actualised.  

He added that youth took interest in endorsing Museveni because of propaganda around the country that the president isn’t popular, especially among the young people. “The young people thought it wise to come out and show the public that Yoweri Museveni is still very popular among young people.” 

Answering direct questions on Muhoozi tweets, Todwong said the first son’s tweets might have been a “misguided opinion about the party.” However, he hastened to add the party received criticism in good faith and will internally reflect on it. For those who want to criticise it, he said they should “criticise but don’t insult….criticise but respect.”  

Tight grip

For decades that the party has held onto power, it has been decisive at dealing with internal revolt and telling off critics.

In 2014, it was quick to get rid of Amama Mbabazi, its secretary general and prime minister who wanted to challenge Museveni for party flag bearer ticket in 2016 elections. Museveni was key in dealing a heavy blow to one of his closest confidants for decades.

This time, however, he has been quiet, giving ambivalent responses when asked about his son. And when he has given unequivocal directives especially on tweeting, the son has defied him outrightly.   

Museveni has constantly said he won’t punish Muhoozi, a serving army officer, who by law is not allowed to make political comments. In a recent interview, he said his son tweets are “small matters” and “not every matter needs action or punishment.” 

What’s up in the Muhoozi camp

Muhoozi’s camp has been quiet for months.

This is because its main ring leaders, mostly Museveni’s brothers, have also gone quiet. For Muhoozi, apart from tweeting, he is never in touch with politicians and foot soldiers who market him, a source tells The Africa Report, indicating lack of a cardinal political trait: being always available for your constituents.  

We shall always receive guidance on these issues from Museveni and the central executive committee [top organ of ruling party] at an appropriate time.

What does his camp think? Michael Mawanda, a legislator who was recently elected Team MK in chairman, tells The Africa Report that they are part of the ruling party.  

“We are NRM. We are still doing work for NRM. We are promoting our brand for the future that in case an opportunity comes up, we shall have him offered,” he said. Mawanda said the ruling party needs to embrace a healthy succession debate for sustainability purposes.” 

Why Museveni?

David Mafabi argues in an interview with The Africa Report that in formative stages of a young nation struggling to stand on its feet like Uganda, leadership is very important in stabilising democratic governance and ushering in longer term stability.

“What happens in young nations is that leaders stand very firm, very tall especially when institutions are weak and those leaders we should not let them go easily, those leaders have a historical role to perform and to me rather than those leaders being a point of weakness, they should be a point of strength,” he said.  

As to when Museveni will go, Mafabi says it will be on his terms.

“We shall always receive guidance on these issues from Museveni and the central executive committee [top organ of ruling party] at an appropriate time.”

And contrary to what Museveni has always claimed — that it’s the party that decides — Mafabi says the president remains the most dominant force in the party. “In the party there has to be a dominant line and the dominant line is led by Yoweri Museveni. Of course, he must persuade, he must cajole, he must convince others to follow him.” 

Family Affairs

After decades Museveni Mafabi admits when transition comes, it may not be a smooth one.

Who could be the successor?

A Museveni family member could have higher chances, argues Mafabi, pointing to Dr. Milton Obote – Uganda’s first post independence prime minister – who led Uganda Peoples Congress (UPPC) for almost half a century and was succeeded by his wife after death. The wife was succeeded by the son.  

“Why? These formations are not ideological because our society tends to have confidence in people not ideology but people who have been associated with the leaders they have loved so much,” he tells The Africa Report. 

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