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Uganda: Museveni’s son Muhoozi being manoeuvred into place

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Thursday, 13 May 2021 18:16

Ugandan Special Forces Group (SFG) Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, centre, the son of President Yoweri Museveni, at the Kasenyi SFG camp, east of Kampala in Uganda on 16 Aug 2012. (AP Photo/Uganda Presidency, File)

Birthdays rarely trend on social media in Uganda. But when Lt. General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of Uganda’s president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni turned 47 on Sunday 24 April 2021, a hashtag celebrating his birthday went viral all weekend. Many who sent him birthday wishes added this line: “my next president 2026” or “my next Commander in Chief.” 

The birthday hashtag came with two others: #MuhooziProject and #MK2026. The Muhoozi project one has been around for almost a decade.

Museveni’s son is currently Commander of the Special Forces Command, a 10,000-strong battalion most recently deployed against supporters of Museveni’s presidential rival, Bobi Wine.

 Origins of the term ‘Muhoozi project’

An army general, David Sejusa Tinyefuza coined the term in 2013, alleging that there was such a project, and senior army officers opposed to it were at risk of being assassinated.

Tinyefuza spent more than a year in self-imposed exile in Britain. But he was later was arrested for insubordination in 2016. Unrepentant, since 2014, he remains unretired but with no deployment.

Following publication of the Muhoozi project story in 2013, an 11 day siege took place. Daily Monitor, the leading independent newspaper in Uganda, and Red Pepper, then an indefatigable tabloid (recently morphed into a government propaganda mouthpiece) sent shock waves across the industry.

Calm was restored until proponents of the Muhoozi project went on social media, a move that has since gained traction in the past two years.

We cannot separate ourselves from who we are; the scions of a great manoeuvrist tradition,” Muhoozi wrote in his book, Battles of the Uganda Resistance Movement: A Tradition of Manoeuvre.

Facebook pages and groups such as ‘Muhoozi my next president’ and ‘Muhoozi my role model’ have been set up. There is also a Muhoozi project website on which stories about the ‘first son’ of Uganda are published.

Ssebunya Shafiqi, a key supporter on social media, says: “[Muhoozi is] a patriotic soldier who has contributed to Uganda’s peace. Always close to those in power.”

Last year in March 2020, Muhoozi commented on the term, saying: “Some evil people coined this phrase to try and destroy us! But trust my generation to convert every curse into a blessing!”

Military career of guarding his father

Muhoozi joined the army in 1997, recruiting about 100 university graduates who were trained as part of the Local Defence Unit (LDU): quasi trained soldiers, armed with sticks not guns.

He graduated from the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2000 and was deployed in the then Presidential Protection Unit (PPU).

  • In 2002, he attended a company commander/battalion commander’s course in Egypt. When he returned a year later, he was appointed commanding officer of the fledgling motorized infantry battalion of the Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB), formerly PPU.
  • In 2008, he graduated from Fort Leavenworth, the US Army Command and General Staff College.
  • During that same year, the PGB was reorganised and renamed Commander Special Forces Group (SFG). Muhoozi, who had returned from the US, took over as the first commander. As the elite unit rapidly grew in size, it was renamed Special Forces Command (SFC).
  • Muhoozi stepped down as SFC commander in 2017 and was appointed senior presidential advisor for special operations. Three years later, he was reappointed to lead the SFC.

Away from guarding his father, he has led special military operations in South Sudan, Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo.

SFC potency

With an approximated 10,000 soldiers, SFC has become the most potent branch of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF).

During the last week of April, after a passing out parade of more than 1000 soldiers, President Museveni confirmed the upgrade of the commando battalion to a brigade. (A brigade has between 4,000 to 5000 soldiers).

SFC is also in charge of guarding oil fields in the Albertine region and other strategic government installations. “One day, Ugandans will wake up and find UPDF swallowed by SFC,” says a source close to Uganda’s security organ.

As the name suggests, SFC is in charge of special operations in the army.

President Museveni said its commandos were deployed to Kampala during the 18 November riots that resulted in deaths of more than 50 people.

And recently, he said SFC had detained 51 people who were arrested during elections. In fact, Muhoozi was named among senior army officials that Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine — Museveni’s main challenger — wants the ICC to prosecute over claims of kidnapping and torturing opposition supporters.

Political aspirations?

Muhoozi has always dismissed talks of his presidential ambitions, even though there were heightened speculations that he would join politics in 2017 when he was removed from commanding SFC.

Asked if the new position of presidential advisor was preparing him for politics, he said: “I know, and most people know the path to politics. It’s different from the one I am on right now. If I retired and went and stood in my constituency, then you would say, now he is taking on a political career.”

If politics could interest him in future is a hypothetical question that Muhoozi has said he does not want to discuss.

Andrew Mwenda, a journalist, media proprietor, and close friend of Muhoozi, has inside knowledge of Uganda’s power dynamics. According to him, talks of a ‘Muhoozi project’ are absolute ‘nonsense’. He insists that it doesn’t exist.

But when the 2013 debate was raging, Mwenda wrote a story with no byline in his Independent Magazine, saying “as long as the public debate makes Muhoozi’s succession a possibility, that is good for the brigadier’s ambitions.”

Mwenda thinks that President Museveni, who has shown no signs of retiring, is the biggest stumbling block to any Muhoozi project.

From father to son

Across the continent, there are numerous cases of direct transition of power from father to son.

  • Togo’s Faure Gnassingbé directly replaced his father in 2005.
  • Ali Bongo Ondimba took over when his father Omar Bongo died in 2009 in Gabon.
  • DRC’s Joseph Kabila replaced his father who was assassinated in 2001.

And last month, Chad’s Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno took over after his father was killed by rebels. Itno, a general like Muhoozi, had also been in charge of the presidential brigade.

In Kenya, Mauritius and Botswana, sons of former presidents came to power years after their fathers had retired or died.

Uganda doesn’t fall in any of the above categories. But Mugisha Munti, a retired army commander now in politics, believes it will be hard for Muhoozi to become president because of his father’s stained legacy.

There’s also the fact that Museveni has not allowed his family members to join politics, save for the first lady Janet Museveni, who is minister of education and served as an MP in Ruhaama, a constituency in western Uganda.

  • He is said to have rejected a request by one of his daughters who wanted to replace her mother as a legislator.
  • He declined to support an in-law who wanted to join the ruling party’s top politburo in 2015.
  • He also forced his young brother to pull out of an MP race a day to the January election.

Growing influence

Outside the military, Muhoozi’s influence is seemingly growing. He has met Turkish, Italian, French and German ambassadors in the past one year. He also met the US defence attaché at the Kampala embassy.

Don Wanyama, a close friend of Muhoozi was recently appointed CEO of government owned Vision Group, the largest media conglomerate in Uganda. It would not be a crime, Wanyama says, if the ‘first son’ ever decides to run for a political office and does it as per the law.

And for the first time, a coterie of legislators who openly support Muhoozi for presidency will be joining parliament later this month.

They organised a birthday party on the sidelines of a retreat for ruling party legislators.

“If Faure in Togo did it, Uhuru in Kenya did it, Bongo in Gabon did it, there is no harm for @mkainerugaba to follow in their footsteps, provided it’s in the party and country’s laws interests,” said Michael Katungi, one of the new legislators.

A manoeuvre

Muhoozi’s modus operandi is manoeuvring, he wrote in his book, Battles of the Uganda Resistance Movement: A Tradition of Maneuver, a short recount of strategies that his father deployed in the war that brought him to power in 1986. “We cannot separate ourselves from who we are; the scions of a great manoeuvrist tradition.”

If he ever goes for the presidency, it will be a manoeuvre. Bernard Sabiti, a public policy analyst, argues that it won’t matter what ordinary people think but how the military react. “Will the military be united behind him or will he be the spark that leads to an internal factualism that leads to a coup,” he says.

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