Army can surprise Museveni

Brig. Muhoozi’s role and why UPDF might produce President’s successor

President Yoweri Museveni has stirred up dust with his assertion that he cannot leave power for as long as he is still energetic and has control of the army. Soon after his utterances became the highlight of his recent five-day trip of Kigezi sub-Region, one of the people determined to remove Museveni; the Coordinator of Activists for Change (A4C), Mathias Mpuuga; who is also the Masaka Municipality legislator, cautioned him. “Museveni is not the first to have such desires. Idi Amin (former Ugandan president) and (former Libya president Col. Muammar) Gaddafi are some of the many African dictators that had such desires, we know their fate,” he told The Independent.

Another politician who was equally vexed by Museveni’s utterances is the Vice President of the opposition Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party, Joseph Bossa. He told The Independent that the President’s statements “imply that for as long as he is in control of the army, competitors should forget about the presidency”.

“The other implication is that whoever controls the army is the one who will lead this country,” Bossa said, “and who else then but the person who is seen as the defacto army commander.”

Bossa was referring to the President’s son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who Museveni has in a few years swung through the ranks and installed as one of the top commanders of UPDF.

Bossa is voicing what many analysts across the political divide have since spoken non-stop about.

Fungaroo Kaps Hassan, the Shadow Minister for Defence and member of the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, told The Independent that, in his view, “Muhoozi is the defacto army commander”.

“Museveni has personalised the army,” Fangaroo said, “He calls it his army and has put Muhoozi in-charge, which is why you see Muhoozi posturing, going to Somalia doing things that should be done by his seniors.”

Fangaroo says that what compounds the situation is that for now, Ugandans are disempowered because Museveni controls both the army and as he said in Busia, the cash too. Museveni, while campaigning for the NRM candidate in a by-election the area warned that he would punish residents if they voted “wrongly”.

“I have the money you need for some of the social services but if you make a mistake and vote for the Opposition, you would be blocking the channel because they cannot approach me,” Museveni is quoted to have said.

Fangaroo says an off-shot of Museveni’s utterance might be a rush by Museveni’s opponents to form own armies.

“The army is supposed to be neutral but Ugandans now see that it is controlled by the NRM and President Museveni uses it against other political parties,” the legislator says, “we are in a multiparty dispensation but there is no level playing field. That is why in future the other political parties or Ugandans might also be forced to have their own army.”

Fangaroo warns that there is already tension in the army as a result of Museveni propping up his son, Brig. Muhoozi.

“Some officers who are much senior than him are not happy,” Fangaroo says, “This has created tension with in the army”.

He adds that some of these have asked to be retired but Museveni has not allowed it because he wants them to remain in the force where they are barred from engaging in politics and can be court-martialled for it.

Analysts have also focused on what Museveni intends to achieve by bragging about turning the national army into a personal army.

Mpuuga says such statements by Museveni are meant to demoralise those opposing him.

“But they demoralise only those who are weak,” Mpuuga said, “For us, by making those statements the president is busy emboldening us to get rid of him as quickly as possible. He should know that once people are tired of you, they will get rid of you through the ballot or any other means.”

Other commentators point out that although Museveni tends to brag of having control over the army; his biggest competition also keeps springing from the same institution.

Sabiiti Makara, a renowned political scientist from Makerere University, listed retired Col. Kizza Besigye who was a Museveni confidant for 19 years until he rebelled in 1999. At the time he rebelled, Besigye was a Senior Military Adviser to the Ministry of Defence. He has since, as the flag-bearer of the biggest opposition party, challenged Museveni at the polls thrice.

Col. Besigye’s successor as president of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, was an army commander under Museveni for nine years.

Recently, another soldier, Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza sparked excitement with his 2012 letters and particularly the last one warning of a plan to eliminate those against the Muhoozi project. At the time he fled into exile in London, he was a member of the army High Command, the army’s top governing body, a Senior Presidential advisor on defence, and the coordinator of Military Intelligence. Capt. Ruhinda Maguru, a former Aide-de-Camp to MUseveni has twice challenged him for leadership within the ruling NRM party. The other high ranking retired army officer who plans to take on President Museveni is Maj.Gen. Benon Biraaro.

`Museveni cannot be defeated’

Museveni’s invincibility at the polls and his use of the army in deciding who leads Uganda was echoed by a newly published book. Titled `Elections in a Hybrid Regime, Revisiting the 2011 Ugandan Polls’, the compilation of 14 academic paper by university dons was coincidentally launched a day after the president made the statement.

The conclusion of the authors; all of them top political science professors at Makerere University and other international research bodies, is that at the moment, it is impossible to remove Museveni from power through an election.

Commenting on the role of the military in influencing political outcomes in Uganda, Makara, who is one of the editors of the book, noted that the fact that Kizza Besigye was the first army officer to challenge Museveni was one of his most valued credentials in the 2001 elections.

The book argues that the Ugandan electorate has shown a tendency to choose what they perceive to be the winning side.

By bragging about his stranglehold on the army, Museveni convinces the electorate that he is stronger than the opposition. His regime, according to the political scientists, also throws its weight around through both the massive distribution of financial and material incentives and application of at least subtle political violence. The combination leaves the electorate convinced that in the short or medium term the incumbent regime would remain in power.

“In a situation of anticipated inexorable victory of the NRM, they (voters) rejected the opposition for fear of political or economic marginalisation,” the book says.

It also reveals how control of the army might have delivered Museveni’s victory in the 2011 elections. It cites 2010 opinion polls.

In one of the polls, 59 % of Ugandans were afraid that post-election violence would break out, with 73% opining that losers would reject electoral results.

According to Nicholas de Torrente who is one of the researchers, while electoral campaigns were largely violence-free, the potential for upheaval largely linked to expectations that the opposition would reject presidential results and the security forces’ warning that they stood ready to crack down on disorder, appeared to loom large in the minds of would be voters.

“Ugandans’ anxiety about instability,” Nicholas de Torrente notes in the book, “combined with the NRM’s double-edged message—highlighting its credentials in restoring stability while equating security with its continued stay in power—appears to have been a powerful vote-getter for President Museveni and his party.”

As 2016 approaches, President Museveni by alluding to the army seems to be aiming to sharpen the application of the tools that delivered the 2011 elections.

But another political scientist from Makerere University, Lumumba Bwire, has noted that Museveni’s boastful claims of having control of the army make him look like a bad student of Uganda’s political history.

Bwire notes that all eight governments in Uganda, except two, since independence in 1962 have been over-thrown in a military coup. This has made Uganda the most coup-prone country in the region; with an average of a coup for every six years, before Museveni came to power in a coup in 1986.

Bwire adds that the late former President Milton Obote, who was twice overthrown by the army, had similar false confidence regarding his government’s susceptibility to a military coup.

Writing in 1968 in his `Myths and Realities: Letter to a London Friend’, Obote had bragged: “As regards the position of the Ugandan army, I am perhaps the only African leader who is not afraid of a military take over.”

At the time Obote, like Museveni today, had battered the opposition and thought he had outmanoeuvred opponents both in the army and his party, UPC. But just two years later, Gen. Idi Amin, an army officer Obote had groomed and put in charge, overthrew him.

Brig. Muhoozi’s role

In spite of Bwire’s assertion, Museveni appears quite determined to avert any disloyalty from the army by ensuring that it is firmly within his control. That is Brig. Muhoozi’s role.

In 2012, Museveni had the Special Forces, headed by his son Muhoozi re-structured into the Special Forces Group.

Although slimmer, the SFG is much better trained and has several units that are said to be even better equipped—it is a full-fledged army. The SFG is also the army in charge of critical government installations and special assignments.

Its several specialised units; counterintelligence, artillery and motorised infantry traits, show how well it is being chiselled and positioned.

Museveni also made sure that Muhoozi does not have competition. In a key reshuffle in May 2013 he placed a group of young loyalists in charge of the UPDF.

Maj. Gen. David Muhoozi, who heads the UPDF’s biggest command, the Land Forces is the same age bracket as Muhoozi. The same applies to Brig. Leopold Kyanda who is the new Chief of Staff of the Land Forces among others. While other top commanders like Maj Gen. Samuel Turyagyenda (Air Defence Division), Brig. Kayanja Muhanga, the commander 4th Division, Gen. Katumba Wamala, the current Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), his deputy Lt. Gen. Charles Angina and Maj. Gen. Wilson Mbasu Mbadi, the UPDF’s Joint Chief of Staff (JCOS) are older, their main claim to the positions they hold is their loyalty to Museveni and indirectly Muhoozi.

All these actions confirm Museveni to be the quintessential militarist. It is, therefore, not clear why Museveni’s utterances are attracting a lot of attention since it is not the first time he is making them. Since the 1970s, Museveni has maintained that to be president in Uganda; one must have control of the army. In the 1980, when he was a presidential candidate, Museveni bragged wherever he went that he had the army to defend a ballot victory.

It is also not the first time he has said he cannot hand over power.

On January 27 last year, President Museveni while addressing a judges’ conference in Entebbe, scoffed at “idiots” who say that the NRM government can be overthrown by arms.

“Some of these people are just idiots…” the president said, “They just go around that they want to overthrow the Uganda government, Uganda government to overthrow it? Oooooh! You don’t know what you are talking about…the NRM government to overthrow it with arms, but that is our speciality.”

Later, the President told MPs from his ruling party; specifically those who intended to challenge him, that he is a “war general that cannot easily be removed”.

In the 2001 presidential campaign, Museveni said: I’m not ready to hand over power to people or groups of people who have no ability to manage a nation ….Why should I sentence Ugandans to suicide by handing over power to people we fought and defeated? It’s dangerous despite the fact that the constitution allows them to run against me…. At times the constitution may not be the best tool to direct us politically for it allows wrong and doubtful people to contest for power.”

Western Uganda battleground

Interestingly, even back then, Museveni made the statement in western Uganda; the backyard of Amama Mbabazi, the ruling party’s former Secretary General who he recently kicked out of the leadership of the ruling party.

The Kinkizi West (Kanungu district) legislator , who once saw himself high up in the succession queue when he loomed large as President Museveni’s most powerful political ally and is now seen as President Museveni’s biggest potential contender with in the NRM.

If Mbabazi indeed throws his hat into the ring, western Uganda could become a major battleground for Museveni. Mbabazi’s vocal sister-in-law, Hope Mwesigye, remains the ruling NRM party chairman for Kabale district where Museveni made the latest remarks.

In fact, some of those who attended the function at which Museveni uttered the famous remarks understood them to be an indirect swing at Mbabazi, who is a civilian without an army.