It read like fiction about poker game amongst acquaintances that had taken a dangerous turn. Curiosity peaked when Gen David Sejusa (Tinyefuza) wrote his now famous letter demanding an investigation of this plot.
But it has now become increasingly clear that the undercurrents that were burbling under the radar until they came to surface in Sejusa’s letter reflect a generational fight over control of the UPDF.
What started as cyber gossip has all but become a national security crisis, with Gen Sejusa being accused of plotting to overthrow the government – his aides arrested his residence raided, his freedom threatened. And if there was any doubt about the gravity of the crisis, the evidence came on Friday, with heavy military deployment around Entebbe, ahead of Sejua’s expected return on Saturday.
That Friday afternoon, our source’s website, had exclusively broken the story that Sejusa had postponed his return from London because he feared being arrested like a cockroach. Still, the army camped in Entebbe and waited. But come Saturday morning, Sejusa did not appear.
It may or may not be what Sejusa expected, but his media revelations have revived the debate about the power, privileged position and presidential prospects of President Museveni’s son, Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, a fast-rising officer now heading the elite Special Forces Command. And the emphasis in the narrative from officialdom is likely to change from denying the Muhoozi project to asking: “what would be so wrong with a Muhoozi presidential bid?”
Although government officers deny the existence of a scheme to favour the president’s son, the Muhoozi project is now a combustible debate which cannot be extinguished. On one hand of this debate is a group of largely Luweero bush war senior army officers who believe that the president has systematically been purging the army of the old guards to prepare for the ascendancy of his son; the other group believes it is a natural cycle for the old army officers to retire.
This latter group also believes that if Muhoozi chooses to run for the presidency, there is nothing in the Constitution that bars him. But the old guard, held loosely together by the Luweero bush war camaraderie, has silently dissented to what it believes is a well-calibrated plan to usher in a Muhoozi presidency.
“The army is the most powerful arm of the regime and has the capacity to hold a veto over who can become the future president,” argues Mwambustya Ndebesa, a political historian at Makerere University. Ndebesa believes dynamics within the UPDF will play a great role in the succession politics.
As the president himself dithers over retirement, some of these officers want the succession debate to be removed from behind closed doors and placed in the open. Sources have told our source that Sejusa only wrote the letter because he is bold and daring enough; but he speaks for much larger constituency of army officers, who are gagged by army regulations.
“Some officers are not happy with what is going on but because of command and control few are brave enough to speak out. The (Brig Henry) Tumukundes and Tinyefuzas are able to speak out because they are bold and are of the same clan with those in power,” said a serving army officer, who preferred not to be named for fear of reprisals.
As a result, sources claim the veins of intelligence bodies have been irreversibly poisoned by a power struggle playing out between military chiefs who have taken sides in this debate.
“There is a senior army officer whose views favour a Muhoozi presidency, which has set him on a collision course with other officers,” revealed the source.
Apparently this was reference to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Lt Gen Kale Kayihura, easily one of the most powerful security potentates. Kayihura, it is said, now controls the biggest intelligence budget, much to the chagrin of the other security organs. His role also appears to overlap that of Sejusa as the coordinator of intelligence agencies.
However, Kayihura has threatened to take Gen Sejusa to court for linking him to a plot to kill perceived anti-Muhoozi figures. Speaking to The Observer on Saturday, Kayihura said his reputation had been gravely damaged by the allegations.
“I’m thinking of going to court. What he said was not true,” Kayihura said.
The police chief said he did not want to comment further because the army chief Gen Aronda Nyakairima had sufficiently responded to the allegations. For a long time, Sejusa had been perceived to be a powerful army officer, with unfettered access to President Museveni.
Sources told our source that Sejusa was appointed to coordinate security organs at the time the current Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was security minister.
“He [Sejusa] was given a budget of Shs 350m per month which is way above what the current Security minister Muruuli Mukasa is entitled to monthly. But his role has increasingly been undermined,” said a source.
Another source in the army argues that what is currently unfolding is part of a cycle where old officers have to retire as younger ones take over.
“I don’t see any harm in it although some see a Muhoozi presidency conspiracy. Any officer is also free to support Muhoozi in case he wants to contest the president.”
Speaking on BBC radio on Friday, the UPDF spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, described the Muhoozi project as a creation of Sejusa and the media, and dismissed reports of divisions in the army.
“I have heard that thing [Muhoozi project] for some time now. I have not had an opportunity to determine whether it exists at all. My conscience tells me it does not exist,” said Ankunda.
Yet Sejusa is not alone in feeling sidelined. Retired Brig Kasirye Gwanga has questioned the criterion of promotion in the army and has ominously warned against a Muhoozi presidency.
Who wields power in the UPDF?
To answer this question, one has to return to the power dynamics of the NRA shortly after capturing power in 1986. The top decision-making echelon was the High Command which, according to the UPDF Act 2005, had six members by 1986: Yoweri Museveni, Salim Saleh, David Sejusa, Elly Tumwine and Maj Gen Matayo Kyaligonza as well as the late Eriya Kategaya, who was a brigadier.
Of these, Museveni still calls the shots, as the commander-in-chief of the army. The next powerful officer is said to be Saleh, Museveni’s younger brother, who is named in the dossier as one of the people eager to bump off those against a Muhoozi presidency. Saleh, who is a former army commander, is a senior presidential advisor on the military affairs and handles some of Museveni’s most sensitive assignments.
Tumwine was the first army commander after the bush war. He is currently a UPDF representative in the ninth Parliament and his halo in the military has since slipped. Until his death in March, the president’s childhood friend Eriya Kategaya, who was the first deputy prime minister, did not wield much influence, despite holding army number RO-002 after Museveni.
Kyaligonza has only been promoted once since he was officially decorated as Brigadier in 1998. He is now a major general, assigned peripheral roles. Yet many accounts of the bush war place him among the most revered and daring NRA fighters, who carried out a number of clandestine operations in urban centres against the UNLA.
Today he barely holds any influence in the army. He is the NRM chairperson for western Uganda and the country’s envoy to Burundi.
The second group that is listed in the UPDF Act is that of senior officers as of January 26, 1986. These include Major Generals Pecos Kutesa, Jim Muhwezi, Joram Mugume, Mugisha Muntu and Kahinda Otafiire. Others are Lt Gen Ivan Koreta, Brigadiers Andrew Lutaaya, Julius Chihandae, Peter Kerim and Ahmed Kashilingi. There were colonels Fred Mwesigye, Gyagenda Kibirango, Samson Mande and Amin Izaruku.
This group has also been pushed further away from the centre of power. The likes of Muntu, Otafiire, Muhwezi, Lutaaya and Mwesigye have all retired. Mande is a renegade on the run, after he was linked to the shadowy Peoples Redemption Army (PRA). He currently lives in Sweden.
Former deputy army commander Joram Mugume runs the UPDF Lands docket, Pecos Kutesa, who was consigned to oblivion for several years, is now in charge of military doctrine. The former military attaché in Arusha, Steven Kashaka, is on katebe [undeployed]. Kibirango is in charge of the army’s Mubende sickbay.
Last year, we reported extensively about the then emerging shift in the centre of power in the army, an institution that had long been controlled by people with links to the bushwar or its immediate aftermath.
A closer look at the army’s command structure reveals various groups that are taking charge. The 1985 group consisted of the deceased former Defence ministry permanent secretary, Brig Noble Mayombo; the head of the Luweero army industry, Brig James Mugira; Brig David Muhoozi, who is in charge of the Air Defence unit in Nakasongola, and Brig Leopold Kyanda, who is currently in charge of administration and personnel in the UPDF, and other, now middle-aged officers.
An insider army source says there are about three groups of a much younger generation compared to the ‘Mayombo 1985 group’ that will provide the future UPDF leadership. One of these groups attended a cadet course in Monduli, Tanzania.
“Intake 37 went to Monduli in 1997 and some of the soldiers in this group are: Lt Col Ddamulira Sserunjogi, director Intelligence, Land Forces; Maj CD Mukasa, Intelligence officer in the first division; Maj Julius Rubakuba, intelligence officer 2nd division and brother to Brig Muhoozi; and Lt Col Bob Ogik, director of the Senior Staff and Command College, Kimaka,” the source revealed.
Later, another cadet group attended the Gaddafi School of Infantry, including Maj Stuart Agaba, former Aide de Camp to the President, now in Somalia; Maj Felix Bishorozi, OC -Special Company in the Special Forces Group (SFG); and Capt Napoleon Namanya, head of Museveni’s inner-security circle.
Others are Lt Col Emmanuel Ankunda, political commissar fifth division; Lt Col Chris Ogumiraki, Somalia contingent political commissar, and Lt Col Johnson Namanya, a former journalist with The Monitor (now Daily Monitor), who is the administration officer in charge of the UPDF industries in Luwero.
Muhoozi in charge
Lastly, there is the group that trained and graduated alongside the First Son, Brig Muhoozi. This is a coterie of mainly Makerere University fresh graduates trained at Kasenyi, Kaweweta, Kabamba and who completed their cadet course at the Gaddafi School of Infantry.
They include: Muhoozi’s deputy, Col Sabiiti Magyenyi; Lt Col Dan Kakono, the head of the Artillery division in Masindi; and Maj Charity Bainababo, who is the ADC to the First Lady.
Others are: Capt Allan Matsiko, in charge of Counterintelligence, SFC; Capt Nabimanya, an intelligence officer in SFC; and Capt Michael Kanyamunyu, in charge of Special Investigations Bureau, SFG. It is this closely knit group that holds a semblance of loyalty to Muhoozi.
Their strategic placements in sensitive army units, added to the fact that as head of the SFC, Muhoozi is literary in control of the army’s key units, have led to the conclusion that the first son is being prepared to be commander in chief one day – bypassing senior generals and officials.
Sejusa no show
Meanwhile, Entebbe airport remained tightly guarded on Saturday, the day Gen. Sejusa was supposed to return from the UK. By late Saturday evening, Sejusa had not returned, disappointing waiting journalists, security personnel and supporters.
The army took charge of the airport entrance, barring journalists with cameras from accessing the premises. It was not clear why cameras were feared, but it could be that the army may have anticipated some unseemly scenes if it had tried to arrest Sejusa. Other security operatives patrolled the airport. Units of heavily armed Riot police and military police were also deployed along Entebbe Road.
Highly-placed sources told The Observer that the Chief of Defense Forces Gen Aronda Nyakairima and third deputy Premier Gen Moses Ali were in charge of the operation and were seen at the airport on Friday. According to Sejusa’s lawyers, the general still had some issues to finish in London and will return later. It appears most likely that whenever Sejusa returns, the army will want to take charge of him.