By Haggai Matsiko
It was in the last part of his speech to the UPDF High Command, but President Yoweri Museveni’s comments about his son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, have become the talking point among the officers that The Independent has spoken to since.
On May 22, just a day before Museveni sweeping changes in the army top leadership, he convened a special meeting of the army’s topmost decision making body, the Army High Command, at State House Entebbe.
Museveni’s speech touched on many issues, including the role of young officers in the army, and the failures of then- Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakayirima, his then deputy, Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta and former Air Force Commander, Lt.Gen. Jim Owoyesigire.
Brig. Muhoozi attended in his capacity as the commander of Special Forces.
Others in attendance were the Defence Minister and the two members of the original High Command as of January 26, 1986; Museveni’s younger brother, Gen. Salim Saleh, and Gen. Elly Tumwine. They `originals’ were six including Eriya Kategaya, the late prime minister, Matayo Kyaligonza who is ambassador to Burundi, and Gen. David Sejusa who is in exile.
The Chief of Defence forces, Gen. Katumba Wamala, his deputy, Lt. Gen. Charles Angina, all Service Commanders, the Chief of Staff, all Service Chiefs of Staff, all Chiefs of the Services of the Defence Forces, attended.
The High Command holds at least three annual meetings annually, but this was a special session.
Sources at the meeting told The Independent that it was clear that President Museveni sought to allay allegations that he was grooming his son, Muhoozi, to succeed him as president under the so-called `Muhoozi project’.
Gen. Sejusa, the erstwhile Coordinator Intelligence Services before he fled the country in April sparked controversy with a letter published in the media alleging a plot to assassinate army officers and politicians opposed to Muhoozi.
Sources told The Independent that apart from questioning why the military intelligence had not exposed “the subversive activities of Tinyefuza”, Museveni did not talk about Sejusa again.
However, he questioned the tendency of some officers not to use the “appropriate fora to voice opinions”. Our sources say he was understood to be referring to Gen. Sejusa.
“Do public statements provide any solution to any problem in the army?” Museveni asked, “If not, what are they for?”
He brought up the Muhoozi issue as he was concluding his speech.
“I cannot end this speech without talking about the issue of Muhoozi (Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba) since our enemies have made it a daily issue in the papers and the subversive activities of some individuals constipated with ambition and deceit,” Museveni said as he concluded his long speech.
“I am most pleased that Muhoozi has turned out to be a very serious officer, quiet and devoted to the building of the army,” Museveni told his commanders, “He has already helped us to build a Commando Force and Paratrooper Force which some of the earlier actors had either failed or refused to build.”
Museveni said the Commando Force, in partnership with elements of the Second Division, gave the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) rebels such a decisive defeat in Semliki, western Uganda in 2007 that they have never returned to Uganda since.
In Mogadishu, Museveni went on; the commandoes have killed 192 enemies without losing any of their force.
Museveni said in all the years he has spent building the UPDF, only two people have written for him papers on Strategic and Army doctrine.
“One of them was Gen. Katumba (Wamala) when he was an instructor at Jinja,” Museveni said, “That is how I came to know him. Muhoozi has written for me several high quality papers of doctrine and strategy.”
Museveni said Muhoozi was the one who had exposed to him how the 47 Battalion deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo to flush out the Lords Resistance (LRA) in 2008’s Operation Lightening Thunder, were eating only one meal a day. Muhoozi’s commandoes were part of this operation and that is how he came to find out, Museveni noted.
Indeed Museveni seemed not to be sure the problem had been solved for good. “Military intelligence has some gaps,” Museveni said, “why did they not detect the underfeeding of soldiers for instance? Has the underfeeding of soldiers stopped?”
A source told The Independent that members of the Reserve Fore were still suffering this problem.
Museveni added that Muhoozi is the one who advised the UPDF soldiers on the AMISOM mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, to use mouse-hole explosives in their fight against al-shabaab.
He told the High Command that before the Muhoozi intervention, the UPDF soldiers in Somalia were finding difficulty in uprooting the enemy because they were attacking through the narrow streets. Even when they changed tactics and started digging trenches, the enemy would hear them and run or attack them.
When Muhoozi visited, Museveni told the commanders, he advised them to use mouse-hole explosives that blast holes through walls. That way, the UPDF would make gains against the terrorists and hence the successes the army has registered in Somalia.
“To vilify, demonise, castigate, harangue in a demented way against such an officer is sickness in a metaphorical sense,” Museveni reportedly said, “If you have no objectivity to see value, then your leadership qualities are in question.
“Even if Muhoozi was a mediocre performer, it would be the duty of the army to defend its members as long as he has done no wrong or mistake.”
The Army High Command, according to the UPDF, is supposed to advise the President in emergency situations and on matters relating to national security or deployment of the Defence Forces and when the country is at war.
On Aronda, Koreta, Tumukunde
Without mentioning it, our sources said, Museveni used the meeting to prepare the UPDF leadership for the reshuffle he was set to announce the following morning.
In the reshuffle, Museveni removed Gen. Aronda Nyakairima and his deputy, Lt Gen. Ivan Koreta from army leadership and appointed Gen. Katumba and Maj. Gen. Angina to replace them. He appointed Gen. Aronda minister for Internal Affairs. Gen. Koreta was named ambassador for a yet to be named mission.
“While many Ugandans continue to speculate about why Museveni changed the UPDF leadership, for those who attended the meeting, they had got the answers that night even if they didn’t know that a reshuffle was looming,” our source said.
Museveni defended the appointment and promotion of young officers saying it was part of a strategy to attract new blood. He listed army officers that had attained top ranks at tender ages on the international scene and during the bush war in Luweero.
Museveni has been criticized for the apparent rapid promotion of his son, Brig. Muhoozi. However, his explanation, according to our sources appeared designed to show why he was shifting the leadership of the UPDF to young officers.
“The young and healthy people rescued this army and all should salute them,” Museveni said, “Therefore, those cadres who resent the political commissars we conscripted into command or the young commanders we recruited are `abashaija babi’ (bad men) as the Banyankole say.”
Museveni expressed frustration about personal indiscipline that had led to the death, due to sickness, of the older top commanders on the very dawn of the NRM’s capture of state power in 1986.
He said five nominees for a senior command training course in the USSR were found unfit for that course on health grounds and good commanders like Kamuntu and Katerega broke down because of the rigours of another course in Tanzania.
Museveni said as a result, they ended up sending political commissars who did not have combat experience for the trainings instead.
At the meeting, Museveni categorised the UPDF’s challenges into two; hardware and software challenges.
Amongst the hardware challenges, Museveni listed the lack of a more capable air-defence system, suitable barracks for soldiers, a more capable marine force, a comprehensive repair and upgrade capacity for aircrafts, tanks and IFVs.
He said Uganda’s military industries need to be upgraded to manufacture the vital strategic elements the army needs so that it only buys from outside the other general requirements.
He said the welfare of the families of our comrades who died in the last 43 years needed to be extended beyond the free schooling up to A’ level which the army has been providing.
Then he embarked on the software issues which he described as “lingering negative tendencies”.
Of the seven he listed, our sources said, at least five appeared to be directed at the Aronda leadership. Museveni said the main two were failure to inspect troops and poor planning.
Museveni told the commanders that he had got a report; he would later reveal that it was from Muhoozi, that the 47 Battalion was eating only one meal just before the Garamba operation. The mission that was supposed to net LRA leader Joseph Kony was botched.
Museveni told the commanders that he told Gen. Aronda about it but later on got additional information that this was a wider problem—soldiers in DR Congo, Southern Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR) were all not getting all the food that had been released for them.
Museveni told the commanders that he also was told that “ghost soldiers” had resurfaced as the numbers of soldiers on the ground were far fewer than the payable strength. The phantom soldiers, used mainly by the army leadership to skim off millions of shillings in salaries and allowances, were still haunting the UPDF payroll. Our sources say Museveni was visibly angry about this development, when he confronted Aronda and then-Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Jim Owoyesigyire.
“How does such a situation come about?” Museveni asked.
Museveni also faulted the Aronda leadership of failing to “use collective solutions” to ensure that university going children of soldiers to get that education.
He said that he had written to Aronda about this—especially the need to streamline the army Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) also known as Wazalendo to enable soldiers access credit.
Wazalendo is composed of UPDF personnel, their families, Reserve Forces and Staff of Ministry of Defence (MOD) according to the information on its website.
Under the SACCO, soldiers save 16 percent of their earnings and this pool is supposed to make it easy for them to access loans (credit) to enhance their individual welfare both socially and economically. By June 30, 2011, the SACCO boasted of 64,482 members since its inception in 2005.
But a source told The Independent that there were issues in managing the SACCO and the soldiers were not happy with it. Apparently top ranking officers were the ones accessing the SACCO money at the expense of their poor colleagues.
The biggest and most costly failure of the Aronda leadership, Museveni said, was poor or inadequate planning in the force.
Museveni told his commanders that he was very disappointed when after establishing a planning department and appointing Brig. Henry Tumukunde in charge of it, he heard that Tumukunde was disgruntled because planning was a “dry” department.
Museveni said that because of the weakness of the department, he had to intervene in petty issues like the need for enhanced pay for pilots and airforce mechanics.
“I do not even know whether the directives on that issue have been implemented,” he said, “I was forced to come in because I discovered that we will never develop an air-force if we continue failing to pay pilots what their colleagues are paid in the open market.”
Museveni said his biggest frustration was that poor planning caused the loss of the three choppers that crushed in Mt. Kenya enroute to Somalia.
He told the commanders that he had been against deploying the gunships to Somalia because Uganda had just attained a squadron force and he did not like the idea of scattering those scarce resources when enemies like the ADF were still swirling around Uganda.
Apparently, it is Aronda and Owoyesigyire that persuaded Museveni with prospects of making a lot of money by deploying the gunships involved.
“When eventually, I agreed, I did not know that operational planning in the Air-force was totally inefficient; no navigation charts, no emergency standing operating procedures,” Museveni said, “It was such a wastage!”
When the UPDF choppers crashed in August 2012, an angry Museveni took swipes at commanders whom he blamed of having a business mentality. At the time, no one could put a finger on these specific commanders but after the May 22 meeting, those who attended realised that beyond Owoyesigyire and his former Chief of Staff, Brigadier Moses Rwakitarate who were fired immediately, President Museveni also blamed Aronda for the chopper crashes.
Museveni said before Muhoozi advised them, the UPDF had failed to establish zonal forces to protect the areas they had captured from the enemy in Somalia. He narrated to the commanders that Aronda had travelled on a UN plane from Mogadishu to Baidoa.
“I asked Aronda how long it is from Mogadishu to Baidoa and he said two and a half hours,” Museveni narrated how he asked Aronda how the force could cover an area as big as from Entebbe to Kaabong without zonal forces.
On making this point, Museveni vowed in front of the commanders that he was going to overhaul the Somalia mission too. At the time, no one imagined that that overhaul would swallow Aronda as it did the next morning.