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Inside Gen Sejusa’s long road to retirement

From prisoner of the army to Twitter intellectual

Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | A greying and wryly smiling Gen. David Sejusa signed his retirement documents on May 26 at the Army headquarters in Mbuya, Kampala.

It was the beginning of the end of a torturous journey for Sejusa who had clamoured for retirement from the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) for more than 25 years.

Sajusa’s retirement was announced in a tweet from the account of the Defence Spokesperson.

“He will be retired under Batch 12 in July this year,” it said.

In the last few years, Gen. Sejusa had taken to sharing nuggets of political history and military strategy on his active Twitter account as his quest for retirement looked like a dead end until days ago.

The announcement of Sejusa’s retirement was a cathartic moment for the 67-year-old General who first made public his desire to retire from the army in 1996. However, the outspoken Sejusa chose to keep his thoughts on the matter to himself- he did not tweet anything on the day he signed his retirement document forms perhaps saving all his energy for his very last day, July 12, as a member of the UPDF.

But behind his thoughts and recollections that pour out in tweets every day lies a long and arduous battle that involves detention, frustration of months in exile, court battles and personal showdowns with his Commander in Chief, President Yoweri Museveni.

In 2016, Sejusa was arrested on Museveni’s orders a few days to the presidential election and arraigned before the General Court Martial. He was charged with insubordination, conduct prejudicial to good order, Absence without Official Leave and two counts of participating in political activities.

While in brief exile in the UK from May 2013- December 2014, following his exposure of the so-called “Muhoozi Project”, Sejusa had become notorious for his provocative statements going as far as revealing that Besigye won the 2006 election.

By the time Sejusa was arrested in 2016, he had also been flirting with joining the camp of Amama Mbabazi, the just sacked prime minister and the latest in a long line of NRM malcontents.  That same year, Sejusa was about to register a milestone in his quest for retirement.

His lawyers raised an objection that captured the predicament he faced. They argued that their client could not face the court martial when he had a case before the High Court that was yet to decide whether Sejusa was a serving army officer or not.

Sejusa’s defence team was led by David Mushabe and included a collection of lawyers in Kampala arguing out political cases; Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, Max Mutabingwa, Michael Mabikke, and Yusuf Nsibambi. One of Sejusa’s sons, David Munungu was also part of the team. Munungu urged his father not to take plea, saying this would make him subject to the jurisdiction of the court.

In the petition he filed earlier at the High Court, Sejusa stated that he had been constructively retired from the army since he was not receiving a salary and was not deployed anywhere.

In May 2016, the High Court ruled that the court martial trial of Gen. Sejusa should be halted. The presiding High Court judge Margaret Oguli-Oumo ruled that Sejusa had ceased to be an officer of the UPDF on April 8, 2015 since 90 days had expired since he had filed his request to retire from the army as stipulated in the UPDF Act.

After the High Court ruled in his favour, the Attorney General appealed and Sejusa was thrust into an extended judicial process that took another six years for a ruling to be made albeit not in his favour.

In February, the maverick General had hoped that the Court of Appeal would grant him his desire to formalise his retirement process. But the ruling of the Court of Appeal on Feb. 8 reinforced what perhaps Sejusa knew- that a soldier of his history cannot earn retirement through a court battle.

“The basis of his action rested on the question of whether his resignation was effective upon the expiry of the 90 days’ period within which the Board was supposed to communicate a decision on his application for resignation,” Justice Christopher Madrama wrote in the lead judgement.

“This did not give jurisdiction to the High Court under its administrative review jurisdiction to delve into other matters to be dealt with by statutory authorities prescribed in the UPDF Act with the mandate to deal with matters of retirement and retirement benefits of a General in the UPDF. The court would only be concerned with a decision and to assess its legality.” Madrama wrote on behalf of the three judge quorum.

The Court of Appeal faulted the High Court for exercising powers of the UPDF Commissions Board which is tasked with promotions and retirements of army officers.

Sejusa and Besigye

The line-up of lawyers in the Sejusa retirement case reflected the politics of the day. Sejusa at the time was flirting with joining Dr. Kizza Besigye’s presidential campaign in 2016.  The two go way back from the Bush War era and years after, Besigye had been best man to Sejusa on the latter’s wedding.

At the time Sejusa was falling out with the UPDF establishment in the mid-1990s, Besigye was also going through the same metamorphosis. Museveni’s former physician was becoming increasingly critical of the Movement government, accusing it of creeping authoritarianism. In a strange twist of fate, Sejusa turned out to be the commanding officer of Besigye’s famous arrest in November 2005 at Busega outside Kampala while Besigye was returning from an upcountry trip.

Besigye himself had just returned from five years in exile in South Africa and was gearing up for a presidential run. It is unknown whether Sejusa was trying to endear himself with the powers that be after a recent reconciliation with Museveni or he was living up to his name Sejusa whose literal translation connotes a lack of regret.

Reports had emerged in the last few years that Sejusa was under partial house arrest. His movements were restricted and he did not have the luxury of mingling and frolicking with political actors as he did months after he had just returned from exile in December 2014.

After a 19-month stint in exile in the U.K., Sejusa caused murmurs of excitement on what he could do next after he declared war on Museveni and a government whose stranglehold on power he had perpetuated.

The excitement was short lived after a few attendances of political party jamborees as the country prepared for the 2016 election. By the time the presidential campaign started in November 2015, Sejusa had fizzled out. His arrest days before the election is what brought him back in the news but he had already been written off in as far as any bearing he could have on the 2016 polls.

Maverick General

Gen. Sejusa, one of the most controversial figures of the NRM government, has also been said to be one of the most brilliant officers of the UPDF. Known for his grasp and articulation of military doctrine and warfare, Sejusa always belonged to a category of elite and polished officers that included Noble Mayombo, Pecos Kutesa, Aronda Nyakairima, Benon Biraaro, David Muhoozi and a few others. With the exception of Muhoozi, the rest are all deceased.

When Sejusa was sent on the very first course held at Senior Command and Staff College Kimaka in Jinja, perhaps to a few people’s surprise, he emerged the best student.

Right from the five year Bush War in which Sejusa took part, the moustached General made a name for his forthright views including when dealing with the Commander in Chief. Ten years after the National Resistance Army (NRA) captured power in 1996, Sejusa took a bold step and asked to be retired from the military.

In the letter to Museveni, he wrote “I find it unjustifiable to continue serving in an institution whose bodies I have no faith in or whose views I do not subscribe to. I know my own faults very well and I do not suppose I am an easy subordinate, I like to go my own way.”

In 2012, Sejusa’s frustration as a UPDF officer who wanted out reached a tipping point. He started writing letters in the Daily Monitor lamenting about the direction of the country and the rejection of army officer’s demands to retire. In the various letters he wrote, Sejusa complained about the brutality employed by “state actors”, the worsening economic situation and the spiraling unemployment.

Two letters stood about; one about coup talk and the other about First Son then Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

“The press has been awash with coup stories, claims and counter claims. This talk however is diversionary and masks the real fundamental issues facing us as a country,” Sejusa wrote in 2013 adding that Uganda was facing a generational gridlock which it needed to manage well. President Museveni had fired off the coup talk saying the army could take over after frustration with parliament.

Sejusa’s treatise on coups was a precursor to the bombshell that sent him into exile. In May 2013, Sejusa alleged a plot by government to assassinate those opposed to the Muhoozi project; an often talked about ploy by Museveni to have Muhoozi to succeed him.

Described as impulsive, arrogant and independent-minded, Sejusa had a similar trajectory with officers like Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde, Gen. James Kazini, who fell out with Museveni at the height of their military careers.

Sejusa was also known for enforcing the worst excesses of the UPDF such as when he commanded an army raid on the High Court, an action for which he typically bore no regret. He was also implicated in other atrocities committed by the NRA as they fought rebellions after capturing power. Politicians form the northern Uganda like Omara Atubo have also spoken out on being personally harassed by Sejusa at the time he wielded authority.

A former minister of state of defence, member of the UPDF High Command, army MP and lastly as Coordinator of Intelligence Services, Sejusa ran the gamut of the UPDF from a guerilla to four-star General.

Since becoming a Twitter darling and recently garnering over 30,000 followers, many have been urging him to write a memoir as he shares titbits of his exploits and deeds in the army. They wait to see what happens after July 12 when he retires.

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