By Andrew M. Mwenda
With Museveni seeming invincible for now, the only hope of succession is ironically a Muhoozi project
Since Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza kicked off a storm by claiming President Yoweri Museveni wants to make his son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba his successor, Uganda has not stopped talking. In 2002, Muhoozi authored a concept paper on the reform of the army.
Museveni invited him to present it to the army high command where Tinyefuza was. Apparently, it took precedence over another concept paper written by the generals. Someone leaked this to me. I wrote an article in Sunday Monitor suggesting the president was positioning Muhoozi to take over the army.
Generals Tinyefuza and Elly Tumwine summoned me and our editor, Charles Bichachi, to Nomo Gallery. They accused me of “malicious speculation” and wanted me to reveal my source. I refused. Then they cajoled and, failing in that, they threatened: “you could go to Luzira for this,” Tinyefuza warned. I told them to organize a firing squad at City Square and I would gladly drive myself there for the shooting. We parted badly.
Later Museveni invited me to state house and over a cup of tea, he was willing to listen rather than threaten. I declined to reveal my source but volunteered advice on how to manage such leaks. Museveni may have been angry with me but he did not show it.
We parted on cordial terms. I have related with many Ugandan elites long enough to learn how to deal with the reality of our politics patiently. Fate is a double crosser. Tinyefuza, not me, may be the one go to jail for accusations of Muhoozi taking over the army.
Claims that Museveni is planning for Muhoozi to succeed him are in some ways good news. This is because the problem I (and I think very many other Ugandans) have with Museveni is that he wants to rule for life. Museveni is only 69 years this year.
If he lives as long as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe (now 89 years and running for another term), he has more than 20 years ahead of him. If he lives as long as Kamuzu Banda of Malawi (he died at an official age of 99 although many say he was 104), Museveni has 35 more years to rule.
So if there is a plan for Muhoozi to become president upon Museveni’s death, he may have to wait a long time. In that case, Muhoozi, now 38, may inherit the presidency in 2046 – when he is 72 years and older than Museveni is today.
In 2005, I wrote an article in Sunday Monitor that the best signal that Museveni intends to leave the presidency is if he can appoint Muhoozi vice president. For then, we can credibly envisage a succession.
Since 2006, the opposition has proved incapable of mounting any meaningful challenge to Museveni. Holding other factors constant, hope of regime change therefore has to come from within the NRM or UPDF.
But with the president firmly in control of the party and army, it is unlikely that any of the other contenders – Tinyefuza, Amama Mbabazi, Rebecca Kadaga and Gilbert Bukenya – has a chance. Therefore, the nearest chance to regime change seems to be a Muhoozi project.
Debate on a possible Muhoozi project has not speculated on its potential dangers and benefits. Commentators focus on Museveni’s plan but never discuss the merits of the potential successor. Let me also speculate but first warn the reader about my conflict of interest: Muhoozi is my friend.
This may colour my opinion of him but it also gives me better insight about him than most people. Muhoozi is calm and reflective and tends to listen rather than talk. He has grown in power, so it does not shock him. He is exceptionally restrained and therefore less likely to abuse power.
Today the average age of cabinet in Uganda is 71 years. A Museveni presidency may risk keeping this old guard – and the incompetence and corruption it has presided over – intact and therefore sustaining the status quo rather than delivering change.
The counterpoint to this fear is that although he is Museveni’s son, Muhoozi is not Museveni’s generation. Rumor has it that Muhoozi has since 2003 come to exercise considerable influence on the army. That he has shifted power inside UPDF from the old guard – the Tinyefuzas – to a crop of young educated officers loyal to him. If this is true, we need to look at the results of his influence.
The 1990s and early 2000s were hard years from the UPDF. For then, an army that had promised to become productive degenerated into a springboard for private profiteers. UPDF officers created ghost soldiers, bought expired food rations, junk military hardware, supplied air, and looted Congo as soldiers went without uniforms or boots.
Consequently, UPDF lost national credibility and suffered major defeats at the hands of the LRA and the Rwandan army. I made my career as a journalist exposing these dysfunctions.
After 2003, Museveni appointed Aronda Nyakairima and a crop of more educated officers to the top of army leadership. Right beneath them, a crop of young officers, many of them recruited by Muhoozi, others closely allied to him and some who have enjoyed his patronage took command positions. Consequently, UPDF has turned out to be the most reformed component of the Museveni administration.
Today it is a formidable and professional fighting machine as its exploits in Somalia attest. If rumours that Muhoozi is the one in control of the UPDF are true, then this transformation should be attributed to Aronda and him as well. Indeed, it gives a powerful signal about what the transition of power from Museveni to Muhoozi portends.
If there is any lesson to learn from this experience, it is that regardless of Museveni’s clear nepotism on Muhoozi (witness his accelerated promotion), a change to the son is certainly more desirable than his rule for the next 30 years.
The only way critics can discredit Muhoozi would be by claiming that he is not the one in charge of UPDF, which is one way of saying that after all, Museveni has not placed him in charge of the army. A debate on the leadership qualities of Muhoozi is the more important because regardless of one’s feelings, and given experience, family succession in Uganda is possible or at least probable.