Friday , September 29 2023


By Haggai Matsiko

How he controls the UPDF

In August last year President Yoweri Museveni, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief (CIC) of the armed forces, promoted his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba from Colonel to Brigadier.  It was the second promotion for Muhoozi who had been promoted from Lieutenant Colonel to Colonel in September 2011. Unlike in the past, the August 2012 promotion of Muhoozi did not raise a lot of questions. It showed that the public were getting used to the First Son as a top army officer.

Muhoozi had just finished his National Defence Collage course and, even among the most observant, an announcement that followed Muhoozi’s elevation to Brigadier passed almost unnoticed; apart from becoming a Brigadier, Muhoozi was also named the Commander of a newly created Special Forces Command.

To those not initiated, such military detail is often missed. Muhoozi had been commander of the Special Forces Group, a small unit. The new Special Forces Group, was a totally different creature that had swallowed the Group and produced two strands; the Special Forces One (VIP Protection) and Special Forces Two (Motorised Infantry).

In a recent interview, Col. Felix Kulaigye, the UPDF spokesperson told The Independent that Muhoozi’s Special Forces is now effectively the third Service of the UPDF. This means that Muhoozi is at the same level of command in the army with the Commander of the Land Forces, Gen. Katumba Wamala, and the Commander of the Airforce, Brig. Sam Turyagyenda.

The UPDF structure now has three Services or arms; the Land Forces, which traditionally is the main force and the Air Force. While one would expect the Reserve Force under Maj. Gen Levi Karuhanga that has many experienced officers to be the third, it is not a service. Effectively, Muhoozi is now more powerful than Karuhanga.

“Yes, of course at the level of commanding, they (Katumba and Muhoozi) are equal,” Col. Kulaigye told The Independent.

In comparison to Land Forces, in size, strength and equipment, the Special Forces is not close to what structurally comprises of a service.

The SFC, a force of several thousand soldiers, metamorphosed from recruits of cadets recruited by Muhoozi himself into the Presidential Guard Brigade PGB and later Special Forces.

Gen. Wamala’s command

Land Forces has always been the core of UPDF. It evolved from the 41 soldiers that launched the war at Kabamba military barracks on February 6, 1981 to the 20,000 that captured Kampala and later divided into Air and Reserve forces.

But the Land Forces remains quite large. To understand how big Land Forces is—in the UPDF, divisions are very big and their commanders are very powerful. The Land Forces has seven divisions; the First Division, the Second Division, the Third Division, the Fourth Division, the Fifth Division, Air Defence and Artillery.

Under each of these divisions, are three brigades and under each brigade are three battalions that are also reinforced with other components like platoons. For instance under the Third Brigade in Masaka, Gavas Mugyenyi heads the Armored Platoon (tanks and heavy guns) and Geoffrey Katsigazi, the platoon of  motorised artillery.

A brigade is the smallest unit to integrate different types of combat and support units; infantry, artillery and armour—it usually has less than 8000 soldiers, a division is much bigger (about 15000 soldiers) and contains all the arms needed to conduct a military operation and from two to seven divisions and various support units, a country has an army of 50,000 like Uganda’s.

According to a top military officer, although the Special Forces was elevated to the level of a service, structurally it is still a brigade. It is very small compared to the Land Forces. However, it compensates for its lack of numbers by packing a powerful punch in its structure and specialised units of tanks, artillery, air force and all other components found in other forces put under it.

Capt. Edison Kwesiga, the SFC spokesperson, told The Independent that the Special Forces is designed according to the task at hand and the emphasis is not so much on the numbers.

Kwesiga said because of the specialised training, a mission that would ordinarily require a company (137 soldiers) to accomplish with the ordinary soldiers, with Special Forces one needs only two sections or 24 soldiers.

Muhoozi’s command

Essentially, although Special Forces is a small force, it has been structured and positioned to take control of the main government facilities—reinforcing a view that it is now the heart of the UPDF.

This means that although Wamala controls the bigger force, their role is mainly on the battle front with most of them tucked away in barracks. However, Muhoozi’s force is in charge of the capital Kampala, all the critical government installations; parliament, Entebbe airport, ports and the protection of strategic resources like oil in the Albertine region. It also gets special assignments—some of his soldiers were deployed in war ravaged Somalia.

Apart from the specialised training, Special Forces has been boosted with several specialised units; counterintelligence, artillery and motorised infantry traits that show how it is being chiseled and positioned for every top notch mission.

In the words of the forces spokesperson, Special Forces is designed to come in and deal with unique missions.

After the 2010 Kampala bomb blasts, Muhoozi with a pistol at his hip and an army of his Special Forces combed the blast scenes for evidence. In another incident, when police boss, Lt Gen. Kale Kayihura got a tip that officials in the Ministry of Public Service had stolen Shs 500 billion (US$ 200 million), on October 29, 2012, he held a meeting with Muhoozi to discuss what he thought could have been a threat to national security. That Kayihura chose Muhoozi over other senior commanders including the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, to discuss what he thought a grave threat to national security is telling enough.

Muhoozi has now matured. At the rank of Brigadier, he is just one rank away from joining the generals of UPDF.

Coming of age

Muhoozi, 38, joined the army after completing his political science degree at Nottingham University, UK as Officer Cadet. He soon attended the prestigious Royal Military College Sandhurst in the United Kingdom where he graduated in 2000 and was promoted to Second Lieutenant. A year later, he became Major heading PGB. In 2008, he became a Lieutenant Colonel commanding the SFG after graduating from US’s Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. His role in the army first hit headlines 12 years ago.

On November 17, 2000, President Yoweri Museveni was at State House Nakasero chairing a meeting of top army Generals, when he called in Muhoozi, then a 2nd Lieutenant to present a paper on military deployments and other recommendations.

The Generals had hoped to discuss their own report about the problems the army was facing and possible solutions. Instead Museveni, who appeared to have already read his son’s report, was directing them, especially then-Army Commander Gen. Jeje Odongo, to implement Muhoozi’s report.

Museveni also reportedly told the meeting that he had trained over 500 cadets to take control of the UPDF. As the other Generals looked on, Museveni’s younger brother, Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh, asked what they were to do with the other senior officers already in the UPDF.

President Museveni allegedly told Gen. Saleh and all the other generals to do with those others in the UPDF as they wished.

Army sources say that is how what is now the Special Forces became the breeding ground for the army leadership. And Muhoozi who had recruited cadets—albeit controversially—which were part of this group and since taken big positions in different services in the army would also grow into their leader.

Muhoozi had made these recruitments in 1997 mainly from Makerere University and trained at Kasenyi Landing site.

Then, President Museveni and Mbabazi then a Defence Minister dubbed the recruits Local Defence Unit (LDU) officers to skirt public criticism—then Members of Parliament like Norbert Mao, who was represending Gulu municipality, had stirred a storm accusing Muhoozi of recruiting for the army illegally since he was not a soldier himself.

Since the November 2000 meeting at State House Nakasero, in which Brig. Muhoozi, made his first pitch before UPDF top Generals, President Museveni has ensured that he gets the right command credentials.

A top army officer who has served for over 20 years told The Independent but on conditions of anonymity that Brig. Muhoozi, the Commander of the elite Special Forces wields more power than most of the senior officers and that together with a select group of officers, some of which he recruited himself in 1997 are being touted to lead the force.

“Yes, he is being groomed to lead the force, he has undertaken many top military courses except one,” the source said adding, “Muhoozi might be a Brigadier but in terms of influence and control, he is on top there. The same applies to Kayihura, although in police, he is also very influential in the army.”

Unhappy generals

While other officers might meet a few huddles here and there, The Independent has learnt, Muhoozi’s assignments are always implemented thus claims that he controls the core of UPDF.

Kizza Besigye, the former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) President, who was a Colonel before he resigned from the army officially reinforced this claim in a local media in an interview. He said that the Generals were fighting within the UPDF because they were being marginalised and frustrated that the main Force of the UPDF, was controlled by Muhoozi under the Special Forces.

But Army spokesman, Felix Kulaigye dismissed Besigye’s claim saying that the former FDC’s cannot comment intellectually about the issue because he was blinded by the political fog.

No doubt, army sources say, Muhoozi’s clout in the UPDF cannot be ranked below that of the other top officials including the CDF.

“The CDF is of course influential but when you talk about calling shots, Muhoozi is in the same league,” a source in The UPDF told The Independent.

The Officer told The Independent that while seniority is one thing, being entrusted with authority by the President—who is the CIC — through special assignments is what puts Muhoozi and his ilk in control.

When it comes to special assignments, Muhoozi, some officials who are in SFC or whose breeding ground is SFC and other officials like Kayihura, are top priority. Indeed, The Independent understands that Kayihura and Muhoozi, have worked on a few missions together.

Several young officers in the ranks of Colonel and Major and other top ranks were bred from Special Forces. Others are; Capt. Napoleon Namanya, who heads Museveni’s top notch security, Maj Stuart Agaba, a former Aide to the President, Col Sabiiti Magyenyi, Maj Charity Bainababo, Lt Col Dan Kakono, Maj. Don Nabasa, Capt. Allan Matsiko, Counterintelligence, SFG and Capt. Michael Kanyamunyu, Special Investigations Bureau, among others.

Entrusting authority with Muhoozi’s ilk and other officers that are not necessarily senior but that have attributes dear to President Museveni has left the senior officers like Gen. David Tinyefuza, the Coordinator of Security Services, frustrated with several seeking or contemplating resignation.

While some of the officers are unhappy because they can no longer steer things, others disagree with how some of these young Turks are doing things.  For instance, sources say, many unhappy were that Museveni had put people like Brig.Moses Rwakitarate, the former Air Force chief of staff in high positions and they messed up things. Museveni fired Rwakitarate, following the findings of the Gen. Salim Saleh investigation into the crash of three choppers in Mount Kenya.

Col. Kulaigye, who is now the entire force’s spokesperson—not a mean post—and was also bred from the same force, attempted to refute claims of the SFC being a breeding ground for UPDF leaders. “Special Forces soldiers undertake specialised training, when I was there I undertook that training and most of the people have undertaken it,” he said.

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