NEWS ANALYSIS | BAKER BATTE | By the end of his current term in 2026, President Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni will have ruled Uganda for 40 years. By that time, he will be 81-years old.
Twenty years ago, not very many people would have anticipated that by 2026, the country would still have Museveni as president.
Thanks to the constitutional amendment that scrapped the age limit in 2017, there is nothing in the constitution today that stops him from contesting again and again.
Dr. Kizza Besigye, who has contested against Museveni four out of six times, believes elections are a dead-end in ending the incumbent’s hold onto power.
Journalist Andrew Mwenda, who has known President Museveni personally for more than 20 years, believes it can only be death or bad health that can stop him from contesting the presidency in 2026. This, Mwenda, the Chief Executive Officer of The Independent Magazine says, effectively seals the fate of those who might have had presidential ambitions in 2026.
Among those said to be entertaining such thoughts include no less than the president’s own son Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the commander of the Land Forces in the Uganda People’s Defense Forces -UPDF.
For the last 10 years, the country has known of the availability of a project to catapult Muhoozi to the presidency dubbed the Muhoozi Project. Mwenda, a close associate of Muhoozi who prides in being the chairman of the Muhoozi Project, says that this project is in a deep freezer gathering ice; after all, children only inherit after their fathers have died.
‘The only probable replacement to Museveni will most likely come from his family’
In a lengthy interview with Uganda Radio Network, Mwenda said, he is still waiting for a signal from Museveni on whether he will be leaving power soon so that he can kick in motion his Muhoozi Project.
To him, Uganda is more like a monarchy, where the only probable replacement to Museveni will most likely come from his family.
The two most talked about contenders are Muhoozi and Gen Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh, the powerful Coordinator of Operation Wealth Creation. But to Mwenda, whether it’s Muhoozi or Saleh, they will have to wait for Museveni to run his race. Mwenda argues that Museveni no longer sees the difference between his interests and the interests of the people of Uganda.
“He cares deeply about transforming Uganda and his role in its transformation. So, he may not see someone with his skill and insight to handle things better. When he stays there, I think it’s because of his sense of self-righteousness than self-interest. It’s very easy to negotiate with someone with self-interest than one with self-righteousness. His mission to save Uganda can be such a blinding aspiration that he can’t handle over power to anyone,” Mwenda says.
It’s not only Mwenda who believes there can never be a transition in Uganda while Museveni is still alive and healthy.
Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, the Kira Municipality Member of Parliament and the spokesperson of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change-FDC, says the only thing he sees is Museveni trying make un-even the ground for anyone trying to challenge him.
Yusuf Serunkuma Kajura, a political analyst based at Makerere University is also convinced that those who want to replace Museveni have to wait.
“By the end of Museveni’s next five years, Muhoozi will be 52 years of age. President Museveni will stand in 2026. He will win. Muhoozi will have to wait for another five years. He will be 57. Bowing to public pressure, his father will stand again. Muhoozi will become 63,” he said.
“Busy with grandchildren, he will continue waiting for his chance; which is clearly no chance…because I would love to see a Muhoozi presidency, I come here to read this young soldier the prophecy of the oracle at Thebes. This prophecy has made kings and queens, turned ordinary folks into decorated generals: there comes a time when a prince has to slay the king, his father, so as to take the throne,” Serunkuma wrote in his recent article in the Observer newspaper.
Committed to death inside State House, Serunkuma added, Museveni will not be handing over the presidency to anyone.
“It does not matter whether these are his children or wives. Again, for the trance the office drives one into, every time Museveni looks into the future, he does not imagine himself standing aside and watching others make decisions about Uganda or negotiate deals with our Mzungu colonizers without him being involved at the top.”
Is a Muhoozi Project possible after Museveni?
In Africa and elsewhere in the world, we have seen children take over the leadership of their countries after the death of their parents. But the one-million-dollar question is whether Muhoozi can pull off this feat here in Uganda.
Mwenda believes this is possible if Muhoozi is capable of marshaling the required alliances. He adds that other than the advantages of being Museveni’s son, Muhoozi also has a personality that would make him a good president.
But Dr. Joseph Kasule, a research fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research seems to disagree with Mwenda. He says other than being Museveni’s son, he doesn’t see in Muhoozi sophistication that would make him president.
“The idea that sons can take over once the elders are gone is fine to the extent that the sons understand what is required to lead a country. But I have not seen Muhoozi qualify as a legitimate candidate because he is no politician. Unlike the son, Museveni is a politician to the core of the bone marrow. He has known, since his UPC days, how to manipulate and balance political constituencies,” he said.
He added that , Museveni has cajoled, threatened, ransomed, stolen, beaten, humbled, appeased, granted, and even cowed divided groups to enforce his will. These are not tactics that can be easily learned.
“It can be argued that Muhoozi can learn something but what we fear from the young generation is that they do not understand political balancing and compromise, they seem to know the power to enforce their individual and group will.”
He however hastens to add that if the Muhoozi succession project is to materialize, he must work hand in glove with existing political groups.
“He has to work with the army, opposition, Buganda, civil society, religious bodies, donor community, NRM, etc. He will only become president by consensus. I hate political predictions, but seeing what is wrong today, any new leader shall arise from either political compromise or genuine electoral politics. Any smell of foul play may usher in discontent from the people. He may rule with the gun and dish money to parishes, but social legitimacy is important even to a military dictatorship,” Kasule says.
Is Museveni actively supporting Muhoozi?
The answer to this question depends on who pose the question to. There are those who argue that Museveni appointing his son to lead the most important sections of the army is testimony enought that indeed he is being prepped for bigger things.
Before he was appointed as the commander of the land forces, the biggest of the four forces in the army, Muhoozi was the commander of the Special Forces Command, an elite section of the army that not only protects the presidency but also very important national installations.
Muhoozi, who joined the army in 1999, was also catapulted through the ranks. At the rank of Lieutenant General, Muhoozi is one of the most senior members of the UPDF, a force that by law is supposed to be nonpartisan.
Save for people like Gen Elly Tumwine and General David Sejusa among others, Muhoozi is one of the very few serving members of the UPDF who have made controversial political statements in support of President Museveni and others against the opponents of his government and there seems to be no problem.
Using his Twitter handle, Muhoozi engages in political discourse and no UPDF officer has had the guts to call him out. Currently, the military from the very top is also staffed with people who worked with Muhoozi directly while he ran the SFC.
Gen Wilson Mbadi was the ADC to the president while Muhoozi commanded SFC, which is the most powerful unit of the UPDF. All these points to a president trying to position his son for greater things.
Mwenda explains it as a human trait to wish your children the best.
Joel Ssenyonyi, the MP for Nakawa West who is also the spokesperson of the National Unity Platform, the biggest opposition political party, too believes that Museveni is actively participating in readying for a Muhoozi takeover after he has hanged his boots.
Ssemujju on the other hand, gives Museveni the benefit of the doubt, arguing that what seems like Museveni’s contribution is actually not intended. He adds that what w are seeing are political schemers trying to position themselves to replace Museveni in case of any eventualities.
For now, what is clear is that there is positioning and repositioning of political troops in preparation for a major assault but what is not yet clear is when this assault will take place and who will be its victims. Political students are quick to add, politics is very fluid to be predicted with precision