Should the General be banned from social media?
Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba has a new moniker. He is now called “The Tweeting General”. It is a joke on his rather choice tweets. But Gen. Muhoozi’s tweets are no jokes.
His latest controversial tweet was on March 08. He tweeted: “After 28 years of service in my glorious military, the greatest military in the world, I am happy to announce my retirement. Me and my soldiers have achieved so much! I have only love and respect for all those great men and women that achieve greatness for Uganda every day”.
The tweet by Muhoozi, who is the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) Land Forces Commander and First Son to President Yoweri Museveni, triggered much debate. Ugandans who have watched several high ranking UPDF generals struggle to get retired from the army sensed there was something amiss.
Sam Muyizi, a lawyer who has represented renegade UPDF Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza who has sought and failed to get retired from the army told The Independent that he was not surprised by Muhoozi’s tweet.
“He should have been retired long ago because his conduct calls for retirement due to the political comments he makes even when he is a serving officer of the UPDF,” he said.
Muyizi speculates that “the powers that be”, meaning President Museveni, could have presented Muhoozi with the choice of staying put in the army and follow the rules or break out and join politics. The Minister of Defence, Vincent Ssempijja, said he had not yet received official communication about Muhoozi’s retirement.
“The UPDF Act spells out well the procedure on how one can get retired from the army. If he is to retire he will follow the law,” Ssempijja said.
Section 66(1) of the UPDF Act states: “An officer may in writing tender the resignation of his or her commission to the board but shall not, unless otherwise ordered by the Chief of Defence Forces, be relieved of the duties of his or her appointment until he or she has received notification, in writing, of the approval of his or her resignation by the board. Section 66(2) says that the board has 90 days in which to respond to the application. It appears Muhoozi did not write.
Meanwhile, Army spokesperson Brig Gen. Felix Kulaigye denied Muhoozi’s resignation.
“Lt Gen Muhoozi is still active and has not even applied for retirement,” he said.
Testing the waters
According to some commentators, whether Gen. Muhoozi wants to retire from the army or not, should not be the issue. According to them, the focus should be on the effect his tweets are likely to have on the army and the general public.
How would President Museveni react if a top commander such as Chief of Defense Forces Gen. Wilson or Lt. Gen. Peter Elwelu, the Deputy CDF announce their retirement on Twitter without falling proper procedures? That is the question regarding the army.
In the case of the general public, commentators say, there is no question that Muhoozi’s tweet has caused both excitement and agitation.
Lawyer Muyizi told The Independent that “retiring from the UPDF has been politicised”. Muyizi said that he, like many members of the general public, would now keenly follow how the retirement of Muhoozi will be handled.
Gen. Muhoozi’s moves are being closely watched regarding the succession in power as his 77-year-old father shows signs of slowing down and delegating more.
At 47, Muhoozi has held various command positions in the UPDF and is currently the third highest-ranking officer in the military. As a senior presidential advisor for special operations he has been involved in shuttle diplomacy where he has visited several embassies in Uganda and more prominently his recent meeting with President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame which later saw the border between Uganda and Rwanda re-opened.
Muhoozi’s recent political statements for a serving army officer have, therefore, recently been under scrutiny.
The semi-official line being peddled to the public is that Muhoozi’s tweet announcing his retirement, The Independent has learnt, was a rash post by his Twitter account handler. The UPDF’s retirement board had not even been notified in writing. It also says that upon learning of the tweet, President Museveni reportedly called Gen. Muhoozi and cautioned him against the decision.
But the tweet triggered much debate. A day after he tweeted that he would retire from the army, the narrative shifted slightly to state that that Muhoozi’s retirement would come eight years from now in 2030.
Pundits in the political arena say Muhoozi is testing the waters ahead of his rumoured presidential ambitions.
“Muhoozi and his team are testing to find out public opinion on his presidential bid,” says one political observer who prefers to remain anonymous.
Having officially joined the Ugandan military in 1999, Muhoozi has been a beneficiary of fast tracked promotion. The argument for fast promotion has been that it comes with the responsibility and office held.
In 1999, he joined the UPDF at the rank of officer cadet and graduated in 2000 from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the British Army’s officer training school. He has attended other elite military schools across the world including the Egyptian Military Academy, the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Twelve years after joining the army, in September 2011 Muhoozi was promoted to the rank of Colonel. In early 2012 Col. Muhoozi enrolled at the South African National Defence College for the Executive National Security Program. In August 2012, he was promoted to Brigadier General and appointed Commander Special Forces Command (SFC), the elite UPDF force that protects the president and the members of the first family as well as high ranking government officials and the country’s important strategic assets like oil reserves.
In 2013 and 2014, Muhoozi was one of the senior UPDF commanders who deployed to South Sudan to support the Government of South Sudan after fighting broke out in the capital Juba between rival factions of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA). In 2017, Muhoozi was appointed Senior Presidential Advisor on Special Duties.
Last year, Gen Muhoozi was appointed Commander of UPDF Land Forces, months after being reappointed as SFC chief.
Muhoozi is being fronted by a group within NRM to succeed his father, who has been in power since 1986. This group consists of youths who have been running across the major towns of Uganda holding processions in support of Muhoozi’s presidential bid.
Muhoozi is yet to come out to publicly associate with the group or even indicate that he wants to replace his father.
But some political observers say people should not read too much in Muhoozi’s retirement plan since President Museveni is not willing to hand over power to anyone.
“See how he has started campaigning among the councilors under the guise of development,” says Lubwama Mukubabyasi, a political observer and historian.
Mukubabyansi likens the current debate to what happened in 2001 when many high ranking ruling NRM-party succession hopefuls campaigned on a false hope that it was going to be Museveni’s last election.
“Look out for him in 2026,” says Mukubabyasi, “he is standing again. People should not be diverted by Muhoozi’s retirement announcement to the extent to think that Museveni is not participating in the next general election.”
Mukubabyasi added: “The NRM is facing it rough in Buganda and they are proposing a parliamentary system of governance. With this the political party with majority elects the president. He already is campaigning among district leaders beginning with councilors.”
Solace in tweeting
Muhoozi appears to find solace in tweeting and he relishes it.
In the recent past the commander of UPDF Land Forces has come out of the shadows to comment on anything going on in the country and region. He has made social media site Twitter his public noticeboard where he airs out his views on political, economic and social affairs affecting Uganda and the world.
It is not uncommon for Muhoozi to air out his opinion on Twitter even when it contradicts the official line of the government or his father, Gen. Museveni. He tweeted in support of the Tigrayans during the war between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan rebels yet this was not his government’s position. Muhoozi has tweeted in support of the Russians in the current Ukraine-Russia war. This position too was contrary to the official government of Uganda position. During a UN vote to condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine, Uganda was among the 11 African states that voted neutral.
It’s against this background that Henry Okello Oryem, the State Minister of Foreign Affairs disowned the statement saying Muhoozi’s statement does not represent the position of the ministry or the country on the Russia-Ukraine war.
“That was his opinion to which he is entitled but that is not the position of the Ministry or the Foundation of the Ministry, President Yoweri Museveni, he (Muhoozi) doesn’t speak for us”, Oryem told URN during a phone interview.
The minister added, “What he wrote represented his views as an individual just like the views of other people across the world who are supporting Ukraine on the contrary!”
Oryem clarified that Uganda does not support the act of aggression and that it is Uganda’s position that parties in any conflict must engage in meaningful negotiations to find an amicable solution to a disagreement as opposed to war.
On 24 February, the African Union-(AU), a continental union consisting of 55 member states including Uganda, condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to declare war against Ukraine, and called for an immediate cease-fire to preserve world peace.
Breach of Twitter policy?
This is not the first time that Gen Kainerugaba has posted controversial tweets that raised criticism of him as both a military commander and the president’s son. Under the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Act 2005 Section 178, “any act, conduct, disorder or neglect to the prejudice of the good order and discipline of the Defence Forces shall be an offence”. In the past, military officers uttering statements that annoy President Museveni have been reminded of this section.
Under the Code of Conduct of the UPDF, Section 2 titled `Relationship with the public’, sub-section L warns any member of the army not to “give public speeches or broadcast public statements without permission from the appropriate authorities”.
Twitter routinely assesses reported Tweets from world leaders. Those deemed to go against the Twitter Rules, which are designed to ensure people can participate in the public conversation freely and safely, are either not allowed or are flagged.
Gen. Muhoozi appears drawn towards international power plays and some of his tweets praise one side or the other in violent situations. This, according to some observers, is in breach of Twitters rules on “glorification of violence”.
Twitter bans the glorifying of violent events where people were targeted on the basis of their protected characteristics as this could incite or lead to further violence motivated by hatred and intolerance. Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s was banned from Twitter for this reason. Could the same happen to Gen. Muhoozi?
When the war between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan rebels was raging, Muhoozi controversially tweeted in support of the Tigrayans.
Muhoozi’s tweet on the Ethiopian war earned a sharp rebuke from Ugandan-born head of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Winnie Byanyima.
“Please delete this tweet. It is risking the lives of Ugandans working and living in Ethiopia,” Byanyima tweeted her response on Nov.7 to Muhoozi.
In the current Ukraine-Russia war, Muhoozi has tweeted in support of the Russians.
Muhoozi tweeted: “The majority of mankind (that are non-white) support Russia’s stand in Ukraine.Putin is absolutely right! When the USSR parked nuclear armed missiles in Cuba in 1962 the West was ready to blow up the world over it. Now when NATO does the same they expect Russia to do differently?”
Some analysts say Muhoozi uses the tweets to catch his father’s eye. They point at a typical tweet was like the one posted on Sept. 6, 2020.
“When I was a young boy my elders used to tell me the story of Muguta ya Butaho. The greatest hero of the Banyankore. But now as an old man myself, I know that General Museveni is the greatest hero in the history of Uganda. And we are all sons and daughters of Yoweri Museveni.”
That was three months before he was re-appointed head of the Special Forces Command (SFC), a position that put him back in the spotlight and at the heart of security in Uganda.
“These are the greatest African nationalists ever! Mzee Museveni is without a doubt in the top 5 Africans ever made. All of us soldiers in UPDF love him so much! Mzee is our hero!”
This was on October 15, 2019, with pictures of Gen. Museveni alongside Tanzania independence icon Julius Nyerere, South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, Mozambique military commander and the country’s first president Samora Machel.
It was just a day after the 20th anniversary of Nyerere’s death. The tweet was poignant because of Museveni’s deep adoration for Nyerere whom he regards as the greatest African to have ever lived.
Subsequent tweets on days such as Tarehe Sita Day in 2020 saw Muhoozi lavishing praise on his father “as the greatest hero in East Africa”. Another on June 04, 2020 reads “The greatest military heroes in Africa’s history Generals Museveni, Saleh Rwigyema and Kagame. They achieved the impossible. We should build statues in their honour in every town in Uganda and Rwanda.”
As Uganda entered the feverish election campaign season, Muhoozi tweeted on October 8, 2020 an earlier photo with his father. “Me and my father, Yoweri Museveni, as refugees in 1976, in Dar es Salaam. The fact that he fought to bring all of us ‘refugees’ back home and pacified the entire country makes him one of the greatest heroes of Africa.”
If it is true that Gen. Muhoozi’s uses the tweets to catch his father’s eye, the one about his retiring from the army has been an eye-catcher. Many are watching to see what his father, the Commander in Chief, will do about it.