By Haggai Matsiko
It is afternoon on Jan.3 at State House Entebbe. President Yoweri Museveni is in one of the conference rooms in the southern wing next to his residential quarters facing Entebbe International Airport. He is all dressed up in a suit and favourite dotted yellow necktie and it is clear he is expecting some important guests. Museveni has not relaxed much—he has just finished a few engagements including an appearance on Capital FM’s Capital Gang. Shortly, Gen. Elly Tumwine enters the president’s conference room. He is leading an entourage that includes renegade general and former coordinator of intelligence services, Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza. Museveni has been waiting. What follows is a scene that many inside State House have not seen before.
Tumwine, dressed according to the usual protocol in full military uniform, walks towards the President, salutes and the President waves him to his seat. That is usual. However, Sejusa, a serving general in the army is wearing a loose shirt, not tucked-in. He walks with a shrug towards the President and does not stand stiff to salute the commander-in-chief. All this is contrary to all military protocol and etiquette. Museveni would usually be furious. Not this time. Instead, Museveni unusually reaches out to welcome the renegade general. They shake hands and Museveni, who is seated at the head of the conference, offers Sejusa a seat next to him on the right. Gen. Tumwine is on the left.
State House insiders say that in such situations, the president never leaves his seat to meet his generals and neither does he shake their hands. He just waves them to their seat. Then again this time, Museveni confounds his staff for throughout the entire conversation the President keeps referring to Sejusa as “Gen. Tinyefuza.” Museveni usually does not add rank to his soldiers when addressing them. He just says “Katumba, Saleh, etc.”
As the conversation proceeds, Museveni announces he called the meeting to clarify on allegations that he bribed Sejusa and that his return air ticket was bought by government. Museveni looks eager to clarify this point and labours to allay fears that government bribed the renegade general.
Readers will recall that Sejusa had two days earlier, on Jan.1, announced he would not attend a meeting Museveni had called at his country home in Rwakitura. Instead, he had called the press, declared his refusal of the invitation openly and set conditions for the meeting: it must be open to the press and attended by his lawyers. Museveni had responded by deploying military police to besiege Sejusa’s home. A force of about 30 military police was deployed at the entrance of Sejusa’s home in the upscale Naguru suburb of Kampala city. Nobody was allowed in or out. However, Museveni appeared to backtrack when he accepted Sejusa’s conditions and shifted the meeting to State House Entebbe. Gen. Tumwine had intervened and brokered the meeting.
From the proceedings, Sejusa’s lawyers—Micheal Mabikke and David Mushabe—told journalists their client had emerged the victor in this drama. Mushabe described the meeting as highly diplomatic and a sign the two men agreed to avoid escalating the tensions.
“The General allowed meeting President Museveni at State House and not Rwakitura and not at night,” Mushabe said, “In the meeting, the President agreed to retire the General and to make sure the military left his home. So you can say the meeting was a give and take arrangement.”
But Museveni looks happy and comfortable with himself. He seems to be enjoying giving the impression that the renegade general is victorious. The question is why? Do the two have a deal that no one else seems to know? Does Museveni think Sejusa is not worth a fight? Or does Sejusa have some information he can reveal which Museveni is willing to protect even at the cost of his own reputation of not tolerating army officers who criticise him?
In clips of the meeting shown to the public, Gen. Sejusa is smiling as he shakes hands with a grinning Museveni. Museveni’s grip appears firm compared to Sejusa’s and his direct gaze, amused grin, and well-decked out formal suit portray power over Sejusa whose shirtsleeves, wimpy grip, and unprepared look, show uncertainty. Gen. Sejusa was experiencing what military strategists call the “fog of war”. He did not know Museveni’s agenda. Museveni on the other hand appeared to be firmly in control of the situation. He had the `enemy’ in the killing zone and was deceptively withholding his motive. The clips from the meeting appear designed to show Gen. Sejusa as damaged goods. Museveni’s gambit has rendered him useless to the opposition.
Sensitive political issues
Sejusa ran away from Uganda in May 2013 accusing the government of planning to kill him for opposing the so-called “Muhoozi Project” – a name given to an alleged plot by Museveni to install his son; the commander of the Special Forces Command, Brig. Muhoozi Keinerugaba, as his successor. In exile, Sejusa wrote a dossier to the International Criminal Court asking it to investigate crimes against humanity by Museveni and his military. He also accused the Museveni government of killing its critics and allies. Sejusa even linked the ‘murder’ of Cerina Nebanda to President Museveni’s government, which he threatened to overthrow violently. He even formed a political force to fight Museveni’s government.
Given this background, Sejusa should be in jail charged with desertion, treason and indiscipline. Despite deserting the army for about two years, Sejusa is still a military officer, who should not question; let alone defy directives by the Commander-in-Chief (President Museveni).
“But the Sejusa issue is now highly political, that is why he is still partly free despite what he has said in the past year and a half,” a top military official, who is not allowed to officially comment on the sensitive subject told The Independent. “At this stage, it is only President Museveni who is deciding Sejusa issues and he has not evoked military law, if he does Sejusa won’t make those comments and remain a free man.”
For now, he is being given what looks like special treatment contrary to Museveni’s usual practice of not tolerating serving army officers who criticise him. Rather than meet him privately and under threatening conditions, Museveni accepts to meet Sejusa in the presence of the press and their conversation is recorded.
The Jan.3 events at State House have added to the confusion among friends and foes about what could be going on between Museveni and Sejusa.
Sejusa’s return raised suspicion because it seemed a big departure from his earlier claims that he risked to be assassinated in Uganda. But Sejusa, according to insiders, reasoned that even in London, he had been trailed by agents looking to bump him off.
Although Sejusa initially also attempted to deny President Museveni’s role in facilitating his return, President Museveni described in detail how he had arranged it.
“At some stage I came to learn that he wanted to come back. I sent three young people some of whom are here to contact Gen. Sejusa to establish whether he wanted to come back whatever happens,” Museveni said and named the young intermediaries as Janet Anyine Mugabi and Lt. Col. Michael Katungi.
“What has been happening has been lack of coordination partly because of the secrecy with which I handled his return,” Museveni told journalists at his meeting with Sejusa.
At some point, Gen. Sejusa asked Museveni to explain the presence of the Director General of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), Brig. Ronnie Barya’s presence at Entebbe Airport when he returned. Sejusa said it created the impression that Barya was there to receive him and led some people to say he was bribed and officially received.
Museveni explained that he had seen newspaper reports that Sejusa was bribed with money.
“That is not true,” he said, “We had actually wanted to buy his ticket, he said no. He said he is a rich man. It is true that I told these young people that we would support him, but he declined.”
Museveni left no doubt he was distancing Sejusa from claims he had been bribed.
“Brig. Nalweyiso who was facilitating their travel did not know. I did not tell her what we were doing. Because I did not tell anybody, I did not want Gen. Tinyefuza to arrive and be arrested at the airport as I was travelling to Abu Dhabi. I, therefore, sent Brig. Barya to go to the airport and wait for Tinyefuza.”
These developments and Tinyefuza’s uncoordinated movements and utterances continue to confuse friends and foes. What is not in doubt, however, is that the maverick general who forces opposed to Museveni once saw as part of the solution has now become a problem for them. Many say they do not know if Sejusa is someone to be trusted or a traitor.
The latest victim of the unpredictable twists in Gen. Sejusa’s tale appears to be retired Col. Dr Kizza Besigye, the de facto leader of Uganda’s opposition to President Yoweri Museveni.
Besigye, who had earlier expressed willingness to work with him against Museveni, had not commented since Sejusa returned to Uganda.
That silence was ended on Jan.2, a few hours after the military police acting on orders of President Museveni besieged Sejusa’s home.
The day before, on Jan.1, Sejusa had announced to the press at his home that Museveni had summoned him to a meeting but he had refused to go. Instead, Sejusa told journalists, he had set conditions for Museveni to meet before the meeting could take place. Gen. Sejusa’s public snub of Museveni appears to have prompted Besigye to finally offer solidarity.
Besigye, who has known Tinyefuza from their fighting days in the 1980s, maintained his cautionary stance in an interview with a local television station, NTV. He said, however, he was willing to work with Gen. Sejusa in efforts to cause a change of government. Besigye, according to NTV, described Gen. Sejusa as an ally in the struggle of liberating the country from what he called dictatorship. But it did not last long.
A few hours after Besigye spoke, Gen. Sejusa was shown meeting Museveni in State House. Besigye had clearly spoken too soon.
Once seen as a potential contender against President Museveni, Sejusa continues to stoke controversy. But he faces a political dilemma, which is at the heart of his crisis. To capture the hearts of his potential supporters, Sejusa must defuse the costly lingering suspicion that he is in cohorts with President Museveni. Yet it is too costly for Sejusa to fight President Museveni before the latter retires him from the military. The law as of now can be used to frustrate Sejusa’s political ambitions and jail him.
However, knowing what a lose canon Sejusa is, several insiders The Independent has talked to claim that Museveni will be looking to exploit this situation to keep Sejusa on a leash as it is the best way to deal with him especially before the 2016 elections.
Sejusa’s critics are pointing to the meeting with Museveni to justify their continued suspicion towards the former spy chief. But the Army Spokesperson, Lt.Col Paddy Ankunda told The Independent that the military establishment had moved on.
“Gen Sejusa came back from exile in the knowledge of the President,” Ankunda told The Independent, “The two have since met. The general has toned down on his public utterances. Government has a constitutional responsibility to promote reconciliation among Ugandans. If this can apply to the general, so be it.”
Simon Mulongo, a security expert and legislator, who sits on parliament’s Defence Committee, believes that Sejusa’s situation depends a lot on how Museveni wants to deal with it.
“Sejusa returned silently to his village home and the next thing we heard is him bubbling at his other home in Naguru and then meeting President Museveni at State House,” Mulongo said, “No one knows for sure under what terms he returned. What is clear is that he couldn’t have come anyhow. So, what eventually happens to him will depend on President Museveni.”
To retire or not retire Sejusa
Observers find it suspicious that President Museveni is keen to extend an olive branch to Sejusa whose record is replete with several one-step-forward-and-two-backwards moves in their never-ending fights and reconciliations.
Maverick Sejusa is, in fact making courting controversy his emblem.
In 1983, as the bush-war raged, Sejusa, was jailed after he criticised Museveni for a case of double standards in which, Museveni allowed his brother Salim Saleh and Pecos Kutesa to stay with their wives while all the other civilians were forced to leave the battle zone. Tinyefuza would later be released in 1984.
In 1996, Sejusa, while appearing before a parliamentary committee openly criticised government for prolonging the northern Uganda war and later applied to quit the army.
“I find it unjustified to continue serving in an institution whose bodies I have no faith in or whose views I do not subscribe to,” Sejusa noted in a letter to President Museveni.
When the government declined to retire him, he sued and the constitutional court upheld his application agreeing he had ceased to be a military officer when President Museveni appointed him to become a civil servant.
But Prof. George Wilson Kanyeihamba, while sitting on the Supreme Court blocked Sejusa from retiring from the army. After a streak on Katebe—a state of no deployment—the President’s brother Caleb Akandwanaho got Sejusa to apologise to Museveni. In return, Sejusa was got a capitulation package of several hundreds of millions of shillings. Later in 2004, he even publicly apologised to the president. “Mzee (Museveni), forgive me because I got advice from some people. It was as if I was possessed because I received advice from some circles but I later woke up to my senses and made a turn-around. I am prepared to work with you even more,” Sejusa is quoted as having said on December 4 at Emmanuel cathedral, Rushere (Mbarara) as the president attended the wedding of his daughter.
Nine years later, Sejusa erupted again with his vitriolic letters that got him to elope into exile. In the wake of his departure, agents and his supporters were arrested and two newspapers; The Monitor and RedPepper, were shut down for almost a fortnight for publishing Sejusa’s letter.
While in exile, Sejusa and others formed a political party Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) at the London School of Economics. They appointed as chairman, Prof.Amii Omara-Otunnu, who is a brother of Uganda Peoples Congress chairman Olara Otunnu. But before the party could even get known, Sejusa quit it and formed the Free Uganda Movement. And just as supporters of the Free Uganda Movement could settle, Sejusa returned to Uganda. The Independent understands that Sejusa had convinced members of the movement he was returning to Uganda to bring the war to Museveni on ground zero.
For now, Sejusa is demanding to be retired from the army so he can effectively plunge into elective politics. He claims that practically he ceased to be a military officer when he left and spent all that time away and that he remains an officer on paper.
Prof. Kanyeihamba told The Independent that the earlier ruling he made that blocked Sejusa from retiring was to the effect that a soldier cannot choose to leave the army anyhow.
“In my judgement,” Kanyeihamba told The Independent, “I noted that one can only retire from the army if they have met the terms and conditions entered at the time they were being commissioned. Not any time they feel like. Indeed, if Sejusa wants to retire he can only make a case that he has served for a long time and then apply to the UPDF’s Commissions Board following the procedures in the law.”
If Sejusa makes a case that he has served long enough, Kanyeihamba says, he should be retired, no one should block him. But that is as far as the law is concerned. According Mulongo, Sejusa’s case is now more political than legal.
“Yes, the UPDF Act states the circumstances and the procedures one can follow to retire from the army but Sejusa’s case is now beyond that,” Mulongo told The Independent, “just like the decision to allow him return peacefully was political, even allowing him to retire will be a political decision.” Mulongo captured the issue aptly: “If President Museveni feels that he will be a threat if he is retired, he won’t be retired.”