An army of surprises
The current highest level of leadership in the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) is in the mid-50s and will be in their early 60’s by 2026.
It is also difficult to look into the crystal ball of the military because President Museveni routinely promotes, shuffles, and retires them. The UPDF strategic force today appears to be in the Gen. Muhoozi cohort, most of who are between the ranks of Brigadier and Colonel. Following normal career paths, these will be the major generals, and lieutenant generals of 2026. Prominent names of today such as Lt. Generals Charles Lutaaya, Joseph Musanyufu, Peter Elwelu, Lakara Nakibus, Prossy Nalweyiso, John Mugume and Pecos Kutesa could either have retired or slowed down. Their positions will have been taken over by the likes of current major generals; Sabiiti Muzeyi, Leopold Kyanda, Don Nabasa, Joram Tumwine and more.
This list is big.
While many of them have tended not to make political statements, they have acted.
Indeed, the military today has permanent representation in parliament, heads the police, deploys heavily during elections, protects all the key strategic installations, and has `attaches’ or spies in key ministries, among others.
Museveni has also deployed military doctors to replace striking doctors, has commanded military operatives to raid parliament and forcefully ejected legislators opposed to his quest to lift the constitutional age limit, and has made the intelligence arm of the military—the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI)—the most dominant security agency.
Apart from this, the army has in the past sprung some of the biggest challengers of Museveni.
Retired Col. Kizza Besigye was a Museveni confidant for 19 years until he rebelled in 1999. At the time he rebelled, Besigye was a Senior Military Adviser to the Ministry of Defence. He has since, as the flag-bearer of the biggest opposition party, challenged Museveni at the polls thrice.
Col. Besigye’s successor as president of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, was an army commander under Museveni for nine years.
Another soldier, Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza sparked excitement with his 2012 letters and particularly the last one warning of a plan to eliminate those against the Muhoozi project. At the time he fled into exile in London, he was a member of the army High Command, the army’s top governing body, a Senior Presidential Advisor on defence, and the coordinator of Military Intelligence. Capt. Ruhinda Maguru, a former Aide-de-Camp to Museveni has twice challenged him for leadership within the ruling NRM party. The other high ranking retired army officer, Maj.Gen. Benon Biraaro challenged Museveni in the 2016 elections.
Interestingly, all eight governments in Uganda, except two, since independence in 1962 have been over-thrown in a military coup. This has made Uganda the most coup-prone country in the region; with an average of a coup for every six years, before Museveni came to power in a coup in 1986.
Currently, Museveni does not see the army as threat. A few years ago while addressing a judges’ conference in Entebbe, Museveni scoffed at “idiots” who say that the NRM government can be overthrown by arms.
“Some of these people are just idiots…” the president said, “They just go around that they want to overthrow the Uganda government, Uganda government to overthrow it? You don’t know what you are talking about…the NRM government to overthrow it with arms…but that is our speciality.”
While Museveni appears in charge now, by the time he is in his 80s the situation might be different. It is not impossible to see how that could force the army to intervene.
In Zimbabwe, with Robert Mugabe seen as seen as a senile at 93, his once-trusted army commander, Gen. Constatino Chiwenga, turned against him.
In Algeria, chief of staff General Ahmed Gaid Salah, has joined the opposition and called for the aged and ailing 82-year old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down.
For now, however, Museveni and his handlers do not appear bothered about such events.
- The Museveni brand fatigue and the age of family members by 2026 could make hard to sell as successors.
- VP Ssekandi, Prime Minister Rugunda and Speaker Kadaga are seen as potential successors within the party.
- Once seen as successors with in the NRM, Amama Mbabazi, former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya quit the party
- Besigye, Mao, Muntu and Bobi Wine stand a fair chance working together but at the moment each of them wants to strike alone
- CDF Gen. David Muhoozi: The military leadership is seen as the ultimate decision-maker on who succeeds Museveni.