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Tarehe Sita in the age of Muhoozi

Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba addressing a rally in Kapchorwa, Sebei region in January. (PHOTO/@MKAINERUGABA)

The once significant army anniversary has been overshadowed by the rabble rousing General

Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | On Feb. 6, the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) will mark the 42nd anniversary of its existence as a fighting force on a day popularly known as Tarehe Sita. It commemorates the historic day in 1981 when 41 soldiers led by Yoweri Museveni launched a successful guerilla war against the Milton Obote government by attacking Kabamba Military Barracks.

This year’s anniversary has a different feel to it: it comes after a year of intense political campaigning by Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba to succeed his father, President Yoweri Museveni, who on Jan. 26 marked his own milestone– 37 years in power.

Gen. Muhoozi was UPDF Commander of Land Forces until October 2022 when Museveni as Commander In Chief removed him from the position after he sent out a tweet saying the Ugandan army could invade Kenya. Many people considered it an overreach even by the standards of Muhoozi whose tweets have caused political and diplomatic storms.

The 48-year-old Muhoozi has vowed to stand in the 2026 presidential elections and even constituted a political mobilisation team for his bid. He has held political rallies and weighed in on conflicts like the Ethiopian civil war, the M23 conflict in DRC– to the consternation of Ugandan diplomats who scramble to clean up after and in breach of the UPDF code of conduct.

The anniversary comes on the back of Muhoozi naming a campaign team which includes prominent politicians and other personalities. In January, Muhoozi held a mega rally in the Sebei region in eastern Uganda as part of activities to popularise his bid.

All the above would be met with punitive action for any serving soldier but Muhoozi appears to get a pass possibly because he is the President’s son.

Such `indiscipline’ flies in the face of the spirit of Tarehe Sita; the occasion the UPDF uses to tout its discipline and professionalism over its 40 year journey when it started as the National Resistance Army (NRA) before morphing into the UPDF.

Tarehe Sita has been marked annually to re-affirm and strengthen the close bond between the forces and the civilians. As part of activities, the army carries out week-long activities to mark the day.

The 42nd Tarehe Sita anniversary celebration is under the theme ‘Recognising the Sacrifice of the Founders of the Peoples’ Revolution for Social Economic Transformation’ and will be held in Mbarara. According to UPDF top brass, the celebrations are in Mbarara to pay homage to the area where immense mobilisation of the original fighters for the guerilla war was made.

However, Muhoozi in his quest for power has already clashed with some of the “founders” of the so called revolution including his father, Museveni, although in a less direct manner.

Muhoozi’s clashes with other founding members like Kahinda Otafiire, Minister for Internal Affairs, have been confrontational.

“Call us ‘mad’ because we dare to ask questions that even children understand. Let us teach Otafiire and his group that their time is absolutely over,” Muhoozi said in a now deleted tweet months ago.

Otafiire was a member of the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), the political group Museveni founded in 1971 to fight Amin. Otafiire joined FRONASA in 1979 and was also part of the original NRA group that attacked Kabamba; which gives him revered status among the historical members of the NRA.

Otafiire is the face of the old guard who are disdainful of Muhoozi’s gimmicks and prefer Museveni to run again for president.

Unlike a number of his contemporaries who have stayed away from the matter, Otafiire is not shy to publicly tell off Muhoozi.

“We know you are Museveni’s son but we shall not allow you to disrespect us,” he was quoted as saying while appearing on a radio talk show at the beginning of the year.

UPDF past cases

The UPDF has had cases of errant senior officers in the past like Gen. David Sejusa, Col. Kizza Besigye, Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde, Kasirye Gwanga who stood up to their CIC, and freely spoke their minds but there were consequences. Gen. Muhoozi’s case and his various acts that go against the UPDF Code of Conduct continue to raise eye brows.

Whereas the security establishment gave the late Kasirye Gwanga a wide berth for his dare devil antics, the maverick Brigadier never declared presidential ambitions or joined forces with the opposition. But for Sejusa, Besigye and Tumukunde; Museveni’s Bush War comrades; arrests and court martial trials followed quickly when they stuck their heads out and criticised Museveni’s rule and long stay in power.

Sejusa was retired from the army last year after a long battle to quit that started in 1996 while Tumukunde’s court martial trial ran from 2005 until 2013 when Museveni decided to pardon the former spy chief.

Muhoozi’s case draws parallles with that of Kasirye Gwanga, a man who had no qualms about blasting the fast rising officer. Gwanga queried Museveni’s frequent promotion of his son without any fear of being arrested or any retribution from the army.

In February 2019, as the rank and file of UPDF were engaged in community service renovating schools and health centres in Acholi sub-region in the build up to the annual Tarehe Sita Day on, Brig. Kasirye Gwanga, (already retired at the time) was getting embroiled in controversy.

He reportedly shot at a car belonging to musician Catherine Kusasira after occupants of the car had a spat with the retired officer’s children near his home in Makindye. According to various reports, Gwanga’s children complained to their father who reported to the scene trigger happy and fired at the car tyres.

Gwanga had retired in March 2018 but retirement was just a formality and about to deter him from taking the law onto his hands. From burning tractors to drawing guns at those who dare to cross his path, the moustached soldier had been an avatar of indiscipline in the army and he seemed to always get away with his actions.

The UPDF has always dealt with indiscipline in its ranks by court martialing its officers although the court is largely seen as a way of dealing with those who dare to challenge the status quo. Kizza Besigye had one of the most famous trials at the General Court Martial when he returned to the country in 2005 after five years in exile to challenge Museveni in a presidential election. He faced charges of terrorism and illegal possession of firearms at the Makindye-based court.

Changed Museveni

As UPDF prepared for Tarehe Sita and UPDF officers and men engaged in the usual activities marking the army week such as sweeping streets, commissioning classroom blocks and donating medical equipment there was a sense of Gen Muhoozi’s larger than life personality looming large over the always anticipated anniversary.

But Lt. Col. Deo Akiiki, deputy spokesperson of the UPDF, was terse when asked about Tarehe Sita being overshadowed by Gen Muhoozi’s politicking.

“The last time I checked, Gen. Muhoozi’s assignment was Special Presidential Advisor for Special Operations. I don’t see how that is related to what we are doing now,” Akiiki said.

Akiiki was busy with activities at Kakyeka Stadium in Mbarara where the Tarehe Sita preparations were ongoing. Senior officers like Akiiki’s boss, Brig. Felix Kulayigye the UPDF spokesperson; Maj. Gen. Don Nabasa, Commandant Military Police; have been making the rounds in different media houses talking about the significance of Tarehe Sita ahead of the event.

Meanwhile, Muhoozi and his supporters who go by the tags ‘MK Army’ and ‘MK Movement’ remained deeply engaged in mobilisation across the country canvassing support for what they believe is a formidable campaign for the 2026 election.

MP for Kasambya County Daudi Kabanda and events organiser Balam Barugahara are some of those mired in MK’s political campaigns.

“The MK Movement is only waiting for permission from President Museveni and not any organisation. We are a strong movement ready to massively defeat anyone once we are allowed to participate in the 2026 General Election,” Kabanda tweeted on Feb. 2.

Muhoozi who has risen to the highest rank and only stopped short of the highest office: Chief of Defence Forces (CDF). His appointment as Commander of Land Forces in June 2021 raised his profile and emboldened his quest for power.

In October 2022, Muhoozi was decorated with four star General pips after his promotion. It was a high profile ceremony at Bombo barracks presided over by his uncle; the all-powerful Gen. Salim Saleh, Museveni’s younger brother and a Bush War veteran that was influential in the NRA capture of power.

“Today is a very interesting day for me because finally my friend, MK, (Muhoozi) has the same rank with me,” Saleh said to applause on the day.

The elder General has kept mum about Muhoozi’s political ambitions although the two have remained close in public holding meetings and appearing at functions together.

There has also been discussion about whether Museveni would have tolerated the same behavior had it come from Saleh in earlier years.



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