An analysis of tweets by the First Son and UPDF Commander of Land Forces
COMMENT | IAN KATUSIIME | Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, President Yoweri Museveni’s son and Commander of Land Forces in the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) has turned Twitter into a stream of his unfiltered thoughts to the chagrin of government officials and sections of the public who feel he needs a social media handler because of his proximity to power.
A source close to Muhoozi once asked about the former’s provocative tweets, said in response “Let the man say what he thinks.” Muhoozi has used the platform as a teaser for his rumoured presidential ambitions and for a range of things such as attacks on former presidential candidate Bobi Wine and commentary on the strained diplomatic relations between Uganda and Rwanda.
I urge my great and brave brothers in the Tigrayan Defence Forces to listen to the words of General Yoweri Museveni! I am as angry as you and I support your cause. Those who raped our Tigrayan sisters and killed our brothers must be punished! pic.twitter.com/fS7GQ6drvV
— Muhoozi Kainerugaba (@mkainerugaba) November 5, 2021
Muhoozi’s tweet expressing solidarity with the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), a political organisation in war with the Ethiopian government, was his latest outburst that left many wondering to what end the First Son is going on. Is he his father’s proxy or someone struggling to step out of his father’s bubble of strict military code for those wearing the army uniform? According to a source close to Muhoozi, the Sandhurst graduate is “a soldier in front of his father.”
Apart from his West bashing, Museveni’s comments on regional politics tend to be measured which has prompted speculation on whether he has finally given his son, a fast rising military officer, a free rein after years of keeping him on a tight leash as far as political commentary was concerned.
Muhoozi’s tweet on the Ethiopian war earned a sharp rebuke from UNAIDS Boss Winnie Byanyima, also one of the most visible Ugandans on the international scene. “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.
Muhoozi’s unlimited use of Twitter with a growing tribe of supporters drumming up a presumed 2026 presidential bid has offered the high ranking UPDF officer a rare opportunity to dominate online conversations at the time the dust is just settling on a hotly contested 2021 election where his father contested with Bobi Wine, who is eight years Muhoozi’s junior.
A few weeks to the polls, through his tweets, Muhoozi managed to hijack the narrative with a series of tweets lashing out at Bobi, the leader of the National Unity Platform (NUP), with all manner of innuendo. However, a deeper analysis of Muhoozi’s tweets a year ago showed a different pattern- a certain longing for his father’s attention during a four year period in which he was out of a strategic role.
At the time, Muhoozi was serving as Senior Presidential Advisor on Special Operations which tends to be a vague role in the Ugandan government set up. 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. A series of tweets from October 2019 throughout 2020 shows a yearning for attention from the First Son to the Commander in Chief.
“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.”
After Museveni redeployed Muhoozi at SFC, there were less tweets of effusive praise of his father and more of those where he waded into online political battles with the People Power juggernaut led by Bobi Wine. Many felt that perhaps Muhoozi was not sending out the Trump-like tweets in his right state of mind.
In the new media age, Twitter has become an effective platform for politicians and high profile personalities to speak to their audiences and bases without the gatekeeping rules of traditional media.
Former US President Donald Trump used Twitter while campaigning and while in office to the annoyance of government stakeholders and diplomats.
While he upset governing norms, his crude and unorthodox style seems to have won favour with different sets of politicians and personalities around the world.
Some have compared Muhoozi’s bellicose Twitter use to that of Trump whose presidency ended with a permanent Twitter suspension after he incited a mob while protesting his 2020 presidential election defeat.
Moses Khisa, a newspaper columnist and Assistant Professor of Political Science at North Carolina State University in the U.S., says there should not be a rush to draw parallels with Trump. “The latter has a certain personality and following, which are altogether different from Muhoozi. Trump was always interested in driving news cycles and being the centre of attention. For him, politics is public performance and firing up the public. I don’t think that is what Muhoozi is after.”
Khisa added, “No way in the world should he be making those reckless and ridiculous Twitter posts. The Ethiopians, for example, were deeply outraged by his comments.”
Other analysts like Charles Onyango Obbo suggested that “Muhoozi is his father’s stalking horse” after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reportedly turned down Museveni’s offer of mediation in the ongoing Ethiopian war.
Another of Muhoozi’s tweets that raised the eyebrows was the one about the coup in Guinea. “If our Commander in Chief gave us instructions it wouldn’t take UPDF a day to discipline mutinous troops like the ones in Guinea-Conakry.”
Most of the pushback to his tweet was a scrutiny of Muhoozi’s record. Many pointed out the often mocked capture of a guitar and other items belonging to Joseph Kony, leader of the almost defunct Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) by a battalion led by Muhoozi years ago.
Muhoozi’s tweets have left the army leadership and other government officials in a bind. The Army spokesperson Brig. Flavio Byekwaso while answering questions about Gen. Muhoozi’s tweets on the internal matters of other countries said the Land Forces Commander was making them in his personal capacity- reflecting the awkward position she and other officials tasked with responding on the matter have been put in.
Away from his Twitter rumblings, Muhoozi has sought to shore his profile by bailing out sports teams and patronising other associations. In September, he bailed out the Silverbacks, the national basketball team after it was stuck at a hotel in Kigali, Rwanda after a basketball tournament. The president of the Federation of the Uganda Basketball Association (FUBA) Nasser Sserunjogi tweeted that Muhoozi provided Shs188m to settle the hotel bill for the Silverbacks.
As was expected, a stream of his friends and supporters drowned him in praise on Twitter after the bail out.