After Uganda’s 2021 general elections, President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement government were slapped in their faces with two hard facts—they had lost very crucial Buganda and Busoga (central region) votes and the youth had become exceedingly hostile to the regime.
It is very unlikely that President Museveni can reclaim those two. Why? Because President Museveni’s government remains very corrupt, has dispossessed the poor of their properties and has failed to employ the youth who form the biggest bloc of Uganda’s population. Youth in Uganda are the youngest population in the world, with 77% of its population being under 25 years of age.
This means should Gen Museveni decide to continue contesting for elections to retain his seat he will have to rely more on his military to coerce Ugandans into voting him. However, this is becoming riskier as the international community weighs the option of prosecuting Museveni for crimes against humanity or undermining his government to collapse it.
Secondly, President Museveni can decide to keep bribing the desperate Ugandans. This option is also not yielding magic because his corrupt henchmen have grown an insatiable appetite for campaign resources that they almost partake everything for themselves during elections.
So, what is President Museveni’s available option to avoid plunging Uganda into irreversible chaos and violence? Mr Museveni has to retreat into the leadership of his party and name a successor to pave way for a smooth and peaceful transition to a new generation of leaders.
To guarantee his safe and peaceful exit, Museveni should commit his remaining years to building his NRM party into a stronger revolutionary organization that is capable of breeding upright leaders. Then as a very strong party chairman, Mr Museveni can supervise government with a new President.
This means Mr Museveni has to nominate a successor that can protect the interests and wealth of the First Family at least for not less than a decade. Why someone that can protect the First Family? Because it is the only assurance that may encourage Museveni out of State House.
So, who would this successor be? Uganda is still a fragile country that it may still need someone with influence in the military to cushion Ugandans from potential disruptive coups. Looking around the NRM party and current government, most cadres have become greedy for power and wealth. This means they are a threat to Museveni’s family.
Within the First Family only Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba and Gen Caleb Akandwanaho a.k.a Salim Saleh have potential to effectively replace Gen Museveni because of their military background.
Gen Saleh, a younger brother to Museveni and bush-war hero, is already running a parallel government to support the First Family’s grip on power. Most key appointments of government officials go through him.
He also generates government policies and programs to deflate opposition in Uganda. In addition, he is popular amongst Ugandans because of his kind handouts.
Gen Saleh also wields a lot of authority in the military through an outfit of veteran soldiers, Operation Wealth Creation, disguised as a government program for alleviation of poverty. However, Gen Saleh has remained very loyal to his elder brother and has not expressed ambitions to become President.
On the other hand, Gen Muhoozi, who has maintained influence in the elite presidential guards, Special Forces Command, for the last two decades has become bold in his ambition to replace his father.
Although he is the commander of land forces and special presidential advisor on special operations, he has of late asserted himself as a senior military commander and embarked on foreign diplomacy.
He is currently supervising Uganda’s military operations against the Allied Democratic Forces terrorists in DR Congo. On the ground, in DRC, the UPDF contingent in Eastern DRC is being commanded by Muhoozi’s uncle, Maj Gen Muhanga Kayanja.
In diplomacy, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba has visited Kenya — twice in four months — and Somalia, where he spoke with Ugandan troops under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom). He held talks with Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble.
Last month, Muhoozi accompanied Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on an inspection tour of crucial Northern Corridor infrastructure projects, the Naivasha Inland Container Depot in the Central Rift region, the Kisumu shipyard and the new Mbita Bridge in Homa Bay County, western Kenya.
“I thank my great big brother, President Uhuru Kenyatta, for inviting me to my second home Kenya to join him in the inauguration of the Inland Container Depot in Naivasha,” the general said on his Twitter handle. “A strong East Africa is the only way to go.”
In his region-trotting, Lt Gen Muhoozi is learning from the “elders” while taking an active role in the integration agenda.
He is rarely outspoken, but has been vocal about regional politics in what is considered crawling out of his father’s shadow.
In September last year, Lt Gen Kainerugaba paid a courtesy call to President Kenyatta as he returned from his working trip in Somalia. Kenyatta is the son of the former Kenyan founding President Jomo Kenyatta.
“I consider him my elder and an inspirational and great leader in Africa,” Gen Kainerugaba said of the Kenyan president.
More recently, on January 22, Muhoozi traveled to Rwanda to meet President Paul Kagame to reopen the border between the two neighboring countries. But this was after a few days Muhoozi tweeting, “This is my uncle, Afande Paul Kagame. Those who fight him are fighting my family. They should all be careful.”
Whereas the details of the meeting remain scanty, the meeting is expected to have moved a step closer from easing the frost relations between the two neighbouring and brotherly countries of Rwanda and Uganda.
“President Kagame and Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba had cordial, productive and forward-looking discussions about Rwanda’s concerns and practical steps needed to restore the relationship between Rwanda and Uganda,” a tweet from the office of the presidency in Rwanda said.
The relations between the two neighboring countries characterized by counter-accusations have been at their lowest for close to six years.
What started as a cold war become pronounced in 2019 with Rwanda closing its border with Uganda and stopping its citizens from crossing to Uganda.
Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan prominent journalist, tweeted, “I know President Kagame trusts Muhoozi as a genuine friend of Rwanda and also as someone who looks up to him as a hero and mentor. So this was a meeting of people that respect and admire each other. I am optimistic this is a good first step to mending our relations!”
Muhoozi’s visit followed that of Uganda’s Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations Amb. Adonia Ayebare, delivered a special message to Kigali.
Amb Ayebare is an elder brother of the former head of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) Maj, Gen Abel Kandiho.
Kandiho, accused by Rwandan authorities of illegally arresting, torturing and deporting hundreds of Rwandan nationals, was on January 25, 2022, transferred from CMI to Juba to head the South Sudan Security Monitoring Mechanism, a move that was welcomed by Kigali, according to media reports. He was replaced by Maj-Gen James Birungi, who had been on a special assignment to monitor the guarantors of the South Sudan peace process.
Kandiho, has also been sanctioned by the United States for gross human rights violations.
Analysts say the removal of Maj. Gen. Kandiho after the meetings in Kigali between President Kagame and President Museveni’s envoys Adonia Ayebare and Lt-Gen Muhoozi have raised hopes that Kampala is ceding ground on the conditions that Rwanda had tabled before bilateral relations can be restored.
Although Gen Muhoozi has no influence in the ruling NRM founded by his father, for the last decade, a huge army of youth has been promoting what has come to be known as the “Muhoozi Project.”
Initially, Muhoozi denied knowledge of the existence of such a scheme. But lately, the First Son has warmed up to the succession debate.
His biggest challenge though is to convince Ugandans that he should be given chance after his father’s four-decade rule.
Since Muhoozi is not so popular in Uganda, he seems to be playing a regional card to boost his chances to succeed his father.
This is the reason he has reached out to President Kenyatta (who retires this year) and President Kagame—both with resources to propel Muhoozi to State House if he decides to run for president in 2026.
Muhoozi will need President Kenyatta’s money and his international network of friends. By the time of the 2013 election, Kenyatta had an estimated net worth of $500 million, making him one of Kenya’s richest citizens. Oxfam lists President Uhuru Kenyatta as the fourth wealthiest Kenyan with a fortune of $530 million. Forbes magazine, in 2011, ranked Kenyatta as Kenya’s richest person and the 26th wealthiest in Africa.
Therefore, Gen Muhoozi is not wrong to befriend Kenyatta.
On the other hand, President Kagame has been very close to the Museveni family since childhood. So, by Muhoozi reactivating his relationship with Kagame, he is not behaving out of the ordinary. It is true that Gen Muhoozi does not command a lot of influence in the general army except the Special Forces Command where he has been almost half of his life.
So what if in his ambition for president, Muhoozi may require an extra hand from security and Uganda’s regular army decides not to provide it? This is why it is important for Muhoozi to make allies with Kagame, who runs a very corrupt-free, disciplined, reliable and battle-hardened military. Kagame also prides himself on possessing the most sophisticated and effective intelligence system in the Great Lakes region.
Secondly, it is very difficult for any Ugandan leader to be secure in the region by ignoring the presence of President Kagame. And if Muhoozi is serious about his presidential ambitions he is right to reunite with his “uncle.”
However, President Kagame has talked about the possibility of not running for a fourth term in 2024, noting that his wish is for a woman to replace him when he retires from office.
“I don’t know yet, but most likely no. When I say most likely, I mean I don’t want to lock myself into anything. I want to have some breathing space,” Kagame is recorded to have said.
But even when Kenyatta and Kagame retire from their respective governments they remain key allies to influence public affairs in East Africa, and anyone aspiring to run for the top most offices in their countries will cross their paths.