Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, son to President Yoweri Museveni and Commander of Land Forces in the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces will be celebrating his birthday on April 24.
Of course, there is nothing special about celebrating a birthday. What is extraordinary about this birthday is that the First Son has invited two heads of state—President Paul Kagame and President Uhuru Kenyatta. Gen Muhoozi refers to Kagame as his uncle and Kenyatta as his elder brother.
With the power to invite two heads of state, there is no doubt that currently Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba has evolved into the third most powerful person in Uganda, and could be rivaling his uncle, Gen Caleb Akwandwanaho a.k.a Salim Saleh, who for the last two decades has been the second most powerful Ugandan after his brother, President Museveni.
Currently overseeing the assault on Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) terrorists in DR Congo, Uganda’s troops in Somalia and containment of cattle rustling in Karamoja-an area in eastern Uganda neighbouring Kenya inhabited by pastoralists-Gen Muhoozi has been positioned as the most influential soldier, as of today.
The First Son, while still head of the Special Forces Command prior to the 2021 general elections also subdued dissent and riots that were likely to result in general civil unrest in Uganda.
In just seven months the First Son under a different docket as Senior Presidential Advisor in charge of Special Operations has met five Heads of State informally and formally discussing state affairs and in some cases sealing deals that favour Uganda.
Between September 2021 and March 2022, Gen Muhoozi has met the Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, President Uhuru Kenyatta, President Paul Kagame, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Egyptian President Abdelfattah Elsisi.
At the end of September 2021 Gen. Muhoozi met Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble in the capital Mogadishu amid political uncertainty in the country.
The two officials discussed security and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), in which Uganda is one of the leading and largest troop contributing countries.
Kainerugaba’s visit to Somalia and his meeting with Roble came 18 days after the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni threatened to withdraw his country’s peacekeeping troops in Somalia who are serving under the African Union mission that has been fighting the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab terrorist group since 2007.
President Museveni said he was tired of the endless misunderstandings between Somali leaders, which he noted is unfortunate.
Since Muhoozi’s meeting with the Somali leader there seems to be an agreement between the two countries to keep working together.
“PM (Prime Minister) thanks the UPDF role for supporting Somalia,” the Somali government spokesman Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimuu said in a brief statement posted on twitter, referring to the meeting between Gen Muhoozi and the Somali leader.
From Somalia, Gen Muhoozi proceeded to Kenya on September 30, 2021 to “hang out” with President Uhuru Kenyatta his ‘big brother’ and ‘hero’.
“I was honoured to visit my elder, my big brother, and my hero recently in Nairobi. President Uhuru is an inspiration to many of us across East Africa and Africa,” Kainerugaba tweeted.
Then on January 13, 2022, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba again visited Kenya and joined President Uhuru Kenyatta to tour the Naivasha Inland Container Depot (ICD).
“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. A strong East Africa is the only way to go!” Gen Kainerugaba said in the tweet.
Muhoozi’s close relationship with Kenyatta and the two meetings between them are likely to benefit Uganda in two ways; stabilize trade relations between the two neighbouring East African countries and also provide an environment for smooth flow of Uganda’s goods to and from the Coast during Kenya’s elections scheduled to take place in August this year.
East African traders have expressed fears of the supply chain disruptions due to the forthcoming general elections in Kenya. Transit of goods from Mombasa dropped by eight percent since January 2022.
The Shippers Council of Eastern Africa says in the past few months there has been a decline on import inventory at the Port of Mombasa. Importers say any political disruption will affect cargo destined for Uganda, Rwanda, DRC and Burundi.
The shippers are thinking of shifting to Dar es Salaam port in Tanzania unless they get assurance that the Kenyan elections won‘t disrupt business.
Apart from the Kenyan elections, Uganda has suffered trade hostility from Kenya in the last five years. Kenya has been rejecting Ugandan commodities on account of low quality standards and safety risks. The commodities include; poultry products, beef and beef products, sugar, maize, milk, fruit juices and pharmaceuticals.
A bilateral dispute arose between Uganda and Kenya when the latter announced a ban of Uganda’s milk products to protect local farmers arguing that the influx of Ugandan milk into their market had had a huge negative impact as it drove prices at an all-time low to the disadvantage of local production.
It is believed these are issues that Gen Muhoozi is handling and will continue to engage with President Kenyatta to find lasting solutions.
Gen Muhoozi has also achieved what diplomats failed to do by helping to normalize Uganda-Rwanda relations, leading to the full reopening of Rwanda’s borders.
Lt Gen Muhoozi visited Kigali on January 22, 2022 where he held talks with President Paul Kagame over the restoration of bilateral ties between the two countries.
A week later, Kigali announced that the Rwanda-Uganda border, which had been closed since 2019, would reopen. However, the border was reopened mainly for cargo transport and movement of travelers was restricted due to strict Covid-19 regulations.
Then after Gen Muhoozi tweeted that he would be visiting Rwanda again to conclude the talks, the Kigali administration announced full re-opening of the border.
On March 14, 2022 Gen Muhoozi traveled to Rwanda on a three-day visit and met with President Paul Kagame to iron out the remaining issues affecting relations between the two countries.
Muhoozi visited Rwanda as part of the ongoing efforts to normalize relations between the two countries, which have been icy for nearly four years.
In February 2019, Rwanda closed its border with Uganda after accusing Kampala of harboring Rwandan dissident Kayumba Nyamwasa’s fighters under the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and arbitrarily detaining and torturing Rwandan nationals.
After talks with President Kagame, Uganda’s First Son warned the Rwandan dissidents to stop using Uganda for its operations. He twitted; “General Kayumba, I have warned you enough. You are playing with my country and the results will be terrible for you. RNC has absolutely no space in Uganda!”
Of course, in the past, only President Museveni could have made such a warning. Gen Muhoozi has not stopped at the warning—he has also taken action.
On Saturday, on April 3, 2022, Gen Muhoozi tweeted thanking the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence for deporting Robert Mukombozi, whom he called an enemy of both Uganda and Rwanda. Mukombozi, a former Ugandan journalist, is alleged to be a senior RNC official heading the Australian chapter.
Muhoozi therefore appears to have full authority from his father to facilitate a warm relationship with neighbouring Rwanda. CMI that deported Mukombozi has in the past offered unrestricted protection to RNC elements. However, ever since Maj Gen Abel Kandiho was transferred from CMI to police, the military intelligence agency known for torture and harassment of Rwanda citizens appears to be changing face.
After Gen Muhoozi’s meeting with the Rwandan president, Maj Gen Abel Kandiho was reassigned to duties in South Sudan but immediately thereafter sent to police as chief of joint staff. Kandiho, is a younger brother to Uganda’s UN Permanent Representative Adonia Ayebare – whom President Museveni dispatched as a special envoy to smooth issues with Kigali but failed.
Rwanda and Uganda’s bilateral relations have started blossoming as the borders between the two countries were re-opened in late January 2022 and hostilities against each other ceased.
Then Gen Muhoozi visited Africa’s two top giants; South Africa and Egypt. In both countries, he met their leaders and military chiefs.
In South Africa, he met with President Cyril Ramaphosa and the country’s army chief, Gen Rudzani Maphwanya.
Muhoozi met President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt and the latter promised to support military cooperation between the two countries, especially concerning training for Ugandan troops. The Egyptian leader also called for enhanced cooperation between Nile Basin countries and Africa in general.
Kainerugaba, a prolific Twitter user has also become a regular commentator on foreign affairs, which area is mainly a preserve of his father. He has expressed support for Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, openly declared support for Egypt—warning whoever dares it to tread cautiously or invite Uganda’s wrath—and has condemned the Ethiopian government over its conflict with the Tigray people whom he refers to as his ‘brothers.’ Muhoozi’s comments of foreign affairs have tended to influence Uganda’s foreign policy.
Therefore, Muhoozi’s status has changed impressively in the last few months. Unlike his uncle Gen Caleb Akandwanaho a.k.a Salim Saleh who has risen to prominence to the unofficial second most powerful position after President Museveni in the last two decades by influencing appointments in civil service and the military, initiating and developing government policies and managing politicians to promote the interests of the ruling National Resistance Movement political organization, Gen Muhoozi appears to be taking over foreign affairs and military matters.
By working closely with various African heads of state, Gen Muhoozi is expected to gain experience to run Uganda as a head of state and cultivate friendship across the continent that will protect Uganda’s interests.
Critics of President Yoweri Museveni say Muhoozi Kainerugaba who has been in the military for more than 20 years, was rushed through the ranks by his father. And many Ugandans believe Kainerugaba is being groomed to succeed Museveni.
Supporters of Kainerugaba have been pressing a campaign on social media and elsewhere for him to stand in 2026, although he has not publicly declared intention to run for office. In addition, the Ugandan law forbids soldiers from participating in elective politics.
Muhoozi, who will be 48 years by end of April, has announced his retirement from the army. Does this mean he is now one step closer to launching his political career?
Muhoozi announced his retirement in a tweet on Tuesday March 8, 2022 surprising even some of the people close to him. But together with his close relative and friend, Andrew Mwenda, a popular journalist, clarified that Muhoozi would retire in the next eight years.
As of today, to grow his influence and authority, Gen Muhoozi is expected to form his own centre of power in preparation of taking over state affairs.
This will help the First Son emulate his uncle Gen Saleh.
According to a think tank, Democracy in Africa, Gen Salim Saleh actually runs Uganda (in the arenas of business, military and politics) even when he doesn’t have any formal position in mainstream government.
That the enormous influence he wields in the military, civil service and on Gen Museveni makes him effectively the defacto “Deputy President” of Uganda and “Deputy Commander in Chief.”
Gen Salim Saleh remains the strongest and most effective “shadow state” actor in Uganda’s case to the extent that even Gen Museveni can’t take him for granted nor take chances on him.
Due to his ability to engage freely with people from all walks of life, Saleh has become Museveni’s informal chief mediator and is often dispatched by his brother to talk to errant constituencies, rivals or the military. He is consulted on all major defense decisions, including promotions and appointments. Saleh also advises the president on cabinet and other civilian appointments.