President Yoweri Museveni has appointed his son Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba as the new commander land forces in the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces ending speculation on the younger general next role.
Gen Muhoozi, who has been the Special Forces commander will now be replaced by Brig Peter Chandia who has been his deputy.
The first son replaces Lt Gen Peter Elwelu who has been appointed as the new deputy Chief of Defence Forces. Elwelu, also an army Member of Parliament, is remembered for master-minding the Kasese Palace massacre that left hundres of Bakonjo dead in the Mountain Rwenzori area.
Muhoozi was appointed back to the Special Forces Command in December last year where he has spent only six months as the commander of the UPDF elite unit mandated to protect the president and members of the first family.
President Museveni has also appointed Lt Gen Wilson Mbasu Mbadi as the new Chief of Defence Forces.
Mbadi will replace Gen David Muhoozi who was appointed as a State Minister for Internal Affairs a few weeks ago.
The latest changes have also seen Lt Gen Peter Elwelu appointed the new Deputy Chief of Defence Forces whereas Maj Gen Leopold Kyanda who has been the Chief of Staff Land Forces has now been appointed the Joint Chief of Staff to replace Lieutenant General Joseph Musanyufu who has been sent to civil service for redeployment.
The changes by the commander in chief have also seen Brig. Peter Chandia appointed the new Special Forces Commander, Maj Gen Sam Kavuma appointed as the deputy coordinator of the Operation Wealth Creation whereas Maj Gen Sam Okiding is the new Deputy Commander of Land Forces.
While Museveni’s son was Commander of the Special Forces Command, a 10,000-strong battalion, he oversaw the neutralization of supporters of Museveni’s presidential rival, Rober Ssentamu Kyagulanyi a.k.a Bobi Wine.
SFC has become the most potent branch of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF).
SFC is also in charge of guarding oil fields in the Albertine region and other strategic government installations. “One day, Ugandans will wake up and find UPDF swallowed by SFC,” says a source close to Uganda’s security organ.
As the name suggests, SFC is in charge of special operations in the army.
President Museveni said its commandos were deployed to Kampala during the 18 November riots that resulted in deaths of more than 50 people.
And recently, he said SFC had detained 51 people who were arrested during elections. In fact, Muhoozi was named among senior army officials that Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine — Museveni’s main challenger — wants the ICC to prosecute over claims of kidnapping and torturing opposition supporters.
Muhoozi has always dismissed talks of his presidential ambitions, even though there were heightened speculations that he would join politics in 2017 when he was removed from commanding SFC.
Asked if the new position of presidential advisor was preparing him for politics, he said: “I know, and most people know the path to politics. It’s different from the one I am on right now. If I retired and went and stood in my constituency, then you would say, now he is taking on a political career.”
If politics could interest him in future is a hypothetical question that Muhoozi has said he does not want to discuss.
Andrew Mwenda, a journalist, media proprietor, and close friend of Muhoozi, has inside knowledge of Uganda’s power dynamics. According to him, talks of a ‘Muhoozi project’ are absolute ‘nonsense’. He insists that it doesn’t exist.
But when the 2013 debate was raging, Mwenda wrote a story with no byline in his Independent Magazine, saying “as long as the public debate makes Muhoozi’s succession a possibility that is good for the brigadier’s ambitions.”
Mwenda thinks that President Museveni, who has shown no signs of retiring, is the biggest stumbling block to any Muhoozi project.
Outside the military, Muhoozi’s influence is seemingly growing. He has met Turkish, Italian, French and German ambassadors in the past one year. He also met the US defence attaché at the Kampala embassy.
Don Wanyama, a close friend of Muhoozi was recently appointed CEO of government owned Vision Group, the largest media conglomerate in Uganda. It would not be a crime, Wanyama says, if the ‘first son’ ever decides to run for a political office and does it as per the law.
And for the first time, a coterie of legislators who openly support Muhoozi for presidency have joined parliament.
Muhoozi’s modus operandi is manoeuvring, he wrote in his book, Battles of the Uganda Resistance Movement: A Tradition of Maneuver, a short recount of strategies that his father deployed in the war that brought him to power in 1986. “We cannot separate ourselves from who we are; the scions of a great manoeuvrist tradition.”
The Muhoozi project is popular on social media, a move that has since gained traction in the past two years.
Facebook pages and groups such as ‘Muhoozi my next president’ and ‘Muhoozi my role model’ have been set up. There is also a Muhoozi project website on which stories about the ‘first son’ of Uganda are published.
Ssebunya Shafiqi, a key supporter on social media, says: “[Muhoozi is] a patriotic soldier who has contributed to Uganda’s peace. Always close to those in power.”
Last year in March 2020, Muhoozi commented on the term, saying: “Some evil people coined this phrase to try and destroy us! But trust my generation to convert every curse into a blessing!”
An army general, David Sejusa Tinyefuza coined the term, Muhoozi project, in 2013, alleging that there was such a project, and senior army officers opposed to it were at risk of being assassinated.
Tinyefuza spent more than a year in self-imposed exile in Britain. But he was later was arrested for insubordination in 2016. Unrepentant, since 2014, he remains unretired but with no deployment.
Following publication of the Muhoozi project story in 2013, an 11 day siege took place. Daily Monitor, the leading independent newspaper in Uganda, and Red Pepper, then an indefatigable tabloid (recently morphed into a government propaganda mouthpiece) sent shock waves across the industry.
Muhoozi joined the army in 1997, recruiting about 100 university graduates who were trained as part of the Local Defence Unit (LDU): quasi trained soldiers, armed with sticks not guns.
He graduated from the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2000 and was deployed in the then Presidential Protection Unit (PPU).
In 2002, he attended a company commander/battalion commander’s course in Egypt. When he returned a year later, he was appointed commanding officer of the fledgling motorized infantry battalion of the Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB), formerly PPU.
In 2008, he graduated from Fort Leavenworth, the US Army Command and General Staff College.
During that same year, the PGB was reorganised and renamed Commander Special Forces Group (SFG). Muhoozi, who had returned from the US, took over as the first commander. As the elite unit rapidly grew in size, it was renamed Special Forces Command (SFC).
Muhoozi stepped down as SFC commander in 2017 and was appointed senior presidential advisor for special operations. Three years later, he was reappointed to lead the SFC.
Away from guarding his father, he has led special military operations in South Sudan, Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo.