There is a growing internal revolt within Uganda’s First Family as President Yoweri Museveni’s son Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba and son-in-law Mugisha Odrek Rwabwogo position themselves as candidates for the highest office.
In the last two weeks, three incidents involving these two members of the First Family regarding the succession battle have attracted public attention.
On September 22, 2021 “The Odrek Disciples” launched their campaign for Odrek Rwabwogo to replace Museveni.
The Odrek Disciples that comprises of Yosiya Mugaju (National Coordinator), Musa. B. Rwamigoye (National Secretary for Mobilization and Publicity) and David Ahimbisibwe (National Media Coordinator) is a group of the ruling National Resistance Movement youth activists that are popularizing what they call the “Odrek Rwabogo Project.”
They claim to be marketing the First Son-in-Law (Odrek Rwabwogo) as a potential replacement of President Museveni.
The trio previously vigorously campaigned for Museveni’s re-election in 2016 and 2021 under a pressure group called “NRM TEAM THOROUGH” whose patrons are Minister Alice Kaboyo and Kellen Kayonga (sister-in-law to Gen Salim Saleh).
They also claim First Lady Janet Museveni associated with their countrywide political activities during the 2016 campaigns.
The second and very interesting incident occurred about four days ago when Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba went to “hang out” with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi, Kenya.
Gen Muhoozi was returning from Somalia where he met the President of Somalia, H.E. Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble and the AMISOM military leadership between September 23 and 27.
Instead of immediately returning to his post in Uganda, Gen Muhoozi decided to spend some few leisure hours with President Kenyatta whom he calls “my elder brother.”
In a photo of the two—both First sons—they appeared very relaxed and causal. “President Uhuru is an inspiration to many of us across East Africa and Africa,” Muhoozi said in a tweet.
Muhoozi and Kenyatta share something in common. Kenyatta is a son of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta while Muhoozi’s father Yoweri Museveni is the current and longest serving (35 years) President of Uganda.
Of course it is strange that in total disregard of diplomatic protocol Muhoozi, who is the Senior Presidential Advisor on Special Operations and Commander of the Uganda Peoples Defence Land Forces could just “hang out” with Kenyatta, a sitting president who has of late developed cold feet towards President Museveni because of the latter’s close relationship with Kenyatta’s deputy, William Ruto.
William Ruto has defied Kenyatta’s directive not to antagonize and challenge Raila Odinga as the latter’s heir apparent in the forthcoming Kenya presidential polls in 2022.
It appears the Muhoozi-Kenyatta photo, widely circulated on social media, was intended to send a message to Ugandans that Muhoozi has come of age and has grown into a statesman that can ably handle diplomatic errands as he prepares to become the number one citizen.
The third incident occurred on Monday October 4, 2021 when Odrek Rwabogo penned an opinion in New Vision, a government newspaper, distancing himself from claims that he is interested in Uganda’s Presidency.
He claims last month’s photos showing a group of youth donning ‘Rwabwogo Presidential project’ t-shirts that made rounds on social media created a wrong impression that he wants to succeed President Museveni.
Rwabwogo denied having been consulted on the scheme promoting him for president. “I see these images just like any you do and I have no hand in them,” wrote the first son-in-law, who is married to Museveni’s daughter, Patience.
However, in a statement dated 1st October, 2021, Rwabwogo said he had seen his old media interviews in videos and images mischievously and callously re-edited and distributed in increasing proportion by some elements who he suspects are intent on creating a certain line of political posturing.
“I have ignored these but I am now compelled to respond given the probable import and interpretation of these images by some of you, my friends. These interviews and videos have been adulterated and presented as if they were conducted today yet they are more than six years old. The people doing this, I presume are seeking to create the impression that there are some ‘special people’ in the Movement (NRM) who are jostling for positions in the event of any form of succession and leadership in the party and/or country,” said Rwabwogo.
But one wonders why it has taken Rwabogo more than a week to clarify on “Odrek Rwabogo Project” scheme. Secondly, why hasn’t Rwabogo legally stopped the group for misrepresenting his name, which is likely (If it has not yet) to build animosity between himself and Muhoozi? How come Rwabwobo is reluctant to meet the group promoting his candidature to succeed Museveni and talk them down?
By reading Rwabwogo’s entire statement he appears to remain on the fence as the “Odrek Rwabogo Project” gains momentum. It appears Rwabwogo wants to play similar games that President Museveni has played in the past when seeking re-election. Museveni rarely positions himself as one that is interested in re-election. Some group of politicians from his party usually emerges out of the blue and pretends to mount pressure on him to contest for office again. This same tactic has in the past been applied by Amama Mbabazi, the former Prime Minister and NRM Secretary General.
Therefore, it now appears the two middle-aged men; Muhoozi (47years), the commander of Land Forces and Rwabwogo (52 years), Presidential Advisor (General Duties) and self-made businessman, have peeled off their gloves and are ready to sort themselves out since they both believe they have what it takes to succeed President Museveni.
The concern amongst Ugandans though is that the two are impatient with their father’s reluctance to retire.
Since 2013, when former coordinator of intelligence services Gen David Sejusa Tinyefuza coined the term “Muhoozi Project,” there has been heightened media campaign to have Muhoozi on the ballot paper as the most viable replacement for Gen Museveni.
This scheme temporarily suffered a setback when former Prime Minister and the Secretary General of the ruling National Resistance Movement, Amma Mbabazi, offered to challenge his party Chairman and president in 2016.
Mbabazi was badly humiliated after Museveni unleashed the entire state machinery against him.
Then some Ugandans believed the Muhoozi Project would come to fruition in the 2021 general elections but Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, a popular young musician emerged as a spoiler.
Many supporters of Muhoozi blame Bobi Wine for his decision to frustrate this succession arrangement—if it exists at all.
Emergence of Bobi Wine also badly wounded and provoked Muhoozi into neutralizing this “threat.”
Muhoozi, who was Commander of the 10,000-strong Special Forces Command (SFC) force, oversaw the neutralization of supporters of Museveni’s presidential rival, Rober Ssentamu Kyagulanyi a.k.a Bobi Wine.
After the presidential polls, President Museveni admitted that SFC commandos were deployed in the Kampala metropolitan to quell the November 18 and 19 riots that resulted in deaths of more than 50 people, some of whom were accused of starting an insurrection.
Mr Musevni also admitted that SFC had detained 51 people who were arrested for attempting to disrupt 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.
A soldier since late 1990s while at university, Muhoozi often stayed off media or social media limelight.
Of late though, Muhoozi has been active and political analysts in Uganda have not shied away from indicating his drive to earn prominence in the society, and perhaps sustain his political ambition.
His uncle and popular journalist, Andrew Mwenda, has posted a picture of himself donning a white t-shirt with Gen Muhoozi’s photo with words; “Project Muhoozi.”
Muhoozi has even tweeted on the coup in Guinea asking to be permitted to neutralize the coup plotters. He has also expressed solidarity with the leaders of Egypt.
He angered Ethiopians recently after appearing to side with Egypt, and promising to defend Cairo against its enemies. Egypt and Ethiopia have a long-running tiff on the use of the Nile waters, especially after Addis Ababa begun erecting Africa’s biggest dam on the Blue Nile.
“In commenting about African affairs, some analysts say he is trying to acquire the “Pan African” credentials to boost his regional profile that could stand him in good stead,” argued Ugandan columnist Edris Kiggundu.
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.
In March 2020, the First Son reignited the “Muhoozi Project” talk, calling it a ‘blessing.’
On his popular (nearly 150,000 followers) official Twitter account, @mkainerugaba, Muhoozi says the phrase, “Muhoozi Project” was coined by “evil people” to try and destroy “us” but has since been turned from a “curse” into a “blessing.”
“Some evil people coined this phrase to try and destroy us! But trust my generation to convert every curse into a blessing! Thank you Ugandans!” he said.
In the post, he also attached a picture of himself dressed in a yellow hooded jumper with black writings “Muhoozi Project.”
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.”
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.
Muhoozi’s modus operandi is maneuvering, 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 maneuvrist tradition.”
But unlike Muhoozi, who is pursuing presidential ambitions through maneuver, Rwabwogo makes bold moves. He attempted to snatch a top leadership position in the ruling NRM without even first consulting with his father-in-law, who doubles as the NRM chairman and founder.
In 2015, Rwabwogo tried to contest against Gen Matayo Kyaligonza for NRM vice chairman for Western Uganda but Museveni persuaded the NRM Central Executive Committee to block his son-in-law’s candidacy.
Rwabwogo had exerted immense pressure on both Generals Matayo Kyaligonza and Kahinda Otafire when he challenged them for the post of Vice chairman for the west and attracted massive support from young people and a cross section of leaders in the party.
President Museveni was surprised by Rwabwogo boldness to vie for one the ruling party’s top positions.
“I thought he was simply a businessman focused on his milk sales. I had no idea he could clearly and ably trace the process of social formation and how to change society for better,” Museveni said.
“The position will have its right time and it will come. You can’t be a mulokore leading the awakening revolution and you also say I ‘want to be a priest’. Many of the Balokoles were not priests. There is a proper time for this position. It will come when you focus on the work so that people understand you well when your time comes. You must separate ideology from tactics and strategy,” Museveni advised his son-in-law, indirectly encouraging to first concentrate on promoting the party’s ideology.
An angry Rwabwogo even retreated from the capital city Kampala to upcountry, after his failed political bid. But he promised to revive debate within NRM on the party’s ideology. He authored the NRM ideological and mentorship training manual, which was endorsed by the president.
But in February 2017, after growing tired of the cold reception his lectures on ideology had received, Rwabwogo roared again. He started indirectly attacking his own leaders in the party in veiled messages.
In one such message published in New Vision on February 13, 2017, in an opinion titled: “Are strongmen a hindrance or facilitator to institutional growth, successful political transition?” Rwabwogo appeared to shoot directly at President Museveni when he said believes that strongmen are a problem.
“They have exclusivity to rare bursts of wisdom or so their handlers say. They act as if they are infallible and all-knowing; they have become fossilized and institutionalized in such manner that constitutions have to be adjusted for them, not adjusting to the demands of the law; they issue directives, [dole] out jobs and cash and paralyze reasoning and frustrate inspired actions from followers, making those they lead heavily dependent.”
Museveni influenced amendment of the Constitution in 2005 to remove presidential term limits. And there was to be another constitutional amendment to remove presidential age limits – so that Museveni could run for president in 2021.
Undone, during the 2021 presidential elections, Rwabwogo accused Bobi Wine of being driven by personality politics rather than policy options. He accused Bobi Wine’s party, the National Unity Platform, of not having a substantive platform to offer Ugandans.
And in June 2021, Rwabwogo said he was launching online classes against tribalism even though President Museveni has largely been accused by the opposition of ignoring tribal undertones that have influenced distribution of national resources and appointments in key jobs.
Not Rwabwogo not Muhoozi
It is widely believed that the First Lady Janet Museveni sympathizes with Rwabwogo’s political ambitions. And the First son Muhoozi Kainerugaba reportedly shares his father’s opinion on key issues. This means there is no consensus in the First Family on succession.
However, both Rwabwogo and Muhoozi have exhibited impatience, a trait that Mr Museveni despises. The two have also failed to identify themselves with the disadvantaged masses like Museveni has done over the years.
Rwabwogo and Muhoozi claim to have mass support of the youth but they are talking about youth who spend their time in coffee shops and bars while flirting on social media and not the youth in ghettos, garages, on the streets as hawkers, the unemployed and on farms in rural areas.
The two have also failed to tap into the NRM grassroot support in the countryside. The two have remained in the shadow of President Museveni and cannot embark on independent ambitions minus the support of Mr Museveni.
Muhoozi and Rwabwogo don’t have the support of veterans of the National Resistance Army, the 1980s bushwar outfit, which group remains crucial in determining the post-Museveni political terrain.
Lastly, Muhoozi and Rwabwogo belong to a generation that is less sophisticated in thinking, planning and execution, careless, reckless, shortsighted, greedy, proud, arrogant and unrealistic. So, even if President Museveni wished to retire and pass on power to either Muhoozi or Rwabwogo, none would retain control over that power.
Museveni is therefore very aware that his children don’t have what it takes to retain power. So, who would be the ideal candidate to succeed Museveni?
The only person that has proved beyond reasonable doubt that he would not only ably succeed President Museveni but also guarantee the future and safety of the First Family is Gen Caleb Akandwanaho a.k.a Salim Saleh.
Gen Saleh remains the most respected soldier both with the National Resistance Army and the Uganda People’s Defence Forces. He also commands a lot of respect within the NRM. Almost all Ugandans; young and old; rich and poor; illiterate and educated from all walks of life amongst all tribes just love Saleh. Everywhere he goes he moves with the most influential power centre.
But Ugandans keep asking; is this a monarchy? Of course not. So, if Museveni were to retire peacefully but also retain some amount of control over state power without involving the First Family, he may have to restructure the power centres. Museveni may have to shift more power from government to the NRM party structures where he can retire as a party chairman with power to sack a sitting president. Under this arrangement Museveni may allow anybody from outside his family to succeed him.
However, as of today, there is no retirement in Museveni’s DNA. Museveni has recently said he would want to first see “his oil” pumped out of the ground and put on the international shelves, and secondly, he wishes to also witness a federal United States of East Africa materialize.
“One thing that is clear is that the winds of change are gaining momentum and it is not lost on those who are within the regime itself,” Maj Gen Muntu has warned.
The International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based NGO, in a 34-page report titled “Uganda’s Slow Slide into Crisis,” warns that if this succession question is not addressed, Uganda could find itself in crisis.