Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has linked the apparent appeal of his son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to younger Ugandans to their “frustration” with weaknesses within the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.
In his first detailed public comments about the activities of Gen Muhoozi, the President said he is directly handling the issue of the ‘Standby Generator’, the moniker by supporters of his son, which “is partly due to the weaknesses of the NRM”.
“… when Muhoozi celebrated his birthday, 48 years, [last year] there was some enthusiasm by some of the youth in Kampala and some of the areas [in Uganda],” Mr Museveni told NRM members of Parliament during the party’s ongoing 10-day caucus at the National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi (NALI).
“And when I analysed it, I could see that because of the weaknesses of our systems, some of the frustrated youth go[t] to that group [of Muhoozi] thinking that there [was] hope.”
In a May 31 address, the President disclosed that what the First Son did not know about some of his professed loyalists was that they were looking for “their own interests”.
“Some are looking for this, some are looking for that. But me, what I did, [was] I called them [Gen Muhoozi and his group] and I talked with them …,” he said.
He added: “What I explained to Muhoozi was [not] causing unprincipled contradictions among the people. It is not a good thing. You should only fight the one who is against your ideology, not anybody within your ideology.”
The remarks come months after Gen Muhoozi raised questions about the direction of the ruling party, calling it “the most reactionary” and “I certainly do not believe in NRM”.
“Whatever NRM has become does not certainly represent the people of Uganda,” he said in a tweet that lobbed political canister and confusion in Uganda’s body polity, considering that his father is the ruling party’s national chairman.
Gen Muhoozi grew up a child mainly kept outside the public glare, and he became a subject of national debate when he, from 1997 to 1999, allegedly recruited university students into the military as the future core of what today is the Special Forces Command (SFC), which he has commanded twice.
Following the revelations, some members of the 6th Parliament (1996-2001), among them Eddie Kwizera, who at the time represented Kisoro’s Bufumbira East, called for the prosecution of the First Son they accused of illegally drafting Ugandans into the army in violation of the Constitution.
However, President Museveni poured cold water on the claims, arguing that Muhoozi was no soldier but a volunteer member of the Local Defence Unit (LDU).
The First Son formally joined the military in May 1999 under intake 6. Many of his cohort-mates today hold key intelligence and military positions, among them Brig Charity Bainababo, who is second-in-command at SFC and Col Edith Nakalema, who, fresh from a National Defence College training, returns to superintend another anti-graft outfit at State House.
Following various senior command and strategic defence courses in Egypt, the United States, South Africa and the United Kingdom, Gen Muhoozi gained national attention on the back of a rise in ranks faster than most peers.
He used his 47th birthday observance at Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo in Kampala for a quasi-political introduction.
With that as a template, his 48th birthday fete, which President Museveni referenced to NRM Caucus members on Wednesday, this week, morphed to assume a national portrait with mega bashes held in Kampala, Bunyoro, West Nile, Sebei and a record-crowd pulling in Kabale last month.
These events drew senior security and government officials, blurring the lines between the state, government and the personal.
Politically-charged comments by the First Son during some of the birthday events — one of them being a reference to taking power – polarised the country, leading Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju to demand an explanation from the line minister why Gen Muhoozi was preferentially permitted to indulge in politics when a serving military general in breach of the Constitution and the UPDF Act.
Similar comments in past landed generals such as Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde in long detentions and trial.
Gen Muhoozi’s birthday bashes were interspaced with running commentary on Twitter by the general on political, security and foreign policy – taboo topics for serving army officers – despite his father in June 2022 directing him to use social media instead for mobilising youth for sports and promoting culture and development.
The messaging in some of the tweets turned problematic, both at home and outside the country, with President Museveni forced in one instance to apologise to Kenya after Gen Muhoozi, then the UPDF Land Forces Commander tweeted that it would take them only a fortnight to capture Nairobi.
The First Son upended decorum in the conduct of state-to-state affairs by using the micro-blogging site to take public sides with rebels in Ethiopia, the M23 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and with Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, leaving Ugandan diplomats and security officials second-guessing whether the expressed views reflected his own, army position or had the approval of his father, the commander-in-chief.
He remained unfazed, continuing with tweets that at home vilified political opponents of his father’s government and some of the Cabinet ministers.
In October, President Museveni sacked Muhoozi as Land Forces commander, promoted him to a four-star general and retained him as senior advisor on Special Operations in a change that switched off the son’s hierarchical power while simultaneously levelling his pips to the highest-ranked military officers.
Sources at the ongoing 10-day NRM Caucus retreat in Kyankwanzi said President Museveni was prompted to offer a more detailed explanation after a Member of Parliament from Pallisa asked him what Muhoozi was up to.