clear signals on a succession plan

On March 8, 2022, Ugandan politics was turned upside down by 49 words tweeted by President Yoweri Museveni’s only son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

The tweet announced Muhoozi’s retirement from the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), in which he had officially served since 1999. Since his last promotion in June 2021, he is the Commander of the Land Forces. This position makes him the third highest ranking officer in the Defense Forces.

Muhoozi’s resignation would pave his legal path to officially enter electoral politics. Serving members of the armed forces are banned from political activity under Uganda’s constitution.

The tweet seemed to surprise everyone, including senior security officials. They later released a statement saying Muhoozi had not resigned.

While Muhoozi clarified hours later that his retirement would not come for another eight years, the post fits a recent pattern that has fueled growing public perception that he is declaring his political intentions.

The starkest example of this happened weeks after the tweet. It was in the form of a series of nationwide public events to mark Muhoozi’s 48th birthday.

These included sports tournaments, public rallies, a supporters’ party and a state dinner. Public roads were closed for the events and public broadcasters carried some of them live. Rwandan President Paul Kagame attended the state dinner.

At one of the anniversary rallies held in the southwestern town of Masaka on April 20, supporters wore T-shirts with slogans such as “Muhoozi K is our next president” and “MKProject”. Team President. Secure your future.’

In subsequent tweets in early May, Muhoozi dropped any remaining reluctance.

He later added:

At the state dinner, Museveni, who has always denied grooming his son to succeed him, made comments that hinted his Muhoozi would soon be in charge.

Whether or not Muhoozi makes it to State House – and many things still stand in the way of that happening – it is undoubtedly clear that the possibility of replacing Museveni with his son has gone from rumor to reality in recent years. month.

Apparent heir, apparently

Muhoozi was 11 when his father’s National Resistance Army took over Uganda’s capital Kampala in 1986. In 1999, he officially joined the Uganda Defense Force while studying at Makerere University in the city.

He was then trained at elite military academies in the UK and US, and continually promoted ahead of his more experienced peers.

After Muhoozi’s last promotion to Commander of Land Forces, he participated in a number of Ugandan military deployments. These include those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia where Uganda is part of the African Union peacekeeping force, and the Karamoja region in northeastern Uganda.

Muhoozi’s accelerated rise to a position of power in the military has long produced accusations that he is groomed by Museveni for his succession. Yet despite this accusation of “heir apparent”, Muhoozi’s public profile had previously remained relatively small. He is still seen as something of an “unknown quantity” among large sections of the Ugandan public.

He rarely gave interviews to the mainstream media. For most of his adult life, the average citizen probably wouldn’t have known much about him.

The reasons for this relatively low profile had to do with the inner workings of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime that Museveni has led since 1986.

Museveni’s playbook

At every stage of his 36 years at the helm, the president has maintained a posture of impending retirement. Museveni constantly suggests that the next election will be his last and that he dreams of the simple life of a cattle rancher.

Being constantly on the verge of withdrawing in this way allowed Museveni to pit NRM factions against each other. He dangled the possibility of a succession before them.

In Uganda, this scheme has been referred to as a succession “queue” within the ruling party.

In recent years, however, that act has waned.

This is mainly because Museveni succeeded in marginalizing several powerful National Resistance Movement figures who had developed partially autonomous political bases. These include former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, former Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, former Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura and, most dramatically, former Prime Minister and Secretary General of the Amama Mbabazi Party.

The decline of these figures – all supposed to be in the metaphorical ‘queue’ for the top job – has made even the most naive party elites incredulous that Museveni will ever hand over power to the one of them.

Enter Muhoozi

This change coincided with the political emergence of Muhoozi in recent years.

His public profile has grown both nationally and internationally. As presidential adviser for special operations, a post to which he was appointed in 2017 alongside his military duties, Muhoozi held summits with Egyptian, Kenyan and Somali leaders.

He has also had regional engagements with Kagame of Rwanda, whom he calls his “uncle”. Following a meeting between the two men in Kigali in January, Rwanda finally agreed to reopen its border with Uganda. It had been closed for three years following accusations from Kigali that Uganda was harboring members of the opposition Rwandan National Congress.

The perception that Muhoozi’s intervention was key to repairing the frozen relationship between the two countries was reinforced by a further meeting, also in Kigali, in March. After that, Muhoozi and Kagame announced a broader bilateral agreement to stop supporting dissidents in each other’s countries.

Shortly after, Rwandan opposition blogger and former journalist, Robert Mukombozi, who lived in Kampala, was pictured boarding a plane at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda.

Muhoozi confirmed on Twitter that Mukombozi had been expelled, describing him as an “enemy of Rwanda and Uganda”. It was unclear where Mukombozi was going, although it may have been Australia, to which he has ties.

No longer a low-key figure in the background, the first son has recently been vocal on social media on many aspects of Ugandan politics and its foreign affairs.

In many cases, his positions appear to have contradicted some of the Ugandan government’s official positions. These include his tweets supporting Tigrayan rebels in Ethiopia’s civil war and Russian President Vladimir Putin during his invasion of Ukraine.

What is alarming to many is not just the positions taken by Muhoozi, but the pompous and selfish tone of his speech.

He frequently states that he will destroy Uganda’s enemies and likens himself to military and revolutionary figures throughout history. These are discursive traits that have long been components of his father’s rhetoric.

Yet across the country and online, several “Team MK” or “MK 2026” groups are springing up in support of his future presidential run.

What’s coming?

The most likely explanation for Muhoozi’s recent emergence is that his once low profile is being raised to position him to succeed his father. If such is the will of the regime, it would be imprudent to bet against it.

However, the path for Muhoozi to reach State House is far from guaranteed. The Ugandan public would expect him to win an election to legitimize his leadership, and in doing so, he would potentially face 2021 candidate Bobi Wine in fierce competition for the country’s increasingly young electorate.

Authors: Sam Wilkins – Lecturer, RMIT University | Richard Vokes – Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Western Australia The conversation

Leave a Comment