n just a short time, Lt-Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the once quiet military officer who until recently had not shown any political ambitions, has become a household name. The First Son and Commander of Uganda’s Land Forces has stormed the national political stage, assisted by social media platforms, especially Twitter.
His army of youthful supporters call him “presidential material,” “Chairman MK,” “next president,” “role model,” among other flattering titles.
Then there are Team MK, MK 2026 and others who don tee-shirts with the general’s photo and billboards and posters declaring their support for him.
His increasing influence, both in the army and the general population, has elicited mixed reactions. There are many in the senior ranks of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) who are silently uncomfortable with the general’s growing status and influence, especially those in the bush war that brought President Yoweri Museveni to power in 1986.
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His involvement in combat has included engagements in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia — where Uganda is part of the African Union’s peacekeeping force — and, more recently, in Karamoja, a region bedevilled by cattle rustling for many years.
So, some of the veterans in the NRM and the army feel sidelined in favour of an upstart who is inexperienced to handle serious military assignments.
Hamstrung by history
Some have told local media of the fear among UPDF rank-and-file to oppose Gen Muhoozi because of the possibility of becoming president after his father.
Sources say that although senior generals are not sure Museveni will relinquish power to his son, they are taking the gamble to support the son’s plans just to be on the right side of history.
According to sources within the army, Gen Muhoozi’s presidency is supported by most colonels and majors-general below the age of 60, who see themselves as the biggest beneficiaries in case of promotions and job postings.
Gen Muhoozi’s contemporaries are now senior officers in influential positions. He enjoys support in the elite Special Forces Command who are charged with security of the President and other national strategic installations and whom he commanded for years.
A couple of months ago, a Kampala lawyer, Gawaya Tegulle, sued Gen Muhoozi, saying his national and district birthday celebrations, and political pronouncements, were inconsistent with Article 208 (2) of the Constitution that provides that UPDF shall be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional, disciplined, productive and subordinate to civilian authority as established under the constitution. But the court is yet to summon Gen Muhoozi or set date for hearing of the case.
Read: What’s in a birthday? The curious case of Muhoozi’s national event
Using the same Constitutional provisions and army code of conduct, in May 2005, the former director-general of the Internal Security Organisation (the country’s intelligence network), Henry Tumukunde was arrested and jailed for comments during a radio show in which he made political statements.
He was blocked from retiring from the army, but forced to resign as army representative in Parliament. In November 1999, Col Kizza Besigye authored a dossier critical of the government.
His quick decision to challenge Museveni in the presidential election saved him from court martial.
In December 1996, senior army officer David Tinyefuza (now David Sejusa) accused the government of failing to end the war in the north of the country. Sensing danger, he quickly opted to resign, but was blocked by the establishment.
The army has always come out to clarify tweets from Gen Muhoozi. For example, Brig-Gen Felix Kulayigye, UPDF spokesperson, recently said tweets by Gen Muhoozi about the Ethiopian Tigray rebels were personal, and not of the army.
Read: Uganda distances itself from Muhoozi tweets on TPLF
While talking to BBC’s Focus on Africa this week, Mr Kulayigye said: “I am aware of everything the military does. And if you noticed, that was a tweet not from the Commander of the Defence Forces of UPDF, not from the spokesperson of the Ministry of Defence. So it can’t be our official position. Information concerning the official position of Uganda’s Defence ministry on matters relating to other militaries is given officially, not through tweets.”