I am currently in Uganda for a few days to visit a close friend who lost his wife. I had been unable to go for the funeral. I have spent two days in Kampala, one day in Tororo and I am now near the DRC border. Uganda has lost its splendour. The country seems to be tearing at the seams. At the centre of this this saga is the desire yet again for President Yoweri Museveni to amend the constitution, this time to remove the age limit that stands between him and his desire to run for another term and to possibly pave way for life presidency. But anyone who knows Museveni, the man, will tell you that the turmoil in Uganda should not worry Ugandans alone.
Indeed, it is tempting to see the ongoing turmoil in Uganda as an isolated incident to do with the desire for Museveni to secure another term in office. Close scrutiny, however, shows a pattern of behaviour that could engulf the entire region into serious instability.
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Since his rise to power in 1986 until the late 1990s Museveni enjoyed political consensus in Uganda. Any political troubles prior to that, such as the demands that were raised by those who had been integrated in the ruling coalition, posed very little threat to him and his National Resistance Movement (NRM). Other than this dissent, the only challenge to his power had taken place amongst his comrades during the 5 year Bush War, 1981-1985.
But Museveni has always responded to challenge the same way, according to those who fought, and came to power, with him. His comrades Dr. Kiiza Besigye, his personal doctor in the Bush, and Maj. (ret.) John Kazoora, in their memoirs, open a window into Museveni, the narcissist.
Friends and foe speak of his elevated political instincts. They point out that when he senses his power is threated he instinctively creates diversion, divides, and pounces. The problem is that it is never clear who his enemy is and who his allies are. Neither does he care to make the distinction; everything evolves.
Dr. Kiiza Besigye was first to break ranks with Museveni in 1999 when he wrote that infamous “dossier” outlining ways Museveni had diverted from the aims of the Bush War and how he was personalising power.
Besigye predicted most of what has transpired since that time and implied that Museveni would seek to rule for life. All the while Besigye was being fought by his fellow comrades, being accused that he was wrong about Museveni. They asked him to give Museveni the benefit of doubt.
Besigye ran against Museveni in 2001. In the lead up to the elections, with pressure from Besigye, Museveni would deflect; he diverted pressure from domestic affairs using the conflict that brought the armies of Uganda and Rwanda to armed hostility in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The then Major General James Kazini was the pawn Museveni used to manipulate the political threats he was facing at home. As Gen. Kazini was managing the war effort Brigadier Noble Mayombo, then the boss at the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, was rounding up persons perceived to be sympathetic to Rwanda.
During this time, Museveni would allow Kazini to divert funds meant for the welfare of soldiers, including their salaries; Kazini would amass billions by creating ghost soldiers on the payroll. Museveni, sly in his element, would feign not to have control over Kazini.
Museveni would also allow Mayombo to operate safe houses all over Kampala where he would torture innocent Ugandans and making up links to Rwanda.
Young people were pulled from class at universities and tortured until they “confessed” to being agents of the Rwandese government.
Tensions escalated between Uganda and Rwanda until some shuttle diplomacy calmed things down. Most importantly, Museveni survived unscathed; he had successfully diverted a domestic political crisis to live to fight another day.
The lull didn’t last long. Museveni faced up a storm as he thought of removing term limits from the constitution to allow himself to run for a third-term (Kisanja). Yet another diversion came to Museveni’s rescue and distorted the debate on terms limits: the death of John Garang de Mabior.
A Ugandan presidential plane that was carrying Dr. Garang crushed into the Nuba Mountains on his way from taking a courtesy call at Museveni’s ancestral home in Rwakitura. Whether there was foul play involved on the part of Museveni, a claim that has been made by Garang’s widow Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior, is a moot point. Yet again Museveni managed to pivot from domestic political pressure and went on to win his Kisanja months later.
Political observers say that the 2011 elections were the easiest for Museveni since the advent of multi parties in Uganda. They say that Museveni had discovered that he could use the treasury to buy the election; he learned he could throw money into the electorate despite the threat this presented to the health of the economy.
It worked. Museveni won the election without having to turn to diversion – his go to move. Soon after, however, a new unexpected challenge surfaced: The revelation of the “Muhoozi Project.”
In 2013 General David Tinyefuza, aka Sejusa, the then Cordinator of Intelligence Agencies, fled to exile in London and while there brought to light a plot hatched by Museveni to have his son, Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, succeed him upon retirement.
Among those opposed to the Muhoozi Project was the then army commander Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, who was rumored to have presidential ambitions of his own.
Museveni’s instincts kicked in. He transferred Gen. Aronda from the army and made him Minister of Internal Affairs despite pressure from parliament against his confirmation given that he was still in active military service.
Museveni had been reluctant to retire Gen. Aronda from the army for fear that he may turn out to be another Kiiza Besigye.
But the Muhoozi project wasn’t new. It is worth recalling that it is suspected that Mayombo could have been eliminated because he had been open about his desire to become president some day, thereby standing in direct confrontation with Museveni’s dream of having his son succeed him.
Nonetheless, the revelations made by Sejusa affected Museveni’s timing. His hand was forced prematurely. Consequently, Museveni was left with no choice but to seek to delay the project by extending his own stay in power. It was time for Museveni to turn to his bag of tricks. With the political instincts in high gear, Museveni was prepared to go native.
It was complicated but it wasn’t impossible. Museveni immediately sought to play the security forces against themselves. He set off his attack dogs, Gen. Newly rehabilitated Henry Tumukunde and Col. Abel Kandiho, of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence to hound General Kale Kayihura, the police boss and Museveni’s erstwhile blue eyed boy.
Rwanda once again surfaced as a target. However, the last time Museveni sought to place his domestic troubles on the back of Rwanda a war between the armies of the two countries broke out in the Congo. The two are no longer in the Congo; but the times are eerily similar.
Kenya is another target. As the political crisis simmers in Kenya Museveni has openly thrown his weight behind Raila Odinga in what is clearly a change of heart.
It is worth remembering that Museveni played an active role in the post election violence in 2007/8 in support of Mwai Kibaki against Raila Odinga. During that conflict, Uganda is reported to have deployed troops presumably to protect its goods in transit from Mombasa to Kampala.
Therefore, the crisis in Uganda potentially has far reaching consequences. It has could spark chaos in the whole region.
As for Tumukunde and Kandiho, they have been around long enough and need no reminding of how the script ends.
Once they have successfully helped Museveni to regain his footing they are likely to join his long list of casualties: James Wapakhabulo, Francis Ayume, Noble Mayombo, James Kazini, Aronda Nyakairima.
There is always only one constant: Museveni.
David Huba is a Kenya based journalist with a keen interest in international affairs.