Uganda News

‘Muhoozi project is time bomb’

| Who, when, and under what conditions will succeed President Yoweri Museveni? President Museveni's departure from office is no longer merely a speculative discussion given his elderly age—he turned 78 this year.

| Who, when, and under what conditions will succeed President Yoweri Museveni? President Museveni’s departure from office is no longer merely a speculative discussion given his elderly age—he turned 78 this year.

Politics in Uganda are dominated by the topic. On the subject, there isn’t really a disagreement. Instead, informal discussion and speculation continue to surround the “transition question,” despite the fact that it is on many people’s minds. Only the “Muhoozi project,” which refers to how Museveni’s son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, is being promoted as a candidate, is used to discuss it in public.

A new paper from the European Union aims to change that. The international community should utilize its foreign policy tools to put the transition issue at the center of its interaction with the Museveni government, the policy paper, which is research aimed to provide clear recommendations for European Union (EU) policy makers, contends.

In both its political and development support for Uganda, it states that “the transformation needs to become a transversal problem for the international community.”

“The EU must be courageous,” the paper continues.

The transition question, according to the paper, highlights the increasingly authoritarian nature of Museveni’s regime, in which political space has been increasingly closed off, state institutions have been structurally weakened and replaced by a largely individualized system of governance, and the likelihood of change through the ballot has grown more remote.

Attillio Pacifici, the leader of the EU delegation, and Matia Kasaija, the minister of finance.

According to the paper’s authors, the EU’s engagement in the transition issue is especially crucial in a situation where security and immigration policies are seen as being unrelated to the EU’s promises to democracy.

According to a paper titled “Uganda’s Future: Navigating a Precarious Transition, the Role of the International Community,” the current institutional context—characterized by patronage, corruption, and a strong personalization—makes the transition from Museveni highly unpredictable and potentially very expensive.

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It calls for a public discussion of the “transition question,” stating that at the moment, at best, such debates are not encouraged and, at worst, punish those who dare to bring them up or who harbor their own presidential aspirations.

The talk is completely hushed, the journalist is quoted as saying in the newspaper. People believe that discussing it is pointless since you’ll end up taking the opposing position.

According to the article, the international community must use its financial backing to exert pressure on Museveni.

Budget support must be suspended in favor of other types of aid, it states, because it is particularly susceptible to abuse in Uganda’s precarious democratic framework.

It states that donors should coordinate their efforts to track every dollar of aid and that financing agreements should be written from the outset with a forensic grasp of how money is used.

It asserts that assistance for the security services should end immediately given their ongoing, well-documented, but unreported involvement in violations of human rights. The Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) program, which primarily pays the Ugandan police, is included in this.

Failure to do so, in light of previous misdeeds, is increasingly seen as tacit support for the Museveni administration and runs the risk of causing a turbulent transition, the report claims.

The study suggests that the EU appoint a military attaché as a way to forge connections with a wider variety of Ugandan actors.

It claims that there is still a “poor understanding of the essential function of the armed forces in Uganda.”

The study suggests that the foreign community strengthen the ability of players in Ugandan civil society, independent media, and local communities to speak out against the shift in an archaic tone under what it calls “broadening the dialogue.”

The statement continues, “The EU should promote attempts by these organisations to weigh in on Uganda’s political future,” adding that “Any change will need to be owned by Ugandan individuals.”

It makes the case for active citizen involvement to open the door for a “new generation of politics.” However, it cautions that given Uganda’s history of oppression, doing so carries a significant risk. It also recommends that the EU expand its protections for human rights advocates and devise new means to increase civil society’s ability to communicate directly with donors about its needs.

The Open Society European Policy Institute, the EU policy and advocacy arm of the network of Open Society Foundations with a base in Brussels, is funding the study. It works to persuade.

Kristof Titeca, a scholar who has conducted in-depth study on war and governance in Central and Eastern Africa, particularly in the region around the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, is the author. Rebel Lives: Photographs from Inside the Lord’s Resistance Army, his book, was published in 2019. Possible Transitional Situations

According to the report, there are essentially two conceivable outcomes for the transition in Uganda, each of which has similar repercussions.

In the first scenario, which is the possibility for a president-for-life, Museveni holds onto power until he passes away.

Technically, in that situation, the Constitution mandates that the vice president assume the office and that elections be held within three months, at which time the NRM would be required to select a candidate. However, the party’s success in that quest would not be guaranteed due to the highly individualized nature of rule, the fragility of the nation’s institutions, and a lack of political space for possible candidates.

The military and various NRM factions, including regional, ethnic, and political factions, would all have a voice in that process, among other constituencies. It is unlikely that the political arrangement in Uganda will be able to handle these problems.

The consequences of such a clash are unpredictable and could range from the establishment of a more authoritarian state (in a best-case scenario) to regional conflict in a worst-case scenario. “There is a high risk of a disorderly, unconstitutional, and violent clash over a potential candidate,” the paper claims.

Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Museveni’s son, might assume leadership in a second scenario. Muhoozi has advanced quickly through the Army ranks over the years, first serving as commander of the Presidential Guard Brigade, which later developed into the Special Forces Command (SFC), established in 2008, and now serving as the Army’s land forces commander.

Muhoozi bows to his father, the commander in chief.

In fact, in recent times, Muhoozi has been primarily promoted by an aggressive campaign to further his cause, notably through an active social media campaign and his expanded regional political role (e.g. through meetings with Rwandan President Kagame).

The publication claims that the most likely explanation for the campaign is that President Museveni is doing it to gauge public opinion of a Kainerugaba candidacy.

The outcomes are equally unexpected whether Muhoozi succeeds the President—whether through a planned transition, a sudden demise of the President, or botched elections.

The article discusses how the “Muhoozi project” has in the past placed the Ugandan political system under significant strain, as seen in the 2013 Tinyefuza/Sejusa scandal, in which liberation veteran General David Tinyefuza (also known as Sejusa) publicly accused the regime of not only grooming Muhoozi for the presidency but also of plotting to assassinate any (liberation) veterans in the ruling elite who were opposed to the son

The regime’s response was a major military reorganization that confirmed the end of the veteran era and hinted at a growing consolidation of the first family’s influence over the military and the state.

The publication asserts that “Muhoozi does not have the constituency or popularity of his father, interviewees point out that his candidature is not


One expert said: “Many are troubled by the prospect: they don’t want Muhoozi to get the post; and they fear a disorderly succession.”

Some refer to this as the “SFCasation” of the Army, although it can be claimed that Muhoozi and his colleagues have seized control of important posts inside the Army.

Key figures from the older generation have also been purposefully placed in positions of less authority or retirement, particularly since the 2013 Sejusa scandal.

Muhoozi’s power extends beyond his official role; he has the authority to take actions and speak for the army in a manner that is contrary to the hierarchy.

Despite Muhoozi’s influence in the military, the publication warns that a hypothetical coup could exacerbate tensions with other factions of the Army and party that are also interested in the presidency or who are uneasy about the “Muhoozi idea”.

It claims that under Museveni, these tensions are mainly controlled and manifest along a variety of lines, including ethnicity.

The “Muhoozi project” will, in any case, result in a greater reliance on coercion, which will ultimately cause an unpredictable escalation and, in the worst scenario, a violent confrontation with regional repercussions.

international community’s function

The study contends that despite the transition question dominating much of Uganda’s daily politics, the international community has not yet begun to adequately address the problem.

According to the author, the fundamental danger of the international community’s “business as usual” strategy is that it would strengthen and deepen current authoritarian trends.

Naturally, the people of Uganda will shape their own destiny, but other nations—and donor countries in particular—have a part to play as well.

The international community should be mindful of its direct and indirect effects on the political dynamics of individual countries as well as any potential transitions.

The recent international activities of Muhoozi are a good illustration of the influence that foreign nations have on Ugandan politics. Muhoozi frequently tweets pictures of his encounters with diplomats from other countries. With the help of his global network, he hopes to boost his national legitimacy. For instance, one tweet referred to the Italian ambassador as “My best European Ambassador.” My brother, he is.”).

I had the pleasure of meeting H.E.@massi mazzanti, the new Italian ambassador to Uganda, today. Relations between Uganda and Italy have a long history and have always been fairly solid. We anticipate maintaining our friendly relationships. I welcome him to Uganda and wish him the best of luck in his mission.

— Muhoozi Kainerugaba, January 21, 2020 (@mkainerugaba)

These ambassadors’ meeting with Muhoozi undermines the formal military hierarchy, enhances Muhoozi’s status as a public figure, and solidifies Uganda’s individualized system of government.

The pictures give Muhoozi a statesmanlike appearance, which strengthens his political standing and gives him an edge over other potential contenders. Every time he tweets with an ambassador, according to one observer, “it further reinforces the message: Don’t come out against Muhoozi; he’ll be the next President.”

The worldwide community participants can take on a minimum or maximalist role, claims the report. In the maximalist scenario, the international community actively participates in conversations with the important national-level stakeholders before to and/or during the transition.

In the bare-bones scenario, the international community operates behind the scenes and discusses the transition amongst itself. Every time they make a policy or decision, they consider how their projects and activities in Uganda can help to facilitate a smooth transition rather than fostering authoritarianism.

One analyst stated that the EU and others would be complicit in a crisis post-Museveni if they continued to act in the same way and failed to prepare for a peaceful transition.

Role of donor money

The study contends that donor assistance cannot be separated from these processes. It makes reference to a widely reported World Bank report from 2004 that was leaked to the Ugandan media and suggested that foreign aid was essential to the Museveni regime’s corruption through

While the scale of budget support has declined since then, such funding continues, perpetuating these problems.

For example, the EU provides budget support to a number of sectors in Uganda’s government, including €60 million to the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS), for three fiscal years starting in 2018-2019. But while 17 institutions are supported through JLOS, ‘frontline’ institutions such as the police, prisons, Department of Public Prosecution, and courts receive most of the funding.

The EU’s goal for such funding is to improve the human rights compliance of service delivery in the JLOS sector and reduce public sector corruption (including ‘grand corruption’). But, in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, when the police received 44.9 and 47.7 percent of JLOS funding, it—and other security services—committed major human rights violations, especially during the 2021 elections.

Research has shown the limited reactions of donor countries to corruption scandals involving donor aid in Uganda. High-level actors are not held to account and reforms are at best ‘largely cosmetic’.

One reason for this apparent indifference is geopolitics; the Museveni regime is politically useful as a refugee-hosting country and as a key military ally in the region, particularly for the U.S.  There is a consensus that donors don’t want to risk their strategic relationships with Uganda for the sake of democratic reforms or accountability.

But failing to confront the Museveni regime does have consequences for donors, says the paper.

First, their continued business-as-usual engagement with Museveni hurts their reputation, both among Ugandans and within their home countries. Civil society leader Godber Tumushabe described international donors in the Washington Post as the “biggest enablers of Museveni’s authoritarianism” while retired Ugandan diplomat Harold Acemah described the EU as having “bent over backwards in order to accommodate the NRM and Museveni”.

Also, donors’ inaction sends a message to the Ugandan government. As one journalist summarised, “As Museveni realises, he can rule with free reign, he is becoming more and more extreme: look at what happened in the recent elections compared to the last three. The regime becomes more and more free: extra-judicial killings happened in broad daylight, and there was no reaction from donors”.

Fear of ethnic conflict

The main concern of the authors of the paper appears to be that any post-Museveni conflict could have adverse ethnic overtones.

It notes how, although Museveni has endeavoured to play and ethno-regional balancing game in his government, the relationship with Baganda has gradually been deteriorating.

It points at how open conflict erupted in 2009 during the so-called ‘Buganda riots’, in which more than 40 people died. It notes that increased ethno-tensions can be seen in the Rwenzori massacre, in which more than 100 people were killed.

It notes that Museveni’s government has a clear overrepresentation of Westerners, which are ‘not only overrepresented in Cabinet, but also clearly dominated the inner core’.

This dynamic is mirrored within the NRM party, civil service, and parastatal agencies, it says. “Notwithstanding the NRM’s emphasis on anti-sectarianism, there has been a concentration of power among groups from the West, particularly among the Banyankole/Bahima—the ethnic group of Museveni,” it says.

Bobi Wine new factor in Uganda politics

With a pessimistic note, it cites other research which fears that the country may be sitting on a ‘time bomb’, particularly in terms of violence against the ruling region and ethnicities.

Ethnicity played a particularly important role in the 2021 elections. For the first time in multi-party elections under Museveni, the main opposition candidate, Bobi Wine, or Robert Kyagulanyi, did not originate from the Western region, but from Buganda. His party, the National Unity Platform, was portrayed as an ethnic Baganda party.

The overall situation is potentially explosive, with ethnicity coming increasingly to the foreground. Ethnic tensions are hotly debated on social media and political events are increasingly seen through an ethnic lens. For example, the discussion around the legitimacy of the health treatment abroad of the late Speaker of parliament, Jacob Oulanyah, devolved into accusations of tribalism. Land conflicts are also increasingly seen along ethnic lines, for example in the Buganda region. There is concern that ethnic tensions could erupt into something more lethal. Westerners have major concerns.

As one businessman argued: “For us, people from the West, the others think that we have profiteered. We as individuals seem to represent what has happened on a bigger scale in this country. For us, people from the West, this keeps us up at night. What is coming is ethnic cleansing. If there is a big issue, there will be cleansings. Remember the September 2009 events with the Baganda? It just takes one small thing and see the reaction. The truth is: we’re sitting on a time-bomb, we’re paying time. People are very concerned.”

A journalist phrased it in the following way: “I have a lot of friends, who, like me, are from the West, and they all fear. They hope that the big man (i.e. President Museveni) does the sensible thing. We have failed to understand what his plan is; and how he plans on going. But the moment he goes, all of us will become a target: that’s our biggest fear.”



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