- For those who would argue that Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba comments in his personal capacity, that is of little help in clearing up the confusion. The fact is, Muhoozi is no ordinary army officer. Apart from being a son of the President, he is treated as an important figure in government, writes Timothy Kalyegira.h
The spokesperson of the Ministry of Defence and Veterans Affairs, and the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), has said tweets by the Commander of Land Forces about the Ethiopian Tigray rebels are his personal opinion, but not of the army.
In an interview with the BBC’s Focus on Africa on Monday, Brig Felix Kulayigye, while cautiously avoiding to directly talk about Lt Gen Muhoozi Muhoozi by name, said the tweets by the First Son, who doubles as the Commander of Land Forces, in which he supported the Tigray People’s Liberation Force (TPDF) rebels, were not a position of the UPDF.
“I am aware of everything that the military does. And if you noticed, that was a tweet not from the Commander of the Defence Forces of the UPDF, not from the spokesperson of the Ministry of Defence. So it can’t be our official position,” Brig Kulayigye told the BBC.
Lt Gen Kainerugaba tweeted statements in support of the Tigray rebels and accused the Ethiopian government of carrying out rights abuses. The Ethiopian media, diplomats and military have been tying his statements to the report circulating on social media accusing Uganda of funding and training TPDF rebels in Uganda.
Lt Gen Muhoozi has neither deleted the tweets nor made corrections about his support to the Tigray people. In fact, he has been praising Egypt, a bitter rival of Ethiopia, and promising to ally with it in case of any attack on it.
Brig Kulayigye told the BBC that “information concerning the official position of Uganda’s Defence ministry on matters relating to other militaries is given officially, not through tweets.”
Although Uganda denied supporting Ethiopian rebels and called the alleged leaked intelligence report a total fabrication, the claims have had serious consequences to Uganda’s diplomacy in the region.
Several Uganda officials, including Defence minister Vincent Ssempijja, Chief of Defence Forces Gen Wilson Mbadi and diplomats flew to Ethiopia and met top Ethiopian military officers to distance themselves from the tweets and the alleged report.
Last week, President Museveni sent a radio message to military units stopping all officers from using their social media accounts to post issues related to Uganda’s international relations and also partisan politics.
The fallout from Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s tweets
On Tuesday, March 8, the Commander of the army’s Land Forces, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, took to the microblogging platform Twitter and made an announcement that sent ripples through the country.
Over the last three years, Lt Gen Muhoozi, who is also a son of President Museveni, has become increasingly active on Twitter and since 2020, his posts (or tweets, as they are known on Twitter), have become more and more colorful.
In many instances, they have also been controversial, as Muhoozi touched on matters of State, Uganda’s position on regional conflicts, and the army that ordinarily would land any other military officer in trouble. However, this particular tweet was different. In it, Muhoozi dropped the following bombshell:
“After 28 years of service in my glorious military, the greatest military in the world, I am happy to announce my retirement. Me and my soldiers have achieved so much! I have only love and respect for all those great men and women that achieve greatness for Uganda every day.”
Just like that. That statement about his resignation was posted at 1:44 pm.
More than two hours earlier, at 10:17 am, Gen Muhoozi had posted a photograph of a young Maj Gen Paul Kagame, overall commander in 1994 of the Rwandan Patriotic Army and currently Rwanda’s head of state, and the picture was accompanied by this comment:
“Afande Paul Kagame in 1994 after Kigali fell. Soon after that I was visiting him in his house and we were discussing the genocide against the Tutsi that had just taken place in Rwanda. He is a great man!”
At this point in the day, Muhoozi is being his usual self, relishing Ugandan and East African history and military commanders, intimating his personal knowledge of and contact with some of these commanders, and proud to have been privy to key events over the past 40 years or so.
Then out of the blue, in that frame of mind where one would expect the follow-up tweet to affirm his commitment to Uganda’s security and stability, as is his tendency on Twitter, he suddenly announces his resignation from the army.
Choice of phrase
For those who might claim that perhaps this tweet about resigning might have been the work of a hacker, the evidence for that angle is scant. The resignation tweet was written in the same style and general choice of phrase that Muhoozi usually uses.
Besides, whenever he publishes eye-raising tweets that lead some to speculate that this might be a hacker or an aide, Muhoozi never deletes the tweets in question or post follow-up tweets explaining that this was a hacker. Clearly, this tweet about resigning was authored by him and posted by him.
Later that day, in a conversation with his friend and journalist Andrew Mwenda, who drove to meet him and seek clarification on that surprise announcement on Twitter, Muhoozi appeared to alter his earlier statement, this time saying he intends to retire from the army in eight years’ time, which would be 2030.
It would appear, then, that Mwenda drew Muhoozi’s attention to the implications of his initial statement, causing him to amend his statement but even then, only in that video conversation with Mwenda and not on his Twitter timeline. It is notable though, that since he posted that tweet on March 8, Muhoozi has neither deleted it nor posted another one clarifying the initial one — or even claiming that the tweet in question was written by an aide or by a hacker.
Until he posts a fresh tweet as a follow-up to the one announcing his retirement, it will be assumed that the first statement remains in force and the statement to Mwenda was an attempt to contain the fallout from the first announcement.
There are so many implications about that March 8 tweet worthy of note. President Museveni now has a situation on his hands called Muhoozi Kainerugaba that is going to become more difficult to contain as time goes by.
Muhoozi is too powerful a figure in Uganda for any formal State institution to call him to order; and as a grown-up son to the President who happens to occupy important offices of State, President Museveni as head of State could be said to be at a loss at how to discipline Muhoozi when the same Muhoozi is also a family member he can’t exactly court martial. As was argued in the Sunday Monitor later last year, President Museveni is both a powerful and powerless leader because of the way he chose to structure his power.
Had this been 30 years ago before the advent of the Internet, Muhoozi’s only publishing outlet would have been radio and television stations and newspapers. Museveni would have solved this by quietly putting pressure on the media to not publish any articles that Muhoozi submits.
This being the Internet and social media era, Muhoozi now has total freedom to say anything on his mind and to publish it directly on social media platforms that are outside the direct editorial control of the Ugandan State. For those who would argue that Muhoozi comments in his personal capacity, that is of little help in clearing up the confusion.
The fact is, Muhoozi is no ordinary army officer or social media user. Apart from being a son of the President, he is treated as an important figure in the government both by the general public and his father. The best example of this was Muhoozi’s trip to Kigali in January to meet president Kagame to hold talks on the closed Uganda-Rwanda border.
President Kagame was not surprised that Museveni would dispatch his son as a special envoy to Kigali, never mind that Uganda has such officials as a minister of Foreign Affairs, a minister for Security, a director general of the External Security Organisation and a Chief of Defence Forces.
As is well known, President Museveni will appoint a 70-man Cabinet, only to delegate effective power to officials outside of that Cabinet.This bilateral visit to Kigali by Gen Muhoozi confirmed that he is indeed regarded as a government official of consequence by President Museveni and so, by extension, his views as stated on Twitter are not merely the musings of a private citizen.
On March 1, Gen Muhoozi had tweeted that the “majority of mankind (that are non-White) support Russia’s stand in Ukraine”, and added “[Russian president Vladimir] Putin is right!”. In a subsequent tweet on the same subject, Muhoozi commented:
“When the (USSR) parked nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba in 1962, the West was ready to blow up the world over it. Now Nato does the same, they expect Russia to do differently”.
The following day, March 2, the minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Henry Oryem Okello, issued a statement distancing the Uganda government from Muhoozi’s comments on the situation in Ukraine.
“That was his opinion to which he is entitled but that is not the position of the ministry or the foundation of the ministry, President Yoweri Museveni, he [Muhoozi] doesn’t speak for us.”
So, if Muhoozi does not speak for the Government of Uganda in his personal comments on social media, whose views did he represent on the Rwanda-Uganda bilateral relationship in the stream of tweets he posted following his trip to Kigali?
President Museveni is and always has been extremely sensitive to Uganda’s relations with the West. There is likely to have been a frank discussion between father and son over Muhoozi’s tweets about the Russia-Ukraine war, one could speculate, and that is what perhaps led to the tweet about resigning.
For one, given his high-profile in the Ugandan State and the awareness by government officials of this fact, Oryem Okello is unlikely to have issued that statement distancing the government from Muhoozi’s Russia tweet of his own accord; he either must have been directed to do so by President Museveni or sought clearance from the President before doing so.
What Muhoozi has succeeded in doing, if unwittingly, is in creating the perception of an NRM government with at least two centres of power.
No longer does the government speak with one, coherent voice; the government takes one position on a major foreign policy matter, only for Lt Gen Muhoozi to take to Twitter and post an opposite personal position. It is becoming clearer to more and more people that Muhoozi is a situation that no amount of spin, clarification or defence can cover up for.
He is starting to come across as a kind of Kanye West, the American rap star whose every public utterance leaves the public baffled. And, to repeat: Amid all the clarification by his aides and attempts at spin by a few government officials, Lt Gen Muhoozi has not yet retracted the message in or deleted that second March 8 tweet.