Let’s keep them happy lest they join Mbabazi!
That seems to be the National Resistance Movement’s stance regarding retired or estranged senior army officers, The Observer reveals today. It has emerged that President Museveni has reached out to at least four bush war officers, to keep them out of the reach of his erstwhile-political-allies-turned-opponents.
At the centre of Museveni’s fears are ex-premier Amama Mbabazi and Gen David Sejusa (Tinyefuza), the former coordinator of intelligence agencies, who have parted ways with Museveni after decades of working together. Army officers that President Museveni used emissaries to reach out, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity, are Maj Gen Benon Biraaro, Brig Henry Tumukunde, Col Fred Bogere, and Maj Guma Gumisiriza.
“They promised them full ministerial appointments because they cannot fit in the UPDF hierarchy anymore given that the officers who were their subordinates are the ones in charge,” the source said.
This development comes after Museveni intensified his moves to bring estranged bush war veterans back into the fold shortly after Gen Sejusa went into exile 17 months ago. Since then, Museveni has appointed his brother, Gen Salim Saleh (Caleb Akandwanaho), another bush war hero, to coordinate efforts to provide veterans with opportunities to develop income-generating activities in the agriculture sector. Museveni also decided to put the well-heeled National Agricultural Aisory Services (Naads) under the army.
Sheila Kawamara-Mishambi, a former East African Legislative Assembly MP, and critic of the NRM, recently argued in The Observer that the Naads project was rushed to make political capital rather than improve the agricultural sector.
“With all loyalty to his big brother, Saleh, who is also the commander of the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) project, quickly rallied the country’s top military officers for a crash agricultural training programme at Makerere University. Days later, they graduated with a certificate in agricultural science,” Kawamara said.
Museveni also struck a deal with Maj Rubaramira Ruranga, a former head of the FDC electoral commission, who has since rejoined the ruling NRM.
Similarly, the president has rejuvenated the political career of Maj Gen (rtd) Jim Muhwezi, who run into trouble as Health minister following the misappropriation of the Shs 280 billion Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) project. (See: The return of Jim Muhwezi)
It is understood that the engagements with the officers started in February, after the NRM caucus had passed a resolution that ring-fences the presidency for Museveni against any intraparty competition.
“The president thinks that the old guards are likely to join forces opposed to him, because they could easily back Mbabazi,” a source said.
The first set of emissaries had Museveni’s assistants employed under State House, who reportedly engaged the officers on at least two occasions. With the State House agents failing to make headway, Museveni reportedly deployed ministers Richard Todwong (Political Mobilisation), Frank Tumwebaze (Presidency and KCCA), and Peter Nyombi (Attorney General) plus Luweero district chairman Abdul Nadduli.
The officers were met separately. But they are understood to have been in contact, comparing notes, with the exception of Gumisiriza, said to be particularly vulnerable. Our sources said that Nadduli and Nyombi, for instance, engaged Bogere, urging him not to turn down the offer as it worked in the interest of the people of the greater Luweero districts.
Interviewed for this story on Saturday, Nadduli said that while he knew Col Bogere as a person who hails from Luweero, he had not heard from him for a while.
“He is born here [Luweero] and we have previously worked together during campaigns but I don’t know where he is now,” said Nadduli, who is also the NRM deputy chairperson for Buganda region.
As the interview narrowed down to his dealings with the former army MP on Museveni’s behalf, Nadduli got cagey, telling this reporter that he did not want to discuss the matter.
“Don’t go into that because it touches [the] security of the country. Now, you want me to begin telling this and that, and what if the security asked you for your source of information?” Nadduli asked.
“Leave me, I left the army long ago,” added Nadduli, who is a member of the NRM’s Central Executive Committee, the party’s second most powerful organ.
Given that many NRA veterans quietly detest the idea that First Son Muhoozi Kainerugaba could succeed President Museveni, our sources said the officers had initially not warmed up to the State House offers. However, our sources further said, intensified engagement with Tumukunde appears to have borne fruit. Tumukunde would later surprise his colleagues when he told them to seize the opportunity and work with Museveni.
“To Tumukunde, politics is about timing and this was the right time for them to get close and fight from within,” a source familiar with the negotiations said.
Todwong did not answer his phone when we called him on Saturday but Tumwebaze denied having talked to any of the soldiers.
“If there are people assigned to talk to them, I don’t think that I could be the best suited because they are not my [contemporaries] and I don’t share a history with them,” Tumwebaze said.
Political commentators have, however, cast doubt on the chances that Museveni stands to convince the old guards. For some, the best he gets could be silent dissent – too proud to acquiesce, but prudent enough to remain quiet.
“He can’t get all of them into the cabinet because they are so many, and I don’t think a man like Lt Gen [Ivan] Koreta sitting on the same high command with his former driver [Brig Leopold] Kyanda,” said Kyadondo East MP Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, also a member of Parliament’s Defence and Internal Affairs committee.
By his current posting as Chief of Personnel, Land Forces, Kyanda, by law, sits on the UPDF high command. UPDF’s Joint chief of staff Maj Gen Wilson Mbadi was an officer in charge of stores when Bogere served as Chief of Logistics and Supplies.
“People who fought in Luweero don’t want to be in the shadows you can’t, for example, have Tumukunde saluting Muhoozi [Kaineruga] who at the time of his entry, Tumukunde was already a colonel. Today, Muhoozi is number three in the UPDF hierarchy,” Ssemujju said.
There are several bush-war heroes who have not had their retirement requests approved because they disagreed with Museveni over various matters. Many have since not been formally deployed or posted at foreign missions as military attaches.
“Those that are on katebe because of the disagreements they had with Museveni can’t get back,” said Ssemujju. “But those that are [un-deployed] because of other reasons are easier to accommodate, like Brig [Elly] Kayanja who is now in Naads.”
The four at a glance:
Biraaro retired from the army late last year and immediately declared his ambition to challenge Museveni for the presidency. His last active role in the army was as the Commandant of the UPDF Senior Command and Staff College in Kimaka, Jinja district.
Tumukunde, on the other hand, who was until recently battling a protracted court case at the UPDF General Court Martial, has applied to retire from the army in vain. Last year, Tumukunde was sentenced to a “severe reprimand” for spreading harmful propaganda in the army.
A former UPDF MP in the sixth and seventh Parliament, Tumukunde also served the army as chief of personnel and administration, head of the chieftaincy of military intelligence (CMI) and as director general of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO).
Like Tumukunde, Bogere was also an army MP until 2006 after he fell out with his UPDF bosses for abstaining from a vote on lifting the presidential term limits. He also served at the army’s chief of logistics and supplies.
On the other hand, Gumisiriza was in Parliament as a retired army officer who represented Ibanda North, and an active member of Parliamentary aocacy forum (PAFO), a loose coalition of members of the seventh Parliament that opposed the lifting of presidential term limits during the 2005 constitutional amendment process.
Source : The Observer