Muhoozi ‘war’ isn’t about Kenya

General Muhoozi Kainerugaba

General Muhoozi Kainerugaba on the day of his promotion to the rank of Maj-General at Bombo Military Barracks in Uganda. It would be a mistake to think that Muhoozi’s tweet about overrunning Nairobi was about Kenya.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • It would be a mistake to think that Muhoozi’s tweet about overrunning Nairobi was about Kenya.
  • It was all about Uganda, particularly the race to succeed his father, in power for almost 37 years.
  • Muhoozi became, in the words of one analyst, the first soldier to have the ability to “act independently” on military matters without Museveni’s say-so.

Kenyans, especially on social media, were in war mood Monday and early Tuesday after Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s son Muhoozi Kainerugaba tweeted: “It wouldn’t take us, my army and me, 2 weeks to capture Nairobi.”

Gen Muhoozi, then a lieutenant-general and Commander of the Land Forces of UPDF, additionally lamented that former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, with whom he was close, had left office after his second term expired.

General Muhoozi Kainerugaba with Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta

Uganda's Special Envoy Lt. General Muhoozi Kainerugaba with Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, on June 8, 2022.

Photo credit: PSCU

He said Uhuru should have vied for a third term and was sure he would have won.

In a wave of patriotic fervour, Kenyans threw everything, except the Indian Ocean, at Muhoozi. 

Barely 24 hours after the tweet, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kampala issued a statement reaffirming nothing but total love for “our brother neighbour, the Republic of Kenya”. It did not specifically refer to the Muhoozi tweet.

In quick order, Muhoozi was kicked upstairs, promoted to General but dropped as Army commander. He will likely be allowed to cool his heels for some months, as happened in the past before he is rehabilitated with a new position.

“The Tweeting General”, as Ugandans call him, has ruffled many feathers at home and abroad with his posts. Last November, he tweeted support for the Tigray rebels in their war with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal government in Addis Ababa and backed Egypt in its feud with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (Gerd) on River Nile. 

The Foreign ministry distanced itself from his posts. And last month Muhoozi was in Ethiopia, met Abiy and all but kissed his ring.

It might have come too late as the view has taken root in Addis Ababa that Kampala is the main point through which “laundering operations” are paying for the TPLF’s campaign is taking place.

It would be a mistake to think that Muhoozi’s tweet about overrunning Nairobi was about Kenya.

Succession race

It was all about Uganda, particularly the race to succeed his father, in power for almost 37 years.

Until about June, outwardly, Muhoozi appeared to be leading the pack in the contest to take over from Museveni and that he was his favourite political heir. 

The country was awash with campaigns and events for “MK 2026”. Not everyone was convinced.

There were no credible signs that Museveni planned to step aside. Instead, it seemed like he was giving Muhoozi enough rope to hang himself with.

Reputed to love his beer, a charge he has rejected, his extreme positions and controversial tweets hobbled him with the image of an unhinged soldier. Some Ugandans were unnerved and seemed to have pivoted back to Museveni as a safer pair of hands if the alternative was the son.

Publicly endorsing him

Museveni had read the possibilities, and soon the operation for his re-election kicked off.

Ministers and ruling party MPs have been publicly endorsing him as their candidate for 2026.

He will have been in power for 40 years. For Muhoozi, the straw that broke the camel’s back seems to have come a few days ago when the group of elderly leaders, who were with Museveni in the bush during their guerrilla war, reportedly also endorsed him for 2026.

The most revealing tweet from Muhoozi during his twitterstorm then was: “In 2026, it will be 40 years of the old people in charge. That will change. Those are instructions from Jesus Christ. Our generation will be in charge of this country”.

His tweet about Uhuru seeking a third term, therefore, could have been meant as a contrast.

He was saying Uhuru could have won but he left because his time was up. So, his father should also go, even if he would be elected if he vied.

It raises the question of whether there is a method to Muhoozi’s seeming madness. There is.

He cleverly exploits the fact that people think he lives in Cuckooland to make the political arguments that would get anyone else a trip to the jailhouse, a beating or torture.

If he has suffered a setback, it likely is only temporary. Observers see genuine support for his cause among the youth in one of the world’s youngest countries, who are fed up with political domination by septuagenarians.

He probably would beat his father in a fair electoral contest for the youth vote.

And even some older voters are jaded with decades of Museveni rule, which visibly has run out of imagination.

He also accumulated power among sections of the military when he headed the Special Forces Command (SFC).

SFC grew beyond the presidential guard it was created to be, with Museveni grooming it into a large republican guard.

And much like the Iranian Republic Guard, he turned it into a vanguard political movement.

Muhoozi became, in the words of one analyst, the first soldier to have the ability to “act independently” on military matters without Museveni’s say-so.

In Museveni’s sunset years, he remains perhaps the only blood relative who can secure the father and the family with the force of arms—and both men know it.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the "Wall of Great Africans". @cobbo3

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