Muhoozi’s ‘war’ isn’t about Kenya

General Muhoozi Kainerugaba on the day of his promotion to the rank of Maj-General at Bombo Military Barracks in Uganda. File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • All said, 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, who has been in power for nearly 37 years.

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

Muhoozi, also Commander of the Land Forces, additionally lamented that former Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta, with whom he was close, had left office after his second term expired. He said Uhuru should have stood 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 Commander of the Land Forces. 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 Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal government in Addis Ababa, and backed Egypt in its feud with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam on River Nile.

The Foreign ministry distanced itself from his posts. 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 with “laundering operations” that are paying for the TPLF’s campaign is taking place.

All said, 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, who has been in power for nearly 37 years.

Until about June, outwardly, it appeared that Muhoozi was leading the pack in the contest to take over from Museveni and that he was the father’s 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 was planning to step aside. Instead, it seemed like he was giving Muhoozi enough rope to hang himself. 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.

Museveni had read the possibilities, and soon the operation for his re-election in 2026 kicked off. Ministers and ruling party MPs have been publicly endorsing him as their candidate for 2026 when 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 the one in which he wrote; “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 that Uhuru could have stood and won, but he left because his time was up. So, his father should also go, even if he would be elected if he stood in 2026.

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

Muhoozi also accumulated power among sections of the military when he headed the Special Forces Command (SFC). SFC grew beyond the presidential guard it was first 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.