President Museveni has said the various birthday parties organised by supporters for his son, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who commands UPDF Land Forces (CLF), were to counter the attacks by the Opposition against the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.
Lt Gen Muhoozi’s birthday celebrations, long a private matter, gained political currency this year when observation of the 48th anniversary turned out as massive rally-like parties held in different parts of the country.
The fêtes started in April, the month of his birth, and were marked for several weeks by musical concerts, high-profile speeches, including the Land Forces commander himself, and runs in which some uniformed army generals participated.
The forms the birthday parties took and the spread of the celebrations country-wide, coupled with politically-tinged addresses, raised concern that the First Son was playing unrestrained in a political minefield where, in the past, public comments resulted in serving army officers being hauled to jail and prosecuted.
Addressing a rally at Masindi Golf Course on Saturday, President Museveni thanked organisers of the well-attended celebrations which he said “showed love” to Lt Gen Muhoozi and “exhibited the spirit of the resistance movement”.
“I did notice it, while the naysayers went around, the youth of NRM showed they were not happy with the arrogance of some of the groups and wanted to show that we can counter-attack,” he said.
He added: “In Kampala, some sponsored Opposition take advantage of the weaknesses of the NRM, for example, supporters [of the ruling party] are beaten up for wearing yellow shirts [official NRM colour] and they keep quiet. Eh! But the MK (Muhoozi Kainerugaba) Group resisted such and, so, I want to thank you for sticking with NRM through Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s birthday [celebrations].”
Standing atop a military jeep, the President told the rally that the pro-Muhoozi group started as a resistance towards the arrogance and irresponsible behaviour of the Opposition towards NRM.
“People were saying this and that but I saw that NRM youth were not happy with the arrogance of some of the groups. So, they wanted to show that we can counter attack. That is why people were saying this and that, but, me, I could understand,” Mr Museveni said, citing what he called an “irresponsible Opposition” and “weakness of NRM”.
“They (opposition) would beat those putting on NRM T-shirts and NRM supporters would keep quiet but the MK Group said that is not acceptable,” he added.
Up until the weekend, the President had largely reserved public comments on his son’s birthday parties, putting slow brakes on the celebrations and Lt Gen Muhoozi’s no-holds-barred society media activity only after the matter caught attention of military chiefs and was discussed during a meeting Gen Museveni chaired in Ntungamo in June.
In the same month he issued a radio message to all military units in which he ordered that CLF desists from discussing security, politics and foreign policy issues on micro-blogging sites and instead he urged Lt Gen Muhoozi to focus on sports, youth issues, political ideology and education
In accounts of the Ntungamo meeting deliberations to this newspaper, and corroborated in the commander-in-chief’s subsequent radio message to service chiefs, Gen Museveni noted that he had agreed with “my people”, a reference to top military leadership, that social media was not bad in itself, but the issue was how it was used.
It remained unclear which specific social media commentaries were deemed problematic.
Lt Gen Muhoozi, who has slightly more than 568,000 followers on Twitter, is the most vocal and prolific UPDF officer engaged on the micro-blogging site.
His comments over the past several months have included vouching support for Tigray rebels fighting Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy’s government, and offering to back Rwanda in any conflict and praised self for brokering the thawing of two-year frosty Kampala-Kigali relationship.
In February, he tweeted that “majority of (non-white) mankind” supported Russia on Ukraine invasion.
After the June meeting, Lt Gen Muhoozi quietened on social media regarding the touchy subjects, but later resumed his tweets, including mentions rather than discussion of political and security matters.
In the Saturday comments, President Museveni was responding to two petitions by a section of leaders in Bunyoro to him to endorse the clamour by some Ugandans for Muhoozi to succeed him.
Earlier that day, he had commissioned a hotel owned by events promoter and Muhoozi enthusiast Balaam Barugahara.
At the hotel’s inauguration, Ms Evelyn Ayebale, the Masindi District female youth councillor, requested the President to discharge his son from UPDF, and accept the request for him to join active politics.
“We are requesting you to allow your son, Lt Gen Muhoozi, to come to us [so that] we discuss with him. He has many projects he has planned for the youth such as sports development, and uniting and skilling the youth. We really love him so much,” Ms Ayebale said.
Mr Balaam, a leading co-organiser of the now muted birthday parties, said the pro-Muhoozi group was not competing with President Museveni.
“… we are working with you. We shall wait for your guidance so that we shoot after your approval,” he said in the presence of various Bunyoro leaders.
He introduced to the President groups he described as “Muhoozi army”, “Team Chairman” and “Revolutionary Guards” whom he said were working tirelessly to burnish the image of NRM that he alleged was for long smudged unchallenged by the Opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) party members including their leader Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine.
“We are telling them that you touch Mzee (Museveni), we have a standby generator. You touch Mzee, we have an avenger,” Mr Barugahara said in a comment understood to refer to President Museveni’s disclosure that he named the son Kainerugaba to mean he would be his avenger.
In the Masindi meeting with Bunyoro leaders, the President did not directly respond to the requests in the two petitions that Muhoozi join active politics in preparation for his future presidency.
Hundreds of youth at the event donned white T-shirts bearing the photograph of the UPDF Land Forces commander, something unheard of with other serving military honchos.
Don’t want to miss out on any story? For updates on all Naijium stories, follow this link on Telegram: https://t.me/dailymonitor