KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) – Public celebrations celebrating the Ugandan leader’s son are raising concerns that he is seeking the presidency after years of apparent preparation to succeed his father, President Yoweri Museveni, who has since in power in 1986.
Three events marking Lt-Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s 48th birthday have been held in the capital Kampala in recent days, and his supporters elsewhere in this east African country have staged lively rallies in what they said were in honor of their future president.
The most recent event, Saturday’s Thanksgiving ceremony, was attended by hundreds, including senior government officials and military officers.
Kainerugaba, who commands Uganda’s infantry forces, has become increasingly confident in Twitter posts mentioning his desire to rule Uganda. He spoke of increasing the sports budget in favor of the youth if he “gains power in this country”. And he says he’ll be announcing his political program soon.
“The fact that all those who used to berate me daily are now being forced by people to swallow their words is amazing,” he said on May 2, referring to recent rallies, which have seen crowds of people T-shirts with his picture worn.
Kainerugaba’s supporters say he offers Uganda an opportunity for a peaceful transfer of power in a country that hasn’t had one since independence from British colonial rule in 1962. But opposition leaders, critics and others seeking change say his rise is spearheading the East African country to hereditary rule.
Kainerugaba’s birthday celebrations should be seen as a formal introduction to “Uganda’s crown prince and heir apparent,” wrote critic Muniini K. Mulera in a column in local newspaper the Daily Monitor. Museveni “has entered the final round of a long road to the realization of a fifty-year-old dream of creating dynastic rule,” he wrote.
Kainerugaba is also facing a legal review. Because Ugandan law prohibits a serving military officer from engaging in partisan affairs, some say Kainerugaba has already crossed the line. They point out that other army officers who discussed politics were humiliated.
A Ugandan lawyer filed a petition with the Constitutional Court last week to seek a finding that Kainerugaba’s political activities are unlawful. This petition also seeks to prosecute Kainerugaba on alleged treason charges and accuse him of being destabilizing in his activities.
Kainerugaba joined the army in the late 1990s and his rise to the top of the armed forces has been controversial. Critics dubbed it the “Muhoozi Project” to prepare him for the presidency.
Museveni and Kainerugaba themselves have denied the existence of any such plan, but it appears a transition is now underway as Museveni, 77, is serving what may be his final term with no apparent successor within his government.
Museveni has not said when he will retire. He has no rivals within the ruling National Resistance Movement party – the reason many believe the military will have a say in choosing his successor.
Most of the heroes of the jungle warfare that ended years of civil war and ushered in Museveni’s presidency have since died or retired from the army, leaving authority in the hands of young military officers who see Kainerugaba as their leader.
Kainerugaba, the pillar of his father’s personal security apparatus, is now the de facto head of the military, with his allies strategically deployed in security services command positions, observers say.
Kainerugaba’s associates describe him as a dedicated military officer who often eschews ostentatious displays of power and wealth. He attended military schools in the US and UK before leading a unit of the Presidential Guard that has since grown into an elite group of special forces.
A taciturn man, Kainerugaba lacks the public charisma and vernacular style of Museveni, who has retained power in part by making deals with his political rivals and persuading some to serve in his government.
Museveni, a US regional security ally, is often credited with restoring Uganda to relative peace and security. In recent years, however, he has faced growing criticism of rights violations against opposition supporters.
Bobi Wine, the popular singer who challenged Museveni in last year’s election, has accused Kainerugaba’s security agents of torture. Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, has repeatedly urged the US to cut support for Uganda’s military.
Some analysts say Museveni is unlikely to retire at all, but could use his remaining years to pave the way for Kainerugaba to succeed him.
Uganda’s next presidential election is scheduled for 2026.
Though a Kainerugaba presidency is not inevitable, he could build “a critical mass of support” among soldiers and businesspeople to eventually seize power, said Nicholas Sengoba, a Kampala-based political analyst. Kainerugaba’s public events, he said, aim to “test the waters,” while Museveni gauges public support for family rule.
“The son helps the father to settle down,” he said. “The father is helping the son now because he is in charge.”
This story has been corrected to show that Museveni is 77 years old.