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Muhoozi Kainerugaba: Uganda’s cagey heir apparent

At 47, General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, has spent half his life hitting out at claims that he plans to succeed his father.

His critics have been beaten, jailed or forced into exile.

Museveni’s only son, Kainerugaba first came to wider attention in 1998.

Then a fresh-faced graduate, he began recruiting students for the presidential guard, raising questions about whether his father was trying to build a political dynasty.

Museveni brushed off the speculation but Kainerugaba rose swiftly through Uganda’s army ranks, training at Britain’s elite military academy Sandhurst, as well as in Egypt, the United States and South Africa.

“With senior command courses lined up, one after another, promotions after another, it was clear Muhoozi was being prepared for higher positions in the military,” said Lauben Oketch, a Kampala-based security analyst.

“Whereas his colleagues… were attending junior military officers’ courses, Muhoozi was sent to do more senior military command courses above his rank to accelerate his promotions and the family agenda,” he told AFP.

His dizzying career trajectory saw him promoted to brigadier and put in charge of Uganda’s all-powerful Special Forces Command, before his elevation to major general in 2016.

He was deployed in South Sudan and Somalia as part of Ugandan interventions to shore up governments in those countries and played a prominent role in campaigns against the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia.

He currently leads Uganda’s land forces and serves as a high-profile presidential adviser on special operations — a role that extends into the political sphere.

– ‘Baby despot’ –

To many Ugandans, his position as heir apparent was increasingly obvious, but the government took a harsh line against anyone discussing the matter.

In 2013, police shut two independent newspapers and two radio stations for 10 days after they published a leaked confidential memo by a senior general alleging that Museveni was grooming Kainerugaba to succeed him.

The general — former intelligence chief David Sejusa — fled to Britain and said anyone opposed to the so-called “Muhoozi project” risked being assassinated.

Many of Museveni’s former allies, including his personal doctor Kizza Besigye, have fallen out of favour with the president over Kainerugaba’s elevation, which has also aroused the ire of opposition politicians and government critics.

Prominent author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija fled to Germany this month, alleging that he was tortured in custody on charges of insulting Museveni and Kainerugaba, who he has described as “obese”, a “curmudgeon” and a “baby despot”.

Unlike his father, who has ruled Uganda since 1986 and relishes public attention, Kainerugaba prefers to keep a low profile, occasionally appearing at sports events or the rare social gathering with friends.

But he is not shy about sharing his opinions on social media.

He has offered his views on everything from last year’s coup in Guinea to the brutal war in northern Ethiopia, praising Tigrayan rebels for their “unconquerable spirit.”

The military, which exercises huge power in the country, has been quick to defend him saying he was only exercising his personal rights, but the tweets have sparked unease in Kampala.

A senior Ugandan diplomat who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisals said: “Muhoozi should know he is not an ordinary Ugandan… his comments can be construed as the position of Uganda.”

Opposition lawmaker Muwanga Kivumbi went further, telling AFP: “The young man is embarrassing the country. He can put our country at war with his reckless comments.”

– ‘Not a monarchy’ –

Kainerugaba’s foreign policy interventions have not been limited to social media.

He is said to have been instrumental in the recent rapprochement between Uganda and Rwanda and was also rumoured to have played a key role in a joint operation launched last year by Ugandan and Congolese forces against the ADF in the eastern DR Congo.

He remains a polarising figure at home, feared by many, but also praised for his philanthropic acts, such as paying students’ medical costs or footing the hotel bill for the cash-strapped Ugandan national basketball team during last year’s AfroBasket championships.

Married to Charlotte, a businesswoman, the father-of-three is widely believed to be next-in-line for the top job, yet has repeatedly insisted that he has no presidential ambitions.

“Uganda is not a monarchy where leadership is passed on from father to son,” he once said.

But to many, his succession is a foregone conclusion. AFP

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