Young Turks in the UPDF have recently dominated the higher echelons, underscoring a shift in the balance of power of an army that has been controlled by those who shared the trenches with President Yoweri Museveni during the Luwero bush-struggle.
Since bands of the ragtag guerilla outfit marched to Kampala on January 26, 1986, the UPDF leadership appeared to be held hostage by the Luwero bush-struggle camaraderie. There has, however, been a realignment in the army, resulting in the shoving aside of the old guard by an elite younger generation that is loyal to the Commander-in-Chief. Today, old guards like Generals Salim Saleh, who is Museveni’s brother, David Tinyefuza and Elly Tumwine are in the twilight of their careers.
A military source says perhaps the last officers of this old order that are still serving but will soon retire, include: Lt Gen Katumba Wamala (commander, Land Forces), Lt Gen Kale Kayihura (Inspector General of Police) and Maj Gen Fred Mugisha (overall commander of AMISOM in Somalia).
“Anyone of them could become the Chief of Defence Forces after Aronda Nyakairima,” the source added.
However, in the last decade, a latent power struggle in the army between the old guards and young Turks has burbled under the surface.
“There is the late Mayombo group, which joined the army in 1985 and has tilted the balance of power in the army,” said another military source.
The late Brig Noble Mayombo, who died of a mysterious ailment on May 1, 2007, was one of the most eloquent functionaries of the NRM regime whose rapid rise in the army rattled the old guard, especially those who had stagnated for a long time. Mayombo’s other colleagues who joined the struggle in 1985 shortly before the NRA captured power are: Maj Gen James Mugira (who was recently transferred from the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence [CMI] to head the UPDF Luwero ammunition industries), Brig Moses Rwakitarate (the Chief of Staff Airforce) and Brig David Muhoozi (now heading the air defence unit in Nakasongola).
Although they are greenhorns at the battle front, Mugira and Muhoozi are lawyers, as was Mayombo. Whilst the young Turks have been growing in stature, old guards like Major Generals Jim Muhwezi and Kahinda Otafiire, Brigadiers Matayo Kyaligonza and Henry Tumukunde, and others who once held powerful positions in the army have less clout and leverage.
“They only have protégés in the army, but their power is increasingly diminishing,” said a source.
Mwambustya Ndebesa, a historian at Makerere University, says “purging the old guard, which has legitimacy because of a historical role, is the best tool of control.” He adds that having been “recruited on the premise of patronage”, the old guard has “expired.”
A source currently serving in the army concurs with Ndebesa, opining that, “It’s the only way to eliminate the old bush war rivalry.”
Beyond the 1985 group, the other young generation strategically placed in sensitive army positions consists of Brig Paul Lokech, who is currently heading Uganda’s AMISOM contingent in Somalia and Brig Charles Bakahumura, the new CMI head. Others are: Col Dick Olum, who is heading the Military Police; Col Godfrey Golooba, who headed the second UPDF AMISOM contingent; and Col Emmanuel Kazahura, administrative officer at the Senior Staff and Command College, Kimaka.
Others are: Lt Col James Birungi, head of artillery in UPDF; Lt Col Henry Isoke, former head of counterintelligence at CMI and now AMISOM intelligence officer; Lt Col Michael Nyarwa, head of the UPDF Marine Unit; and Lt Col Godwin Karugaba, deputy chief of Logistics and Engineering. This list of other strategically placed soldiers includes: Col Dominic Twesigomwe, the CMI deputy boss who is now attending a military course at the National Defence College, Kenya; and army publicists Col Felix Kulayigye and Lieutenant Colonels Paddy Ankunda and Barigye Bahoku.
But another army source says there are about three groups of a much younger generation compared to the ‘Mayombo 1985 group’ that will provide the future UPDF leadership. One of these groups attended a cadet course in Munduli, Tanzania.
“Intake 37 went to Munduli in 1997 and some of the soldiers in this group are: Lt Col Ddamulira Sserunjogi, director Intelligence, Land Forces; Maj CD Mukasa intelligence officer, first division; Maj Julius Rubakuba, intelligence officer 2nd division and brother to Brig Muhoozi; and Lt Col Bob Ogik, director of the Senior Staff and Command College, Kimaka,” the source revealed.
Later, another cadet group attended the Ghaddafi School of Infantry, including Maj Stuart Agaba, former Aide de Camp to the President, now in Somalia; Maj Felix Bishorozi, OC. Special Coy Special Forces Group; and Capt Napoleon Namanya, head of Museveni’s inner-security circle. Others are: Lt Col Emmanuel Ankunda, political commissar fifth division; Lt Col Chris Ogumiraki, Somalia contingent political commissar; Maj Ephraim Mugume, the military assistant to the Joint Chief of Staff, Maj Gen Robert Rusoke.
Others, still, are: Maj Tanturano Tumuryanze, the chief instructor at Kabamba; Col Tumusiime Katsigazi, a lawyer who heads the Moi Brigade in Nakasongala; and Lt Col Johnson Namanya, a former journalist with The Monitor (now Daily Monitor), who is the administration officer in charge of the UPDF industries in Luwero.
Lastly, there is the group that trained and graduated alongside the First Son, Col Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who heads the Special Forces Group (SFG). These soldiers, most of them fresh and effervescent Makerere University graduates, trained at Kaweweta and Kabamba and completed their cadet course at the Ghaddafi School of Infantry.
They include: Muhoozi’s deputy, Lt Col Sabiiti Magyenyi; Lt Col Dan Kakono, the commanding officer of the tank battalion in SFG; and Maj Charity Bainababo, who is the ADC to the First Lady. Others are: Capt Allan Matsiko, in charge of Counterintelligence, SFG; Capt Nabimanya, an intelligence officer in SFG; and Capt Michael Kanyamunyu, in charge Special Investigations Bureau, SFG.
It is this closely knit group that holds a semblance of loyalty to Muhoozi. However, asked whether Muhoozi is the de facto Chief of Defence Forces, an army officer who graduated alongside the First Son said: “Muhoozi, like any other soldier, follows the chain of command and takes orders from above.” Another source said Muhoozi “is disciplined and does not engage in intrigue.”
Nonetheless, controversy continues to swirl over Muhoozi’s military career, with critics arguing that he is poised to succeed his father and that just like the archetypal father-son military regimes, Muhoozi’s role in the army will one day catapult him to the presidency when Museveni retires. But other critics claim regional imbalance remains the Achilles’ heel of the army. Most officers of the army’s top and middle ranks hail from western Uganda, Museveni’s home area.
A soldier who requested not to be named says: “Many of us are unhappy, but we cannot freely speak out on this subject”.
Ndebesa argues that unless the army adopts the identity of a national character, the UPDF largely looks like a personal army.
“A professional army should be loyal to a country rather than an individual.
The fundamental question is; if Museveni leaves, will they accept another Commander-in-Chief — because this appears to be a personal army,” Ndebesa says.
However, a serving officer says: “In the dynamics of Uganda’s military struggle, loyalty, like religion, is absolute and it supersedes any other element.”
Army spokesperson Col Felix Kulayigye scoffed at these claims, insisting that the tribal card does not exist in the army. Labelling it “an old, stale story”, Kulayigye cited Gen Jeje Odongo, Maj Gen Guti and Brig Otema who are all high-ranking non-western army officials.