Like several out-of-favour army generals before him, Gen Kale Kayihura can still emerge unscathed from his troubles with the ruling establishment, which he so loyally served.
Going by how previous cases brought against top army officers went, signs are that while this could be a long and gruelling process, Gen Kale Kayihura, could still walk away scot-free if he showed remorse and said sorry to the commander-in-chief, write ALON MWESIGWA & SULAIMAN KAKAIRE.
The former police chief will have to choose between swallowing his pride and publicly apologizing to his boss to regain his freedom or become stubborn and go through the shredder at the General Court Martial, given the precedent provided by several similar past cases and observations made by knowledgeable people.
The Observer reviewed the cases of Gen David Sejusa, Brig Henry Tumukunde and Maj Gen James Kazini who after falling out with President Yoweri Museveni, were arraigned before the general court martial.
After years, some saw the light, apologized, and professed renewed allegiance to the president. They were then generally handed very light sentences, rehabilitated and brought back to the fold altogether.
It is more than just apology, we have been told. It is a process that involves intense lobbying from relatives, friends and sometimes trusted serving army officers.
The ‘smaller’ officers, whose significance is minimal, both politically and militarily, are usually hastily tried and sent to jail like the case was with Tinyefuza (Sejusa)’s aides who were recently sentenced to 15 years in jail.
Dr David Mushabe, a senior litigator of civil and military law who was retained by Sejusa, told The Observer that the nature of the army court means it can operate at the whims of the commander-in-chief who appoints its heads.
“The manner in which the court is structured, both legally and in practice, it is not possible for any person who is not in the good books of the commander-in-chief to get justice in the military courts until they petition for the intervention of the civil courts,” he said.
Mushabe, who is handling several cases before the military court, makes reference to his experience while handling former spy chief, Sejusa’s cases.
“I am not surprised that [Kayihura] has not been charged. It is only those who don’t know what happens there that are shocked,” he said.
“All the people who preside over the court are appointed by the commander-in-chief and they are serving officers of the military who by military practice are expected to obey his commands….So, if you are someone like Gen Kayihura, who has rubbed him the wrong way, you are likely to face a team that acts on his [the president’s] orders and directives. This is what I have experienced while handling Gen Sejusa’s case.”
“I am the witness. While handling the Sejusa case, you would submit to the panel about any act that contravenes the law, but they will just say the law is the law, and it not the practice of the court,” he said.
It is difficult to see how Kayihura’s case can be handled any differently from what other generals who have appeared in the court martial went through.
Hitherto Museveni’s right-hand man, it is a month since Kayihura was arrested and locked up at the Makindye Military Police barracks. And like others before him, the former police boss is getting a taste of Museveni’s carrot and stick approach of bringing wayward subordinates to order.
On one side, Museveni gives them power and leverage. He gives them access to resources and significant responsibilities. When ambition overwhelms one, he pulls out the stick (court martial).
“They are subjected to a gruelling process until they swallow their pride and submit to the commander-in-chief,” said one individual familiar with the workings of the court. “The many years they spend in court is not a mistake.”
Sejusa is a very good example of this experience. In 1997, court rejected his application to retire from the army, leaving him dejected at his former residence in Kyengera, Wakiso district.
Many years after his tribulations, like the biblical prodigal son, Sejusa made a public apology to the president during a wedding of his daughter in Nyabushozi, Kiruhura district.
“Mzee [Museveni], forgive me because I got advice from some people. It was as if I was possessed because I received advice from some circles but I later woke up to my senses and made a turnaround. I am prepared to work with you even more,” he told the president in 2004.
He was consequently forgiven and brought back to the fold, although his wish to retire was never granted. For a while he was coordinator of intelligence services before again falling out with the chief, and now wallows in the wilderness again.
Maj Gen James Kazini was accused of disobeying Museveni’s orders to stop his habit of moving troops in large numbers—a tendency which had been interpreted as a plot to topple his boss.
Before the court martial, according to The Observer report in 2009, the general was gripped by fear and was reportedly traumatized. This was after it became clear to him that Lt Gen Ivan Koreta, the then chairman of the court, could jail him for life.
Kazini spent six years -- 2003 to 2009 on trial. He eventually ran to the High court and secured an order blocking the court martial judgement, which had been delivered in April 16, 2009. He was killed in November 2009 before he could fully secure his freedom but all indications showed his boss just needed a remorseful note.
On his part, Tumukunde bore the brunt of an eight-year battle in the court martial after being accused of spreading harmful propaganda. He appeared on a radio talk show without permission from authorities and spoke against Museveni’s then third term designs. Tumukunde was then the chief of Internal Security Organisation.
His crime was that he reportedly spoke against the lifting of term limits at the NRM retreat in Kyankwanzi. For eight years, Tumukunde declined to fight the charges brought against him, mostly choosing to remain quiet in court. At one time, he angrily told the court led by Brig Fred Tolit that he would not defend himself.
According to section 137 of the UPDF Act, the charge of spreading harmful propaganda carries a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment.
Yet there was another way out. Museveni was ready to forgive Tumukunde if he showed remorse. And this is what happened in 2013, following which he was convicted and only sentenced to an insignificant “serious warning”.
Shortly thereafter, he was again invited to the dining table. He was heavily involved in the 2016 elections, openly expressing his allegiance to Museveni and bounced back as security minister after the polls. He was only recently dropped in the unfolding chaos surrounding the Kayihura troubles.
“All Museveni wanted of him was to apologise and reconcile,” one source said.
It’s not clear yet whether Kayihura will seek to walk a similar path and reconcile with his boss. If he did, the former blue-eyed boy could very well find himself being re-deployed, sent abroad on some fancy diplomatic assignment or even bouncing back as a cabinet minister.
The alternative may well be spending many years battling the court martial. According to sources, Kayihura faces a string of accusations which include; reported suspicion of treason, alleged collusion in organised crime, espionage, and illegal repatriation of Rwandese refugees, among others.
Gen Kale Kayihura, the former inspector general of police, has not been told why he was arrested. His lawyer, Elison Karuhanga of Kampala Associated Advocates, told The Observer recently that Kayihura has neither written any statement nor been interrogated by anyone.
Uganda’s Constitution provides that any person who has been arrested must be produced in court as soon as possible but in any case, not later than 48 hours. Although Kayihura as IGP advocated for the holding of people for as long as 90 days before they are arraigned in court, rights activists have been calling for his production in court.
Sources familiar with the case intimated to us that Kayihura was advised against fighting for his rights.
“He will lose if he does. His best bet is to negotiate his way out of his current problems,” a source familiar with the goings-on said.