In a 1,900-word transcript from his question and answer session with BBC Africa Daily podcast journalist Alan Kasujja, President Yoweri Museveni addressed his son and commander of Land Forces, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s presidential bid, the high commodity prices, and the transition from the old guard to the young Turks in Uganda.
SAMUEL MUHINDO transcribed the second episode of the discussion with minimum adjustments.
I have been talking to a lot of people in the course of my trip and the recurring point is the cost of living. I went to Nakasero market. I met some women and they said things were difficult. I went to Lufula (abattoir) near Bugolobi. I met women who sell food there and they are saying things have become more difficult. When I spoke to the permanent secretary, ministry of Finance, Ramathan Ggoobi, he said things will get worse before they get better. He said people need to tighten their belts a bit more. Is there anything at all that you can do as a government?
What we shall do is structural because the cost of living is imported.
From Russia and Ukraine?
No, from the world. Some of it is curable. The most curable one is palm oil for soap making, which was caused by the problems in Indonesia and Malaysia.
How is that affecting prices in the markets in Kampala?
They (Indonesia and Malaysia) no longer export palm oil. We produce palm oil here but we had not produced enough. Now that they have vacated, we shall grow enough palm oil. Between 18 months to 20 months, we shall be self-sufficient with palm oil.
What has that got to do with the price of matooke, the price of tomatoes, and the price of petroleum?
It is petroleum. When the petroleum goes up, then the price of matooke from the village also goes up.
There have been discussions to construct reserves to make sure the prices are managed. The government used to have reserves, what happened to those?
Even if you have reserves, you will not sell below the market price. If you sell below the market price, you will be causing a lot of problems like smuggling. Unless you subsidize, but subsidizing is a big mistake.
Why is it a mistake? You have made it categorical that your government will not subsidize.
It is a mistake because you will be buying the fuel expensively and selling it cheaply, depleting your foreign reserves.
Or helping people afford fuel?
Affording at the expense of draining the national granary of reserves.
Keeping business in business so that there’s more tax to be collected.
No! Tax is collected in local shillings. It is not collected in dollars. This petroleum is imported and we pay for it in dollars. We don’t pay for it in local shillings.
But people will remain in businesses, will remain in employment, and people will feel less pressure. They will be spending money on other things other than fuel if fuel is subsidized.
Now, they will use fuel more carefully. More importantly, we want to migrate to the use of solar power, and the train. We are now repairing the train.
That has been going on for a while. Where are we with the repairs of the train?
It is going well. The old line between Kampala and Malaba and between Malaba and West Nile is being repaired. It can be functional in about two months so that people use the train for cargo rather than the vehicles, which use so much fuel.
I heard you talk about electric cars and I thought that is not a short-term solution...
We are making them here. We are making the vehicles.
Do we have to replace the cars that are being used at the moment?
It may not be the same in terms of numbers but we can start with motorcycles, buses, etc.
Mr. President, what is your message to Ugandans who are suffering now? Is it a case of everybody for themselves and God for us all?
Not at all. The train will be there for all of us. The cargo can come by train because it will be much cheaper. Instead of subsidizing, we are putting (money) into the manufacturing of buses and electric vehicles. So, we are going to be independent of both imported cars and imported fuel for now.
I talked to young professionals in this town and they kept saying; “we are being asked to tighten our belts, we are tired of tightening our belts yet we see government officials driving around in big cars at our expense.” They are not seeing the government tightening its belt.
That is a valid point. That Ramathan (PSST) you talk to him. He has squeezed all the money. He didn’t release all the money for the operations. Only part of the money was released.
Some people would expect the president to give a directive and say park your vehicles. Do something that will demonstrate that the government is actually in solidarity with the people.
That is a good idea. We have talked about it but we can concretize it into a directive.
You appointed Norbert Mao, the leader of the Democratic Party, as the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. What’s going through your mind at this point, Mr President? Why?
The people of Uganda have been struggling to unite. In 1952, Ignatius Kangave Musaazi formed the Uganda National Congress (UNC) to unite all Ugandans. It was torn apart by sectarian tendencies. DP for Catholics, UPC for Protestants, and Kabaka Yekka for the Baganda.
That is where Uganda’s problems started. Failing to have a united force like Tanzania had. When we got rid of Idi Amin [former president of Uganda], we formed the UNLF (Uganda National Liberation Front) uniting Ugandans but again some groups broke it up. Again when we went to fight, we formed the NRM.
The NRM united everybody. Some left but not many. We have never gone for the second round of voting because we always win in the first round. The NRM has been able to unite all the people but we aim to increase the unity.
By bringing in an opposition leader?
I would suggest an alternative theory. By so doing, you are neutralizing the opposition.
What is the opposition? Is it for a show or what?
It is to hold the government accountable.
Those are just childish theories of some people. They are just extrapolating a small situation into a general situation.
What do you mean, Mr President?
The evolution of capitalism in Western Europe and liberal democracy did not mean the whole of humanity evolved in the same way. This is the mistake they make. During the French Revolution of 1789, they already had four social classes by that time. We didn’t have that structure of society here. Even now, it has not evolved like that yet.
What about the NRM party that you lead?
NRM is a party for everybody because we didn’t have those polarizations.
But does it recognize that the times have changed and Ugandans want to dissent? President Museveni has been in power for almost 40 years and we need to be able to express ourselves and say Mr President, we do not agree with the direction you are taking. We need to take a different one.
You see that is what you call trying to transplant. You cannot transplant the social structure of Europe But there are dissenting voices in the country.
Some people do not disagree with your politics. Some people would like to find different information.
Fine. We are handling them politically.
By bringing them into the fold?
By saying what are you dissenting about? I convince him [dissenter] and he sees my point.
What about Bobi Wine; would you give him a job as well?
We have no problem, but for what interests?
Would you tell him please come and take up the minister of Foreign Affairs (portfolio)? Is that something you are willing to do?
Trying to transplant the polarization of Europe into Africa is a mistake. Those who are trying to do it are simply mimicking the European way of life. But because some people insist on transplanting artificially, we said okay, you go ahead but we shall continue showing you that you were wrong. What we need is a common analysis to cause metamorphosis.
Are you then willing to work with any opposition leader?
No problem. Our best way was the UNLF where we were all under one roof.
People like Kizza Besigye, and Bobi Wine are people you are willing to work with?
I have just been looking around and I realized that the speaker of parliament is less than 50 years [old]. I think she is either 49 years or 48 years. The deputy speaker is 42 years, the prime minister is in her early 50s, and the vice president is 48 years or thereabout. Am I witnessing a transition from your older generation to the younger generation? Do you think it is a transition happening?
Yes. No problem. Because of democracy, these people are coming up. They are coming up with the strategy and ideology of the NRM.
Lt. Gen Muhoozi, your son, commander of the Land Forces has been to Rwanda and helped to solve the standoff between Uganda and Rwanda. I have also seen him visiting the presidents of Egypt and Kenya. He has been very visible. I wonder, is he increasingly involved in the running of the state? What sort of instructions are you giving him, sir?
No, Muhoozi was born in the struggle. He is one of the earliest Kadogos, young children of the revolution. He has those linkages to the struggle. It is good for him to use them for Uganda. He was born in Tanzania, lived in Kenya, and trained in Egypt.
So, would you like to see him taking a greater role in the running of the country?
No, act as appropriate. For instance, if the Egyptians say you come, you were one of our students here and he goes and he relates with them, it is very good. It is not a problem at all.
Are you priming him?
No! He is just doing his work at the right time.
So, you are not priming him to take over?
What is priming?
Instead of preparing the NRM, I should prepare an individual! I prepare the NRM and the army. They will know how to lead us when the time comes.
When you reflect on your very many years as a leader, you have been president since 1986. It is several years now. I am wondering; in the past, you have said that when you look around, there are no competent people. Where are things now?
I have never said the NRM lacked leaders. I have always said they are there and will come through NRM.
Or probably from other parties. So, is it going to be a while before you go back to Rwakitura to spend more time with your cows? Is retirement anywhere on the horizon?
I can go to Rwakitura anytime.
You told me exactly that in 2013, Mr President.
If our party agrees, Rwakitura is always waiting for me very comfortably. I have never needed a job and do not need a job. The problem is to transition Africa and position it where we are safe and prosperous in the world.
Mr President, thank you very much for your time!
Thank you very much!
What others say
Museveni’s unwillingness to declare in the BBC interview that he is prepping his son to succeed him has dampened the enthusiasm of Muhoozi’s supporters.
Lt. Gen Muhoozi is many things to his legion of youthful supporters – he is the next president, he is presidential material, Chairman MK, Gen Muhoozi my role model, Team MK, MK 2026. All these and many other credentials are boldly inscribed on branded T-shirts, jumpers, caps, shirts, and posters, printed, distributed, and worn by his legion of supporters – loudly touting Muhoozi’s leadership prowess.
Interviewed about Museveni’s comments, Balaam Barugahara, a key promoter of the Muhoozi presidency, said, “President Museveni is doing his part as the country’s leader. He has served us so well as a president. As NRM campaign managers, we believe that Museveni is running for the next term. We the supporters and promoters of Gen Muhoozi are also promoting Muhoozi independently. As the Project Muhoozi force, we believe that when our time is due, we shall strike. This is why our forces of change are present both online and on the ground. Muhoozi’s supporters are also organizing tournaments in every region of Uganda as a way of expressing love for our future presidential candidate, Muhoozi.”
“The president is making reshuffles within government. He is bringing in people that are almost the same age as his son. I am not saying that Museveni is preparing Muhoozi because he [Museveni] is not even aware of this. The Muhoozi project is our initiative as ‘real’ supporters of Muhoozi. We believe that since the friends and age mates of Muhoozi like Thomas Tayebwa, the deputy speaker of parliament, Richard Todwong, the NRM secretary general, etc are now taking up top positions; the time is now for our beloved General Muhoozi to take up the presidency when his father retires to Rwakitura. We believe that when President Museveni retires as president of Uganda, it shall be the right time for Muhoozi to retire from the army. He shall then assume his father’s position,” Barugahara added.
In an earlier interview with The Observer, an army officer who played the birthday celebratory football match between soldiers and parliamentarians, said that within the army ranks, the Muhoozi presidency is supported by most colonels and major generals below the age of 60 years.
“Any ambitious person who wants change within the army ranks will look at supporting Muhoozi. The reasoning is that if the government changes and Muhoozi takes over, these soldiers within these ranks [colonels and major generals] are considered to maintain their offices or be posted to new offices,” the general said.
The general added, “Within the army, I can guarantee you that 80 per cent is with Muhoozi, whether people want it or not. People might think his influence is within the Special Forces Command (SFC), which could be true but it is beyond that at the moment. SFC is already a different thing.”
“That is why I can boldly say there cannot be any coup in Uganda when Muhoozi has taken power. SFC is an elite force. With SFC under Muhoozi’s full supervision, it’s very hard for a section of these other UPDF to stage a coup against an elite force. They know it is impossible, which means that Muhoozi has 80 per cent of the support from the army with the top commanders already allying themselves with him to secure or maintain their positions in his term as the president. You could say that there is no way anyone can infiltrate or compromise the army,” the general said.
Muhoozi has been a long-serving commander of SFC. Justifying the assertion that SFC is behind Muhoozi, the general said the recruitment of soldiers into the elite military force was based on recommendations from friends and families. There was a holistic checkup on each recruit into the force.
Asked whether Muhoozi would run for president in 2026, the general said, “I can’t say I am sure 100 per cent but what I can boldly say is that he has taken over the army. Yes, the army is now his because if he can summon whoever he wants at any time and he can give orders to anyone at any time including officers of a higher rank, then what can I say? If someone has taken over the army, then what about the country?”
There are, however, pockets of opposition to Muhoozi’s succession plan, the general said.
“I support the project but I can’t pinpoint those opposed for fear for their safety. I am very sure that we now have a spying project within the ranks of generals. We have spies spying on what we do and report to superiors. We think it’s one of the reasons why many senior officers are not only demonstrating selfless loyalty to maintain or get juicy positions in the next regime of Muhoozi but also ease suspicion...”
Asked why some generals are supporting Muhoozi’s presidential project, the general said, “We see him as another Kagame. Kagame might be too tough but he is delivering for his country. We believe that some sluggish work that is still in the army is going to end. For someone like me who looks at a bright future for my family, I would rather be on Muhoozi’s side. This is also risky because the father [Museveni] still wants power. Most top officials are still confused because we don’t know whether he [Museveni] is handing over to the son or he is still in power. We are held up in the middle. We don’t know who of the two [Muhoozi and Museveni] we should please. Team ‘MK’ is a very dangerous project. It is going to take down some people and have others promoted.”
Additional reporting by David Mwanje