Uganda president’s controversial son unnerves country with tweets about succeeding his father

Streaming HUBMarch 16, 2023

On Twitter, the Ugandan president’s son mused about invading neighboring Kenya, praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and offered cattle for the Italian prime minister’s hand in marriage.

While many of his tweets have been dismissed as laughable, there is concern for some in this East African country about his father’s successor.

Many Ugandans want decisive political change after nearly four decades of the same government, but President Yoweri Museveni’s son is already claiming victory. “I will succeed my father as president of Uganda,” Muhuzi Kanrugaba tweeted earlier this month. “Those fighting for the truth will be sorely disappointed!!!”

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Museveni, 78 and in power for 37 years, has not said when he will step down. Cannrugaba is at the peak of his military career as a four-star general, a linchpin of the security apparatus that supports Museveni.

But at 48, Cannrugaba is now six years older than his father when he became president, underscoring what some see as the root of his increasingly impatient claim to the presidency. With his tweets – which attempt to decode for signs of what is to come for Uganda – he has injected a measure of intrigue into politics in the midst of Museveni’s sixth elected term.

Does Kanrugaba, described by some Ugandans as a “standby generator”, have a legitimate path to the presidency? Or will he take matters into his own hands?

“If even the son could not bear the endless rule of his father, why should others bear it?” asked columnist Alan Tucka, writing in the Daily Monitor newspaper. “Right now, many of his supporters and professional opportunists are unsure which way to jump in.”

Cannerugaba has staged rallies in the past year that he says have introduced him to young people across the country, even though army officers are legally barred from engaging in partisan affairs. He has also attacked the ruling party led by his father as a “reactionary” group full of corrupt criminals.

Lieutenant General Muhuzi Kenerugaba, son of then Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, speaks on a podium "Thank you" Celebrations on May 7, 2022.

Then Lieutenant General Muhuzi Kanrugaba, son of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, speaks at the “Thanksgiving” ceremony on May 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Hajrah Nalvadda, File)

Son’s verbal attacks have sparked a backlash, with the vice president saying Museveni will run again in 2026 and other officials voicing their confidence in the president.

But tensions between Cannrugaba and some in the ruling party have promoted him as his own man, said Frank Gashumba, an entrepreneur and political analyst who is one of Cannrugaba’s most prominent supporters.

Gashumba described Cannrugaba as an honest leader who would be intolerant of official corruption in the authoritarian style of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, often praised by Cannrugaba. “I see another Kagame,” he said, explaining why he believes some in the ruling party are inept. “I see that he wants to be brought under the iron hand.”

The President’s son could not be reached for an interview.

Kanrugaba, who is currently serving as a military advisor to his father, was born in neighboring Tanzania when Museveni was active in the clandestine struggle against Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. He attended boarding school in Uganda before receiving his military education in Britain and America. He never served in a civilian capacity.

His quick rise through the army ranks proved controversial over the years amid allegations of a secret project to groom him for the presidency. The purge in recent years of Museveni’s contemporaries in the military is widely seen as paving the way for Cannrugaba, whose alleged allies now control a wide range of military assets.

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Museveni has said nothing publicly to disapprove or encourage Cannrugaba’s political ambitions. But while celebrating his son’s birthday last year, he cautioned that patience with corrupt officials is not the case with Kennerugaba. “He will fight corruption,” Museveni said. The comment was seen as a sign that Museveni viewed Kanrugaba as the future leader of Uganda.

But many people doubt the President’s son.

Those who know him, citing his comments on Twitter, say he is impulsive. Museveni once had to apologize to Kenya for a tweet that said the Ugandan army could capture its capital, Nairobi, in two weeks. Museveni then removed Canarugaba as commander of the infantry, even though he promoted him to the highest military rank. Despite the rare public rebuke of his son, Museveni cited “many other positive contributions that the General has made and can still make.”

Yet Cannrugaba keeps on tweeting provocations. “In the cannibalistic politics of NRM, let me say this, those who fight my father fight me and those who fight me fight my father,” he tweeted in January, referring to the ruling party.

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Kanrugaba has also faced allegations of abuse of rights in relation to his previous role as commander of Uganda’s special forces. Opposition figure Bobi Wine has said he and some supporters have been tortured by special forces, and a satirical writer now in exile in Europe accused Cannrugaba of ordering his torture while in custody. Special forces deny these allegations.

Others criticized Cannrugaba for his lack of political charm, saying that he is a pure soldier while his father’s style is a folk style.

And while Museveni absorbed Marxism and sought to verify Frantz Fanon’s theory of violence as a college student, Cannrugaba did not outline his political vision. He sometimes makes a spiritual claim to leadership as a presumptive successor to an ancient dynastic line of cattle herders known as the Bakwezi.

Joseph Serunkuma, a political theorist, said he has yet to formulate a compelling argument for why he should be supported. And yet Serunkuma has argued that a coup by Kanrugaba would be celebrated by many Ugandans.

“Coups are back on the African continent, and they are popular,” he said. “The best chance for him so far is to gain power while his father is still alive.”


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