Uganda’s military is once again in ferment, courtesy of one of its most colourful officers, whose conduct has given the Uganda People’s Defence Forces the image of a body with neither the autonomy to take charge of even the most mundane of its internal affairs, nor the coherence to function as a solid unit.
According to recent media reports, Major-General David Sejusa, Co-ordinator of Intelligence Services, Presidential Advisor on Security and army Member of Parliament, has picked up rumours that he and other senior officers are the targets of an assassination plot.
According to the rumours, the plot is the brainchild of another set of army officers whose motivation is, apparently, the desire to promote the so-called Muhoozi Project, which entails clearing the way for Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, President Yoweri Museveni’s son and commander of the country’s special forces, to succeed his father when the latter decides to step down and go tend to his large herds of cattle, or when he is carried out of State House feet first.
Smearing or assassinating army officers opposed to the project, Sejusa included, is supposed to be part of clearing the way for the project.
As any responsible intelligence officer would do, Sejusa issued instructions that the matter be investigated. Whether it was through a calculated leak by himself, those who received the instructions, or journalistic ingenuity that the story hit the newspapers remains unknown.
When it finally did, however, it ignited a furore that has excited some Ugandans, dismayed and alarmed others, and left some yawning with boredom.
True, the last reaction one would expect in circumstances such as these would be boredom. That, though, would be if one were talking or thinking about a normal country where the army minds its military business and politicians do politics. But Uganda is not a normal country in that sense.
Here the army houses many politicians in military uniform and the political arena has become a refuge for military officers in pursuit of self-actualisation away from an institution in which they see no role for themselves. Some have never been officially retired. So technically they are serving officers expected to remain loyal to the army.
This confusion of roles and the conflicting loyalties it has produced have been the source of so many rows in the past that yet another can only elicit boredom from Ugandans fed up with the lack of institutional hygiene.
Those who cannot afford to be bored are excited by the thought that the people responsible for the institutional mess are now going after each other.
The expectation, a rather optimistic one in my view, is that the falling out will culminate in a major cleaning-up.
For the fainthearted, however, the whole thing is frightening. They fear it could degenerate into something really nasty with the contending sides dragging the whole country down with them.
Remarkably, the way political and military leaders have reacted to Sejusa’s pronouncements and actions has only served to aggravate such fears.
First, predictably, they insisted that there is no plot of any kind, let alone a Muhoozi Project. And then, as if in mockery of everyone else’s intelligence, they moved quickly to arrest Sejusa’s assistants, some of whom are reportedly accused of fomenting subversive activities
As if that were not enough, military authorities embarked on briefing the media about how, before he ordered the alleged assassination plot to be investigated, Sejusa himself was under investigation for some wrongdoing.
That was before military police raided his office while he was out of the country and behaved as if the briefing had been intended to prepare the public for whatever the army may want to do to him and whoever else they pursue alongside him.
A little before news broke that some of his assistants had been rounded up and his office ransacked, there had been a series of evasive responses by Minister of Defence Crispus Kiyonga, the Chief of Defence Staff Gen Charles Kayonga and the army spokesman to questions about what would happen to Sejusa — whose conducted, they claimed, breached military discipline.
Soon enough, it became clear that no one was prepared to be categorical as to what the army was going to do. Instead, all that was being said was that the decision lay in the hands of the Commander in Chief.
It gives the impression that, law or no law, everybody in the army, from the minister downwards, lacks the courage to call Sejusa to order regardless of what he does or says. As if to confirm the idea that he frightens them, a huge force combining army and police elements was placed on alert the day he was expected back in the country.
Actions really do speak louder than words.
Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala- and Kigali-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs. E-mail: [email protected]