Tinyefuza keeps Uganda guessing about his return

Saturday May 25 2013

General David Sejusa (Tinyefuza), Uganda People’s Defence Forces co-ordinator of military intelligence. Photo/Morgan Mbabazi

General David Sejusa (Tinyefuza), Uganda People’s Defence Forces co-ordinator of military intelligence. Photo/Morgan Mbabazi  Nation Media Group

By GAAKI KIGAMBO The EastAfrican

General David Sejusa, also known as Tinyefuza, last week remained noncommittal on when he will return to Uganda in the wake of a storm over a letter he wrote calling for investigations into rumours of an assassination plot.

The general, who co-ordinates the country’s intelligence services, had in his letter asked the Director of Internal Security Organisation Ronnie Balya to investigate rumours of a plan to assassinate those opposed to an alleged scheme by President Yoweri Museveni to have his son, Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, succeed him.

The letter kicked off a storm, with the government banning discussion of the matter, and reports that Gen Sejusa would be arrested as soon as he landed in Uganda.

Gen Sejusa had sought a three-week leave from parliament, where he is one of 10 army representatives. He left for London on April 30, eight days before the Daily Monitor, a sister paper, published a copy of the internal memo.

While there had been indications that he would return on June 3, the senior presidential adviser on security told The EastAfrican in e-mail exchanges, “I will return when I will return.”

President Museveni, according to army spokesperson Lt-Col. Paddy Ankunda, holds the last word on how Gen Sejusa should be handled. On Wednesday, he convened a meeting of the Military High Command, the highest decision making organ in Uganda’s army, of which Gen Sejusa is a core member, ostensibly on account of the controversy the memo his spy chief authored has caused.

Although details of the meeting are yet to emerge, The EastAfrican has been reliably informed that there have been ongoing discussions between the top army leadership and Gen Sejusa — to which President Museveni has given his blessing — to delay his return until a harmonised position or response has been reached.

Sources privy to this information say the purpose of these negotiations is to avoid any necessity of arresting Gen Sejusa on arrival, which has the potential of turning him into a hero and a burden the government would have to deal with for a long time.

This thinking, The EastAfrican has been told, is informed by two key experiences — with Dr Kizza Besigye and with Brig Henry Tumukunde.

When the former returned from exile in South Africa in 2005, where he had fled after challenging President Museveni in the 2001 elections, there was divided opinion in the top echelons of the army about how he should be handled, until those who preferred force prevailed.

The operation in which President Museveni’s former physician, chief political ideologue and minister was eventually arrested in Busega, on the southwestern outskirts of Kampala, was, ironically, orchestrated by Gen Sejusa, for whom he’d been best man.

Gen Sejusa is also said to have been involved in the arrest of Brig Tumukunde after the former head of ISO made statements on radio, in 2005, that displeased President Museveni. His eight-year incarceration and trial by court martial won him great sympathy, as many people perceived his tribulations as being retribution for daring to speak out against President Museveni’s longevity in power.

Gen Sejusa, however, scoffs at these claims: “Am I in secret talks with government agents to negotiate terms of my return? Have I broken the law to require forgiveness? Absolutely no! Do I need to contact government to allow me to come? I am a Ugandan who did what he did in the course of his duty,” he wrote.

“As co-ordinator [of intelligence services] what do [you] do when information of a serious nature that impacts on national security comes on your desk? You investigate it. Or if there are other competent bodies that can do such work, you task them to do so. This is what I did,” he added.

President Museveni’s silence on the matter, commentators say, is telling; he appears to find himself in uncharted territory. On Tuesday, President Museveni appeared on CBS FM, but talked about land matters.

According to Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a senior lecturer at Makerere University, “At the heart of this entire Tinyefuza saga is the question of succession. It has created a lot of anxiety and unease. Regime maintenance has superseded all other political goals and means.”

“There was a time when the NRM could afford either to ignore or control the escalation of such matters, when it could deploy soft power. But now most, if not all, of their ideologues, like the Kategayas, Bidandis and Mushegas are either out or silent. So, I think we have reached a turning point.

“Museveni has become older and the issue of succession cannot be ignored. The regime has to demonstrate a show of power. If they can close the Daily Monitor, Red Pepper, they send a message. If they can confront Tinyefuza, a whole general, Rebecca Kadaga, a whole Speaker of parliament, then who is a small MP or any ordinary person?” Mr Ndebesa asked.