By Yusuf Serunkuma
There are pro-Muhoozi T-shirts that went on the market recently. At the front of these beautiful fabrics, it is admiringly printed “General Kainerugaba Muhoozi is My Role Model.”
I like these T-shirts for they are some of the most direct efforts to present the first son as a public figure – with potential to succeed his father. After the publication of Kabuleta’s acerbic takedown of the otherwise secretive presidential hopeful, Giles Muhame, editor of online publication ChimpReports, published a pleasant piece – in response to Kabuleta – tellingly titled “the Muhoozi Kainerugaba I know.”
Believe me fellow countrymen, I have longed for this moment to come. I have always wanted Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba to come out and spread his wings and fly. Why not? Being first should not be held against anyone who wants to stand for the first office.
If you were dealt a bad hand and born into poverty, please don’t begrudge children whose parents worked hard and had them born into affluence and power. And don’t all our parents want good for their children?
It is an interesting irony, however, that while Muhoozi Kainerugaba is being transformed into a public figure, commentators are hunted for dismissing his presidential credentials. You cannot have your cake and eat it. In fact, what is missing in this equation is the good soldier himself.
If I were in position to advise the god-blessed general, I would say this to him: “It is high time you embraced the public and made your voice heard; make it relatable to the wananchi. If you really want to be president, stop this rumour and embrace the possibility with open hands.
See, with the exception of your close friends, the voters do not know the texture and taste of your voice: do you squeak like VP Edward Ssekandi or are eloquent like late Noble Mayombo? Is your speech measured or flows rapidly like our mutual friend Andrew Mwenda?
The public needs to know. Your father speaks with a slight stammer, and often rolls his eyes like a gobsmacked teenager after getting her first kiss in a public park. His off-the-cuff speech rides on rich Ankole imagery and humour and, more recently, direct capitalist quips. I bet you still want to live under his conflicted shadow, and continue being spoken about as simply his son. In earnest, you should be appearing on Kampala’s lead political talk-shows such as Spectrum or The Capital Gang. We need to have a taste of your brilliance and dismiss all the hateful negative commenters.”
Joseph Kabuleta’s piece was believable, in part, because the country does not really know who Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba is. But advising the first son to get own voice and public image stands two major obstacles: (a) Perhaps Muhoozi might be more eloquent than his father and overshadow the old man who still so passionately wants the chair.
This would draw the son and dad into competition yet they are supposed to be allies for life. (b) To craft a civilian personal public image is to scorn the old man who still sees himself as babysitting his son, and him alone will roll him into the first office.
Thus, the son has to sit back and wait on dad. This is both good and bad: Museveni has the potential to successfully roll his son into the first office, but Muhoozi will not escape the label of a weak man in the eyes of both the military and the bakopi – a boy whose only claim to power was the good fortune of his father. This is surely not a favourable label.
There is a third one, (c) This one is more discursive, and does not directly implicate Museveni for he too is a victim: It is time. Our imagination of the future is often conditioned to our time.
Footballers’ kids tend to imagine their futures picking cue from their parents’ impressions – they end as footballers – as do children of doctors, teachers, etcetera. For being a soldier, Museveni has spent a fortune grooming his son into one of the most decorated soldiers in Uganda.
A Sandhurst graduate, Muhoozi Kainerugaba has trained with the armies of USA, Egypt and South Africa. Indeed, he deservedly risen through the ranks like a bushfire in the harmattan, just like Achebe’s Okonkwo.
But the fortunes have changed. The 1970 and 1980s were times of soldier-presidents. These were either former rebels, coup leaders, or men with close military links: Siad Barre, Laurent Kabila, Robert Mugabe, Omar Al-Bashir, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, San Abacha, Nelson Mandela, etc.
This was the time of the Cold War. Then came Structural Adjustment, and the rise of the World Bank and IMF. Leaders nowadays have to be elected so as to have the mandate of the people – and thus eligible for loans and other forms of funding.
For being a soldier through and through, Muhoozi’s presidential fortunes might have been dealt a bad hand as the era of soldier-presidents is fast coming to an end, creating space for seasoned politicians. [But will remain a good public servant – serving from within the barracks].
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.
This write-up first appeared on Joseph Kabuleta’s facebook page