Lt Gen (rtd) Henry Tumukunde’s announcement that he would be vying for the top office early this month was an unexpected surprise to many in the country specifically due to his prior sweet proximity to the country’s President – Yoweri Museveni.
As expected of a man whose house is set ablaze, Museveni swiftly raised his venomous whip at his former bush war machine Gunner which resultantly saw him forcefully suspend his freedom by incarcerating on treason charges.
The arrest and subsequent treason charges slapped on the 3 star General has widely been castigated by both local and international political observers as unwanted political persecution against the man determined to dethrone his long time ally come 2021 general elections.
In the wake of the news of the former Security Minister’s Presidential bid announcement, Museveni allegedly convened a family meeting to discuss the matter according to media reports. In the meeting, Gen Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh, Museveni’s young brother, reportedly proposed a meeting with Tumukunde with cardinal aim of convincing him to drop his presidential ambitions. Unfortunately, to Museveni, Tumukunde had already done irreparable damage to his government in a series of media appearances on both radio and television interviews since declaring the bid. For Museveni, a more harsh approach would send a messages to other senior UPDF officers not to ever dare him.
Embarrassingly, the former security minister was on 5 March picked from his Kololo office and whisked to the police’s CID headquarters in manner unfitting of a senior army officer at his rank.
Why the panic
Below we discuss the reasons why President Museveni seems so scared of the soft spoken but intelligent Gen Tumukunde.
Tumukunde’s unmatched efficiency in political mobilisation
Over the years, the former NRA machine gunner has metamorphosed to become one of the smartest human mobilisers of his time with his surprisingly unexpected electoral victory against regime strongman Dr Mwondo Kagonyera for the Constituency assembly in 1994 setting him apart.
In that election, Tumukunde, in his thirties then, appeared to have no chance at all before the then generally believed invincible Kagonyera. Many analysts had ruled out any chance for the youthful ambitious Tumukunde in that election. Much to the surprise of many however, he was able to employer a sophisticated scientific mobilisation strategy that involved mapping, zoning, data collection and analysis which resultantly gifted him with a resounding victory and a repeat of the Goliath – David story in the West of the country.
Faced with the bitter competition with his former political confidant Amama Mbabazi for the 2016 general elections, Museveni, who seemed to find himself between the rock and hard surface sought to utilise Tumukunde’s mobilisation smartness to prune the wings of the former Prime Minister. Even though Museveni had reportedly been weary of the ambitious General’s Power intent, he chose to utilize him now and sort things in future when time comes. And that time is now.
During the Presidential campaigns of 2016, Tumukunde who was a powerful component of Museveni’s re- election bid did a wonderful job in curtailing Mbabazi’s political damage to his master to the amusement of Museveni. To amplify it clearly, Mbabazi, whe on a campaign rally in Arua had lamented over how Tumukunde was thwarting his efforts by sabotaging his campaigns through buying off his mobilisation team.
“I wonder where this Tumukunde gets the billions of money he is using against me..,” the former prime Minister lamented.
It was however discovered later that Tumukunde had used the opportunity to traverse the country collecting useful data that he reportedly prepared to use in his Presidential bid 5 years later. He established important contacts he believed would be useful to him once he launched his seemingly most ambitious political trial later. No wonder, Tumukunde has quite a sizeable number of MPs to push his Presidentail aspirations if at all media reports are to be believed.
The Bobi Wine factor
The timing of Tumukunde’s defection could never be more stinging for Museveni than now. Kyagulanyi’s sudden political raise had already given Museveni enough headache. With just two years left to the election period, Museveni had not anticipated that the young dance hall music genius from the ghettos of Kamwokya would be the man to challenge him for the most dear office. But when it came after he bundled him in one sack with four time presidential candidate and FDC strongman Dr Besigye, to grab victory for the 2017 Kyadondo East bi-election,he had tasted enough from Kyagulanyi and became conscious about what would most likely follow in the contest for the Presidency two years later. Acting in obvious panic, mechanisms were put in place to tame the young politician’s every day souring popularity. Such mechanisms included, a mixture of repression and dialogue with the Kyagulanyi inner people and the musicians aligned to his people power movement.
At a time when all seemed to be moving in the right direction,with signs showing that Museveni could now afford to comfortably smile over his recent untiring efforts to tame the man from Magere, there again comes Tumukunde. Intelligence reports had alerted Museveni over Gen Tumukunde’s clandestine political mobilisations for the Presidency just last month though he had started as early as 2016. He had managed to dupe Museveni into believing that he had his eyes on the Kampala mayoral seat making him to lower his guard. Museveni was however baffled by reports that Tumukunde was holding mobilization meetings outside of Kampala. This bred suspension which led Museveni to dispatch an intelligence team to ascertain the authenticity of the reports. Tumukunde was however a head of Museveni’s intelligence and moved to announce his political bid.
Museveni’s fear for Tumukunde stems from the confusion of surmounting a challenge from two big contenders about whose strategies he knows little or nothing heading into 2021.
Tumukunde’s prior exposure to the country’s intelligence information makes his presidential aspirations toxic to Museveni.
Although high profile army personnel such as Gen Mugisha Muntu, Col Kizza Besigye, David Sejusa among others, have left government to join the opposition in the past, Tumukunde’s case is a unique one according to President Museveni. He had served as the regime’s chief intelligence officer during his time as Internal Security Organisation Director at a time when the country faced the threat from terrorist Organisations. This meant discovery and exposure to the county’s exclusive intelligence. With all that regime exclusive information, Tumukunde would know how to pinch his former employer where it hurts most. As such Museveni cant be taking any chances.
Recent proximity with the president
Tumukunde’s service with the president is more recent than most of the group that he is joining. As a security Minister between June 2016 and March 2018, Tumukunde was tasked with disbanding the Kayihura band which was evidently believed to be moving towards acquiring power from President Museveni. With all the country’s intelligence tools availed to him for full access, he would be able to cripple his former ally with it. This explains why the authorities moved swiftly to hold Tumukunde as his regular public addresses were deemed poisonous due to their composition of information injurious to government.
The threat from Rwanda
Although it’s most certain that Tumukunde hasn’t been in the good books of Rwanda’s Paul Kagame for flooring his best friend and former IGP Gen Edward Kale Kayihura, the fact that the former is in a better position to execute a badly coveted revenge against his former ally makes an understanding between Kagame and Tumukunde a realistic possibility.
No wonder, when the presidential aspirant talked of the need for Rwanda to try to effect a regime change in Kampala, Museveni interpreted it as a signal to Kagame that he was prepared to talk over the issue.
The fact that Museveni had used Tumukunde to disband what is highly reported to have been built by Kagame through his good friend Kale Kayihura to defeat Museveni makes it an exciting prospect for the Rwanda’s first citizen to talk business with Museveni’s former spy master should there be an opportunity. With all the indicators pointing towards the worst, Museveni needed no more evidence to pin his former bush war comrade and subsequently send him to Luzira on treason charges.
Managing the discipline in the UPDF
While appearing on the NTV for a talk show in the wake of Tumukunde’s arrest early this month, Former UPDF Chief, Gen Mugisha Muntu claimed that over 80% of Museveni’s senior army officers were dissatisfied with the regime but only stayed out for fear of regime persecution. He won’t a head to prophesy an influx of officers from the army and cadres of the NRM party in the foreseeable future. The same allegations were repeated by former Museveni personal Doctor and FDC God father – Dr Kizza Besigye a day later.
By letting Tumukunde have his way, Museveni would be faced with a challenge of having to confront more defections from both his UPDF and the ruling party. It should be noted that the army has always been the backbone of Museveni’s 34 year long rule and his dominance over it is what saved his day in 1996 against the Ssemwogerere challenge whose civilian leadership people were not convinced would secure the country which was already threatened by the LRA insurgency in Northern Uganda. His military superiority over col Besigye has also arguably been giving him an upper hand in the previous electoral contests. This informs Museveni’s fears that a senior army officer on the same ballot with him in 2021 will most likely disrupt the balance.
Fear of vengeance
After years of frustration, Tumukunde once sought to meet his Commander in Chief, through one influential elder from Ankole to seek answers over his perceived unfair treatment within the NRM government. The meeting which took place at State house allegedly turned sour with Tumukunde protesting that he had not received the equivalent of his contribution for the regime.
When he voiced his disappointment in 2005 during a radio talkshow on CBS FM, Tumukunde was thrown behind bars for over two years before a protracted 8 year legal battle ensued. In the various media appearances of recent, Tumukunde repeatedly pointed out how he has never been a regime darling as his critics put it and adds that his has been a service of merit for which he feels under appreciated and rewarded.
Once he wields some power in his hands, the uncompromising Tumukunde will most likely use it as a tool of revenge on his former master whom he takes for a tormenter. His 8 years of lost freedom is something for which a bitter Tumukunde seems too aggrieved over to the extent that forgiveness seems not to be one of the options available to him.
Tumukunde and Museveni are understandably close family relatives. The two are brothers in – law, having married from one family. It’s important to note that first lady Janet Museveni, wife to the president and Stella Tumukunde were raised from the same family. This created a lasting bond between the two men who will most probably be facing off in a political contest come October this year.
Since the eruption of differences over Tumukunde’s political interest and his subsequent imprisonment, it has been reported that there has developed a rupture in the Museveni family with pressures mounting over his arrest. Gen Caleb Akandwanaho is particularly reported to have sought his elder brother’s permission to initiate re-conciliatory negotiations with Tumukunde to which the former was opposed. With faults already apparent in the Museveni family, he has all the reasons to worry about a divided family as a result of the altercation.
Whether Museveni will manage to utilise his usual political master strokes that have in the past seen defectors like the late Eria Kategaya, Former VP Gilbert Bukenya, Amama Mbabazi a long with many former opposition politicians, dine with him again remains to be seen. It also ought to be remembered that the experienced Head of State has managed to mend fences with Tumukunde in the past, particularly, after the two fell apart over Tumukunde’s careless media remarks in 2005 which saw him spend over 2 years in confinement. They later on made peace and Tumukunde went on to raise through army ranks to Lt. Gen and finally served as the regime Minister of Security between June 2016 and March 2018.
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