Under Pressure By "People Power", Has Ex-U.S. Ally, Gen. Museveni Exhausted Bag Of Tricks After 27 Years?
There is a new buzz-word echoing on the streets of Kampala, the Ugandan capital and reverberating across the towns and villages of the East African nation.
From the corridors of the Ugandan Parliament, to the various places of work, and even in Universities and colleges, everyone is whispering the words -- People Power. Even in President Yoweri K. Museveni’s State House, security personnel, in particular the Special Forces Command, headed by Museveni’s own son Muhoozi Kaneirugaba, the daily pre-occupation seems to be how to quell what they see as an impending "People Power Revolt".
In Kampala, business is no longer as usual. Apart from the visible heavy deployment of armed police and military troops, the city's residents are getting used to the daily high-speed car chases of opposition leaders by armed state operatives.
There're routine arrests of those viewed as pro-democracy activists including scores this week. An American journalist, Taylor Krauss, was snared this week while filming violent arrest of activists.
Mayor of Kampala, Erias Lukwago, arrested for touring the city: Prominent among those routinely arrested and charged for alleged "intent to cause mass revolt" is Dr. Kizza Besigye, the former leader of the largest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC); he's no stranger to past violent arrests. Ambassador Olara Otunnu, a former United Nations Under-Secretary General, who now heads the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) party was dragged to court on charges of criminal libel against Gen. Museveni.
Even the Mayor of Kampala, Mr. Elias Lukwago, has not been spared. If he is not being arrested inside the city, as he goes about meeting the residents, he, like many other senior opposition leaders, is kept under house arrest, a "preventative" measure meant to prevent them from getting to the centre of Kampala, where, the regime fears, they might be joined by thousands of their supporters, triggering a North African-style mass revolt. Recently he was viciously attacked by the government's agents who fired teargas into his vehicle, leading to his hospitalization.
Military joining national uprising: Until recently, it was the political opposition, led by Dr. Besigye and others, plus groups of young pro-democracy activists, who were keeping dictator Museveni sleepless. Mass demonstrations, dubbed "Walk-to-Work Protests", which took place in 2011-2012, were severely put down by the security forces, when they nearly brought down the regime.
But now, a wholly new dimension has materialized. Worryingly for President Museveni, for the first time ever, the scent of revolt has arrived in military barracks. Top generals and commanders are starting to openly discuss the possibility of a national revolt against his regime. Increasingly, the 26 year-old rule of Gen. Museveni is facing a multi-dimensional revolt involving both civilians and members of his own military and security services. This is making the regime appear more and more shaky and vulnerable.
The General Sejusa factor: Into this mix now enters General David Sejusa, who's now a much-sought-after individual. Major international news networks have been falling over each other in a rush to interview this former Museveni right-hand man. In just a month since leaving Uganda, he has been the focus of news reports or interviews on the BBC, Voice of America, The Times of UK, The Washington Post, Reuters and other global networks, as he spat venom at his former boss. Sejusa accuses the Ugandan dictator of plotting to install his son, Brigadier Muhoozi Kaneirugaba as future President.But, even more ominously, Sejusa alleges that Museveni and his Police Commander, General Kale Kayihura, have been planning to assassinate several senior military and state officials who are deemed to be against the so-called "Muhoozi Project".
Museveni’s son Muhoozi commands the Special Forces Command and the Presidential Guard.
When General David Sejusa, who, until his escape into exile in London was Uganda’s Coordinator of Intelligence Services and Senior Advisor to President Museveni, wrote his explosive letter about the purported assassination plot against senior army and government officials, few Ugandans expected the fall out to be so far-reaching and transformative of the entire anti-Museveni struggle.
Signs of deep crisis at Museveni’s State House first surfaced when reports of a major clamp down in the top army command were published in Uganda’s newspapers. Gen. Museveni moved very quickly to remove senior army officers with links to General Sejusa away from sensitive positions. Among them was General Aronda Nyakairima, who was moved from the post of Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) into the civilian Ministry of Internal Affairs, meaning he would have to resign from the army as the constitution requires.
Gen. Nyakairima and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi were also reportedly on the hit list of those seen as opposing the "Muhoozi Project".
Other senior Commanders were either sent outside Uganda to work in the country’s embassies, while others were arrested and are now facing what many Ugandans believe are trumped-up charges. A number of those arrested have been commanding the AMISOM (United nations-African Union) contingents in Somalia, where they have been fighting against the Islamist Al-Shabab Movement.
Alleged Attempted Military Coup: And now reports have surfaced about a number of General Sejusa’s associates, who according to the Kampala regime, have to face the military courts on charges of planning to overthrow the Museveni regime through a coup.
General Sejusa has denied planning any military coup, but confirmed that he has now joined the opposition struggle intended to remove President Museveni from power as soon as possible.
The Sejusa-factor is being seen by many in the opposition struggle as a game-changer, as evidence of serious fractures start to appear within the Museveni political and military establishment. On the political side, rebellious ruling NRM party members have been expelled, and a growing number of Museveni supporters, both within the leadership hierarchy and the rank-and-file party membership, have started openly criticizing the leadership style of Gen. Museveni.
In spite of some criticisms from some opposition quarters about the role that Gen. Sejusa is believed to have played in the security clampdown against opposition activists, there is a growing realization that the anti-Museveni campaign is being boosted by the emerging divisions within Museveni’s own camp.
A recent joint declaration by leading opposition leaders pointed to the need to reach out to key military officers and NRM party leaders, with the view to encouraging them to join the on-going struggle for change. It seems that this opposition call for unity of purpose among Ugandans is being welcomed not only by senior Museveni commanders, but also by low-ranking military and security service operatives, who are reported to be deserting their barracks in their hundreds, taking with them their uniforms and ammunition. In an attempt to stop the hemorrhage Gen. Museveni has ordered major security operations in several cities and regions of Uganda, including his own home region of Ankole.
Ugandans are referring to these operations as "Panda Gari", meaning "Get on the truck", on a journey that leads to already overcrowded police and military prisons.
Renewed call for street protests: To exacerbate Gen. Museveni’s fears and problems, a powerful group of pro-democracy activists, called For God and My Country (4GC), whose leaders organized the "Walk-to-Work" Protests, has issued a call for renewed street protests.
These protests are being planned to coincide with country-wide strikes by teachers, taxi drivers, doctors, university lecturers, and other civil servants.
The stated reasons for the strikes are the recently imposed high taxes and failure of the regime to pay salaries. The Kampala government is struggling to find money to pay salaries, after international donors cut off aid in recent months citing entrenched corruption and the routine stealing of donor funds in the Prime Minister’s office and other government departments. Among those affected are police and army functionaries, some of whom have not received their pay from May 2013.
For President Museveni, the growing symbiosis between the workers strikes and the political protests organized by the 4GC Movement, not only provides a major challenge to his security forces, but also threatens to consolidate the hand of his numerous enemies who are determined to overthrow his regime.
Already some analysts, both local and international, are suggesting that Gen. Museveni is quickly losing grip of power, and there are real doubts whether he will survive much longer. The next Presidential elections are scheduled for 2016, and Museveni is believed to be planning to run again on the NRM party ticket.
With increasing numbers of Ugandans opposing his rule, and an even larger number fighting against his purported plan to impose his son Brigadier Muhoozi as future President, it is hard to imagine how he could win those elections.
Non-the-less the coming weeks and months may be crucial, as the pressure for Museveni to step down mounts. The question to be asked is bound to change from "Will Museveni win the 2016 elections?" to "Will Museveni survive the impending people Power Revolt?"
Dr. Vincent Magombe is a London-based Ugandan journalist and broadcaster, and Director of Africa Inform International.