The latest changes in the leadership of Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), by President Yoweri Museveni, the Commander in Chief of armed forces, marks a watershed moment in the leadership of the army.
The fundamental point observed by many in the latest appointments is the finalization, nearly, of the generation shift in leadership from the old guard, or the end-of- the-road for the Bush-era historical NRA fighters. A new generation of younger officers, referred to mostly as the 1985 Group, has emerged.
All the new top commanders of the different arms of the army, with the exception of Maj. Gen. Gavas Mugyenyi, belong to the new generation of officers in their prime and are less than 55 years old. Beginning with the new chief of Defense Forces (CDF), Gen. David Muhoozi, 52, the new leadership belongs to Maj.Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s generation of young officers.
For the first time, a member of the 1985 Group, Muhoozi, has been promoted to the highest rank of full general, at least in Uganda’s military hierarchy. He joins the list of ‘historical’ generals such as; Gen. David Sejusa, Elly Tumwine, Jeje Odong, Salim Saleh, Ivan Koreta, Katumba Wamala, most of whom served in the Uganda Army (UA) or the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA).
Gen. David Muhoozi, the new CDF, joined the army in 1985 as the-then National Resistance Army (NRA), was nearing victory in its five-year war against the Obote and Tito Okello governments. The trained lawyer has risen in rank from a junior officer through some of the most important trainings and assignments in the military.
The new generation of young officers are well-educated from some of the best military colleges in the world, but have also commanded different military campaigns in Somalia, South Sudan, and in the Rwenzori mountains.
For example, Gen. Muhoozi, trained in some of the most prestigious military colleges in the region and internationally such as Munduli Military College in Tanzania, the Senior Command and Staff College in Ghana, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and other elite military schools in Israel, USA and China.
Gen. Muhoozi’s contemporaries, who now face new leadership challenges at the highest level of Uganda’s military such as; Maj. Gen. Wilson Mbasu Mbadi, are also considered by some senior officers as a second generation of younger officers. Maj. Gen. Mbadi served for a long time as President Museveni’s aide-de-camp. Mbadi’s outstanding academic achievement while at Sandhurst, exceptional performance and discipline are considered as some of the unique qualities that endeared him to the president.
In 2013, while attending a Thanksgiving ceremony for Mbadi’s promotion to the rank of Maj. Gen. in Kasese, President Museveni, is quoted to have remarked that: “We promoted Mbadi because of his exemplary performance and education. He went to the prestigious Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (RMAS), where he emerged one of the best trainees.”
The transition from the old guard to a younger generation of officers has not been without its tensions. Indeed, while at a decoration ceremony at Mbuya Military Headquarters in 2013, when Gen. Katumba and several other young officers were assuming new ranks and responsibilities, former Army Commander Gen. Jeje Odong, now internal Affairs Minister said: “A young generation of army officers” is taking over from the old guards.
“Some of us get threatened by that kind of thing. But an institution that does not renew itself has a problem. We are here to see young officers taking over from the old ones in order to maintain life, rigorousness and relevance.”
And previously, Gen. David Sejusa, the former coordinator of intelligence agencies, is said to have objected to an address, during a meeting of the UPDF high command of a younger Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
The other source of tension has been the impression especially among the old guard that the elevation of younger officers would render the old guard idle and neglected.
As Gen. Saleh warned in 2013 during a pipping ceremony of then-younger new Air Force commanders, the old guard should not be punished. Keeping a senior officer without any assignment is considered repudiation or being put on katebe in army circles.
“Professionalize without punishing the older officers. All those people ageing in the Air Force should be sent to the civil areas of the force. You also need to have concrete plans for them such that their sacrifice is not demeaned,” Gen. Saleh is quoted as having said. “These old people sacrificed a lot during the formative stages of the air force; they should not be set aside but helped.”
The appointment of his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as a senior presidential adviso,r has left more questions than answers. Some political analysts, however, say that regardless of who is in charge of the UPDF, the president continues to wield overwhelming influence and control of the army to the extent that none can dare go against his will. The appointment of younger officers, who idolize the president, is a source of relief for Museveni, or perhaps his son, especially in the coming years when Uganda will be grappling with political transition.