Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, has attracted international attention with a range of striking tweets in recent months – starting with a veiled threat to invade Kenya in October and most recently last week, when he offered to deploy Ugandan troops to defend Moscow from “imperialists”. But the running theme in his tweets is the suggestion that he will soon take over from his father.
President Yoweri Museveni, 78, responded by sacking Muhoozi from his role as commander of Uganda’s land forces. Museveni also said his son “will leave Twitter”.
But Muhoozi is still on the social media platform. After tweeting, “Respect this man!” alongside a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin in October, he tweeted on Thursday that, “Uganda shall send soldiers to defend Moscow if it’s ever threatened by the Imperialists!”
Call me a ‘Putinist’ if you will, but we, Uganda shall send soldiers to defend Moscow if it’s ever threatened by the Imperialists!
— Muhoozi Kainerugaba (@mkainerugaba) March 30, 2023
Douglas Yates, a professor of African politics at the American Graduate School in Paris, likened Muhoozi’s tweets to those of former US president Donald Trump.
Characterising Muhoozi’s tweets as “irresponsible comments” by the “heir to the palace”, Yates said: “[M]any leaders think they can act like Trump and say anything they want, [although] all of them will learn, one day, as will Trump, that words are things, have consequences, and matter.”
‘Positioning himself as an outsider’
Indeed, analysts suggest Muhoozi’s most consequential tweets are those about domestic Ugandan politics. The same day he tweeted about Russia, Muhoozi announced the creation of TV and radio channels devoted to his “MK Movement”, an organisation named after himself.
That was not Muhoozi’s only tweet excoriating the National Resistance Movement (NRM), which Museveni founded in 1986 and which has ruled Uganda under his leadership ever since. Muhoozi tweeted in December that the NRM is “probably the most reactionary organisation in the country” – adding that it “certainly does NOT represent the people of Uganda”.
I believe in Jesus Christ and I believe in my father, General @KagutaMuseveni. I certainly do not believe in NRM. In Marxist terms it is probably the most reactionary organisation in the country.
— Muhoozi Kainerugaba (@mkainerugaba) December 2, 2022
Like the populist Trump, Muhoozi “may be trying to distance himself from the power in place and position himself as an outsider”, Yates said.
The political context of Muhoozi’s tweets is that the question of who will succeed his father is looming ever larger in Ugandan politics, noted Kristof Titeca, a professor in the politics of development at Antwerp University specialising in Ugandan politics.
“It’s no longer hypothetical, given Museveni’s advanced age,” he said. “There’s been a strong concentration of power that eventually zeroed in on the family. And it was clear that after 2021 Museveni was putting forward his son to test the water – to see if he could prove himself, a bit like Logan Roy in [the HBO TV series] ‘Succession’.”
Titeca said Muhoozi’s tweets might simply be a tactic to position himself politically.
“Why does Muhoozi continue to tweet so provocatively? Some see it as just his personality. Some see it as part of a clear political strategy learning from Trump’s rise to power.”
‘Museveni’s popularity has declined’
A lot has changed for Museveni and the “historicals” in the 40 years since they took control of Uganda.
Museveni and his party were lauded as forces of stability after he seized power from dictator Milton Obote in 1986 in the culmination of a five-year guerrilla war. Indeed, Museveni retains strong support among many rural and older voters, notably those who recall positive changes to the economic and security situations in the 1990s and 2000s.
But Museveni faced intensifying criticism after Uganda’s constitution was changed in 2005 to abolish presidential term limits – before an additional amendment removed age limits in 2017.
Meanwhile, seeking legitimacy among the youth has become an increasingly important task in Ugandan politics, seeing as it is the world’s second-youngest country with 78 percent of its population under 35.
“The Museveni regime’s biggest fear is an ‘Arab Spring‘ scenario [taking] place among the youth,” Titeca continued. “Part of the way the regime has built legitimacy is through corruption and patronage – but that undermines economic growth and public services, and providing them is key to winning legitimacy among the youth. So coercion has become crucial for the regime.”
Rise of Bobi Wine
The president’s main challenger in the 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016 elections was Kizza Bisegye, who was Museveni’s personal doctor during the guerrilla war then a senior minister in his government. After a falling out with his ex-boss, Bisegye became leader of the longstanding opposition party the Forum for Democratic Change. The 2006 elections went to court, where a judicial review found evidence of extensive vote-rigging to benefit Museveni. Bisegye was charged with treason in 2016 and has repeatedly been arrested and attacked. He did not stand in the January 2021 presidential elections.
By the time of that vote – which analysts say was marred by repression – singer Bobi Wine had supplanted Bisegye as Uganda’s main opposition leader.
Wine rose to the fore by using Afrobeat music to appeal to the country’s youthful electorate. He calls his polemical ragga (a subgenre of reggae) songs “edutainment” – education through entertainment – and the opening lines of his 2016 hit Situka (meaning “Rise up” in the Luganda language) exemplify this style: “When leaders become misleaders, and mentors become tormentors, when freedom of expression becomes a target of suppression, opposition becomes our position.”
After Museveni was announced the winner of the 2021 polls, Wine accused the president of vote-rigging, saying it was “the most fraudulent election in the history of Uganda”. A day after the polls, Wine was placed under house arrest for 10 days. He filed an election challenge in court after his release – only to retract it, saying the Supreme Court judges were biased in Museveni’s favour.
Muhoozi, Wine ‘both claim to represent youth’
These experiences did not soften Wine’s fierce opposition to Museveni. He said in September 2021 that it is “just a matter of time” before the Ugandan president “ends up in the dustbin of history”, while calling on the Ugandan people to “liberate” themselves from his “dictatorship”.
As for the likelihood of Wine taking power, Titeca said he is a “symbol of Uganda’s youth” and the “first real outsider to become the main opposition politician”, notably since he comes from the centre of Uganda – specifically the Buganda region – instead of the west, which has long dominated the country’s politics.
“But coming from the centre of Uganda is a curse as well as a blessing, because he has not been able to really translate his popularity outside of the region,” Titeca observed.
This Buffoon! Kabobi, we will meet in the 2026 elections. You are NOTHING! You’ve always been NOTHING! Ugandans will teach you your position. https://t.co/Y9FbVjJhHY
“There’s a certain similarity between the two,” Titeca noted. “Both claim to represent the youth as outsiders – even though it’s from two totally different positions: one comes from the ghetto, the other comes from the statehouse.”
Titeca said it is debatable how popular Muhoozi might become, or how well his social media strategy is working. “Muhoozi’s tweets are followed with a lot of amusement in Uganda – and it’s clear he wants to play the same cards as Trump, talking to people’s gut feelings. But there are questions as to how seriously that could be taken and what it really means in terms of political capital.”