Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni’s loyalists have taken top leadership positions in the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) following a reshuffle.
The Defence Force occupies a ‘super-structure’ of governance outside the conventional arms of the state like the Judiciary and Parliament.
Analysts say for the first time, the President has a firm grip on all institutions of government, including Parliament and the Judiciary, where ‘obedient cadres’ have been rewarded and those with ‘questionable allegiances’ have exited.
This pattern, which was followed in the recent Cabinet appointments, has been replicated in the army.
In the reshuffle, Mr Museveni promoted his former Aide de Camp (ADC) Wilson Mbadi to the rank of General and named him the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF).
In appointing, Mbadi, a top graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the President showed that he places a premium on loyalty. Mr Museveni also opted for a gambit he hopes will pay off.
Mbadi, who hails from Kasese, could use his clout and leverage to placate the flashpoint district, which voted a sizeable number of NRM leaders in the 2021 General Election, including winning three constituencies and the LC5 seat.
Previously, a Forum for Democratic (FDC) stronghold in the 2016 General Election, the party swept the five constituencies, including the district Woman parliamentary seat and LC5 seat.
Gen Mbadi replaces Gen David Muhoozi, who was recently appointed the State Minister for Internal Affairs.
Gen Mbadi will be deputised by Lt Gen Peter Elwelu, a battle-hardened officer with a Stalinist-streak who tows the line of loyalty to the hilt.
During the standoff with the Rwenzururu Kingdom in November 2016, Lt Gen Elwelu commanded his forces to attack the police where more than 100 people, including the king’s guards, women and children, were killed.
He recently said he was unapologetic for the attack and accused the royal guards who were killed during the Kasese clashes of being criminals “who deserved what they got.”
In the reshuffle, the President appointed his son, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba to the coveted position of Commander of Land Forces.
Under his new role, Lt Gen Kainerugaba, who has been serving as the head of Special Forces Command (SFC), will superintend over all divisions and independent units of the military structure such as military police.
It also places him at the vantage point of running the army outside the elite SFC unit and the ability to use his experience to dovetail both roles.
Lt Gen Kainerugaba’s surrogates, including Brig Gen Felix Buzisoori, who has been appointed the deputy commander of SFC and Daniel Kakono, the new commander Field Artillery Division, are part of the first two cadet intakes in the late 1990s.
Both officers worked in SFC as Buzisoori served as the officer in charge of the Special Coy Special Forces Group; and Kakono previously served as the commanding officer of the tank battalion in the elite force.
As the imposing figures of military generals who shared the Luweero bush-war trenches, retreat into retirement, the latest appointments place the army under the grip of the young turks led by Lt Gen Kainerugaba.
Gen Muhoozi and the outgoing joint Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Joseph Musanyufu, represent the 1985 class of officers who were recruited in the Rwenzori sub-region by former EAC Secretary General, Amanya Mushega.
This group also includes the late Defence Permanent Secretary, Brig Noble Mayombo, and the managing director of the National Enterprise Corporation, the business section of the army, Lt Gen James Mugira.
As a number of officers will be retiring early next year, including former security minister Gen Elly Tumwine and the head of military doctrine, Maj Gen Pecos Kutesa, its these young officers who will fill the politico-military void left by their departure.
The quick ascendancy in rank of some of the young officers may cause unease for the departing officers who no longer hold any influence in the army and only wear the scars of the bush-struggle as a badge of honour.
Others appointed include Maj Gen Sam Okiding, who will deputise Lt Gen Kainerugaba. A former presidential Guard Brigade Commander, Maj Gen Leopold Kyanda, has been appointed the Joint Chief of Staff and the amiable Bob Ogiki, as Chief of Staff, Land Forces.
Balancing the regional equation
President Museveni has also used the army reshuffle to demystify the accusation that plum jobs are usually a preserve of cadres and officers from his backyard.
Critics such as former Kashaari County MP John Kazoora argues in his book “Betrayed by my Leader” that the President’s appointments are usually an attempt to appease and strike a balance with ethnic blocs.
As he navigates these intricate interests, Mr Kazoora argues that those appointed usually are left to enjoy the perks, pomp and pageantry, but real power remains vested in the imperial presidency and the inner-circle of trusted disciples.