President heads to Uganda amid row over tweets

Thursday, October 6th, 2022 06:00 | By
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s son Muhoozi Kainerugaba (centre) during a past ceremony. PHOTO/Courtesy

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni yesterday moved to quell a possible diplomatic tiff with Kenya when he offered an apology over incendiary tweets posted by his son — now a military General — as reports emerged that President William Ruto is set to visit the neighbouring country this weekend.

President Museveni acknowledged that Lieutenant-General Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s remarks were inappropriate as they interfered with the internal affairs of Kenya.

Kainerugaba stirred social media with claims that had the potential to rock relations between the two neighbouring East African Community member States earlier this week with claims suggesting he could send troops to capture Nairobi and that he could do that in under two weeks.

Muhoozi, also berated Kenya’s recent democratic handing over of power, as he took a swipe at democratic transitions and appeared to suggest that a revolution was the best way to effect a change in political leadership.

Yesterday, however, Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986 apologised to the people of Kenya and East Africans generally as sources at State House, Nairobi, said President Ruto was expected to attend Independence Day celebrations in Kampala on Sunday. According to his diary, he is scheduled to arrive in Kampala on Saturday. The Kenyan leader is among dignitaries scheduled to grace the celebrations as Uganda marks 60 years since gaining independence from Britain.

A day earlier, Museveni, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), promoted his son to a full military general although his new position removes him from direct command of any military service. Before his appointment, he was commander of the army.

Yesterday, Museveni privately spoke to President Ruto to assuage tension building from the tweets before issuing a personal letter to Kenyans, which he posted on his Twitter account. In it, Museveni disclosed that he had conveyed all his views, including the apology, confidentially to his Kenyan counterpart.

“I ask our Kenyan brothers and sisters to forgive us for tweets sent by General Muhoozi, former Commander of Land Forces here, regarding the election matters in that great country,” the letter said.

“It is not correct for public officers, be they civilian or military, to comment or interfere in any way, in the internal affairs of brother countries”. The Ugandan Head of State also asked for forgiveness from his countrymen who could have been “annoyed by one of their officials meddling in the affairs of brother Kenya.”

“I know for a fact that General Muhoozi is a passionate Pan-Africanist. However, the correct method for Pan-Africanists is confidential interactions or using the available fora (EAC and AU), especially if you are a public officer,” he said in a rebuke over the tweets that sparked a bitter exchange on social media platforms, starting with Twitter.

The strongman also defended his decision to promote Muhoozi to a four-star General, the country’s highest military rank, only a day after the rapid-fire tweets. He said he decided to overlook the “mistake” in favour of the “positive” things his son had done for his country.

“This mistake is one aspect where he has acted negatively as a public officer. There are, however, many other positive contributions the General has made and can still make. This is a time-tested formula — discourage the negative and encourage the positive. Very sorry, ndugu zetu Wakenya (very sorry, our Kenyan brothers),” Museveni wrote.

A four-star General is the highest rank in UPDF — the Uganda military. With the new appointment, Muhoozi was relieved of his duties as Commander of the Land Forces (CLF). At only 48, Muhoozi, also a senor presidential advisor on special operations, is Uganda’s youngest serving four-star General, a rank that gives him considerable clout in the aftermath of the mass retirement of generals of the Bush War that catapulted Museveni to power in January 1986.

Although Ruto’s visit had been scheduled before Muhoozi fired the tweets, the posts had put the President’s planning team in an awkward situation as he would have had to travel to Kampala in the midst of a raging controversy on social media that threatened diplomatic relations between the two countries. Kenya and Uganda have coexisted without any major incidents apart from similar threats to invade Kenya by Uganda’s dictator Idd Amin Dada in the 1970s. The threat prompted then President Kenyatta to send security officers to Kenya’s border with Uganda.

During President Mwai Kibaki’s administration, the Uganda government also claimed ownership of the water around the Migingo Island, which his part of Kenya’s territory. This was escalated when Uganda police started arresting Kenyan fishermen, accusing them of crossing the border while out fishing. There were no spats under President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose term ended in August this year.

President Ruto, who was sworn into office three weeks ago will now travel with the warmth of an apology from a counterpart known for being keen to bully his neighbours in addition to being the region’s longest serving head of State. The Kenyan President has not spoken publicly about the matter yet.

However, his Cabinet Secretary nominee for Foreign Affairs, Alfred Mutua, met Uganda’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Hassan Galiwango, on Tuesday to find out what the tweets were about. The Uganda Foreign Ministry later issued a statement, saying it does not communicate its position via social media, a move that appeared to leave Muhoozi isolated.

When he attended Ruto’s inauguration on September 13, Museveni, who acknowledged watching Kenyan political analysis TV programmes, challenged Ruto to join in efforts to strengthen bilateral trade among the seven East African Community member State. “In order for Uganda, Kenya, Congo, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, Rwanda and Somalia which is coming (to EAC) to catch up with the United States, we need to look at the issue of the regional market because when you produce, who buys?” he said.

Before heading to Uganda, Ruto will attend the official launch of Safaricom services in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia today after Kenya’s leading telecommunications firm spread its reach with a Sh850 billion ten-year investment with the northern neighbour. The President will be joined by his host, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, as the firm formally begins operations outside Kenya.

 From Addis, President Ruto is expected to head to Tanzania on Saturday for national day celebrations before travelling to Uganda where he will spend the night before the next day’s independence celebrations in Kampala.

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