Uganda leader's legacy at stake in general's case

May 21, 2013, 10:14 AM EDT
Ugandan Police surround the offices of the Daily Monitor newspaper, preventing all journalists from leaving according to the paper's political editor, in Kampala, Uganda Monday, May 20, 2013. Ugandan police forcibly entered the premises of the independent newspaper to look for evidence against an army general who recently questioned the president's alleged plan to have his son succeed him, witnesses said Monday. (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera)
(AP Photo/Stephen Wandera)
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — An army general's concern that officials are at risk of assassination if they oppose President Yoweri Museveni's alleged plan to have his son succeed him has stirred controversy in Uganda because it challenges the popular view of Museveni as a moderate leader, analysts said Tuesday.
Police continued their search Tuesday of a daily newspaper's offices to find Gen. David Sejusa's provocative letter, which the publication printed. The Kampala newspaper was raided on Monday by police who searched for evidence against Sejusa, who recently urged an investigation into reports that officials could be assassinated for opposing the rise of Museveni's son.
Museveni, who has held power in the East African country for nearly three decades, has been a successful politician in part because many here praise him for leading Uganda to stability after a succession of brutal leaders since independence in 1962.
At stake in the unfolding fallout from Sejusa's letter is what Museveni feels is his legacy as a moderate who tamed what used to be a troublesome military and ushered in an electoral democracy, said Charles Rwomushana, a former intelligence official who worked in the president's office.
In the days since Sejusa's concerns were published in the Daily Monitor, detectives have searched the general's house and office, arresting four of his aides. Sejusa, who is traveling in London, has postponed his trip home so that his legal term prepares for any potential cases against him, according to his lawyer, Joseph Luzige.
Rwomushana said Museveni "has cast himself as different from past regimes," while Sejusa's letter encourages a new perspective on Museveni's record in that regard. "Sejusa crossed a red line," he said. "In effect, Sejusa was asking for Museveni to be investigated."
Rumors that Museveni is grooming his son, a senior army officer named Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as a future president have been around for years, fueled in part by Kainerugaba's meteoric rise in the military. But no official until Sejusa had ever publicly raised concerns.
His letter to the internal security service was leaked to the Daily Monitor, an independent daily frequently criticized by Museveni as biased against him.
As the police build their case against Sejusa, they have sought the cooperation of the newspaper's journalists who wrote or edited the story. News editor Alex Atuhaire said police want the newspaper to reveal the source of the letter.
Uganda's army code of conduct bars serving army officers from speaking to journalists without official authorization. If the police can prove that Sejusa himself leaked the letter, the apparent aim of the Daily Monitor raid, he could face court martial and jail.
Sejusa, a decorated hero of the bush war that brought Museveni to power in 1986, has a history of standing up to the president. In the 1990s he tried and failed to quit the army after accusing the top leadership of incompetence against the fugitive warlord Joseph Kony. Since then he has been largely disgruntled, said Nicholas Opiyo, a prominent Ugandan lawyer and political analyst.
Opiyo said the succession debate provoked by Sejusa is unwelcome at a time when Museveni is trying to reassert his authority as rival centers of power form within his party. Such a debate, he said, makes Museveni look weak at a time when he needs to project strength.
"They want to stifle the succession debate," he said. "My reading is that there is a deliberate effort at avoiding a discussion of the issues the general raises in his letter."
Museveni has recently seen his authority challenged by some within his party amid uncertainty if he will run again in 2016. Gilbert Bukenya, a former vice president, announced this month he will run for president in 2016, while Rebecca Kadaga, the parliament speaker, has resisted pressure to have the seats of four independent-minded lawmakers declared vacant after their expulsion from the ruling party.
Even Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, a politician once close to Museveni, is widely believed to have lost favor with the president because of his apparent presidential ambitions. In his letter alleging a secret succession plan, Sejusa cited himself, Mbabazi and army chief Gen. Aronda Nyakairima among those who could be killed for opposing the rise of Museveni's son.
Some government officials now say Sejusa may be positioning himself to become the leader of those senior army officers who are disenchanted with Museveni's long stay in power and unhappy with the suggestions that Kainerugaba is being groomed for president. Frank Tumwebaze, a government minister who speaks for Museveni, has said Sejusa has "clear presidential ambitions." The military's leadership has said Sejusa's letter is full of opposition propaganda.
Last year Kainerugaba was made a brigadier in changes that also saw him take full charge of the country's special forces, an elite unit within the military that protects the president and guards national assets such as oil fields. "Kainerugaba will almost certainly be promoted to general within the next two years," wrote the global intelligence think tank Stratfor in February.
If that happens, he will be at the same rank as Sejusa.