Any hopes Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni may have had for an orderly transition of power at the end of his decades-long presidency are becoming increasingly fanciful as the fallout from the publication of a controversial letter by a top military commander continues to rock his country.
The widespread perception that Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, is being groomed to succeed his father as president was given credence after General David Sejusa, one of the country’s top military commanders, addressed the issue in a letter to the head of the army’s internal security service in early May. Sejusa alleged that opponents of such a transition could be targeted for assassination, exposing a major rift within Uganda’s military leadership over the succession issue.
The publication of Sejusa’s letter was bad enough for Museveni but his government’s aggressive and seemingly disproportionate response only seems to be bolstering Sejusa’s credibility while threatening to undermine Museveni’s– at home and abroad.
The criminal investigation that has been launched by police against the newspaper that published Sejusa’s letter along with the forced closure of several news outlets show that the Museveni government is more than willing to tread on certain democratic principles to achieve its political objectives. In this case, it is clear that the government’s objective is to hold Sejusa culpable for the publication of his letter, which was leaked by unknown sources to the privately-owned Daily Monitor. While hostility towards press freedom is hardly unexpected in the country, the overt crackdown on the media– including the firing of teargas at journalists— has generated international attention and renewed scrutiny of Museveni’s rights record.
The crackdown has also served to further estrange Sejusa, who has dug in his heels and aired even more dirty laundry from within the country’s elite military. Sejusa is now in London indefinitely as he faces arrest upon his return to Uganda.
In the aftermath of the Sejusa letter, and with an abrupt shakeup of the military’s leadership, the staunch support Museveni has long relied on from the military establishment is no longer something he can take for granted, which leaves him vulnerable at an already delicate time. Should his heavy-handed approach to addressing this current crisis continue, it will risk deepening the clear rifts within the country’s most powerful institution– setting the stage for a power struggle as the end of Museveni’s term draws closer.