KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni fired his top military commander today, the ouster apparently linked to turmoil over Museveni’s alleged plan to have his son succeed him as head of state.
Sacked army chief Gen. Aronda Nyakairima was appointed minister of internal affairs, effectively cutting his links to the army’s chain of command. Some other government officials were also moved around in a sudden shuffle of civilian and military officials.
Police, meanwhile, occupied for the fifth straight day the premises of a Kampala newspaper that had published details of a letter by another army general who asked for an investigation into reports that high-ranking officials opposed to the rise of Museveni’s son could be assassinated.
In letter late last month to the chief of the internal security service, Gen. David Sejusa Sejusa cited himself, Nyakairima and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi as among those officials who are at risk of being murdered in the alleged plot.
Police on Monday disabled the Daily Monitor’s printing press after forcibly entering its premises to look for evidence against Sejusa, nearly two weeks after the independent newspaper published details of the letter. They cordoned off the premises of with yellow tape Thursday, officially designating it a crime scene. Media watchdogs condemned the attack on press freedom.
Sejusa, who has postponed his journey back home from a trip to London, is wanted for questioning by Ugandan police who have searched his house and arrested four of his aides on unspecified charges.
After Sejusa’s letter became public, Nyakairima dismissed it, saying it was divisive and full of opposition propaganda. Karoro Okurut, a spokeswoman for the government, has since said the Sejusa case is “a matter of national security.”
Sejusa is a decorated hero of the bush war that brought Museveni to power in 1986, a four-star general with a seat on the army’s high command. He is also in charge of the country’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, the reason some in this East African country say his concerns about a purported plot to assassinate people should be taken seriously. Some lawmakers have called for an inquiry.
Rumors that Museveni is grooming his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as a future president have been fueled in part by Kainerugaba’s meteoric rise in the military. Kainerugaba was promoted to the rank of brigadier in changes last year that saw him take full charge of the country’s special forces, an elite unit that protects the president and guards national assets such as oil fields. Analysts say Kainerugaba’s powerful position in the army has alienated senior army officials including Sejusa and Nyakairima.
Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, a prominent Ugandan lawyer and political analyst, said the new changes by Museveni are clearly part of the ongoing fallout from discontent over the alleged succession plan.
“In my opinion it is true that the army leadership has been grumbling about its loss of power to the first son,” he said.
Journalists at the Daily Monitor there insist they will not reveal who gave them a copy of Sejusa’s letter or give a copy to the police. Details of the letter were published May 7. The Daily Monitor says on Twitter that “police have defied the court order directing them to vacate the Monitor Publications premises they seized since Monday. Instead of opening the gates to allow employees to access their offices, police deployed more officers.”
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, he could face a court martial. Frank Tumwebaze, a government minister who speaks for Museveni, says Sejusa has “clear presidential ambitions.”
Museveni, who says he was born in 1944 but doesn’t know the exact date, has held power for nearly three decades. His current term expires in 2016.