They view him as 'presidential material'
The ascension of Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu to the presidency of the Forum for Democratic Change has courted some excitement in some sections of the army.
Muntu, one of the purists from the guerilla war that shot President Museveni to power in 1986, has reignited the bush-war camaraderie, especially amongst 'historicals' of the struggle, The Observer has learnt.
Though many soldiers cannot speak publicly for fear of being reprimanded, sources in the UPDF have told us that a number of senior army officers have quietly voiced their endorsement of Muntu, who served as army commander for nine years.
Since Muntu's November 22 election, several officers have reportedly warmed up to his victory, which they say alters the political landscape as it brings forth an opposition leader that is clearly 'presidential material'.
"The new crop of young army officers who are now in charge of the UPDF leadership have no roots in the Luweero struggle; therefore, his [Muntu] election has drawn the sympathy of Luweero comrades, especially those on the sidelines who have been relegated to inconsequential roles," said a highly-placed army source who has been part of the establishment since the bush-war.
Another source added: "He [Muntu] is among the few [officers] with a clean record left in the country, with the institution of the army deeply tainted by graft. Now many look up to him, including even those whose hands are not clean but have been victims of the President's selective punishment."
But Army Spokesman Felix Kulayigye this week sought to play down whatever excitement Muntu may have caused.
"Who told you he [Muntu] is popular? [As] An officer? I doubt if he is popular," Col Kulayigye said. "A professional military man does not seek popularity. You salute and go. We are non-partisan and we wish him good luck."
Since joining the Museveni-led rebellion in 1981, Muntu has distinguished himself as a disciplinarian. His personal doctrine of immaterialism and sacrifice evokes nostalgia within the UPDF, whose structural edifice was deeply rooted within peasantry utopia.
Twenty-six years since the end of the bush war, many of his colleagues have acquired expensive tastes. Muntu, on the other hand, is seen as an officer who served at the highest level (in the army) but did not fall for the trappings of wealth and power.
"Look at what all these generals own and compare them to the wealth of Muntu?" one of our sources asked rhetorically.
Another source says that even amongst the young elite officers, the possibility of a Muntu presidency is seen as a beacon of hope for a country whose future remains unpredictable.
"There is hope amongst the youngest Turks who believe Muntu can restore sanity," said the source who argued that the outgoing FDC president, Col Kizza Besigye, failed to elicit the same hope because some officers feel there is a personal divide between him and President Museveni. Other officers feel Besigye would exercise retribution against them once in power.
Unlike Besigye who has always bashed his former colleagues in uniform, Muntu often speaks about the army with a measured tone. Only recently, during a televised debate between him and his rivals for the FDC presidency, Muntu commended the role of the UPDF in Somalia.
Earlier on, when he appeared to sink below his known standards, he was criticised for cautioning soldiers against following the carcass (government) to the grave like the proverbial fly that refused to heed a warning. Muntu is also seen as less forceful and confrontational than Dr Besigye, something for which he has been praised and criticised at the same time.
Old army ties
Though he left the army 12 years ago, Muntu still maintains ties with military circles. Sources say that among the most high-profile friends he served with in the army is Rwandan President Paul Kagame who was his deputy at the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in 1987.
Though both men are intolerant to indiscipline, a soldier who served in DMI at the time and has since retired, says the difference between Muntu and Kagame is that the former is humane while the latter is more ruthless. Muntu's other friend in the military fraternity is the officer he replaced at DMI, Brig Andrew Lutaaya. In a recent interview, Lutaaya, who has since retired, told The Observer newspaper that the former army commander was abnormally disciplined during the bush struggle.
One of the officers who also served directly under Muntu is the current Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), Gen Aronda Nyakairima, who was then an intelligence officer at the rank of Captain, attached to the Presidential Protection Unit (PPU). Amongst his other friends is the former deputy army commander, Maj Gen Joram Mugume, who was Muntu's best man at his wedding in 1986, which took place at State House Entebbe. Beleaguered former ISO and CMI boss, Brig Henry Tumukunde, is another of Muntu's friends.
Muntu was Tumukunde's best man at his wedding in 1987. Tumukunde is currently battling charges related to remarks he made on radio years ago in the General Court Martial based at Makindye. Muntu's ties go far beyond friends within the army. The Chief of Personnel and Administration, Brig Leopold Kyanda, is a brother to Muntu's wife, Julia, a daughter to John Kakonge, one of Uganda's patriarchs. Kakonge, a former UPC secretary general, was slain by Idi Amin in the 1970s.
It is also claimed that in 1989, when the President sacked his brother, Gen Salim Saleh, as army commander, it was Saleh who recommended Muntu to replace him. However, before Muntu can have any chance of impacting the national political stage, he would have to overcome the factionalism threatening to tear his party apart, and become flag-bearer of the FDC in 2016.
Supporters of Nathan Nandala-Mafabi, the man Muntu beat to become FDC president, have threatened to boycott party activities if some of Muntu's supporters do not resign their party positions.
But perhaps the real test for Muntu would come in the form of attacks orchestrated by the regime hatchet-men, intimidation of his supporters and the use of money to buy off party officials and the electorate. These are some of the challenges his predecessor, Besigye, had to grapple with.