Uganda: What Is Gen Tumukunde's Game Plan?

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni. The president is seeking a sixth term in office in 2021 after being in power for 33 years.

As Acharya Rajneesh, the Indian godman and founder of the Rajneesh movement, once said, "Every man now is responsible to create a Buddhafield around himself, an energy field that goes on becoming bigger and bigger. Create as many vibrations of laughter, joy, celebration, as possible; dance, sing, let the whole of humanity by and by catch the fire..."

Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde may be a practicing Christian, but seems to have taken to the teachings of Rajneesh.

The energy field that his notification to the Electoral Commission (EC) caused has been growing, but so too have the vibrations of glee on one hand and anger on the other. The question now is how much impact he would have in a race against President Museveni should he make the final decision to go head on.

Prof Sabiti Makara, a lecturer of Political Science at Makerere University, warns against underestimating Gen Tumukunde's ability to upset the apple cart.

"Tumukunde has always doubled as a soldier and a politician. He has been campaigning for the President for a very long time now and he has developed his own network in both intelligence and political circles over a period of time. It would be foolhardy to underestimate him," says Prof Makara.

The problem though is that the police has for the greater part of the last five years been invoking the provisions of the Public Order Management Act (POMA) to break up political gatherings, including those consultative meetings that the Electoral Commission (EC) recently okayed as part of the road map to the 2021 general elections.

"What I am not sure of is whether he shall be allowed to consult. The environment is very fluid," says Prof Makara.

Even if he were to be give a free hand to consult and even contest, would it be possible for him to position himself well against an incumbent who has had the benefit of being around and building a network of support for more than 34 years?

"The future belongs to the organised. How politically organised is he to sufficiently take on the incumbent's organisation and emerge superior? That is what you should be asking Gen Tumukunde," says the deputy director of the Uganda Media Centre, Mr Shaban Bantariza.

No stranger to controversy

It is, of course, early days. One cannot say Gen Tumukunde's move has set the stage for him to contest against his former boss, but the General who ran from Makerere University to join the Bush War which brought Mr Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) to power, has quite a long history of trouble with Mr Museveni.

He actually seems to thrive on storms such as the one he has kicked up.


Slightly less than 14 years ago, he stood on the stairs of the General Court Martial building in Makindye, beaming.

"Look at my face. Doesn't it tell you the whole story?" he said before he was whisked back to the Senior Officers' Mess in Kololo where he remained on remand.

Tumukunde had been arrested on May 31, 2005, on charges of causing financial loss of Shs379m to the government by inflating the army payroll with 650 ghost solders between November 2000 and November 2001 when he was the commander of the Gulu-based 4th Division. He had also been charged with neglect of duty and disobeying orders to appear before a committee headed by Gen David Tinyefuza (now Sejusa) to probe the ghost soldiers saga.

On April 19, 2006, he was acquitted of those charges, but was still faced with charges of spreading harmful propaganda, which the prosecution said had been committed when he appeared on talk shows on both CBS radio and Radio One and accused the army leadership of blocking his retirement.

The arrest and arraignment before the General Court Martial had come as a bit of a surprise.

Vote canvasser

Gen Tumukunde had headed the special task force for Mr Museveni's 2001 re-election. Others on the team included the Deputy Chief of the Chieftaincy on Military Intelligence (CMI) then, Brig Noble Mayombo, the Chief of the External Security Organisation (ESO), Mr David Pulkol, the Chief of Internal Security Organisation (ISO), Mr Phillip Idro, the Presidential Press Secretary, Mr Onapito Ekomoloit, and Charles Rwomushana.

Gen Tumukunde's boots were very much on the ground for much of the campaign. In Jinja, for example, he met several delegations at the Nile Resort Hotel, where he dangled both the carrot and stick.

"To those, especially the businessmen who insisted on supporting Dr [Kizza] Besigye, he threatened to unleash URA [Uganda Revenue Authority] while those who were open to his overtures were rewarded with money. He seemed to have had a lot of it," one of the attendees, Mr Amla Waibi, told Sunday Monitor.

He is accused of having told the people in West Nile parts of northern Uganda where Dr Besigye was expected to have a clean sweep given the insurgency that was raging on at the time that "mere pieces of paper" (ballots) would not be enough to cause a change of government. He has since denied the accusations though.

Charles Rwomushana commends Gen Tumukunde for a job well done in 2001.

"There had, until his arrival on the team, been a lot of weaknesses in Museveni's campaign. What was in the lower structures can at best be described as anarchy. The composition was terrible. All that it took was for one to be a Muhima and to wear a Museveni T-shirt. The campaign team was heavy at the top, but very thin on the ground and there were lots of funds at the top, but one could not purchase as little as an exercise book on the ground. That changed with the arrival of Gen Tumukunde," Mr Rwomushana says.

Dissenting voice

Despite having thwarted a planned Al-Qaeda attack on Kampala in 1998 while he was head of CMI, countering Dr Besigye's emergence in 2000/2001 and in presiding over counter terrorism operations that followed a spate of bombings that occurred in Kampala and Jinja when he took over at ISO, Gen Tumukunde soon ran afoul of the establishment.

During a retreat at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) Kyankwanzi in either March or April 2003, Gen Tumukunde joined ministers Eriya Kategaya, Bidandi Ssali, Miria Matembe and Sarah Kiyingi in opposing plans to lift the presidential term limits on grounds that it would be in contravention of the constitutional order and rights that they had fought to establish.

Even after his sacking, Tumukunde, who had during the Bush War suffered a serious leg injury that saw him smuggled out of the country for treatment in Nairobi and later London, continued campaigning against the lifting of term limits.

"Changing the Constitution has a terrible history in Uganda. Obote changed it and you saw the outcome, it started the chain of so many problems in the country," he said while appearing on CBS's talk show "Palamenti Yammwe".

Besides wondering why the army establishment was not allowing him to retire, Gen Tumukunde also raised issues with the way in which Mr Museveni was managing the affairs of State.

New political party

Matters were not helped by the fact that one of his former aides, Mr Bernard Kibirige, who had worked as a political analyst at ISO and was a key player during Mr Museveni's 2001 re-election bid emerged as the secretary general of Progressive Alliance Party (PAP), which was registered with the Registrar of Political Parties on April 13, 2005.

That triggered off a thinking that he was the brain behind the party, which he intended to use to further his political ambitions. Mr Tucker Mugogo, who was one of the promoters of the party, dismisses the thinking.

"It was not his party. He was not affiliated to it and I don't think he would have been even if he had wanted because he was still a serving military officer. We knew him and he knew us and I think he was sympathetic to us, but he was not one of us. He didn't even give us any material support," Mr Mugogo told Sunday Monitor.

Kicked out of Parliament

For his outspokenness, the man who had also earlier served as first secretary and military attaché at the Ugandan Embassy in the United Kingdom, director of planning in the UPDF, and chief of personnel and administration, was on May 28, 2005, ejected from Parliament.

"I have been directed by the Forces Council (formerly Army Council) to resign my seat in Parliament as MP representing the UPDF and I have accordingly obliged," he wrote in a letter that was received by Parliament at 10.30pm.

Tumukunde later wrote to the Speaker of Parliament indicating that he had not resigned in explicit terms, but Mr Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi and the Constitutional Court upheld the "resignation", decisions which were later overturned by the Supreme Court in October 2008. The Court chided the Speaker for acting "hastily" in accepting Tumukunde's alleged resignation instead of trying to protect the liberties of MPs.


On April 18, 2013, the eight-year trial in the General Court Martial came to an end. The charge of spreading harmful propaganda was dropped and the man who had earlier represented Rubaabo County in the Constituent Assembly (CA) was convicted but only handed a severe reprimand for the charge of military misconduct.


Gen Tumukunde was subsequently rehabilitated and was a leading member Mr Museveni's 2016 campaign team. For that he was rewarded with an appointment as minister for Security, but in March 2018, Mr Museveni in a surprise move sacked him along with then Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura.

Gen Tumukunde was replaced by Gen Elly Tumwine who had presided over the General Court Martial when he was first charged with spreading harmful propaganda.

However, days before his sacking, Gen Tumukunde, who was on March 1, 2018, speaking in Rukungiri during the interment of Mr Mathew Rukikaire's son, Timothy Mark Kainamura Rukikaire, had in a surprise move lavished praise on Mr Museveni's long-term critic and opponent, Col Dr Kizza Besigye, as a "development-oriented and peace-loving Ugandan, who never misused his power when he served in government."

Tumukunde's wish at the time was that Dr Besigye, who he described as "a very powerful man", could be "friends with (another) powerful man". It was at the time thought that Tumukunde was trying to help mend fences between Mr Museveni and Dr Besigye.

Could the recent withdrawal of his armed guards have forced a change to his wish list or is this yet just another prank aimed at forcing Museveni to make some concessions in the form of a job and other perks? If not, how decent a fight can he put up?

"As a politician he (Tumukunde) has won elections before. Can Museveni fall? Yes. How badly can he fall? I do not know, but I know that Mr Museveni is very vulnerable right now and that Gen Tumukunde can facilitate his fall," says Rwomushana.

The next few days and months shall tell.

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