The trial of former intelligence chief Brig Henry Tumukunde has yet to produce a single conviction.
But one looms large now that Tumukunde has refused to fight the charge of spreading harmful propaganda, perhaps the biggest threat to his freedom yet. The Observer has talked to several experts and insiders, who have offered explanations and advice on the options available for the brigadier ahead of the General Court Martial ruling anytime soon.
Brig Tukumunde faces tough choices to regain his freedom. Last week, he angrily told court that he would not defend himself against charges of spreading harmful propaganda. This opened him up for conviction. The state closes its arguments on January 24 and thereafter, court will announce the judgment day.
According to section 137 of the UPDF Act, the charge of spreading harmful propaganda carries a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment. Before his fall from grace, Tumukunde headed two intelligence bodies and was loyal to the appointing authority. But when he spoke openly against the abolition of presidential term limits, he had defied the unwritten credo of his superiors who threw him to the wolves.
According to highly-placed security sources, the fate of Tumukunde hangs in balance. It’s reported that President Yoweri Museveni could forgive Tumukunde if he showed remorse and retired quietly. But if he remains obstinate, he could be sent to jail. However, Tumukunde believes that his attorneys will successfully appeal his sentence in the General Court Martial court of appeal headed by a civilian judge, Elly Turyamubona.
In 2005, while fighting charges of creating ghosts on the army payroll, which were later dropped, Brig Stephen Kashaka, a co-accused, urged Tumukunde to soften his hard-line stance if he wanted all charges against him dropped. But early this month, Tumukunde told the General Court Martial he was tired of attending court and if the powers that be so wished, he should be imprisoned.
“Mr Chairman, when we were last here, I categorically stated that I’ll not defend myself. You insisted that you’ll give me chance to think about it which is two more months now. I’m no longer worried about going to Luzira prison which I think is better than coming to this court anymore,” Tumukunde told the court chairman, Brig Fred Tolit.
In a veiled barb at the President’s son, Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Tumukunde said when his trial began eight years ago, there was an officer who was a lieutenant and had since risen to the rank of Brigadier. Whether to sentence or free Tumukunde, who was incarcerated at the officers’ mess in Kololo, between 2005-2007, has put the military hierarchy in a catch-22 situation.
Tumukunde was, for a long time, part of the President’s inner circle; he is married to a niece of the First Lady Janet Museveni – and yet Museveni, who brooks no dissent, must be seen to prevail.
“He has been in the inner-circle. He knows a lot of secrets and perhaps believes that [as] age is catching up with the old man, he will exit soon and he can reposition himself with a new generation of leaders,” an insider familiar with the case said.
The former head of Political Intelligence at State House, Charles Rwomushana, says Tumukunde can only lose the war for his freedom.
“The UPDF and its political wing the NRM can only have Tumukunde with them or when he is dead. Otherwise, he will be handled under the policy of containment. They would prefer he remains without influence,” Rwomushana said this week.
He added: “He [Tumukunde] wanted me to become a soldier; joining the army was my departure with him. I told him that the institution of the UPDF was not professional. It does not promote talent and bring the best out of a person. It’s a political organ.”
“They don’t believe in people who are straightforward. They believe in liars. He [Tumukunde] is too intelligent and charismatic to be in a military institution which is not professional,” argued Rwomushana, who believes Tumukunde’s treatment is not any different from that of former LRA fighter, Thomas Kwoyelo.
Tumukunde, a former Chief of Military Intelligence (CMI) and Director General of Internal Security Organisation (ISO), was stripped of his parliamentary seat on May 28, 2005 after he made remarks on radio that were deemed to be subversive. But the Supreme court in 2008 ruled that his removal from Parliament had been unlawful.
The Observer has learnt that shortly after the 2001 presidential election, which pitted President Museveni against Reform Agenda’s Col Kizza Besigye, the incumbent handed a special assignment to his then External Security Organisation [ESO] boss, David Pulkol. The task was to study the succession models of the ruling parties in South Africa and Tanzania.
“He travelled to study the models of the ANC and Chama Cha Mapinduzi [CCM]. The President commissioned these studies because he had promised to retire in 2006 and wanted an orderly succession,” a source said.
Many senior leaders, including Tumukunde, deputy premier Eriya Kategaya and other cabinet ministers believed Museveni would keep his promise and retire in 2006. In the then just-concluded elections, Tumukunde had been appointed to head the superstructure of the President’s campaigns.
“He was the head of the special task force for the re-election of the President and Noble Mayombo [then CMI deputy boss], David Pulkol [then ESO boss], [Phillip] Idro [then ISO boss], Onapito [Ekomoloit, former presidential press secretary] and [Charles] Rwomushana all worked under him,” revealed a source.
But towards 2003, there was a political fallout as the President kicked off plans to amend the constitution and run for another term in office in 2006.
“He [Tumukunde] and others were not part of the third term study group yet they had been meant to believe that they were very powerful and were holding power,” revealed the source, arguing that when this group learnt of the President’s schemes, they began to speak out against the lifting of term limits.
Tumukunde was reportedly amongst those who spoke against the lifting of term limits at the NRM retreat in Kyankwanzi. It was the beginning of his downfall. It also coincided with vicious supremacy fights and ugly machinations amongst the triad of intelligence bodies, pitting CMI boss Mayombo, ISO boss Tumukunde, ESO head Pulkol as well as ISO deputy boss Elly Kayanja against one another.
The cloak and dagger espionage games between Rwanda and Uganda had also reached fever-pitch and there was fear that there were a lot of leakages. Eventually the axe had to fall, leading to the sacking of Tumukunde and Pulkol.
Before his arrest in 2005, Tumukunde appeared on CBS and Radio One, where he voiced his disappointment with the way President Museveni was running the country. On CBS’s Palamenti Yammwe programme, hosted by Meddie Nsereko, Tumukunde said: “I want to retire from the army but they are not releasing me.”
He also spoke about the thorny issue of lifting 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.”
Borrowing a Luganda proverb, he retorted, “Gw’owonya eggere y’alikusambya [the foot you save is what kicks you] – but for me it’s grave –gw’owonya eggere y’alikussa [the foot you save is what kills you]. I find it very, very unfair. I was very, very hardworking, I worked so hard but my returns are in negative. Obote was a dictator but he allowed people to argue their political views, practice their ideology and form parties.”
On May 5, this newspaper published an English translation of what Tumukunde had said on CBS, making it, for the first time, available to a larger audience beyond the radio’s listenership. Shortly thereafter, Tumukunde was arrested. He was later charged on the basis of what he said on Radio One.
Tumukunde joined the bush in 1982 shortly after sitting his final exams at Makerere University, alongside his friends Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu and the late Col Sserwanga Lwanga. He was a machine gunner and eventually went on to become one of the senior officers of the NRA rebellion led by President Museveni.
In 1984 during battle with UNLA soldiers, Tumukunde was shot multiple times in his legs. The wounds were so serious that it was thought he would not be able to survive. He was, however, smuggled out of the country to Nairobi and eventually to London where he underwent surgery. Today he walks with a limp.
On capturing power, Tumukunde was promoted to the rank of Major and appointed first secretary and Military Attache at the Ugandan Embassy in the United Kingdom.
Subsequently, Tumukunde was sent on a Command and Staff Course at the renowned Command and Staff College in Nigeria alongside Gen David Sejusa and Gen Salim Saleh from where he emerged as one of the best students. He later returned to Uganda where he became the Army’s Director of Planning.
Tumukunde served in this role for many years and was very instrumental in setting up formal military structures in the National Resistance Army which had until then been operating as a rebel army. In 1994, Uganda held elections for the Constituent Assembly (CA) and Tumukunde sought to represent his home county Rubabo. He defeated his rival, a government minister and a bookish figure, Prof Mondo Kagonyera.
With the adoption of the Constitution, Uganda held elections and Tumukunde subsequently became a Member of Parliament, representing the Army as a special interest group. He went on to serve as an MP until 2005. He was also promoted to the rank of Lt Colonel and appointed Chief of Personnel and Administration.
In 1998, Tumukunde was promoted to the rank of Colonel and appointed Chief of Military Intelligence and Security. At the helm of CMI, Tumukunde thwarted plans by the Al-Qeada to bomb the American embassy in Kampala after the deadly simultaneous attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
Tumukunde was then promoted to Brigadier and transferred to command the UPDF Fourth Division based in Gulu at the peak of the LRA rebellion. He made significant headway in diminishing the LRA threat. Tumukunde was then appointed Director General of ISO, Uganda’s civil intelligence body, before he was sacked.
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