The former spy chief Brig Henry Tumukunde has been freed by the UPDF General Court Martial, but remains trapped in uncertainty, writes Emma Mutaizibwa
Brig Henry Tumukunde on Thursday emerged from the shackles of bondage, walking to partial freedom after nine years of trial. On Thursday the General Court Martial (GCM) chairman, Fred Tolit, brought the nine-year-old soap opera which began in 2005 to a dramatic end when he sentenced Tumukunde to a severe reprimand.
Though his release came with emotive outpouring amongst his fervent supporters, many believe that until he is finally retired from the army, the court pronouncement was a pyrrhic victory.
Just before he was arrested and forced to resign his army seat in Parliament, Tumukunde had written to the UPDF Commissions Board asking to be retired. However, sources claim that the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Gen Aronda Nyakairima told the Brigadier that he could not be discharged from the army until court delivered its verdict on the charges he was facing.
According to sources within his family, “Immediately after the court verdict Tumukunde’s key interest is to seek his release from the army.” Col Felix Kulayigye who is the acting spokesperson of the army told The Observer on Saturday that if Tumukunde wanted to retire, “he certainly has to make a fresh application with the UPDF Commissions Board.”
However Kulayigye wondered: “Supposing he has changed his mind and wants to continue serving.”
With hindsight, a number of senior army officers have fallen out with the establishment but after rehabilitation have returned to the fold. Among them is the coordinator of Intelligence Services Gen David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza who at the peak of his quarrel with his masters questioned the commitment of the army to fight the LRA insurgency in northern Uganda.
In 1997, court rejected his application to retire from the army, leaving him quite isolated and dejected at his place of abode in Kyengera near Kampala. Many years after his tribulations, Tinyefuza, like a contrite prodigal son, made a public apology to the president during a wedding of his daughter in Nyabushozi, Kiruhura district.
“Mzee [Museveni], forgive me because I got advice from some people. It was as if I was possessed because I received advice from some circles but I later woke up to my senses and made a turnaround. I am prepared to work with you even more,” he said in 2004.
It’s not clear yet whether Tumukunde will seek to tow a similar path and reconcile with his boss. There are still many options for the Commander-in-Chief at hand. If Tumukunde is repentant, he could be re-deployed and promoted but if he chooses to remain stubborn, he could spend the rest of his career un-deployed and muzzled to speak out under the unwritten credo of containment.
Since the verdict was delivered last week, the former intelligence supremo has preferred to remain conspicuously silent. According to sources, Tumukunde reportedly plans to return to the bully pulpit, if he is released from the army but there are fears that if he is granted his wishes, he could offer to support the candidacy of Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu in 2016. Muntu will have to beat off stiff competition, if he is to be chosen as the FDC flag-bearer.
Sources told The Observer that Tumukunde has been close to his best-man Muntu since their university and Luweero bush days. When he was army commander, Muntu reportedly gave Tumukunde a free reign when he was the Chief of Personnel and Administration (CPA) until the president demanded his transfer.
It’s not the first time the charismatic officer is linked to politics. Shortly before he was arrested, Tumukunde was linked to the Progressive Alliance Party (PAP) headed by the former External Security Organisation (ESO) spy chief David Pulkol.
PAP has since then disintegrated with Pulkol fleeing to another party in limbo, UPC. There were also reports that Tumukunde attempted to join FDC. The Monitor reported that first he was handicapped by the president’s refusal to retire him from the army. Secondly, the results-oriented ex-spy is said to have assessed the FDC as “strong on the issues and having the moral high ground but too elitist, locked up in Kampala and weak in on-the-ground mobilization.
The third factor was that Tumukunde knew he would not be welcomed by many FDC players with open arms, given his ruthless tactics against the party’s chairman, Col Besigye, during the 2001 elections.
Origins of trouble
In 2000, Museveni told the National Conference of the NRM at the Nile Conference Centre: “I am standing for this last term to achieve two important things: to professionalise the army and to put in place a process of leadership succession in the Movement.”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 among those who spoke against the lifting of term limits at the NRM retreat in Kyankwanzi. It was the beginning of his downfall. The president reportedly feared that Tumukunde would either stand or back another candidate in 2006.
Sources also reveal that it was not the first time the president was suspicious of Tumukunde. Museveni had reportedly received several dossiers on him. One said that when he was the CPA, Tumukunde had attempted to create an elite force within the army to use as a springboard for future political ambitions. And so, a source said, Museveni ordered Tumukunde out of office
It was also not the first time Tumukunde contested decisions of his superiors. In 1988, Tumukunde, a military attaché in London, refused to receive his superior Tinyefuza who was then the minister of state for Defence at Heathrow airport. It is unclear yet why he shunned the meeting but it could have been the usual undercurrents within the army establishment.
He was immediately replaced and sent to the National Defence College (NDC) in Nigeria in 1989, where he emerged the best student. He returned in 1991 but was put on Ratebe (un-deployed) until he complained to the president. Tumukunde was appointed as the director of Military Planning, a job he also took up grudgingly.
As a result of his frustration, Tumukunde decided to run for the Constituent Assembly (CA) seat in Rubabo county, Rukungiri district. The president reportedly asked him to bow out but he refused. Sources believe, the president then decided to sponsor his two rivals, current Makerere University chancellor Prof Mondo Kagonyera and ambassador Gabriel Kangwagye against him.
The president also sent the NRM vice chairperson Al Hajji Moses Kigongo to de-campaign him. But he swept the polls by a landslide, grabbing 70 per cent of the vote. In 1996, Tumukunde wanted to retain his seat but the president appointed him as the Chief of Personnel and Administration (CPA) and returned him to Parliament as an army representative.
While in the Sixth Parliament, he was accused of using unclassified accounts from intelligence, operations to feather his nest. But Tumukunde gave a personal statement about the land, houses, farms and cattle worth over Shs 700 million ($393,000). He attached a summary of his salary earnings for the period since 1986 to that date to back his evidence.
There was a radical shift in the army as Tumukunde trailed the blaze as CPA. Amongst the new reforms, Tumukunde began promotional exams (PROMEX) for any army officer who wanted a higher rank. He also favoured young educated officers for the coveted military posts.
In turn, his rivals accused him of creating an elite network within the army he could use as a platform for his future political ambitions. This rubbed some of the less learned old guard the wrong way. Amongst the officers who were catapulted to big roles was Major Sabiiti Mutengesa, who was appointed the Director of Records in the UPDF. He was later arrested and hounded out by the late army commander, Maj Gen James Kazini. Today he lives in United Kingdom.
While still in the office of CPA, some army officers felt that Tumukunde had been given a free reign by then army commander Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, who was his close friend and best man.
Tumukunde was then transferred and appointed to head the Directorate of Military Intelligence, replacing Brig Fred Tolit, the current chairman of the General Court Martial (GCM). The current Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Gen Aronda Nyakairima deputized Tolit.
However, he told Gen Salim Saleh that he felt comfortable heading a chieftaincy. Saleh telephoned the president and his wish was granted. The Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) then became the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI). Tumukunde implored the president to appoint Noble Mayombo, an articulate young officer, as his deputy.
He was instrumental in nipping a litany of Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) urban attacks in the bud.
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 appointed to head the 4th Division in Gulu at the peak of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency. His rival Mayombo who was the CMI boss wrote a confidential report to the president, advising the removal of Tumukunde from his command of the northern-based 4th Division because he had spent most of his time in Kampala, away from his station, which was sensitive in the execution of the war against Joseph Kony and his acolytes.
However, some sources in the army believe he played an important role in bridging the communication gap between the UPDF and LRA. He reportedly gave satellite phones to LRA leaders to facilitate a peace initiative.
Sources within the army claim that at this time, Tumukunde was touted amongst those to be considered for the position of army commander. But the influential Saleh preferred his former Aide de Camp (ADC) James Kazini.
Tumukunde was again transferred to head the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), Uganda’s civil intelligence body. But he spent most of the time fighting turf-wars with his colleagues in other security agencies. He was caught in the cross-hairs of seething intrigues and nitpicking that had reached fever-pitch.
Tumukunde was at loggerheads with his counterpart in CMI, Mayombo, as well as his deputies in ISO, Elly Kayanja and Dr Amos Mukumbi. He also did not work well with then army commander Kazini.
It was also a time when Tumukunde was outspoken against the lifting of presidential term limits. He was eventually sacked and replaced by Brig Elly Kayanja. Initially it was reported that Tumukunde had refused to hand over the office, which he flatly denies today.
The president, who was out of the country, directed then Prime Minister Prof Apolo Nsibambi and then Internal Affairs Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda to oversee the removal of Tumukunde from office.
Amongst the other officers who witnessed his dramatic exit were Gen Elly Tumwine and Gen Sejusa, who reportedly turned up with a contingent of troops to enforce Museveni’s orders.
Months earlier, both Monitor and New Vision newspapers had published a letter from the Commander-in-Chief, removing him from office. The State House “Special Operations Unit” was reportedly directed to enforce his physical exit.
But when it was published, Tumukunde reportedly used his connections within the establishment to stay in office a little longer before he was finally kicked out. For now the future is littered with uncertainty as Tumukunde awaits yet another verdict. Will he be set free from the army or will he stay on under the policy of containment which could deliver his political epitaph?