In a sign of the seriousness with which he is approaching the 2016 election, President Museveni has deployed two of his smoothest and roughest operators, The Observer can reveal.
Over the years, Brig Henry Tumukunde and Maj Roland Kakooza Mutale had receded into political oblivion. But the two military men, key players in Museveni’s violence-plagued re-election in 2001, are back.
Insider sources say that the presidential candidacy of former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi galvanized the duo’s re-entry into the political fray. Mbabazi, now a former political ally of Museveni, fell out with the ruling establishment when his political ambitions spilled into public view.
We have been told that while Mutale’s and Tumukunde’s major role is to ensure Museveni is re-elected in 2016, they are partly motivated to go after Mbabazi because both reportedly have bones to pick with him. Tumukunde, sources said, partly blames his past incarceration on the Kinkiizi West MP, while Mutale blames Mbabazi for financially sabotaging his economic programme called Multi Crop Agricultural Production System (MAPS).
Tumukunde briefly fell out with the establishment in May 2005, after he made controversial statements during a radio talk show. He was stripped of his army parliamentary seat, incarcerated at the senior officers’ mess in Kololo, and charged in the general court martial with spreading harmful propaganda.
In April 2013, after eight years on trial, the brigadier was sentenced to “severe reprimand” by the army court, literally setting him free. Since then, he has been doing private business.
Mutale, best remembered in 2001 as head of Kalangala Action Plan (KAP), a paramilitary group that whipped the electorate into supporting NRM, had gone quiet all these years.
Although he occasionally popped up at public functions, he had relocated to his Luweero-based farm, where he does some farming. The looming return of Mutale’s cadres, the activities of Brig Tumukunde and the ongoing training of crime preventers by the police have triggered public and opposition politicians’ fears that the 2016 elections could be chaotic and violent.
DIFFERENT ROLES, DIFFERENT STROKES
With elections just months away, Tumukunde and Mutale are back with a bang, albeit with different styles. Insider sources within the NRM told us that smooth-operating Tumukunde will be using “soft-power”, while Mutale will employ the “hard power” that terrified voters in 2001.
On Wednesday, Mutale’s personal assistant, a one Kyeswa, said his boss would not be granting any more media interviews because he had been portrayed negatively by other news reports. Kyeswa was referring to a report in The East African newspaper of August 17-23, which said that a group of 600 youths were undergoing training at Mutale’s Luweero farm.
The regional paper quoted Mutale as saying that the cadres would neutralize the hostile environment that has been resurrected by President Museveni’s political opponents, notably Mbabazi. Kyeswa, saying he was speaking on Mutale’s behalf, told The Observer that the training had been misunderstood.
“The NRM is torn into two and what these cadres will do is to harmonize both sides,” Kyeswa said, without explaining what specific tasks the cadres will do.
Yesterday, during the passing out of 250 youths at his farm, Mutale said they were ready to “fight” Museveni’s opponents.
“The last time we had a colonel but now we have generals and Amama Mbabazi. We are going to do all we can to weaken them,” Mutale said.
He added that the cadres have been equipped with tactics to drum up support for Museveni, not to beat up opponents.
“[These cadres] are not kibooko squad. How can we beat people kibooko yet we want them to vote for our candidate?” Mutale queried.
Ronald Kibuule, the minister of state for Water, presided over the function. Sources have told us that when Mutale is not at his farm, the major operates from a building along Mawanda road, near Kalerwe, opposite the Umeme substation.
That is where his yellow bus is constantly parked. In 2001, this bus and matching band were a paragon of state-ignored terror against voters.
For his part, Tumukunde is the smooth operator. Sources said he operates from a house on Plot 38, Elizabeth Close, Kololo, but sometimes he camps at a hotel along John Babiiha (formerly Acacia) avenue. At the Kololo house, according to previous visitors, hordes of people keep in the compound waiting to meet the brigadier.
Sources told us that it can take days to have a one-on-one meeting with Tumukunde, given his busy schedule. Most of people seeking to see him are youths claiming to be NRM mobilisers. Others claim to be opposition activists seeking to switch sides. Virtually all of them, sources said, want money. In many cases, they get it.
It was not immediately clear under whose command Tumukunde, a serving army officer, is operating. Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, the army spokesperson, told The Observer yesterday that he was not aware of Tumukunde’s partisan activities.
“I have not seen him at any public rally. What I know is that all our officers know their limits as far as involvement in partisan politics is concerned,” Ankunda said.
Gen Katumba Wamala the chief of defence forces, recently warned serving army officers not to involve themselves in politics. Sources told us that Tumukunde, who operates covertly, is working to win over youths, and other people perceived to be supporting Mbabazi, to back Museveni. Among the targeted groups has been the
NRM Poor Youth, which has been outspoken in its support for Mbabazi. So far, Tumukunde has registered some success. This week, about 10 members of the group, including general secretary Joel Denis Kato, defected to the NRM mainfold.
They held a chaotic press conference at Silver Springs hotel, Bugolobi, on Wednesday, where they formally announced their allegiance to the NRM sole candidate, President Museveni. Sources told us that Kato and group signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to mobilise support for Museveni. The youths had also been promised financial facilitation for their activities, sources said.
Other NRM Poor Youth ‘defectors’ include Mutumba Onesmus, Jjengo Twaha, Semakula Eric and Jackson Ssekyanzi. Kato told The Observer yesterday that he had defected because Mbabazi had chosen to leave NRM and stand as an independent.
“We have always said that we shall support Mbabazi as long as he stays in the NRM but the moment he changed, we also changed,” Kato said.
He denied that he had been given any financial incentive to switch sides insisting that he did so out of principle. On July 21 when Vincent Kaggwa, the spokesperson for the poor youths, narrated his ordeal while in police captivity to The Observer, Kato was seated beside him. Kaggwa said yesterday that he, too, had been approached, with promises of financial reward. He said he declined to switch sides.
“They told me that they will give me Shs 20 million and more if I denounced Mbabazi. But I refused,” Kaggwa said.
Ellady Muyambi, a member of Team Mbabazi’s publicity committee, said yesterday that many of their supporters had been lured by Tumukunde with promises of cash.
“He gives them money and tells them that Mbabazi is a bad leader,” Muyambi said.
He said they had encouraged some of their supporters to get the money but mobilise, quietly, for Mbabazi. Efforts to talk to Tumukunde were futile as he did not answer our repeated calls.