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From MK Movement to the Patriotic League

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Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba

What next for Gen. Muhoozi 2026?

COVER STORY | THE INDEPENDENT | The era of the MK Movement; the mass of amorphous activities proclaiming President Yoweri Museveni’s son, Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba aka MK to be the deserving successor to his father appears to have ended.

At an event in the Kampala suburb of Naguru on Feb.07, an assorted group of self-proclaimed MK supporters launched an entity called the Patriotic League of Uganda (PLU), which they said is the successor to the defunct MK Movement.

Supporters of Gen. Muhoozi have for about two years been organising events across to the country to pledge allegiance to his participation in the 2026 presidential.

In an odd coincidence, on the same day that the Patriotic League was launched to replace the MK Movement, a re-appointed Electoral Commission was being inaugurated in a sign that the run-up to the 2026 general elections was heating up. But at the low key event (compared to other MK Movement events) in Naguru where the Patriotic League was launched, it remained unclear whether Gen. Muhoozi would be on the presidential elections ballot in 2026.

Gen. Muhoozi was not at the event and was reported to be out of the country. And several MK Movement stalwarts who The Independent spoke to said they were, matter of fact, unaware of the developments around the new Patriotic League, its launch or its agenda.

Known top leaders of the MK Movement include erstwhile events promoter, Balaam Barugahara Ateenyi, brother to Museveni; Michael Nuwagira Kaguta aka Toyota, The Independent Publications Ltd MD, Andrew Mwenda, and MPs David Kabanda (Kasambya), Lilian Aber (Kitgum district) and Michael Mawanda (Igara East). Only the MPs were at the event. Ministers Frank Tumwebaze and Godfrey Kabyanga attended the event.

The push and pull over Museveni or Muhoozi for 2026 within the ruling NRM party comes at a time when President Museveni and the NRM appear invincible after capturing all the traditional opposition parties including the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) of Jimmy Akena, the Democratic Party (DP) of Norbert Mao, and the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) of Patrick Oboi Amuriat.

Only the National Unity Platform (NUP) of Robert Sentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine appears to be standing in opposition. But it is largely a central region party that Museveni and the NRM can easily overwhelm in a national election if all factors remain as they are today.

With the relative strength of Museveni and the NRM in a face-to-face tussle with any external opposition settled, all attention has shifted to the internal State House power games. There is a sense that people close to President Museveni at State House have a sense that the country is on the verge of some major development.

President Museveni, although quite athletic, will be 82 years old at the next election in 2026 and staunch MK Movement supporter Balaam Byarugahara is famous for coining the moniker `standby generator’ in reference to 50-year old Gen. Muhoozi’s stepping in, incase President Museveni runs out of gas.

Despite Museveni’s public discouragement of his ambitions, Gen. Muhoozi has consistently teased his supporters with remarks chiding the ruling party of his father and his acolytes.

“I certainly do not believe in NRM,” he has been quoted saying, “Whatever NRM has become does not certainly represent the people of Uganda.”

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“The only way I can re-pay my great mother is by being President of Uganda! And I shall definitely do it,” he once declared.

Gen. Muhoozi has until now not been favoured by the public to replace his father. In a survey published by Research World International; a local polling agency, only 10% respondents named him when asked: “If President Museveni was to retire, which NRM leader would be best to replace him as a chairman and leader of NRM?” This was among NRM supporters. Then-Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga and Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda were ahead of him at 15% and 11% respectively.Nationally, among both NRM and Non-NRM supporters, Gen. Muhoozi scored a miserly 1%.

Still he was ahead of other known names like Amama Mbabazi and Janet Museveni. When asked: “What if the presidential election were to be held tomorrow, who would you vote for?” many others were ahead of Muhoozi including, of course President Museveni, Kizza Besigye, Mugisha Muntu, Jimmy Akena, Norbert Mao, and Rebecca Kadaga. But that was in 2019; two years to the 2021 presidential election and before the emergency of Bobi Wine.

Now, two years to the 2026 presidential elections, it is not clear how Gen. Muhoozi would score. What if he scores ahead of his father, Gen. Museveni?

The end result of the back and forth between the father and son which has thrown some supporters of the ruling party into camps is clear: Gen. Muhoozi has cemented his place as the leading likely successor of his father. It is however not clear how the newly formed Patriotic League advances his ambitions. Gen Muhoozi called it a “milestone” when he tweeted about the formation of the Patriotic League.

“The journey has just started,” he posted in Kiswahili on X (formerly Twitter). “I want to thank my big brother @Mukulaa for officiating at the Patriotic League of Uganda’s Proclamation Ceremony today. He spoke very well. I want to thank our millions of supporters and well-wishers for helping us to reach this milestone. Uganda will be great! Safari imeanza tu!”

Other reports indicated that listed along Gen. Muhoozi as promoters of the Patriotic League are MPs Kabanda, Mawanda, Lillian Aber, Michael Katungi, Balaam Barugahara, Andrew Mwenda, and Frank Gashumba.

But Museveni has previously poured cold-water on Muhoozi’s ambition. In fact, many leading members of the NRM have publicly snubbed Muhoozi and endorsed Museveni for 2026. Some are operating under the banner of “Mzee Tova Ku Main” meaning he should not give-up.

Museveni has also told them not to worry about Muhoozi’s ambition and assured them he is personally handling the issue of Gen. Muhoozi.

While addressing members of the NRM Caucus in Parliament during a meeting at the National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi (NALI) in May 2023 Museveni said young people were ditching the old ruling NRM party in favour of the MK Movement because of frustration with weaknesses within the ruling NRM.

“Because of the weaknesses of our systems, some of the frustrated youth go to that group thinking that there was hope,” he said.

Museveni said Gen. Muhoozi does not, matter of fact, know the intentions of some of the people he called “professed loyalists” of Muhoozi. He said some of them were pursuing “their own interests”.

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“Some are looking for this, some are looking for that. But me, what I did, I called them and I talked with them …,” he said, “What I explained to Muhoozi was causing unprincipled contradictions among the people. It is not a good thing. You should only fight the one who is against your ideology, not anybody within your ideology.”

Museveni’s move?

Could the morphing of the MK Movement into the Patriotic League be a sign of Museveni stamping himself firmly in the driver’s seat?

When President Museveni in May 2023 met with the leaders of the MK Movement, in the presence of Gen. Muhoozi, at State House Entebbe, he thanked them for their efforts.

Significantly, he mentioned mobilising Ugandans against corruption, promoting service delivery, and unity and cohesion of the country.

Significantly, when the launchers of the Patriotic League of Uganda explained their purpose in a brief statement, they mirrored President Museveni’s language almost exactly.

They said over the past 17 months, the MK Movement has remained engaged and active in “mobilising Ugandans towards the goal of national unity, peace and stability”.

They said, it is “the duty to be patriotic and loyal to Uganda and to promote its wellbeing”.

Mike Mukula at the launch of the Patriotic League of Uganda (PLU)

They said, the aim of the Patriotic League of Uganda is to work towards reviving in Ugandans a spirit of good citizenship, national pride, national service, protection of vulnerable persons, combating corruption and wastage of public resources, and protection of the environment.

The statement said: “We undertake that the Patriotic League of Uganda will contribute, in a civil capacity, towards mobilising Ugandans to fulfil their civic duties”.

Several commentators have pointed at the emphasis, in the statement, on the words “civil capacity” and “civic duties”.

MP Michael Mawanda, a member of the MK Movement Central Executive Committee, formally announced the transition to the Patriotic League. He said the new body will be non-partisan, non-denominational, and non-sectarian.

“Our commitment is to fostering a united and prosperous Uganda,” he said.

It has also been pointed that the words “civil duties” are in contrast to political responsibilities and ambitions that framed the aims of the MK Movement. In the statement, there was no mention of the 2026 election or succession to Museveni which is what the MK Movement was about.

Even the presence of NRM stalwart Mike Mukula; the National Vice Chairman NRM Eastern who is a staunch pro-Museveni for 2026 supporter, as the chief guest at the event was significant. And he spoke firmly in favour of President Museveni.

“NRM has accomplished much under Yoweri Kaguta’s leadership,” he said.

He added that Uganda will manage the transition from Museveni smoothly. He cited transitions of power in other nations such as Cuba, North Korea, and Tanzania.

Mukula said the decision of who will succeed Museveni will be made by the NRM Central Executive Committee (CEC) which he called the “High Command”.

Using imagery from the election of the leader of the Catholic Church by the papal conclave of cardinals, Mukula referred to the CEC, on which he is a member, as the “conclave”.

“The conclave decides who will move this country,” he said, “Leave that job to us.”

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He said the transition from Museveni in inevitable.

“There shall come a day when we shall have smoke out of the conclave,” he said, still sticking with the imagery of the Pope’s election which is signaled by the sight of white smoke.

“A revolution without succession is no revolution,” he said.

Muhoozi’s challenge

Despite Gen. Muhoozi path to succeeding his father appearing almost set, it is not a straight path. He faces several hurdles mainly relating to how he can transition from the military into the foray of elective politics. This is mainly because this is not the era of military putsches.

His father succeeded in transitioning from a bush army commander to becoming a pseudo civilian president. Gen. Muhoozi’s mother, First lady Janet, also successfully contested in a parliamentary election and won before going on to hold several ministerial positions in her husband’s government. She is now 77 years old and slowing down and could easily be skipped in any new cabinet line-up. Gen. Muhoozi’s uncle, Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh caused a stir when he was appointed minister in his elder brother’s government. Based on this line-up, it appears Gen. Muhoozi is next. He has already tactfully garnered national face recognition value, which is an important asset in politics. But the question is what path he will take next. Will he be appointed into cabinet? Will he run for a parliamentary seat or is that too low?

Gen. Muhoozi’s path becomes murkier if he seeks to directly succeed his father as president. Part of the reason is that such succession often occurs when the father dies. It happened with President Mahamat Idriss Deby of Chad, an army commander who took power after the death of his father; long serving Idriss Derby. It also happened to former DR Congo President Joseph Kabila, another army commander who took power when his father, Laurent Kabila was assassinated.

Other sons of African presidents who have succeeded their fathers have had to tussle it out in elections. It happened in neigbouring Kenya where former President Uhuru Kenyatta first served in the government of President Daniel arap Moi who succeeded his father Jommo Kenyatta. Uhuru Kenyatta then contested and lost and contested again and won elections. That was years after the death of his famous father.

The same happened with former President Sereste Khama of Botswana. After serving as vice president, he contested elections and won almost 20 years after the death of his famous father, Sir Seretse Khama. A similar scenario played out for former President Navinchandra Ramgoolam of Mauritius who was the son of President Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. A similar case was witnessed in the USA where President George Walker Bush ran for election and won years after his father President George. H. Bush had left office. Those are some of the examples the Gen. Muhoozi, who is described as a superb military strategist, must analyse as he maps his path to destiny.

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