25th August 2005
Museveni manipulates

MUGISHA MUNTU, 47, served President Museveni as Director of Military Intelligence, Chief Political Commissar and Army Commander between 1986 and 1998. He told EDRIS KIGGUNDU why he later fell out with the man he admired so much as a student:-

I joined Museveni in the bush on March 21, 1981.
After the overthrow of Idi Amin, we were students [at Makerere University] and we followed proceedings in the NCC [National Consultative Council] until the time of President [Godfrey] Binaisa. [Then] there was a debate as to whether UNLF [Uganda National Liberation Front] should cease to exist. The majority decided to vote for the continuation of UNLF. Nevertheless, there were some divisions among the various parties and UNLF virtually collapsed; then they moved into preparations for the 1980 elections.

I belonged to no political party though I sympathised with UPM [Uganda Patriotic Movement]. I was sceptical about the whole electoral process and I could see that we were moving into a chaotic period.

I agreed with those who had made an analysis that without destroying the state apparatus, as it existed then, it was very difficult to have a fresh political beginning. I could see without going through an armed struggle we could not change this. So I started looking for ways of going to the bush.

I joined the National Resistance Army (NRA) because I was convinced by the arguments of Museveni at the time. I joined with Jet Mwebaze (RIP), Kagumire Kage (RIP), Simba (RIP), Kahangwa (RIP), Jero Bwende (RIP), Kamanzi (RIP) Damba (RIP) and Bariyo Barigye (RIP). We were nine.

We found them [NRA] in Matugga about Later, we had Kabalega, Mondlane, Abdel Nasser Mwanga, and Nkrumah.
In the bush I only interacted with the President in meetings, not person to person. I came to attend meetings at a much later date because I started in much lower ranks.

I remember Museveni went away from the bush once; that was in May 1981 and he was back by August. He came back because there were some misunderstandings in the bush. He was there until 1985 when he went out during the negotiations.

Mugisha Muntu
Fact file

Born: October 7, 1958
Home area: Ntungamo district
Education: Mbarara Junior School, Kitunga Primary School, Kitunga High School, Makerere College, Makerere University, BA (Political Science)

Professional career

Director of Military Intelligence (1987), Chief Political Officer (1989), Army Commander (1989-1998).

Political career

Army MP (1996-2001), East African MP (2001-present). In charge of mobilisation for Forum for Democracy (FDC)- 2004 to present.

President Museveni

After 1986

By the time we captured Kampala, I was the director of Military Intelligence until July 1987. Then I went for a military course in the Soviet Union for one year. When I came back, I was appointed the chief political officer of the army until April 1989.

At this point, I had started reporting directly to Museveni. At the beginning there was a lot of flexibility in meetings with the President. That is where we drew our strength. You never had a situation were you would be clamped down upon because of coming up with contrary views to any of the senior members; including the President’s proposals. That created confidence in commanders whether junior or senior. We developed a feeling that we were participating in something that all of us were shaping. This was quite motivating and it made us overcome very many challenges.

Life as army commander

Around May 1989, I was made 5 Division commander in Lira, until around November, when I was made army commander. I was [then] a colonel. My appointment took me by surprise. I got a message at around 5 p.m. I was in my house. I was not expecting it because I was not close to the high positions of command.

As army commander, I did my best to steer the force with the help, of course, of colleagues.
A few times, he [Museveni] tried to influence me [as army commander]. But I would do what I believed was right regardless of the resistance I would meet from the commander in chief or other senior officers. At times we had interference from some officers…senior officers whom I would not like to name. Under my command we persistently had to fight this…Unfortunately, the commander in chief [Museveni] never came to stamp out this [interference] to ensure streamlined command.

From what I hear it has kept on [up to today]. We get commanders who are in places but they still face interference from the sidelines.

In the army, there was also the debate on whether you purge it of officers who are corrupt. At some point, we were all more or less in agreement that we should go slowly because we were involved in a lot of operations. We had to balance. You shake the officers and you bring them in line but you do not purge them. Of course, there was a time in the mid 1990s when the only operations left were in the north; we had junior commanders who had gained experience, and it was possible to start purging. However, I think this issue has not been resolved. I see senior commanders who were out of the army being taken back, which means this debate is not yet resolved. And many officers at the senior level are not necessarily the best role models for the army… a professional army.

In a professional army there is no way you can serve at the highest level of command, you leave…, and then you are reintegrated in the mainstream command. I do not know how they will handle it.

When I was moved out of command [in 1998], I knew I had to move out of the army but I just had to give it time. I was still representing the army in Parliament and in NEC [National Executive Committee].

I could run again to represent the army in parliament…but I thought we had reached time when we had to sort out issues politically. So I needed independence. I sent a message a day before they were going to hold elections of the army. I sent it to the army commander and copied to the commander in chief [Museveni] and division commanders and I thanked them for having put trust in me to represent them in Parliament. I indicated to them that I was no longer interested in going back to Parliament as an army representative and therefore said I am not ready to serve in that capacity any more. This was a personal decision.

Ministerial job

At a time of changing command, I turned down a ministerial post. The same letter that he [Museveni] wrote to me telling me that he had changed command; he also told me that he had offered me a ministerial post. I wrote back thanking him for having given me the opportunity to serve for that long but also informed him I was not ready to take up any other appointment. I just wanted to remain independent and do my own things.

Strength and weaknesses

Museveni had physical courage, not fearful. I remember when we were in Kikandwa during the bush struggle; the enemy came about 2km [away from] our camp. We did not have any guns but Museveni maintained calmness in the camp. Some of us were new recruits so we were nervous.

The major weakness is his style of management. His style of management suited a major period of the struggle. It was suitable in the sense that it makes him a micro manager, especially during the struggle. This was very important to maintain cohesion and…because he had to be a focal point.
Some of us had hoped that he would transform and start exercising leadership by delegation and build teamwork.
We had hoped that the organisation (NRM) would become strong and build structures where all of us, as individuals would now become irrelevant, including him.

That the institutional culture would outlive us and those who would come in would also keep transforming. Unfortunately, that never came to be.

This is why we are facing the crisis we are in now. Museveni became stuck at some point. He failed to transform himself from micro managing so that he oversees everything in foreign affairs, defence, finance and allover and his failure to delegate with trust.

If you do not delegate and keep on the shoulders of the person you delegated to, it creates lack of confidence to those to whom you have delegated.

I hope now, with the focus on professionalising the army, this practice would be stamped out because in a professional army, they follow the chain of command. Nobody comes from outside the chain of command and starts interfering with activities of the army.

Secondly, while Museveni had physical courage, the saddest thing I can say now is he lacks moral courage. Moral courage is when a person is able to check him or herself, see the weaknesses he or she has, and confront them. He has failed in that. And really you can see when you look at many things he was saying. First in 1998 he said when he becomes 55 he will leave power. He is hiding his head in the sand like an ostrich.


The first disagreement I had with Museveni was in mid 1990s… it came out in the open. It was about state interference in LCV elections in Ntungamo where I come from. It put me in a very complicated situation because I was an army commander at the same time.

But I was asking myself: yes I am in command and basically I am soldier but if you see what we have been fighting for getting derailed… if I don’t come out and point it out then what would be the purpose? I knew that it was happening in other areas but this was not my main concern. I could see that this was the beginning of laxity or that these signs that we were backtracking from the objectives we had set out to fight for.

I could see the hand of the state in it.
I raised it in a meeting in Ntungamo. It was even covered in the press. I warned President Museveni and I told him: Mr. President, if this style continues, I can see the beginnings of a split in the organisation and it was reported in the media. Museveni told me I was in the army and should not get ‘excited’ about political issues.

For me I joined the army not as a career officer but a freedom fighter. If we digress from the main objectives why we were fighting, to me the army becomes secondary. The issue becomes what have we been struggling for? If we get off track, the issue is that we must get back on track.

During the elections of 2001, I maintained more or less a neutral position but I had made my disagreements known to the senior members in one meeting.

Then two or three days to the elections [2001] the campaign team of President Museveni made announcements on Radio Simba where they mentioned my name… that I was urging people to go and elect President Museveni.

Someone called and informed me that he had heard an announcement on radio where I was urging people to vote for Museveni. I called the radio station and I gave them my own announcement countering this pronouncement; saying I disassociated myself from the announcement.

I said I am a serving officer of the UPDF and I stand by the Constitution. Fortunately they also run my announcement and I left them at that. Many officers came to me and I explained to them why I had taken that decision.

But even before this, in the NEC meeting of 2000, I had made my disagreements known. Because I knew they were trying to make President Museveni the sole Movement candidate for 2001. I opposed that and said we have been operating on individual merit all these years… people have sacrificed their lives because of that principle; I do not see how you can come and turn 360 degrees here.

Of course we were in the minority, as usual. The majority supported the wrong position and we continued… until 2003 [NEC meeting].

I had hoped that realising that many mistakes were made in 2000, they would backtrack. I thought they were shocked because Museveni always thought the opposition was outside [the Movement]. He never thought that there could be opposition from within.

So my reading of the situation is that he became destabilised because of seeing internal opposition emerge; he panicked.
I thought that if after elections he would backtrack, the senior people [in the Movement] would reorganise and say ‘no’. I waited for such signals, nothing happened. It seemed they never even acknowledged that mistakes were made and I knew that we were in a grave situation as an organisation and a country.


The problem with Museveni is deception and manipulation. We used to have internal democratic methods of work in our organization; that is what created our strength. That is what created confidence and trust within [NRM]. This was abandoned; deception and manipulation were brought on board as the main methods of work. And the moment you use deception and manipulation, you undermine cohesion and you create weakness and undermine confidence and you break down trust. That is exactly what has happened.

Like in 2003 [NEC meeting], we were not kids. We were not told [of the plan to lobby for lifting term limits] but we knew that some senior officers had gone to the districts to tell them to come and support the third term.

So you can manipulate people and deceive them for a while, but over time it gets exposed. Some of us thought that President Museveni, after the sacrifices he has made, after the good things he has done, even with the mistakes he has made; that if he left at this point in time, that he would set a precedent: for the first time there would be a smooth transition from one president to another.

But he seems to have missed the point. That is what we were trying to tell him in Kyankwanzi because we brought up the issue of his legacy and also brought up the issue of the political culture that needs to be established in the country, of peaceful transition and succession. He seems to think that there are still some missions for him to accomplish.

Well, you see while he was tolerant to views in debates, there was a side of him that we had never known. Because for the longest time he held the position unchallenged. Now it is at a point when he was directly challenged and a credible challenge, that we saw a side of him we had never seen… in 2001 by Kizza Besigye. That possibly shows his commitment to democracy is not deep in his heart. Maybe all along he has been talking about democracy in theory and when it comes to practice, he has backtracked.

This causes deep thought for us who have worked with him. Whether he has always been like that or whether along the way he became compromised for whatever reason. The public keeps asking us that question. But all the signals show he wants to go for a third term.

Army MPs

It was necessary to introduce army MPs in Parliament; only that we thought it was going to be transitional. At least for me, when we come to a time when we open up space, there will even be no debate as to whether the army remains in Parliament or not. I am surprised that some of our colleagues have even generated this debate. Tanzania had army officers in Parliament but the moment they decided to open up and start the party system, automatically the army moved out of politics.

I even made a presentation to the parliamentary committee on Defence and Internal Affairs last year. Hon. Simon Mayende [now minister for Higher Education] was chairing the committee. I also made a presentation that those who were senior officers by 1986 should not remain in army structures.
Parliament disagreed.

Now even if I am out of the army and a civilian, I am by that law supposed to be a member of the Army Council by the virtue of the fact that I was a senior army officer in 1986. On one side, they are saying they want to professionalise the army…but we no longer know whether Museveni means it or it is just for purposes of deception and manipulation.
He is in a very complicated situation.

We have alerted him, we have cautioned him, we have advised him but he seems to walk onto a situation that unfortunately is going to blow apart whatever he stood for.

Highest moments

No particular moment with Museveni but I think the long stretch of the struggle… the successes we were making and the consistency that he had during the struggle for liberation.

Lowest moment

Again no particular moment but the many incidents at which he has backtracked from what he stood for or what he said he stood for. Because the moment you trust a leader, you want to maintain that trust and it is quite disappointing when you see a leader for whatever reason break his or her promise.

He [Museveni] has been very successful in a number of things but he has also failed on fundamental issues like being behind the scheme to lift term limits. This undermines everything else because in leadership, it is the ending that matters a lot. Look at the Soviet Union, it sent the first person into space. They were a super power. In that sense they were a success. Of course they had some weaknesses and they collapsed. Anybody who makes judgment about them makes judgment when they collapsed.

Look at President Moi, he made many mistakes both political and economic but Kenyans have more or less forgiven him because of the way he handled the transition.
I have no problem with Museveni as a person.

I walked out of the Movement and never walked into NRM [National Resistance Movement]. I could have gone into NRM because nobody stopped me but again I could see that the country is moving in the wrong direction. I have had opportunity to talk to senior members of NRM, I have talked to President Museveni himself and I could see they were not listening. Basically because they think they are in control of power.

That is the biggest error they are making. They think because you have the security apparatus in your hands... That because you have state resources under your control, you can do whatever you can. It doesn’t happen that way. If you do wrong and you are not ready to rectify your ways, you keep on generating contradictions and the more contradictions keep growing, you keep being weakened.

Advice for Museveni

If I were to meet Museveni today, I would tell him Mr. President it is not yet too late, pull back. Look at what it would mean for the country if you managed this transition smoothly. For him to say that he must continue I don’t think he is serving his legacy well. It is most likely to go up in smoke.

He is going to create a lot of uncertainty and there are possibilities of unforeseen problems. My reading of his mindset is that if he goes ahead to run [in March 2006], he would want to win at any cost. This is where the question of whether he has ever been democratic or whether all along he was fighting for power, comes in.