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
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.
October 7, 1958
Home area: Ntungamo district
Education: Mbarara Junior School, Kitunga
Primary School, Kitunga High School, Makerere College, Makerere
University, BA (Political Science)
Director of Military Intelligence (1987), Chief Political
Officer (1989), Army Commander (1989-1998).
Army MP (1996-2001), East African MP (2001-present). In charge
of mobilisation for Forum for Democracy (FDC)- 2004 to present.
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
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.
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
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  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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.