By Joshua Kato
When you mention anything to do with soldiering, Maj. Muhoozi Kainerugabaâ€™s face lights up like the bright morning sun.
He is passionate about it. His office, located at Nakasero near State House, is typically military. It has just the basics â€“â€“ a mahogany table, no computers and a selection of pamphlets and books about military strategy.
The portraits on the walls give a picture of where Muhoozi got his inspiration. One of Che Guevera, a revolutionary from Argentina, is on the right, President Yoweri Museveniâ€™s portrait is just behind Muhooziâ€™s seat and a Ugandan flag hangs on the left-hand side of the wall.
On the filing cabinet are photos of Muhoozi in different operations. In one of them, he is overseeing an operation against terrorists who had taken minister Maria Mutagamba hostage.
In another, he is at boot camp at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in the UK. Others show him with UPDF officers.
Ironically, there are also photos of LRA commanders, among them Vincent Otti, on the same filing cabinet.
â€œI think my inspiration came around 1979 after we returned from exile in Tanzania. I saw the Wakombozi, who were in Kampala at that time. Some of them were escorts of Mzee (Museveni). People like the late Fred Rwigyema, Kasasira, another guy called commander Tom. People like that inspired me,â€ he says.
The environment Muhoozi lived in at the time was full of military men. He adored them and spent nights dreaming of being like them.
His dream of being a soldier finally became a reality almost 20 years after he was born. In 1994, he had his first sojourn into soldering.
â€œEntering regular army was 1999. But I had done regular training in 1994 after my Aâ€™ Levels,â€ he says.
Muhoozi put on his official uniform just a few days after marrying Charlotte. He was sent to the UKâ€™s famed Sandhurst for training as an officer cadet. â€œThis was my honeymoon. I spent it in the trenches,â€ he says.
â€œI set foot in the UK on August 14, 1999. â€œWe spent the first three weeks at Bencomsfield. This was like an introduction. There was not much we did,â€ he says.
Muhoozi says they were taught how to turn out at parade, iron their clothes and basic arms usage, especially with a UK rifle called the SA-80.
Muhoozi was then set for his â€œhard-timeâ€ at Sandhurst. He set foot officially at the academy in September. â€œThis is where the real hard life started,â€ he says with a pinch of nostalgia.
He was not in unfamiliar hands either. He was received and registered by Margaret Jones, one of the oldest people at Sandhurst. â€œJones has seen all Ugandan cadets who have attended Sandhurst, including Maj. Karugaba, who was the first cadet to go there in the 60s,â€ he says.
Muhoozi did not want to mention his fatherâ€™s name. He wanted to live his own life. Unfortunately at Sandhurst, cadets are referred to by their fathersâ€™ names.
During registration, their dialogue went like this:
â€œWhat is your name?â€ Jones asked.
â€œMuhoozi Kainerugaba,â€ he answered.
â€œWhat is your fatherâ€™s name?â€ Margaret asked. Muhoozi hesitated to answer. But the lady was stern.
â€œYoweri Museveni,â€ he answered, but without adding â€œPresident of Uganda.â€
The name seemed to ring a bell in the ladyâ€™s ears. â€œIs it the Museveni I have heard about?â€ she asked.
â€œYes,â€ Muhoozi answered.
â€œFrom today, you will be called officer cadet Museveni,â€ the lady said emphatically.
Muhoozi concedes that calling him by his fatherâ€™s name had an effect on his overall performance.
â€œWhen they call you by your fatherâ€™s name, you strive hard not to embarrass him,â€ he says.
Introduction to camp was one of the most difficult periods for Muhoozi and the other cadets. In the next five months, there was so much activity and little sleep. But what Muhoozi remembers clearly is the behaviour of the colour sergeant. â€œWe got British platoon sergeants and they were very tough,â€ he says. â€œThese men wanted everything in tip-top order. The first thing they did was to take us to a notice board that had pictures of what they wanted us to look like. There were photos of the beds, ironed uniforms, the boots, the room in general and everything in the room,â€ he remembers.
In a deep voice, the platoon sergeant said: â€œBy tomorrow I want your rooms like that.â€ This was a tall order for the young cadets because many of them had never taken detail seriously.
Muhoozi went back to his room and did as he had been instructed and thereafter slept. At around 5:00am, the bell rang and the platoon sergeant started his inspection. â€œI ran out and stood by the door of my room. The sergeant started his inspection from the other end and when he reached my room, he made a kind of scream I had never heard before: â€œWhat the hell do you call this Museveni?â€ he shouted.
The sergeant gathered everything in the room and threw it outside. Muhoozi had to re-arrange the room and not only once, but for at least two weeks.
â€œBy the time we finally got the rooms in the way the sergeant wanted, we were already traumatised. Most of us decided to sleep on the floor in order to leave the beds in perfect order,â€ he says.
The purpose of this hard work was to help the cadets pay attention to detail. It was intended to change their mentality about soldering. It was intended to show them that they can break down and are not invincible.
â€œSuch introduction shows you that in the army, team work and detail are key. It instills in you a feeling that barriers and differences of tribe, religion or even country do not matter. What is important is to do what is best for your comrade,â€ Muhoozi emphasises.
For the first five weeks, there was no communication of any kind back home. But in the sixth and seventh weeks, his phone was returned at least once a week for two hours after 10:00pm. â€œThis was of course very little time to call everybody you wanted to call, but what do you do?â€ Muhoozi wonders. He used that little time to talk to his wife back home. There was even no time to talk to his father. After the eighth week, the phones were given to them every weekend.
His father never visited him at all during training. He only visited during the pass-out. Muhoozi thinks that perhaps, his father wanted him to work independently.
â€œThe 11 months I spent at Sandhurst gave me a good foundation as a soldier,â€ he says.
They were engaged in infantry, jungle warfare training and urban operations about the situation in areas like Northern Ireland where the Irish Republican Army operated. They also trained in peace- keeping operations and army leadership.
â€œI remember spending days in a trench during winter in January 2000. The temperature was minus 12 degrees. That exercise was part of what they called â€˜sleep deprivationâ€™. It was so bad that some people started hallucinating!â€ he remembers.
Muhoozi says at that time, he considered the whole hard training as unnecessary suffering.
However, today, when he looks back, he realises the training was worth it.
He returned to Uganda as a second lieutenant in the army. He was deployed in the Presidential Protection Unit (PPU), under the office of the Intelligence Officer (IO) who was at that time Capt. Moses Rwakitarate, now a Lt. Col. at the UPDF Air Force, Entebbe.
â€œMy work was not really intelligence. I was in charge of combat readiness. This involves checking and making sure that soldiers have got what they are supposed to have,â€ he says.
Muhoozi was hurt that some people were saying he was the Operations and Training Officer (OPTO) in the PPU, a very senior position in a battalion. â€œThis was not true. I was just a staff officer in the IOâ€™s office,â€ he says.
Another rumour was that on his return, he was going to be promoted immediately to captain. â€œAll these were fabricated rumours,â€ he says. He had a sojourn in Nigeria, but he was recalled and went to Egypt for both a company and battalion commandersâ€™ course. He has had other training in Uganda. This includes Kalama armoured warfare training wing in Kasenyi and other places.
Muhoozi, however, says he has done all the necessary training and even taken part in numerous key operations to deserve his rank.
â€œI have so far completed seven courses and I am still doing others,â€ he says.
Muhoozi says there are several factors that determine a personâ€™s rank. â€œIn times of peace, it is the courses that one does that determine, while in war times, battlefield service also counts,â€ he explains.
Muhoozi has been in the thick of action against the LRA rebels in northern and eastern Uganda. He thus dispels rumours that he is being favoured.
â€œContrary to what people think, my relationship with mzee does not get me any favours. He always sends me to the most dangerous operations,â€ he says.
Muhoozi also denies rumours that he is in charge of the mechanised brigade of the UPDF.
â€œI am just a battalion commander in the PGB,â€ he emphasises. As a Major, being a battalion commander clearly fits in with his rank and training.
He says the army is one of the best ways through which a person can serve his country. His uncle Gen. Salim Saleh had discouraged him from joining the army.
â€œHe told me I should not follow in his footsteps. He said he had served and sacrificed a lot for Uganda, but people do not appreciate,â€ Muhoozi says.
About why he disobeyed Salehâ€™s advise, Muhoozi says: â€œI thought it was important to serve my country. Without that, what is Uganda if people cannot sacrifice for it?â€
He sees himself still serving in the army in 10 or even more years.
Does he want to aim for the highest office in the land and emulate people like Joseph Kabila of the DRC? He insists he does not want anything to do with politics.
His military icons include: Field Marshal Erwin Romeo, a WW2 German hero, Gen. Moshe Dayan of Israel and Che Guevera an Argentinian revolutionary. The Late Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema and Saleh rank high among his idols because of their military skills.
But overall, it is Gen. Yoweri Museveni, because â€œHe is a very unique person. He combines everything, political, military, social.â€