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Sejusa, the General whose journey was always on-and-off

Gen David Sejusa.
Gen David Sejusa.

In February 2012, Gen. David Tinyefuza changed his name to David Sejusa. To explain the change, the General said he had abandoned his family name ‘Sejusa’ during his secondary school days but had then decided to revert to it, after all many of his people still referred to him as Sejusa.

Sejusa is a Munyankole by ethnicity whose family home is in Sembabule District, which is geographically located in Buganda region but has a considerable Banyankole population. In changing his name from Tinyefuza to Sejusa, the General just translated it from Runyankole to Luganda. Its meaning – I don’t regret – remained unchanged.

Contrary to the meaning of his name, Sejusa can be adjudged to have a lot of regrets given the way his military career has unfolded.

Sejusa (right) with fellow Generals Salim Saleh (middle) and Elly Tumwine (left) during a UPDF function

Sejusa (right) with fellow Generals Salim Saleh (middle) and Elly Tumwine (left) during a UPDF function

Until he changed his name in 2012, he was the only four-star General in the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), formerly called the National Resistance Army (NRA), who President Museveni had never handed top command of the army. His fellow four-star Generals then – Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh, Elly Tumwine, Jeje Odong and Aronda Nyakairima – had all commanded the army, as Army Commander or Chief of Defence Forces (CDF). The only other four-star General of the UPDF then was Museveni, the commander-in-chief.

By that time, command of the army had long moved to younger officers and Sejusa did not expect that Museveni would change course and appoint him CDF at any one time. He served as coordinator of intelligence services at the time, but it would soon emerge that he was perhaps planning an extraconstitutional stab at Museveni’s hold on power.

The beginning

On March 12, 1996, Sejusa, one of the most influential fighters in the civil war that catapulted Museveni to power in 1986, had had enough of the army. He had joined Museveni’s ragtag NRA guerrillas in the Luweero jungles in mid-1981, but 15 years later he felt disillusioned and wanted out.  His resignation letter sent shock waves through the Establishment.

The decision to hang up his uniform stemmed from November 28, 1996, when Sejusa, whose army number is RO 031, was subpoenaed by the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs. The Committee was looking into how the army was handling the war against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which was raging in northern Uganda.

In his testimony, Sejusa meanderingly accused his boss, Museveni, of not doing enough to end the war, something that rekindled the Bush War bad blood between him and Museveni.

Sejusa meets Museveni at State House Entebbe after return from exile.

Sejusa meets Museveni at State House Entebbe after return from exile.

When he joined the war, Sejusa soon developed several misunderstandings with Museveni but the most outstanding clash came on August 5, 1984. Museveni created what he termed as a women’s wing and ordered that nobody was allowed to visit the women’s wing unless they had the express permission of the commander.

Trouble then arose after Museveni allowed his brother, Saleh, to retain his wife, Jovia. Pecos Kutesa, who passed away last year, also continued staying with his wife, Dora. Gertrude Njuba and Olive Zizinga were also allowed to stay at the headquarters where the top commander lived. The rest of the women were to leave their husbands’ and boyfriends’ huts and relocated to the women’s wing.
This discriminatory application of the rule is what exasperated Sejusa and some other rebels. A bitter exchange of words ensured between Sejusa and Museveni, with the former accusing his boss of partiality and sidelining some fighters. Sejusa additionally accused Museveni of being a tyrant.

With that, he was chastised for “gross indiscipline” because he had also disagreed with Museveni on the appointment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances under which the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), the national army at the time, had attacked the rebels’ sickbay.
By criticising Museveni openly, Sejusa was accused of agitating and mobilising against his commander-in-chief. He was suspended from the High Command, dropped as Director General of Intelligence and Security, and formally charged with insubordination.  He was detained at the rebels’ headquarters until March 1985 when the NRA opened up a second front popularly known as the Western Axis and he was appointed overall commander of the rebel units that captured Hoima, Masindi, Karuma Falls, and moved up to Northern Uganda.

He never changed

Even when the NRA captured power, the maverick in Sejusa was always in evidence.
In 1994, Sejusa was an Army delegate in the Constituent Assembly (CA), which wrote the current constitution. While at it, Sejusa passionately campaigned for a federal system of government, which Museveni and the ruling group were against.

Sejusa meets Museveni at State House Entebbe after return from exile.

Sejusa meets Museveni at State House Entebbe after return from exile.

On August 1, 1994, Sejusa recommended to the CA: “where possible, limited federalism is a significant organisational check to abuse of power by the center.” He added that the dangers of centralising power called for a system that caters for diverse interests.

Sejusa insisted that providing two controls of power, one at the center and the second being based at the smallest possible administrative unit, would ensure commonality of interests between a ruler and the ruled.

When Sejusa said he would be resigning from the army he had helped build, which had then been christened UPDF, he said: “There are several reasons, but the most important among those is that I feel I am unjustly being harassed over my testimony before that Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs. To require me to appear before the High Command so that action is taken against me is rather too high-handed.”

In giving his testimony before the committee, Sejusa said, he may have displeased “a few people”. But when giving evidence under Oath, he said, you do not do so to please people but to tell the truth, something he said he did very well.

“In my view, a Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs has a right to know matters concerning the Army and war. After all, that is why it was set up. Article 42 of our Constitution requires that any person appearing before any administrative official or body has a right to be treated justly and fairly and shall have a right to apply to a court of law in respect of any administrative decision taken against him or her,” Sejusa added.

He rejected the summonses that had been issued by the UPDF’s High Command for him to appear before them.
“I am of the strong view that I will not have that constitutional right before the UPDF High Command for obvious reasons. It is, therefore, because of the above that I must resign from the army and subsequently its High Command. I find it unjustified to continue serving in an institution whose bodies I have no faith in or whose views I do not subscribe to,” he further said.

In his goodbyes, Sejusa told Museveni how it had been “a privilege” and “an honor” to serve the NRA, the UPDF, and the president in particular.

“As one said, I owe much to your wise guidance and kindly forbearance. I know my own faults very well and I do not suppose I am an easy subordinate; I like to go my own way. But you have kept me on the rails in difficult and stormy times, and have taught me much. For all this, I am grateful. And I thank you for all you have done for me. Needless to say, it has been a great honour to have been a member of this historic army and mission. We have achieved much in war; may we achieve even more in peace,” Sejusa wrote.

Momentary success

Twenty-six years later, Sejusa is no longer the all-powerful intelligence chief he once was, but he is stuck in the army. The Court of Appeal last month upended his efforts to quit the army, and the frustrated General said he will not appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Days after the appellate court issued its decision setting aside what the High Court had decided, Sejusa sent out a tweet alluding to the 1996 case which he filed in the then newly formed Constitutional Court that agreed with him on his move to resign from the army.

In the 1996 case, Justices Seth Manyindo, Galdino Okello, Alice Mpagi Bahigeine, Patrick Tabaro, and Frederick Egonda-Ntende agreed that Sejusa stopped being an army officer when he was appointed by Museveni as his presidential advisor. Under section 5 (1) of the National Resistance Army Statute 1992, Number 3 of 1992, the justices said, service in the army was a continuing full-time job and a member of the army was liable to be employed on active service any time.

“Similarly, under the Public Service Standing Orders, a public servant is engaged on a full-time basis. It follows that an army officer cannot be a public servant at the same time. And so, when, in 1993, the president appointed the petitioner to a public service job as presidential advisor on contract terms, he thereby took him out of the Army. There is no doubt that the president’s power to appoint army officers includes the power to remove them from the army,” the unanimous decision stated.

They added that there was evidence to the effect that as a matter of practice, the Army Council allows officers in the army to accept assignments in the public service while remaining army officers.

The ruling further stated: “Clearly, this practice contravenes section 5 (1) of the NRA Statute. There was also some evidence to the effect that while a presidential advisor, the petitioner continued to enjoy certain facilities from the army, which included salary. Obviously, he was not entitled to receive a double salary. He might have enjoyed the other facilities in his capacity as a member of the High Command, which is understandable. … the petitioner ceased being a member of the army on February 2, 1993, when he was appointed presidential advisor on military affairs.”

Sejusa speaks to the press after an appearance in court.

Sejusa speaks to the press after an appearance in court.

Sejusa’s celebrations were short-lived, however, as a penal of seven Supreme Court justices, upon an appeal by the Attorney General, would later overturn the decision by the Constitutional Court on grounds that the UPDF was a disciplined and professional force with well established procedures, and that it would be risky to let soldiers make unilateral decisions.

As the years wore on, Sejusa was “rehabilitated”, as they say in the army, and was handed different assignments. Some of the assignments he carried out after that fallout included the arrest of Col Kizza Besigye in 2005 following his return from exile, and he was instrumental in the military siege of the High Court in 2006 by an urban anti-terror squad famously known as Black Mamba.

In July 18, 2008, Sejusa was instrumental in the arrest and “internal exile” of Buganda Kingdom officials as the kingdom argued with the central government over proposed changes to the land law.

As a military officer, Sejusa was known to be ruthless and given to naked use of force. He is accused of highhandedness during the LRA war when he was a commander up north, during which he ordered the arrest of some local MPs.

Sporting a signature moustache and always looking stern, Sejusa the soldier hated challenges to his authority and the authority of the institution he served, and when at some point he felt that the media was being given undue importance, he remarked that the media is actually not the Fourth Estate, a position which he said should be held by the military.

In the modern sense, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are deemed to be the first, second and third estate, respectively. Sejusa was unable to see how the media would come in at fourth yet the military, which he saw as what reproduces power in the country, was not accounted for.

The fiery General used to have his place of abode at Kyengera, along Kampala-Masaka highway, and a mosque was established in his neighbourhood. The General got into conflict with the Muslim community due to the noise pollution he suffered as the Muslims call to prayer was sounded, five times a day. After a very public fallout and a reconciliation, Sejusa relocated from the area, only to take residence in a house that belonged to Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

Erias Lukwago, only freshly elected Lord Mayor of Kampala in 2011, teamed up with then KCCA Executive Director Jennifer Musisi to force Sejusa out of the house, again after a very public fallout.

Sejusa was then coordinator of intelligence services, had been named in Besigye’s violent arrest in 2005, and had ordered the arrest and “internal exile” of Buganda Kingdom officials Charles Peter Mayiga, Medard Sseggona and Betty Nambooze. He was not a very popular figure within the ranks of the opposition and, as it would play out shortly afterwards, was not really trusted within the Establishment.

Flight to exile

His second fallout with his boss was always around the corner, and it came in 2013 when he authored a dossier asking for an investigation into an alleged plot against those he said accused Museveni of grooming his son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to succeed him as president.

In a letter Sejusa claimed to have written clandestinely to the head of the Internal Security Organization (ISO), he called for an investigation into what he said were “claims” of a plot “to assassinate people who disagree with this so-called family project of holding onto power in perpetuity”.

Sejusa fled to exile after leaking the same document to the media. Once the contents of the letter were published, the State cracked down on the media with ferocity.

While in exile in the United Kingdom, Sejusa flirted with joining active politics, forming a political group named The Freedom and Unity Front and calling for an end to Museveni’s hold on power. He said if needs be, military force would be used to remove his former bush war commander from power.

But things moved very quickly and a year later, in 2014, Sejusa was on a flight headed for Uganda. Different people claimed to have mediated the understanding that resulted in his return to the country, but Sejusa is not short of links to Museveni, with fellow bush war fighter Gen. Tumwine, who was until recently the minister for Security, being one of the cardinal ones. Gen. Saleh is also said to have been instrumental in keeping Museveni and Sejusa on talking terms in the years past, but the events leading to the flight of 2013 are said to have left Saleh lost for words.

It is not clear what was agreed before Gen. Sejusa returned to the country. A few days after his return, he went to State House and met with Museveni, but then he almost immediately went on to hobnob with then opposition favourite Besigye, whose nomination rally he attended in November 2015.

Speaking at the rally in Nakivubo Stadium, Sejusa said he had persuaded the reluctant Besigye to challenge Museveni for a fourth time.
“Besigye told me he did not want to run in Museveni’s election. I told him not to run in Museveni’s election but run in the people’s election,” Sejusa said. He said the people are absolute and have the power to decide whether they had elections or just replaced Museveni with another leader at any time.

In one of the interviews Sejusa gave, he revealed that he encouraged former Democratic Party leader Paul Ssemogerere, who had served under Museveni’s government since 1986, to challenge Museveni in 1996.

For 2016, it is strange how Sejusa would turn out to campaign for Besigye, given the opposition leader’s violent arrest of 2005 at Busega near Kampala at the hands of the General, but some of the ways these former rebels relate are difficult to decode.

Return to the ‘70s

Sejusa did not get to play a prominent overt role in Besigye’s campaign beyond the nomination rally, but at the end of January 2016, he was arrested and charged at the General Military Court Martial. The charges ranged from participating in political party activities, insubordinate behaviour, and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) Act 2005.

No charge of treason was brought against him, but many regime insiders and soldiers claimed that before fleeing the country, Sejusa had attempted to hatch a plot to overthrow Museveni. Indeed, a number of soldiers who worked under his command when he was coordinator of intelligence services were arrested and held for long by the military.

When Sejusa appeared before the military court on February 3, 2016, he had complaints to register with the head of the court, Maj. Gen. Levi Karuhanga, who has since passed on: “I am comfortable in the place where I’m. But the problem I have is that it’s the same dungeon that Idi Amin locked me in, in 1976. And in the same cell number…” He also complained about the filth in his place of detention.

He later refused to take plea, insisting that he wasn’t a military officer, and that he still had a case to be decided about the same issue by the High Court.

The case he referred to was eventually decided in his favour by the High Court; that he indeed was no longer a military officer. But the Court of Appeal, as we have already showed, overturned the decision.

“By the army taking his “uniforms and guns, withdrawing guards, and not paying him his arrears and allowances,” Justice Margret Oumo Oguli of the High Court ruled, the army had constructively retired Sejusa.

The appellate court, however, dealt Sejusa what may turn out to be the final blow of his decades-long ambition of retiring from the army, when it ruled that the Judicial review application he filed in the High Court wasn’t proper since the army hadn’t decided on his application to retire that he filed in 2015.

“I have carefully considered the rules and clearly it envisages an application for an order of mandamus, prohibition or certiorari or for an injunction under section 38(2) of the Judicature Act,” Justice Christopher Madrama, who wrote the lead judgment on behalf of Justices Irene Mulyagonja and Monica Mugenyi, said.

“Where there’s no decision, and where it is stated that the matter was still under consideration, the only justiciable issue is the issue of delay to communicate a decision. The delay to communicate a decision is a torturous matter which is actionable against the Attorney General,” the judge added.

Since his release from Luzira prison, where the army had remanded him after he complained about the conditions in Makindye Military Barracks, Sejusa has withdrawn from the public domain and is hardly available for a comment even for articles like this one.

In reaction to the recent court decision, this is all he said in a tweet in mid-February: “I will not appeal to Supreme Court. Thank you all who stood by me.”

Probably we will only know if Sejusa indeed had regrets if the 67-year old ever gets to publish his memoirs.

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