At the end of the day, we will realise that after 40 years in office—hopefully not more—Museveni governed through a co-presidency.
What is becoming clearer now is that while Museveni could have been the all-threatening fire-spitting publicist of this duo-presidency, the real force and choreographer was his less public, mostly only-spoken- about brother, the erstwhile skinny and lanky soldier, and now the bulky and imposing monster of a man, Gen Salim Saleh.
Before asking the exciting practical-philosophical question about which of the two was more powerful, we need to appreciate that these brothers perfected and executed a smooth ‘Italian Job’ without conflicting—or deftly kept their conflicts under wraps.
To this end, chroniclers will struggle to write the post-1986 memoirs of either of these men without mentioning the significant importance of the brotherhood in whatever they accomplished. Indeed, it is my sobering contention that without Yoweri Museveni, Gen Saleh would be no name, and in all fairness, without Gen Saleh, Museveni’s presidency would never have lasted this long.
If it did, Museveni would never have enjoyed the fruits of power his mafia-like, clandestine-dealing brother has enabled him. As I will be showing in a while, if there is anything called the ‘deep state’ in Museveni’s Uganda, then the buck starts and stops with Gen Saleh.
My position is problematic especially that it sounds like wanting to turn the clock backwards. But, as it is becoming clearer, Museveni’s presidency needed a character of Gen Saleh’s qualities, but not simply a random good guy with those qualities, but one more trustable over and above excellent work and competence— preferably, a blood relation. The winds sent Museveni a brother.
SALEH, THE OCTOPUS
Where has he not been? He is like an octopus with many hands and many legs touching, stepping on and in, galloping and swallowing, things. As former presidential candidate and activist Joseph Kabuleta recently described him, this man is in both big and small things with same gusto and interest: Military jets. Military uniforms. Timber, gold and other minerals in DRC, Karamoja and Mubende.
Sand mining on Lake Victoria. Charcoal dealerships. Land scandals in Gulu, Kayunga, Amuru, and other places. Bank closures. Procurement of opposition politicians. Private security including Saracen and others, hawking of mercenary soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Uganda Airlines.
Scandals in sugar and tea business in Hoima and elsewhere. Entandikwa and other start-up schemes, now Operation Wealth Creation—which illegally toppled NAADS! The endless scandals in the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and other sagas. He is all over the place, incidentally, not just as participant, but as the big dog, calling the shots.
Note that two related lines string all these dealings together (a) managing and ensuring continuity of power for family and (b) self-enrichment for the same entire extended relations. Since all these dealings involved big monies and big political stakes, this made Gen Saleh perhaps the most or second-most powerful man in the country despite holding no official position in government. He was the government, but somehow outside of it.
Perhaps the most revealing— more concrete—documentation of Saleh’s gangster powers appear in the document that former Bank of Uganda governor and Greenland bank CEO, Dr Sulaiman Kiggundu authored as part of his pleadings upon the closure of his bank in 1999.
In that document—as Mayor Lukwago has constantly reminded us—Gen Saleh appears as a prominent member negotiating and finally benefiting from the ruins of Greenland bank. This document incriminates many members of Museveni’s family, including son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba. Other inside incidents have showed us ministers and other significant appointees in government (most significantly, recently, PM Nabbanja, VP Alupo, PS Ggoobi, etc.) had, as a matter of urgency, to seek audience with the covert general—who, again, holds no public office.
Journeys were often made either to Serene Suites hotel in Kampala, Gulu in northern Uganda, or Kapeeka in Luweero where he often pitched camp, masquerading as overseeing development projects. Here, only the lucky ones were granted audience, upon which they exhibited great servility like they were in front of a high priest.
DIVISION OF DEALS
Those familiar with the dealings of State House or general meetings with the president affirm that only one family member entreats the presence of Mr Museveni without going through any security checks. This is his co-president brother, Gen Salim Saleh.
Well, he is brother but not all other brothers and sisters meet the face of the Movement without thorough security checks. Then, those who have visited Gulu or Kapeeka political camps tell stories about how Gen Saleh is treated just like a co- president would do.
In forming a perfect duo with specially defined roles towards the same end—long stay and enrichment—these men, over the years, perfected their roleplays and identities, and seamlessly complemented each other.
See, while Museveni was more public, often speaking as the philosopher of the resistance, his co-president brother was more clandestine, negotiated innumerable capitalist deals underground, directly called public officials to compromise procedure, and quietly played competing powers, all to make sure the runway was smooth for the big brother.
While Museveni would harp on about the law and the power of Ugandans (the party will decide, Ugandans will decide), Saleh’s genius was operating outside the law, oftentimes in ways that were actually criminal.
Ever wondered why, while Museveni would insist on being identified by his actual given names, Yoweri Tibuhabura, his co-president brother remained confident with his fake name, Salim Saleh—like those heads of the Mexican cartels—and never bothered to correct it.
No wonder, when he made an unusual appearance at one of Kampala’s leading political talk-shows, the Capital Gang on Capital FM, the uncompromising legislator from Kira Municipality, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda would announce to him that the only reason he was not in jail was because his brother was president.
Well, Ssemujju was speaking to a co-president. Dear reader, if there are any lessons to learn from the ongoing NSSF saga—with dossiers to and from Kapeeka—it is that our history (and the makers of this history) needs to be documented meticulously and carefully.
Ours is a special case of power and politics. If our more modernised autocracy under Museveni has been executed through parliament (making of laws and amendments), we need not to beware to the fact that Museveni’s reign has been a brotherhood—a co-presidency.
While one of the Musevenis confused the country with a façade of legality and parliamentarianism, the other executed the same interests quietly on the side. Whatever public display we saw, the more covert of the two men had done more than we actually saw.
The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.