Gen. Saleh is Museveni’s young brother. For quite some time he had been Museveni’s half-brother till the late 90s when he was elevated to the status of full brother. As a teenager and in Secondary school during the mid 70s, Museveni took hm to Tanzania as part of his future presidency project. In Tanzania, Saleh joined the likes of Ivan Koreta, Fred Rwigyema (Rwandese refugee in Uganda), Eriya Mwine aka Chef Ali, Late Sam Magara, LateFred Rubereza and a few others under the rag tag FRONASA – a Museveni anti-Amin group. They underwent some military drills in the FRELIMO bases in Southern Tanzania. Of all the school dropouts whom Museveni took to Tanzania at the time, its only Sam Magara whom the Late Milton Obote helped to complete his law degree at the University of Dar-EsSalaam. This was in spite of many years of redundancy and anguish in Tanzania when the anti-Amin efforts became a stalemate and Museveni resorted to teaching at a cooperative college.
At the fall of Iddi Amin, Saleh was under the command of Museveni’s ragtag FRONASA field commander Chef Ali. Saleh couldnt be nominated for the first post Amin officer cadet training in Tanzania because he lacked the academic requirement of ‘O’ level. He first came to the limelight around 1980 when he together with part of Museveni’s private army that comprised of Rwigyema among others, rescued Museveni (then Vice Chairman of the ruling Military Commission) from a road block at Kireka where he had been held by a section of the UNLA. This incident signified the clear split within the post Amin Uganda army along ethnic/regional lines that Museveni formented and exploited for his bush war against the historical northern Uganda dominated army. Despite his low academic level, the UNLA awarded him the rank of Lieutenant as other identifiable Rwandese like Fred Rwigyema were eliminated from the new national army. At the time, Museveni’s faction (FRONASA) of the new infant national army (UNLA) were assembled at Kabamba under the banner of Red Army under the overall command of Fred Rubereza since Chef Ali had abandoned Museveni’s selfish designs and joined the UNLF- AD armed wing in the Rwenzori mountains.
By the time Museveni launched his senseless bush war, Saleh was a serving Officer under UNLA in Moroto. He was not there by Museveni;s design but the former must have wished to settle down and pursue a military career with the national army. Obviously, Museveni must have have kept him in a total black out of his political manoeuvres to launch another war for which Saleh did not approve another round of disrupting his life after initially missing out on formal education. Like all victims of Museveni;s political machinations, Saleh falls in that category of those who joined Museveni as a result of those who joined hands with Museveni not by conviction but as as a result of his shrewd manipulations. Around that time, Museveni sent his driver Topher Agaba to Moroto with a message to Saleh. Soon after, the UNLA placed Saleh under close watch and subsequent harassment by the UNLA administration prompting him to desert and join Museveni in the bush.
Initially, Saleh was not the most senior officers in the bush. He found there the likes of Ahamad Sseguya, Elly Tumwine, Fred Rubereza,Sam Katabarwa,Sam Magara and others. His low academic credentials matched with those of many others like Rwigyema against the university graduates that were often referred to as Intellectuals by the majority illiterate and semi illiterates. It is this same academic footing that brought Saleh closer to those of equal academic footing like Fred Rwigyema. Soon after, it is this category that Museveni made his close confidants and members of his most trusted inner circle. The method he used to achieve this goal is discussed in our previous posts. Matayo Kyaligonza in his book discloses how he saved Saleh from being killed in a plot by his own comrades. Such plots were a result of Museveni’s manipulative ways of selfish propping up individuals while sidelining others for his personal interests. Most recently, a similar failed plot was hatched against Gen. Aronda in an ambush around Kamdin Corner during Operation Iron First. The ‘intellectuals’ would challenge some of Museveni’s manipulative ways and in turn Museveni would undermine their influence among ordinary fighters by branding them non-performers in terms of combat action. For example, in the bush at one time Dr. Besigye compared the then prevailing situation to ‘Animal Farm’ – to the great annoyance of Museveni. Of course, the non intellectual individuals like Saleh, Rwigyema and others could not understand what Animal Farm was all about other than singing ‘Mzei Amesema’ (Museveni has said) since they owed all their survival to Museveni. When the going got tougher , Saleh together with a couple of officers with minimal education apart from the educated Himas who sided with Museveni to oppose the motion for a negotiated surrender to the UPC government.
No doubt, Saleh was a bush war military genius and so were the likes of late Kagwa, late Mutebi, late Mawanda, late Sebatta, late Chef Ali, kanyankole, Fred Bamwesigye and other Ugandans who perished in that senseless war. Who knows the military capability of Dr. Besigye, Amanya Mushega, Kahinda Otafiire, Late Kategaya, Late Dr. Bata, Late Ondoga Amaza, Tom Butime, Moses Kigongo, Abbey Mukwaya and many others who Museveni restrained from fully exploiting their military potential. Its Museveni who determined who was to become what in his NRA. Who knows what would have been the results if the Mobile Brigade, the Masindi raid, foiled and devastating attack on UNLA’s 24th Battalion, the siege on 12 Bn in Masaka, would have been if it had been under the command of Otafiire, Mushega, Besigye, Tinyefuza or any other senior member of his NRA!!! Because Museveni favoured some individuals to advance their military capabilities, Saleh emerged as the hero in major battles.
Like any other military genius, Saleh is naturally gifted with a generosity, a sense oh humour and negotiation skills. Coupled by nationalism and non sectarian tendencies, he won the hearts of many NRAs and UNLAs alike. During the failed Nairobi Peace Talks, the military junta held him in high esteem with offers of very high positions in the proposed interim government arrangement with NRA. During that same period the top UNLA leadership established direct contact with him with view of luring him to abandon Museveni and hand over his NRA (at the time the exhausted NRA fighters were exclusively for Saleh and not Museveni) to the UNLA. Sensing danger, Museveni hurriedly moved him from the central region to Masaka where he established his tactical headquarters at Rwengo.During the final assault on Kampala, it was Saleh who negotiated for the surrender of the UNLAS under Brig. Obonyo who had advanced from Entebbe around Zana in the outskirts of Kampala city thus averting a major catastrophe.
After taking over government, Saleh who became the Chief of Combat Operations (CCO) was the de facto head of the NRA as the Army Commander Gen. Tumwine was a mere administrative head. As CCO, Saleh did not rest but went ahead to the northern Uganda region to handle the insurgency that was protesting against Museveni’s governance. Saleh negotiated a deal with the insurgents that saw the surrender of some rebel UPDA under the command of Lt.Col. Angello Ochero Okello after signing of the peace deal at Pecce Stadium. In the late 80s, Museveni elevated Saleh to the position of Army Commander replacing Gen. Tumwine. The popular Saleh embarked on improving the welfare of the army. Hardly a year into office, Museveni relieved Saleh of the office of army commander and retired him from the army. Museveni claimed that it was due to Saleh’s drunkenness. Was Saleh more of drunkard that Gen Kaziini who even smoked opium!!! The truth is that Saleh’s popularity within NRA was viewed by Museveni as a threat to his designs. As Army Commander, Saleh was deploying and assigning officers according to their capabilities and not basing on ethnic and regional background as Museveni wished. Saleh was dismissed midway during his countrywide tour of all NRA units where he was meeting officers. Intelligence before Museveni at the time indicated that Saleh was upto something sinister and Museveni had to move faster. Immediately after, the army headquarters were burnt followed a purge of senior officers including Col. Matovu, Col. Julius Chihandae, Col. Ahmed Kashillingi and others.
Saleh went into private life doing private business. He even returned to school to complete ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels of secondary education that prompted his famous remark “Nze ndifa nga sibadeko Minister” (will I die without ever being a Minister”). He managed Saracen private security company, went into joint venture over the shoddy purchase of UCB, the controversial kickbacks in the purchase of junk helicopters for the army etc. In these business ventures, Saleh managed to accumulate huge sums of cash that kept his spirits high amidst the cry for a failed military career. Still with these huge amounts of cash, Saleh managed to build a web of simperthisers across both the civilians of all ethnic divide and the military. Although Museveni put him in charge of the reserve forces, Saleh remained the defacto overall commander of the NRA next to Museveni in terms of hierarchy. During the reign of Mugisha Muntu as Army Commander, Museveni successfully managed to antagonise some top officers with Mugisha Muntu through the practice of Katebe (rendering them redundant). The affected officers made fruitless efforts to petition Museveni through Saleh who had by then not grasped Museveni’s designs. Museveni did not like the move of army officers seeking attention through Saleh. It is by virtue of his high position in the NRA that Saleh ventured into the Congo during the NRA military expeditions. Together with Lebanese Talal and Gasam minertal dealers, Saleh accumulated huge fortunes from illegal trade in the Congo. He is listed as one of the key players by the UN probe into the plunder of Congo. This revelation and the potential for indictment by the ICC tamed Saleh into total submission to Museveni’s presidency. He knows that he can only be safe as long as Museveni remains President. He publicly expressed his frustrations during the wedding of Museveni’s son Muhoozi when he stated that “I advised Muhoozi not to join the army but to join me and we do business but he did not heed my advice”.
Museveni’s only problem with Saleh was to allow him in direct command of the NRA. This has also been the case with the lkes of Gen.Tinyefuza. When he was allegedly retired he was at the rank of Maj Gen. but since then he has risen to the rank of a full General. Why cant Museveni also promote the likes of Besigye, Muntu, Mushega, Butime, Kazoora and others!!! After a short stint as Minister in charge of micro-finance, Museveni withdrew him to the position of Presidential Advisor on Defence – a position he holds to date. His public stature continued to shine. As such Saleh has been dragged into politics especially during presidential campaigns where his popularity and mobilisation tactics backed by vast amounts of cash enable him to lure unsuspecting and impoverished voters to Museveni’s side.
From the above it can be concluded that Saleh had intended to pursue his much cherished military career but Museveni did not bother to help him achieve his dream. After the bush war, Saleh was not helped to transform from a guerrilla fighter to a modern military commander through training in modern warfare and exposure to command positions. Museveni suffocated his career advancement through unclear assignments and diversionary promotions while keeping him around as a dangerous substitute. This has been the case with many others including Tinyefuza and Oketta. For decades now he has kept him on the bench (not the usual katebe) as a top General who could put the NRA together in case of any threat to Museveni’s power base. However, now that Museveni has successfully managed to privatise the NRA, created a more personal army (SFG) under his son, but more so the phasing out of historical commanders, Saleh’s strategic role is fading out. Saleh’s role will be taken over by Museveni’s son Brig. Muhoozi since he has successfully recruited and placed a cream of loyal officers to take control of strategic command positions of the army.
Therefore, when Gen Saleh announces that he intends to retire, he is being sincere and serious. What Ugandans need to understand is that for the last 40 years Gen. Saleh has been in-charge of Museveni;s personal army. He delivered victory to Museveni that saw him become President. However, he is retiring a very disappointed man for he did not fully utilize his military potential. On the contrary, had he not fallen victim to Museveni’s political manipulations, Gen Saleh would have become one on the continent’s if not the world’s distinguished Generals. He would be involved in resolving some of the world’s re-known military conflicts by heading peace keeping missions. Had Museveni not deliberately not excluded Gen Saleh from the 20 years counter insurgency operations in northern Uganda, the LRA rebellion would have been resolved through a negotiated settlement at an early stage.
Gen. Saleh would not approve the hording of people in camps (IDPs) in appalling conditions; the lifting of presidential term limits; the involvement of the army in partisan politics; the arrest, torture and detention of political opponents among the other vices of the Museven regime. Gen Saleh must have shed tears when he could not save the man who saved his life in the bush (Dr. Besigye) as he was being sprayed with pepper into his eyes by Museveni. Gen. Saleh knows the gravity and consequences of disagreeing with Museveni. Even as he expresses intentions to retire, he must have be skeptical if Museveni will let him go. His situation is aggravated by the presence of Gen Tinyefuza on the other side of the fence. For Museveni, its only Saleh who can match Tinyefuza in terms of holding the NRA together in case Gen. Tinyefuza strikes. Do you know why Gen Saleh does not approve of the Tutsi regime in Rwanda? The only link that he had was at a personal level with the late Col. Karegeya, but following his assassination Saleh washed his hands.
Is the disappointed and frustrated General trying to jump off the sinking boat?
INFORMATION IS POWER.
AUTHORED BY ROBUKUI