Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde, a former spy chief and security minister under Museveni, faces treason charges stemming from his comments allegedly asking Rwanda “to support him in removing the current leadership with or without the ballot," police said Friday.
Tumukunde was taken for questioning late Thursday after a group of police and the military conducted a search of his property in the capital, Kampala. Police in a statement Friday cited “the impact of the inflammatory and provocative rhetoric by the suspect" on the security forces as well as the public.
Tumukunde, who is yet to be formally charged in a courtroom, told an interviewer on March 4, “If I was Rwanda I would wish to support people who want to cause change in Uganda.” Tumukunde's remarks came after he wrote to electoral authorities announcing his plan to run for president. Tumukunde's lawyer told reporters Friday that the Rwanda comments were the basis for the treason charges.
Relations between Uganda and Rwanda have been tense in recent months as the two neighbors accuse each of aggressive behavior and the border remains closed. Rwanda insists rebels opposed to President Paul Kagame are getting support in Uganda, which in turn accuses Rwandan security agencies of operating unlawfully in the country.
Along with the pop star known as Bobi Wine, Tumukunde is among several Ugandans who have recently announced they would seek the presidency in elections set for 2021. Museveni, who took power by force in 1986 and has since won election five times, is widely expected to run again. His opponents, concerned that he wants to rule for life in a country that has never seen a peaceful transfer of power, want him to retire.
Tumukunde, 61, fought alongside Museveni in the bush war that brought the current government to power. Although widely seen as a regime insider and close to some members of the first family, Tumukunde has in the past expressed opposition to Museveni's attempts to prolong his stay in power. In 2005 he was forced to resign his parliamentary seat and then arrested over spreading harmful propaganda after he opposed ultimately successful efforts to remove presidential term limits.
After many years without being deployed, he was later rehabilitated and given a higher rank in the army before retiring in 2015. Tumukunde served on Museveni's re-election team in the 2016 polls and then was named minister in charge of national security, one reason many Ugandans are skeptical about his anti-Museveni stance.
“It would be difficult for him to get even a sympathy vote,” said Asuman Bisiika, an independent political analyst. “Even as a candidate he is still looked at as a Museveni person. His candidature is way, way off the trail.”