In 2011, ChimpReports reached out to then Brigadier General Kainerugaba Muhoozi for a profile interview.
His associates said he was always busy or out of town.
He still is hard to get.
When I asked why Muhoozi could not spare at least 30 minutes for an interview, I was told he was a “very, very busy person.”
Somehow, we gave up.
A few years later we reported that Muhoozi’s life was in danger.
At the time, Muhoozi was attending a military course in South Africa.
An investigation by South African authorities and officials at the Ugandan embassy in South Africa confirmed that indeed some elements intended to harm him.
He would later tell me this story when we met in Entebbe.
A few months before our meeting, ChimpReports ran an article criticizing Muhoozi’s career.
I received a call from one of his public relations officers.
“Hey, General’s office would like to comment on the story. Do you mind including our perspective in the story?” the official asked me in a very polite tone.
In most cases, aggrieved people call editors to quarrel and express their anger, frustration, disappointment at a media house’s publications.
“You are a very stupid fool,” a big person once assured me on the telephone. “That’s nonsense you are writing.” When we confronted the fellow with facts about a story we were handling, he responded: “It doesn’t matter, you are a fool.”
We ignored him.
I don’t know any editor who has never been abused by some of the people we write about every day.
Therefore, when Muhoozi’s officer pleaded in a very soft tone to have his side of the story carried in the article, I was amazed.
A few months later, Muhoozi agreed to meet with us.
I alerted the cameraman to charge the batteries and prepare for great shots.
We drove straight to his office at SFC Command headquarters in Entebbe.
Whoever bumped into us could see our thirst for the story. I had prepared “piercing questions.” I couldn’t wait getting hold of this man.
At office, he was called into what an official described as an “urgent meeting.” We waited for about two hours but he was nowhere to be seen.
I was restless. I am a very impatient person. I just like doing things as fast as possible. Here, I was waiting for hours.
The waiting room was decorated with photos of Special Forces operators in combat operations and President Museveni in military uniform.
Sensing our restlessness, an army officer told us to “cool down.”
He emphasised: “Be patient, he is coming to see you. He is a little bit busy.”
At lunch hour, we were taken to a restaurant at an officers’ compound.
Still, Muhoozi was still busy. I had read his book, “Battles of the Ugandan Resistance: A Tradition of maneuver” which emphasises the value of guerrilla tactics including surprise in defeating strong enemies.
Perhaps he wanted to join us at a time we least expected him.
At around 4:00pm, we returned to Entebbe Town to meet Muhoozi. I could see an unwashed minibus in the hotel parking lot.
Inside the van were men in civilian clothes monitoring all our movements.
Was it an advance team sent to do surveillance of the place before our arrival? May be.
We sat in the hotel lobby as we waited for our guest. I was no longer impatient. A few minutes later, a black Land Cruiser brand SUV parked at the main entrance of the hotel.
The military men escorted a tall soldier to the lift.
He was wearing a red beret – an international symbol of airborne forces since the Second World War.
Muhoozi is a trained commando and is credited for spearheading training of Special Forces paratroopers.
Finally, we were called in.
Thin military escorts carrying assault rifles inspected our gadgets and allowed us in the suite. Muhoozi opened the door for us.
He, however, said he was not ready for an interview before asking for a tete-a-tete.
I watched every step he made, took keen interest in his sitting posture, assessed his critical thinking abilities and other things.
For example is easy to identify a greedy person by looking at how one munches food.
I watched keenly as he slowly sipped on his Coca Cola soda.
He looked straight in the face of a hotel attendant as she served us soft drinks.
He apologised for being late, a rare trait among many “big people” I know.
He said he was caught up in several meetings which required his individual presence and was unable to meet us at the agreed time.
Muhoozi asked me about ChimpReports; how we founded the news site; joining journalism and challenges we faced as journalists. Muhoozi never asked me about the critical article that ran on our website.
I explained how we struggled to raise money for the first laptop to use; my life at Makerere where I studied journalism and the consumer trends shaping digital content consumption in the world.
Muhoozi sat straight up for most of the time. Leaning along one side of the body is a sign of unfitness. Rarely would he lean back on the sofa.
Every time I spoke, Muhoozi listened quietly, rarely interjecting, even when I trailed off.
I found this a rare attribute.
Most politicians, wealthy businessmen and successful academics I always meet want to talk more and listen less.
Listening is a valuable trait among leaders. When leaders do not listen, they fail to appreciate their people’s concerns.
In my future engagements with him on the phone, I could still see how Muhoozi loved to listen.
Intelligence and humility
Muhoozi is someone who quickly processes information. His humility is mistaken for dullness.
I was not surprised when Joseph Kabuleta described Muhoozi as “dull” and “lifeless.”
Humility is not a sign of meekness or powerlessness but of great inner strength.
The best leaders are humble on the outside and confident on the inside. On inquiry I was told he was very lively in the military.
His humility reminded me of an introvert in High School who always floored the so-called “bright” and talkative kids.
My view is great leadership is about humility and serving, not ego and directing.
I could clearly tell that Muhoozi, by not being so welcoming to a profile interview, intended to shift attention away from himself so we could focus on contributions and needs of those around him.
During my engagement with Muhoozi, I didn’t realise he wanted to build a website and also engage young people on Twitter.
I learnt later he was encouraged by our success story and rolled out a site for the force he commanded and also took to Twitter to engage the public.
He remembers dates and when he is not certain, he asks for clarifications.
Some time back I asked him to ring me.
He promised to call the following day at around 11:00am. He didn’t disappoint.
I also liked the fact that he ‘consults’ especially in this era where everyone claims expertise for almost everything.
Lest I forget, before leaving the hotel in Entebbe, he agreed to take pictures with us.
I asked to share my contact with him. Muhoozi started walking towards a room where he had left his phones. I realized I was being a bit disrespectful. I advised that his aide would share with him my cellphone number.
I found Muhoozi warm-hearted, jovial, confident but sensitive. He would rather let you argue than engage in a shouting match.
Muhoozi later told me a story about his participation in counter insurgency operations against LRA.
“We had heard that there were LRA gangs in the vicinity of our base,” recalled Muhoozi.
“We thought they were preparing to attack us,” he added.
A surprise attack on a UPDF base would have had disastrous consequences for the government soldiers.
LRA had also made its mark by staging ambushes to take senior officers out of action.
It would as well raid UPDF camps in Lango.
With this information at hand, Muhoozi and other officers decided to act swiftly and decisively to avoid an LRA attack.
“So we started pushing out patrols day and night to collect information and engage any groups we chanced upon,” he added.
By taking the war to the LRA, UPDF ensured the rebels remained in disarray and unable to effectively plan a cohesive attack.
Muhoozi said when LRA “saw how alert we were they avoided us altogether and moved out of the area.”
Most of the combatants who were close to him during these battles now serve in the commando battalion, a specialized unit of Special Forces whose main job is fighting.
While covering the recent decoration ceremony of promoted senior army officers at the Defence Ministry in Mbuya, I saw dozens of journalists and political leaders struggling to take selfies with Muhoozi. He allowed them.
On seeing me around, Muhoozi called me for a photo with him.
A stubborn reporter humorously observed: “Muhame, will you sleep tonite?” The joke left the crowd in a bout of rib-cracking laughter.