President Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s younger brother Gen Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh has been named by the Democracy in Africa thinktank as a member of the Ugandan shadow state with the biggest potential to topple his 77-year old brother.
President Museveni has ruled Uganda since 1986 when he captured power following a five-year bush war.
In January 2021, Museveni won another five-year term at the end of which he will have ruled Uganda for four decades.
Transition from the elderly president remains one of the hottest debates in the country.
Now, Democracy in Africa scholars have partly broached the issue, exploring how powerful Salim Saleh has come to the extent that he could easily topple Museveni if he wished.
In their report titled ‘The Shadow State in Africa,’ scholars Dr Nic Cheeseman of UK, Dr Claude Iguma Wakenge (DRC), Dr Lisa Rolls (Uganda), Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa (Zambia) and Dr Phillan Zamchiya (Zimbabwe) have made damning claims against the roles played by several players in these countries’ politics, economics and social spheres.
Dr Rolls, who the report says is “a long-time research analyst living in East Africa,” claims to have made reference her content on media reports, anonymous interviews with regime officials/insiders and official government documents. She also claims to have interviewed diplomats, first family and intelligence sources.
In the first part of the series on this report, we publish what Dr Lisa Rolls managed to find about Salim Saleh and why she thinks he has the capacity to topple Museveni.
As this suggests, the Ugandan shadow state has important international connections, even if these are less pronounced than in other cases. Indeed, there are already signs that the nascent mining sector and the oil sector—where production is just starting—will generate stronger ties to international economic networks over time.
For example, Museveni’s half-brother Salim Saleh—a retired general—has forged strong relationships with Chinese investors, and in recent years, Chinese companies have been awarded some lucrative mining concessions.36 Moreover, some of Saleh’s relatives, such as his wife, Jovia Akanwanaho, have been linked to a variety of illicit cross border activities, including trade in diamonds and narcotics.
Salim Saleh is a pervasive presence in the Ugandan shadow state.
Despite having no formal senior position in government (he is notionally a senior presidential adviser on defence) Saleh is often referred to as the deputy president.
Before his health deteriorated some years ago he was considered to be Museveni’s most likely successor.
While Museveni is known as a stern disciplinarian, Saleh is approachable, widely liked and respected rather than feared, although notorious for corruption and shady deals.
Investigations prominently named him in Ugandan military officers’ involvement in illegal exploitation of natural resources during the war in eastern DR Congo in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Due to his ability to engage freely with people from all walks of life, Saleh has become Museveni’s informal chief mediator and is often dispatched by his brother to talk to errant constituencies, rivals or the military.
Saleh, who was the first post-war army commander, is also effectively the deputy commander-in-chief of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) and the informal commander of the reserve force.
He is consulted on all major defence decisions, including promotions and appointments.
Saleh also advises the president on cabinet and other civilian appointments.
As well as these informal but highly influential roles, Saleh heads the military-led nationwide agricultural development programme, Operation Wealth Creation, which controls vast funds and is riddled with nepotism and patronage.
In the business world, Saleh’s activities in recent years have focused on industrialization, agriculture and mining, while he also retains interests in other sectors, such as defence and the gold trade.
Saleh’s wife, Jovia Akanwanaho, is an eager and feared businesswoman who has variously been linked to illicit business, from diamonds to narcotics, and alongside her husband, was prominently named in the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2001.
The UN group of experts mentioned allegations against Jovia of orchestrating the Kisangani war in 1998, in order to take control of the local diamond trade.
In 2005 and 2013, Jovia, who also has interests in private security firms, real estate and gastronomy, was named in illegal land evictions in Ankole and near Entebbe, respectively.
In 2013, Jovia threatened an activist over his investigation into the degree of governor of Mombasa, Kenya—Ali Joho—who is notoriously linked to the narcotics trade.
In July 2019, heads of the Kenyan–Indian Akasha cartel implicated an unnamed sister-in-law to Museveni as a key collaborator in drug smuggling.
Saleh and Jovia’s daughter, Esteri, manages several of the family business interests, from hotels to real estate, and co-owns the production company, Isaias, with Museveni’s daughter, Natasha.
Jovia’s close relatives, businesspeople Kellen Kayonga, treasurer of the Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum, and Barnabas Taremwa, are well-known players in the mining sector.
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