Tuesday, September 14, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

September 14, 2010

It has been a busy period for partner states in East Africa. If it wasn’t Burundi holding its elections early in the year, it was Rwanda’s turn to hold its own amidst all manner of accusations. With Burundi and Rwanda done with, our eyes must now turn to Bongoland to see how the incumbent Jakaya Kikwete will fare in his final bid for a second term.

Hot on the heels of Tanzania will be Uganda’s turn to usher in either a new president or stick with M7 for another five years come 2011. Either way, it will hold its elections; now that all the main political parties have chosen their flag bearers.

For Kenya, it is a foregone conclusion that the fourth head of state will be installed in 2012 with a high possibility of another party forming the government.

The five partner states of East Africa have more or less the same electoral systems all of which purport to practice democracy with a few variations from time to time. Again, of the five partner states, only Kenya and Tanzania can claim to have heads of state that grew up through the ranks in civilian governments. For the rest of them, these were either soldiers or freedom fighters that finally removed their uniforms and became statesmen after fighting human rights abuses in their own countries for decades.

Looking at Tanzania’s process; yes it is a multiparty democratic state but only in name and design. Ideologically and in national orientation, the CCM the party that ushered in independence and domesticated socialism is still very much the party to beat. Its grip on power and grassroots network are so entrenched that it is almost unthinkable to imagine that there will be a change of guard in Tanzania politics any time soon- probably in the post Kikwete era.

Since the return to multiparty politics in the early 1990s, many political parties have sprung up with gusto in Tanzania only to wither with time. Their founders have equally disappeared from the lime light as the struggle against the CCM has become increasingly insurmountable. The reason political parties in Tanzania have found it difficult to dislodge CCM from power is simply because despite its glaring weaknesses in the areas of fighting corruption and even abandonment of its socialist policies, Tanzanians have grown over the years to trust the ruling party more than the late comers.

If you talk to Tanzanians that are knowledgeable in the affairs of their country, one thing will emerge across the entire spectrum of that society. They view all politicians with the same mistrust. They have no trust in any of them be they in the opposition, back bench, cabinet or in CCM. Therefore, given a choice between the CCM and any other party that has never been in power, they would rather go with the devil they know than the angel they have never tested with power.

While I lived in Tanzania for the better part of 2008, I wasn’t sure that President Kikwete would last his first term. It was at that moment in history when corruption in Tanzania reached its peak. That was the period Kikwete was forced to fire the entire cabinet including his Prime Minister and the Governor of the Central Bank. However, since his government has weathered the storm, it is incredible that just two years later, Jakaya Kikwete is all set to sail through with ease to his final term.

In Rwanda, Paul Kagame was reelected for another seven years with a 93% vote count; one of the highest political endorsement ever in the region. This high number was partly because he had no meaningful opposition for the presidency. Amidst all accusations of media and political suppression, it was a foregone conclusion that in the absence of any meaningful challenger, Kagame would earn his 7 year term with ease. Whether he reassures all Rwandese that all will find their voices in the new dispensation is another matter altogether because seven years is a pretty long time. But perhaps the one compelling reason why Rwandese voted Kagame to a man was their memory of the 1994 genocide that left close to one million people dead. For Kagame to have steered his country out of this dark period and successfully turned the country around in the last 16 years is no mean achievement.

For Yoweri Museveni, his ruling Uganda for the last 24years can only be compared to that of Daniel arap Moi who did the same number in Kenya under the KANU dictatorship. However, the fact that 15,000 NRM Ugandans gathered at a national stadium for two days to choose their flag bearer for the ruling party is an indication that the NRM, like the CCM will definitely rule Uganda for a number of years to come.

What the Ugandan political parties must come to terms with is the fact that they must face squarely in the face the achievements of the NRM since it came from the bush to form the first stable government that has brought peace to most of Uganda despite a 20 year uprising in the North. After nearly two decades of chaos under Obote, Lule, Amin, Binaisa and Okello, one cannot deny that the NRM finally found a lasting formula for peace and stability in Uganda. It is that formula that other aspiring parties must confront rather than live in denial. And for the record, Ugandans will not simply buy rhetoric if they are not assured of peace in their villages and food on their tables.