|President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda|
By Jerry Okungu
February 18 2012
On a purely social occasion, Yoweri Museveni was in Kisumu 11 years ago to celebrate 100 years of the Uganda Railway reaching Port Florence now Kisumu. At that time, he was not the only Head of State to be in Kisumu for the occasion. Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Daniel arap Moi were there too.
Then, as this last weekend, the residents of Nyanza, Rift Valley and Western Kenya thronged the city. It was a sea of humanity with crowds waving friendly placards just as they did this time round.
After the celebrations at the Moi Stadium in Kisumu, the three presidents headed towards Kisumu Yatch Club were they had a hearty meal with local residents as fishermen from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya entertained them with a canoe race and local traditional gigs.
The night before, both Mkapa and Museveni had chosen to travel to the Lakeside City by road greeting people along the hundreds of miles as they snaked to the city. At the end of the celebrations they went back to their respective countries leaving Nyanza residents with an event to remember for many years.
On that occasion, the most memorable gift the three heads of state gave Kisumu was the elevation of the town to city status; a decision that was appropriately pronounced by Benjamin Mkapa and endorsed by his two peers.
Then, as last weekend, Raila Odinga, then a minister in Moi’s government was their host.
Other than celebrating the 100 years and declaring Kisumu a city, they pledged a speedy political integration of the EAC Member States. The virtues for such a venture were the same as the ones articulated by Yoweri Museveni and Raila Odinga this last weekend.
A few years later, East Africans may remember that Yoweri Museveni took another risky road show by bus to visit Kenya and Tanzania on two different occasions. At that time, the official version for choosing a bus ride was to experience firsthand what motorists went through plying the bad roads in East Africa. However, uppermost in his mind was to gauge ordinary public opinion about the possibility of an East African political federation where ordinary people would be free to travel, trade and settle anywhere in the region without the annoying demands of work permits, passports and rights to be in any territory 24/7.
Museveni toured Kisumu to raise funds for the new Great Lakes University. This was significant in more ways than one. First, Museveni was reaffirming his unequivocal support for the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region situated in Burundi which has in turn set up the Levy Mwanawasa Center for Excellence to promote Democracy, Good Governance and Human Rights values in this region.
When I was in Lusaka recently at the invitation of the Levy Mwanawasa Center, the Center Director, Dr. Frank Oyugi- Okuthe confirmed to me that the role of the center is to harness the best brains in the region to act as a think tank for member states. Such brains would definitely be derived from institutions such as the Great Lakes University of Kisumu. The think tank’s scope has already been set out- to make this region conflict –free, entrench good governance and democratic culture and to cultivate respect for human rights.
Museveni’s presence in Kisumu to inaugurate the Trust Fund for the Great Lakes University was no coincidence. It was a carefully considered move on his part bearing in mind that he is the current Chair of the ICGLR following the demise of Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa back in 2009.
Even though he made a joke about new university courses such as Conflict Resolutions and Management; the truth of the matter is, Museveni is acutely aware that conflicts in this region will be with us for many generations to come considering what goes on in Somalia, Darfur, Southern Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and DRC.
However, his advocacy for food sufficiency in the region as one way of minimizing conflicts must be lauded by even the most unrepentant critics of the Ugandan rule. A full stomach tends to sleep better than a stomach ravaged by the fangs of hunger.
However, what was unique in Museveni’s Kisumu visit was his engagement with locals after the official function. He drove for 2 hours to Raila Odinga’s rural Bondo home, greeting locals along the way to Kango’ Ka Jaramogi where he paid his respects to the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
He then went to Raila’s home for an evening meal and mingled with villagers for close to six hours when he drove back to Kisumu city for an overnight stay.
Leaving Bondo after 10pm was a sign of confidence that the people of Nyanza meant well and no harm would come his way; after all, he was the guest of the Prime Minister. But it also proved that he trusted his host to provide for his security 24/7. It is this trust for one another that can build confidence among our political leaders. Once this confidence is built at that high level; chances of it trickling down to the common Kenyan, Ugandan, Tanzanian, Burundian and Rwandan are very high.
It reminds me of another social visit between Museveni and Kagame. I remember during the last Christmas, Kagame actually visited M7 at his rural home where they tended to his herd of cows together.
Yes, M7 is on the right track and we in East Africa could do more with these bonding social visits by our leaders.