Wednesday, January 26, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

January 26, 2011

It all started with individual politicians visiting Kampala for this or that presidential function. It looked rather ordinary at the time when William Ruto, out of the blues and with court cases hanging over his head, attended the launch of Yoweri Museveni’s 2011 presidential campaign. At that time, no Kenyan or Ugandan politician raised the alarm assuming that it was one of those inconsequential visits that would not impact either way on the East African politics.

A few weeks later, it was the turn of one of the junior politicians from Bungoma to visit and attend one of the NRM rallies. Again observers ignored the visit as one of those attention seekers from Kenya. However, when Kenya’s Prime Minister suddenly appeared at one of the rallies with President Museveni to be followed in quick succession by Kenya’s Vice President and Minister for Information, regional attention was raised.

We may remember that just recently in October last year, Tanzania held its general elections without any high profile Kenyan politician attending any of Jakaya Kikwete’s rallies. It was a Tanzanian affair.

Let me state from the outset that there is nothing wrong with high ranking Kenyan or any East African politician visiting member states during elections for whatever diplomatic reasons. However, we must be sensitive to the fact that we are no longer in the era of single party politics of the 1980s when CCM was the only political party in Bongoland, KANU the only political party in Kenya and NRM was the only ruling party in Uganda.

We are in the era of multiparty competitive politics where so many interest groups are competing for power at the ballot box. Therefore for any high ranking politician in a neighbouring country to appear at a rally of a ruling party is to unfairly endorse that party at the expense of the others. In the African context, it is seen as having taken sides in a contest between two bothers in a neighboring village. And much as the visiting politician will be exalted by his host, chances of being resented by politicians from other parties are very high.

Now that Kenya’s parliamentarians have raised the alarm about the possible backlash from such visits, can our political leaders go slow in their meddling in Ugandan politics? Can we this time round allow Ugandans to choose their own leaders without us being seen to be meddling in their internal affairs?

I am just wondering aloud; if politicians like Besigye, Mao or Olara Otuni had chosen to participate in Kenya’s referendum campaigns and appeared at the Green or Red rallies! Or better still, if Yoweri Museveni had decided to join Mwai Kibaki during the referendum campaigns and appeared with him at one of the rallies in Busia or Kakamega! I can assure you they would have been maligned by opposing camps until the cows came home.

The other worrying trend is this onslaught from Kenya in crisscrossing the continent to lobby African leaders against the ICC. Led by Kenya’s Vice President, it would appear like the approach has received mixed reactions from different capitals. First, there is the issue of how leaders to be lobbied was arrived at and by who if senior cabinet members in the Kenya Government have disowned Kalonzo Musyoka including a minister from his very ODM-K party.

However, even if Kenyans were to endorse Kalonzo Musyoka’s lone ranger diplomacy, why didn’t his lobbying start from the East African Community members? How come the presidents of Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania have not been consulted? Why fly all the way to Egypt, South Africa, Malawi and Libya before going to Kigali and Dar es Salaam? Are these the most influential voices at the AU?

At the East African level, Kenya is being accused by its own parliamentarians regarding its campaign to occupy the EAC Secretary General’s seat. I’m not sure where this campaign is being conducted but talking to well placed officials at the Kenya Ministry of East African Community, I was informed that the choice of who becomes the next Secretary General can never be subjected to any debate. It is the prerogative of the Heads of State at their annual Summit.

Whatever the arguments may be, it is now becoming clearer that in law, the EAC has only had two Secretary Generals since its inauguration in 2000 which is ten years ago and each SG has served a five year term. However, it must be remembered that when the Permanent Tripartite Commission was set up to revive the community, a Kenyan was appointed to oversee its operations from 1996 to 2001. In effect, the first EAC Secretary General was Hon Amanya Mushega from Uganda who served from 2001 to 2006 before he was succeeded by the outgoing Juma Mwapachu

The question to ask is this: should this technicality give Kenya another chance before Rwanda and Burundi have their turn? Kenyan MPs are saying that that decision should be left to Rwanda and Burundi. If they feel that Kenya should be next based on information now available, so be it. However, Kenya has the chance to boost its image within the community if it doesn’t fight tooth and nail to have the post. Right and statutory as it may seem, it is bound to send the wrong signal among member states. We must call for sobriety in this debate.