Thursday, January 6, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

January 5, 2011

With just two days to South Sudan’s referendum and another 43 days to Uganda’s general elections, it is obvious the two events will be the main stories in our local media in the next several weeks. However, as Kenya’s big media houses have set up camps in Juba, Rumbek, Abyiei and other urban centers in South Sudan, very little seems to have been in place to cover Uganda’s political campaigns already in top gear.

The seriousness with which the regional and world media are treating the South Sudan big day, come January 9 is understandable. There is a lot at stake in this referendum. One large country may end up being split should the separatists carry the day. If that happens, Africa will witness the birth of a new nation. However, if the pro one-Sudan voters carry the day, the future of peace in Sudan as a whole will be in the balance with serious ripple effects for the entire region , more so for her immediate neighbors such as Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Chad, Libya and Egypt.

The seriousness with which the results are awaited could not have been expressed better than through the abrupt visit of Omar El Bashir’s one day visit to Juba, the South’s capital. When he finally landed at Juba airport, he was met with dancing women and youths chanting separatist slogans. However, uncharacteristically, Bashir seemed to have come with a message of peace and reconciliation when he reassured his audiences that he would recognize and accept the decision of the South Sudanese either way and that it was important for South and North Sudan to remain friendly neighbors and even consider a federation should the vote go the secessionist way.

However, the only guarantee for a successful and peaceful referendum will be if the exercise is transparent, fair and without any manipulation; more importantly; if the results are accepted and embraced by both the Arab North and the Christian South.

Back in Uganda; much as the campaigns are in top gear, the number of high profile defectors to the NRM that President Museveni continues to receive must be cause for worry to the opposition parties. With the latest opinion polls conducted by New Vision putting Museveni miles ahead, it is an indication that the opposition candidates will need a miracle to turn the tables. More importantly, by the look of the figures themselves, there are indications that even a combined opposition party vote would most likely not affect the outcome considering that Museveni’s 66% margin seems unstoppable.

However, as the Ugandan campaigns hit the home stretch, there are press reports that should concern both managers of the process and professional bodies. Utterances attributed to candidate Besigye are regrettable especially when he is quoted to have regretted providing medical services to Museveni while they were in the bush fighting to liberate their country. Dr. Besigye must learn to move away from dwelling in the past, his past association with Museveni included. The past is the past and may not add value to his campaign in the present Uganda almost three decades later. He may well remember that the majority of Ugandan voter s in this year’s elections were probably not born during the bush war and may not be interested in or be bothered by details of their personal relations during the war. Issues affecting Ugandans today should be the basis of this year’s campaigns.

But even more worrying is the report in Uganda’s press that President Museveni is concerned that some members of the Electoral Commission may not be independent enough and that a number of them may be working for the opposition. This statement is interesting when one considers that all members of the Commission were appointed by the President. And if I remember correctly; a few weeks ago the EC declared that all opposition candidates would be allowed access to the tallying centers. Could this be the reason President Museveni suspects a conspiracy between some Commission members and the opposition?

The truth is; in a fair and free election where all parties are allowed to witness the process, there is no need to fear the possible collusion between some candidates and election managers. In such as process, the voter is king and has the final word.

Talking of elections in Africa; the crisis in Ivory Coast is yet to be over despite Kenya’s Prime Minister’s first mission to the West African country early this week. Despite positive news of a possible breakthrough in getting both Gbagbo and Ouattara to begin direct talks on resolving the impasse, spokesmen from both corners still found time to breathe fire and brimstones.

Ivoirians should learn from the Kenyan experience. When Kofi Annan chose to negotiate with proxies of Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga in early 2008, he made little progress. However when he chose to deal directly with the principals, the deal was struck pretty fast. Only a direct meeting between the feuding Ivorian leaders can settle the dispute.