By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO *
As Kenya heads into the first election under its new Constitution, the East African Community too will begin its most dramatic transition.
The transition season will end in 2017 in Rwanda, when President Paul Kagame is scheduled to step down. How the leaders and East African citizens play their hands over this period, could make or break the East African project.
For starters, more East African leaders will be leaving office and handing over to new leaders in this period, than at any other in the region’s history. Kenya’s president steps down next year in March when the country votes, after serving his constitutionally provided two terms in office.
Burundi and Tanzania, both countries with term limits, will go to the polls in 2015 and Presidents Pierre Nkurunzinza and Jakaya Kikwete will leave office.
Only Uganda, where term limits were scrapped, goes to elections in 2016 with uncertainties about whether President Yoweri Museveni — who has been in power since 1986 and is already the longest-serving East African president ever — will bow out or soldier on.
Over the past year, Museveni has had to continually quell his riotous ruling National Resistance Movement, where youthful MPs, sensing that the elder leader’s prestige has been tarnished by years of corrupt government and alleged nepotism, figure that he is no longer the Colossus he was some years back.
At the official age of 68, Museveni is looking wan and is frequently off colour, which has prompted what promises to be a messy internal succession scramble. So far, it is presumed that the abstemious and wily NRM secretary-general, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, is the man at the front of the succession queue.
Other claimants to Museveni’s throne have ganged up on him, and have thrown everything that is not nailed down at his head and character.
More than any other in the region, the succession in Uganda is set to be the most unpredictable.
In Rwanda, Kagame has given all indications that he is packing his bags and clearing out of State House. But Rwanda-watching and Kagame-bashing and Kagame-boosting are among the biggest industries in the world as far as Africa goes, so there are many voices who don’t think the former guerrilla leader will leave office.
In any event, there is one thing about Rwanda that is not doubt. The Rwanda Patriotic Front, easily Africa’s most disciplined ruling party and one of its richest, will continue to run the show for a long while. And Kagame, who will still be a relatively youthful 60-year-old in 2017, will continue to exert influence over how business is conducted in Rwanda.
The comings and goings in East African State Houses over the next five years are important, because over this same period, the EAC will be undergoing a radical remake. Last week, EAC Secretary General Dr Richard Sezibera said fragile South Sudan’s application to join the EAC is being studied.
South Sudan’s admission is likely to be quick. Uganda’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Community Affairs Eriya Kategaya said earlier this year at the launch of the Society for International Development’s State of East Africa Report 2012 in Nairobi, that there was a strategic need to admit South Sudan into the EAC fold in order to “protect the new nation against aggression by [north] Sudan.”
War-scarred but slowly stabilising Somalia has also applied to join.
Somalia will take critical steps towards restoring functioning government for the first time in over 20 years between now and August, when it will have passed a new constitution, elected a new parliament, and its first democratically appointed president in generations.
The Amisom wand
The modest progress made in stabilising Somalia is thanks to the African Union’s peacekeeping force in Somalia, Amisom. Until this year, two EAC countries — Uganda and Burundi — were the only two countries providing troops for Amisom and it is they who broke the militant Al Shabaab’s back in Mogadishu, and lately took the key city of Afgoye, Somalia’s breadbasket, considerably improving food security, an important factor if the country is to return to normalcy.
Kenya entered the Somalia fray in October 2011, and after a cautious first few months, has been aggressive in recent weeks, taking the town of Afmadow, and setting its sights on the strategic Kismayu port town.
The Kenya Defence Forces, which were “re-hatted” as Amisom troops in February, said last week that they would have Kismayu in the bag by the key date of August.
With Kismayu, Mogadishu, and other important regions of Somalia controlled by Amisom and the Somalia government, the new government elected in August will have a reasonable degree of credibility. In all probability, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti Amisom forces — which will shortly be joined by Sierra Leone — will remain in Somalia for a few more years.
They are unlikely to leave their shining foreign policy prize out of the EAC, when they withdraw. Indeed, because of the mutual EAC defence pact, the regional armies will have a legal basis to remain in Somalia were the Amisom mandate to expire soon, if it were a member of the Community.
How the EAC will cope with, possibly, five new presidents having to deal with new members — South Sudan and Somalia — who are politically unstable and whose government structures will still be primitive, is anyone’s guess.
History is the best guide here. The EAC has survived transitions before — none of the EAC presidents in power today, with the exception of Museveni in Uganda, was in office when the EAC charter was first signed in 1999.
But some of East Africa’s coming challenges are unprecedented.
According to the State of East Africa Report 2012 (SoEAR2012), the region’s population has grown by 24 million since 2005 and was estimated to be 139 million in 2010.
“The most important population characteristic of East Africa are its children and youth”, said SoEAR2012, “who account for an overwhelming majority, 80 per cent, of the region’s population in 2010.”
Most of these are unemployed, with youth joblessness rates in countries like Uganda estimated to be over 80 per cent. Youth discontent and unrest is rising, and over the next five years, new — and possibly inexperienced — EAC leaders will be the ones to deal with the problem before it explodes into revolt.
Kenya’s Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is aiming to register 18 million voters in total — about four million more than the number in 2007. Not all these voters will be youths, but if we consider that Kenya’s population is currently increasing by one million every year, and that between 1999 and 2006 the working-age population increased from 9.7 million to 13.1 million (approximately 500,000 young people joining the work force every year) then it is likely that most of Kenya’s new voters will be between 18 and 24 years old.
With their vote in 2013, will come expectations of a good deal from the new leaders. This same pattern will be replicated in most of East Africa.
With the recent discoveries of oil and gas in the region, governments will have the money to pay for new job and social programmes and buy off restless voters.
Uganda’s oil is expected to start flowing in 2017, Kenya’s at perhaps around the same time. Tanzania is also likely to find a lot more deposits of gas, as is Rwanda, which is also exploring for oil.
However, most of the secessionist demons in Africa also live in East Africa. The region has seen the most number of successful secessions in Africa —Ethiopia/Eritrea, the Sudans; and there is a high possibility Somaliland will break away — evidence that perhaps East Africans are quite a schizophrenic people, integrationist and parochial at the same time. The Tanzanian Union is also coming under pressure. A fortnight ago in Zanzibar, Uamsho, a group that is demanding a referendum on Zanzibar’s secession from Tanzania, was behind three days of disturbances in which churches were burnt.
In the 2010 election, Zanzibar took some steps to put an end to perennial election violence by instituting a new power-sharing deal so that it’s no longer “winner takes all”: Ali Mohamed Shein from the governing CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi) party was voted in as president in elections in November 2010.
He narrowly beat Seif Sharif Hamad of the opposition Civic United Front. Under a power-sharing deal, Mr Sharif serves as one of Shein’s vice-presidents. The power-sharing deal was enshrined in a constitutional amendment adopted in 2010 to end perennial election violence.
While Uamsho’s secessionist demands are a new wrinkle Tanzania doesn’t need, the fact that the country’s new constitution is expected to be inaugurated in April 2014, means it has a chance to offer Zanzibar an additional calming sweetener.
The worry in Tanzania will probably be that Kikwete’s successor will have a bigger political fight on his hand than his predecessor.
The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s fortunes have been dwindling in recent years, as the party is bogged down by corruption scandals and rising internal struggles. In the 2005 election, for example, CCM won 206 out of 232 seats, and Kikwete was elected with 80 per cent of the vote.
It bled in the 2010 election. CCM won 186 out of 239 seats, and this time Kikwete had to make do with 62 per cent of the vote — even then, there were allegations that the vote was stolen.
CCM should still scrape by, but the fact that it has become comfortable with running the show largely unchallenged since just after Independence, means it could become nasty if faced with the real possibility of losing power. That point, though, is not about to come tomorrow.
In November last year, a rights group reported that more than 300 people had been killed in the preceding five months, including opposition and former rebel FNL members.
The dangerous slide continued in Burundi, with Human Rights Watch reporting last month that there had been a significant increase in political violence: “Reciprocal killings by members of the ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) and the former rebel group the National Liberation Forces (FNL) increased, particularly in Bujumbura and in Bujumbura Rural Province. Impunity for these crimes remains one of the most serious obstacles to peace. The single largest incident of killings took place in September in Gatumba, near the Congolese border.”
Of the five members of the EAC, Burundi is probably the one over which most sleep should be lost. But if Nkurunziza’s successor is a gentler ruler, it too might still have a prayer.
Long-term, East Africa must worry about a common problem of institutional credibility. It seems that the majority of East African president are able to capture their countries’ imaginations, but the institutions th e state and other leaders don’t.
A Gallup poll published on April 25, for example, showed that in Kenya 62 per cent of respondents approved of President Kibaki, but only 38 per cent approved of the country’s wider leadership.
In Tanzania, 66 per cent approved of President Kikwete, but only 59 per cent approved of the country’s wider leadership. In Uganda, 60 per cent of respondents approved of President Museveni, but only 49 per cent of the country’s wider leadership.
There were no polling numbers for Rwanda, but President Kagame typically turns in high ratings in most opinion polling. Little polling is done in Burundi, but the same pattern might well be repeated there.
These numbers might flatter the leaders, but for as long East Africa is a region ruled by men, not institutions, it is will also more likely continue to report a democratic deficit.
*Courtesy of The East African