The political situation of the Eastern Africa region will surely be redefined beginning this year until somewhere in 2018. This is because the nations that are located within this geographical area will be charting their political paths in this three year period. Ethiopians went to the ballot some three weeks ago and later in October this year, the Tanzanians will also be participating in the general elections. Come 2016, the Ugandans will also be voting and our dear friends in the Democratic Republic of Congo will also be engaged in the same exercise. In 2017, the focus would then shift to Kenya and Rwanda while South Sudan’s turn will be in 2018. Sudan (Khartoum) had its elections in May while the elections in Burundi were rescheduled after mass protests from the citizens.
From the hindsight, all these countries with the exception of Tanzania, have at least experienced coup d’états in their political history. In Kenya, however, the 1982 attempt to overthrow the government was unsuccessful unlike in the other nations where coups took place and as a result, democratic space has hardly been realized. Since the late Premier of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi overthrew Mengitsu Haile Mariam’s government in 1991, Abyssinia has largely remained an authoritarian state with most political freedoms being curtailed. Also in Uganda, so many coups took place with the last one being orchestrated by the current president Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement troops against Tito Okello who had subsequently engineered a plot against Dr. Milton Obote.
To date, it can be seen that in the ‘Pearl of Africa’ the individuals who seem to oppose the government are normally victimized by the state security officers. Further across in Burundi, civil wars were the norm until 2005 when a peace agreement was signed in Arusha to bring to an end the civil strife. Rwanda experienced the worst of them all when the then president Habyarimana was assassinated and this culminated to a genocide that claimed the lives of 800,000 people. Sudan’s strongman, President Bashir also seized power through a coup. The new nation of South Sudan also experienced an attempt to overthrow Salvar Kiir’s-led government reportedly by former Vice-President Riek Machar. The pariah state of Somalia’s political misfortunes seemingly began when Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991 and since then, stability has been an elusive subject for its citizenry.
The Current Situation.
In Burundi, there is still political turmoil following the aftermath of the attempted coup by General Godefraid Niyombare against the incumbent, Pierre Nkurunzinza that took place in April this year. What occasioned the coup was the unpopular decision by Nkurunzinza to seek for another term against the constitutional provision of serving for only two terms. The situation was expected to be ephemeral but hordes of Burundians are crossing the border over to Tanzania raising fears of a possible return to the dark days that were marked by infighting among the citizens. Currently, the national elections have been postponed amid fears that the government side would rig immensely. The opposition members have also complained about harassment from the security personnel and this definitely sets a fertile ground for the mortification of the opposition to Nkurunzinza’s unlawful bid for the presidency.
In Tanzania, the campaigns to succeed President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete are going on peacefully. I admire Tanzanians for the democracy that they exhibit. To say the least, Tanzania is a democratic model that should be embraced by the other Eastern Africa states in terms of the tranquility that is displayed during the electioneering period despite being dominated by one party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). This can be attributed to socialism that was initiated by the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere where there was a common spirit of brotherhood that was bred among the residents of Tanzania.
Uganda’s political situation is not democratic at all. Democracy in Uganda remains to be theoretical and not practical since those who oppose Museveni normally end up being victimized and stigmatized politically. If the current events are to go by, then next year’s election will be a bit tight for the sitting president bearing in mind that two of his former allies turned political foes have declared their candidature for the top seat. These two are namely Amama Mbabazi who was once a Prime Minister and General David Sejusa, a former intelligence chief of President Museveni.
Amama Mbabazi was ostensibly sacked after Museveni got the information that he was planning to challenge him for the presidency on the National Resistance Movement (NRM) ticket. Mbabazi who hails from the Bakiga community has since galvanized support in the western region of Uganda prompting Museveni to appoint a large number of ministers from this region. What I understand and clearly know is that Museveni will not allow Mbabazi to seek for the presidency under the NRM ticket. Let’s face the hard fact; Museveni came to power through the NRM and by being its leader for several decades, he certainly won’t watch a political figure take control of his party. Hence, the reality is that Mbabazi is most likely to use a different political party in his attempt to wrestle the presidency from Kaguta Museveni.
Already, police around Uganda are pulling down Mbabazi’s posters and also detaining some of his supporters and this is just a confirmation that next year’s election is not likely to be free and fair. Another potential presidential contestant, General David Sejusa has also faced some bottlenecks in his quest to succeed Museveni. General Sejusa was once an insider in Museveni’s as he was the head of intelligence but was fired after he disclosed that Museveni was grooming his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba head of the Special Forces, to become the country’s leader. After being shown the door, Sejusa went on a self-imposed exile for one and a half years. When he returned, he was reprimanded for what the Ugandan authorities alleged was an illegal political gathering.
All these political events in Uganda signify that Yoweri Museveni is ready to retain the presidency even by using unorthodox means. Analysts are predicting that next year’s polls are likely to be more intense compared to the previous election in which Museveni literally dealt with Dr. Kizza Besigye with an iron fist. However, the opposition, through The Democratic Alliance is exploring the possibility of fronting one candidate to face the incumbent. Methinks that unity within the opposition and a well-oiled campaign machinery will ultimately give Museveni a run for his money.
In Rwanda, political temperatures have been on the rise recently due to the new developments that President Paul Kagame is expected to vie for another term subject to constitutional changes. Majority of his supporters including his advisors are pushing for a change in the constitutional term limits to allow him to seek the presidency in 2017. Kagame has been in office since 1994 at the end of the genocide but his official two terms would be elapsing in 2017 having started in 2003 when the constitution was changed. The current legal provision allows the president to vie for two terms of 7 years each. However, as usual, members of the opposition have expressed displeasure towards this event and the final word still rests with Kagame that is whether he will agree with the constitutional changes or step down. Kagame has been known to frustrate the opposition in recent times by often detaining them and disallowing them to participate in the electoral process. This suggests that Rwanda is still an authoritarian state.
Back home, 2017 will be a year in which we shall conduct general elections. In as much as Kenyan politics are largely tribal, democratically we have made tangible strides when compared to most of the neighboring states. Our political parties are known to be personal and they often times are short-lived. Currently, it is expected that the coming elections will be a showdown between President Uhuru Kenyatta and the opposition chief, Raila Odinga. I wish to commend the retired president Mwai Kibaki for not using uncouth means to silence his critics and this allowed open criticism to be established in the country. This was totally unheard of during the eras of Daniel Moi and Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Kenya has at least matured democratically and I do not expect the constitution to be breached any time soon.
The situation in South Sudan is dreadful as the government forces continue to fight with the Machar-led rebels. It is now 18 months since fighting broke out in the world’s youngest state and the return to normalcy is still far-fetched. Several peace meetings have been organized to restore tranquility but it seems each side of the political divide tend to hold to hard-line positions. This has jeopardized the progress of this nation politically, socially and economically. Due to the current situation, elections that were due in July 2016 were postponed by two years to July 2018. However, if reconciliation will be a mirage then full-blown civil war will be imminent and a banana republic and/or a failed state will be in the offing.
The Possible Future Political Scenario:
All the Eastern Africa nations are characterized by extractive political institutions except Kenya and Tanzania that have inclusive political institutions. This implies that most states have authoritarian regimes that allow power to be concentrated on a small group of people. The result of having extractive political institutions is that in the long-run such governments tend to be overthrown especially if they act contrary to people’s expectations. There is evidence from the world history that however strong economically a state is, it is bound to collapse if political inclusiveness is not incorporated in the way it conducts its affairs. This can be seen from the earliest civilizations of the Aztec and Inca in South America, the Natufian civilization in the Middle East, the disintegration of the Roman Republic, the Glorious Revolution in England, the fall of the USSR, the recent Arab Spring that was witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and more recently the coup waged by the civilians against Blaise Campaore in Burkina Faso.
What I am driving at is that the success to stop Pierre Nkurunzinza from seeking another presidential term will have several implications especially around the Eastern Africa region. The ripple effects will definitely be seen in Uganda and also in Rwanda. Blocking Nkurunzinza will be an impetus and a voice of reason for the people of Uganda and Rwanda to revolt against their presidents. I am neither predicting doom nor gloom for these state but it is only a possibility since the spill-over effects of political revolutions are bound to happen and a good example of this is the Arab Spring. So, the leaders of Rwanda and Uganda ought to be circumspect in order to avoid such happenstances. The only way to avoid such scenarios would be to allow institutional shifts and drifts to take place whereby at the end inclusive political institutions will be established. Such institutions would allow democracy to be a true and real phenomenon in these states.
Ethiopia is also courting the same path due to its authoritarian regime. Much cannot be said of South Sudan which has completely lost direction. Sudan, is also a potential victim because of the nature of its political institutions. Kenya and Tanzania will progress in the long-run as their political institutions did shift to inclusiveness. Irrespective of the length of time it takes for these regimes to collapse, the fall is bound to happen if history is to go by. These elections should thus be eye-openers to these oligarchs who should read between the lines about the recent complains and actions from the people. Failure to accept people’s demands may spell doom for some of them. So, this three year period will be a defining moment in the Eastern Africa region in which, as I see, the “iron curtain” may come tumbling down.