Rwanda harvested big in 2016, EAC scored poorly, 2017 brings uncertainty

Monday January 2 2017

Christopher Kayumba

Christopher Kayumba 

By Christopher Kayumba

This is the time of year we look back at the year that was and try to map out what the new one might bring.

Overall, 2016 turned out to be a year of elections in East Africa; election related tomfooleries; in cases, crude power struggles and, against our prediction, failure, as a region, to settle political disagreements peacefully.

For in general, if we were to take the five East African states as a family, I would say that three stories defined it: these are the failure to resolve the Burundi crisis despite great expectations; weaponised power struggles between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Dr. Riek Machar in South Sudan and disagreements among EAC leaders over the European Union trade deal.

And if we take the view that ensuring peace within individual states and across borders as well as promoting ideals of democracy and common business interests are central to the success of the idea of a “community,” we can conclude that 2016 was a bad year for the EAC.

Considering that failure to negotiate peace in Burundi or contribute to sanity in S. Sudan or agree a common approach to the EU trade deal weren’t inevitable but a consequence of lack of political will and provincialism on the part of some EAC leaders, this shakes faith of many committed East Africans including myself.

And since Burundi’s peace facilitator former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa recently announced that Nkurunziza’s government was legitimate and that security had returned in the country, don’t expect the process he is leading to bring about understanding between warring parties in 2017 nor should you expect similar outcome in South Sudan where talk of elections amid armed violence is now ripe.

Nonetheless, if we were to pick winners in the same family on the basis of what was achieved internally, Rwanda would walk away with gold, Tanzania silver and Kenya Bronze while Uganda would go home with nothing but by far better off than Burundi or South Sudan.

For with the exception of renewed Rwanda-France dispute over who shot down the now proverbial Habyarimana plane and Burundi’s continued claim of interference, 2016 was a good year for Rwanda.

This is the year the nation’s quiet but focused investment paid off with the expansion of the country’s airline and completion of a number of infrastructure projects including a magnificent conventional centre and three five star hotels, besides hosting, for the first time ever, an African Union summit etc.

And in Tanzania, despite accusations of attempts to muzzle the press and constrain political activity, President John Magufuli’s continued fight against corruption, wastage and make the public sector respectable again made 2016 good for his country.

And in matters democratic, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s seeming ability to work with the opposition leading to sending home commissioners of Kenya’s Electoral and Boundary Commission was a winner despite continued reports of big corruption, fights over changes to the electoral law and the un-honourable fist-fights in parliament among that country’s honourables.

In Uganda, as the Buganda King put it recently, 2016 was a “difficult year” not only because of the endless running battles between the police and opposition linchpin Dr Kizza Besigye; student riots and closure of Makerere University, but also because of the killings in Kasese and arrest of King Mumbere of the Bakonzo.

And in Burundi, despite attempts at some spin of “there is security in the country” variety, it was a really bad year for this bleeding country with many citizens still in refugee camps, continued assassination attempts; hard economic conditions, and moves to remove presidential terms in the constitution.

And as we say goodbye to 2016, we can predict that, unless something dramatic happens to change the region’s current trajectory, 2017 won’t be different as Kenya and Rwanda go to polls; Museveni’s government struggles to contain Dr Besigye and the fall out in Kasese; Dr Magufuli in Tanzania enforces bans on political activities; and Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi “eats” his third term as he plots a fourth and S. Sudan’s two big men continue to use violence to pursue their conflicts.

And, of course, the election to watch isn’t Rwanda’s; that was settled by the referendum and President Kagame is expected to effortlessly be re-elected. The election to watch is Kenya’s, which, as protagonists are already in fighting mode over changes to the electoral law is already making regional players nervous.

Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba