EAC watching Kenyan elections with more than passing interest

Tuesday June 13 2017

A man in front of a burning vehicle during Kenya's post-election violence in January 2008. PHOTO | AFP

Kenya’s election in August has raised concern across the region on economic, security and political considerations, especially in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and the African Union.

With political temperatures and ethnic tensions rising, there are fears that the elections could turn violent and threaten trade.

The EastAfrican has established that the African Union Peace and Security Council has already sent the Kenya government a note verbale (informal request in diplospeak) to be allowed to undertake an on-the-ground assessment.

Diplomatic sources told The EastAfrican that the AU is trying to avoid a repeat of 2007, when it was forced to send a Panel of Eminent African Personalities led by Dr Kofi Annan to mediate after violence broke out over disputed presidential election results.

With only two months to the August 8 elections, stiff competition is shaping up between two leading presidential candidates — the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee Party and the united opposition under the National Super Alliance (Nasa) led by Raila Odinga.

Trigger refugees influx


Ugandan human-rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, told The EastAfrican that besides the disruption of the import lifeline, the second biggest concern for Ugandans that if the elections turn violent, it would trigger an influx of Kenyan refugees into the country, where some of those who fled to the country in 2007 still reside.

“Such an event would put pressure on the Ugandan economy at a time when the country is taking care of many refugees from South Sudan, Burundi, Congo, and Rwanda,” said Mr Opiyo.

Ugandan and Rwandan traders who lost their goods during the 2007/8 post-election violence are still demanding $50 million in compensation from the Kenya government.

READ: Traders put pressure on Kenya for poll violence compensation

John Bosco Rusagara, a member of the East African Business Council, said that the 16 traders — operating under the East African Freight Forwarders Association — are weary of waiting for compensation and could seek alternatives if they note signs of a repeat.

Last October, the High Court in Mombasa ordered the Kenya Ports Authority to pay Tanzania’s Modern Holdings East Africa $819,500 for a consignment it lost during the 2008 post-election violence.

ALSO READ: Why businesses are not taking political risk cover as Kenya, Rwanda vote


Besides disruption of trade, the Kenyan election has also attracted political interest in the neighbouring countries in Tanzania and Uganda, with the focus on Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni.

Nicodemus Minde, a Tanzanian political commentator, said Kenya is important in the region and each leader in the East African Community is closely watching and have their preferences.

“While President John Magufuli is yet to openly support any candidate, he remains a long-time friend of Mr Odinga, while President Museveni has been in a love-hate relationship with Mr Odinga,” Mr Minde said.

In the 2013 elections, President Museveni openly supported Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, who reciprocated by crossing the border and campaigning for the Ugandan president in the February 2016 elections.

READ: Ruto in Uganda: Meddling in local politics or East Africa diplomacy?

Elder statesman

Mr Opiyo says President Museveni sees himself as the elder statesman in the region and would rather rally behind the younger Kenyatta, who would be beholden to him, as compared with the older Odinga, with whom he has had differences before.

“President Museveni always perceived Mr Odinga as being sympathetic to the opposition in Uganda, and even though he is somewhat careful this time not to reveal his preference early, it would be difficult for him to switch to Mr Odinga’s camp,” said Mr Opiyo.

During the Ugandan election last year, the aborted opposition umbrella, the Democratic Alliance, which included Amama Mbabazi and Dr Kizza Besigye, tried to reach out to Mr Odinga to unite them and front one candidate against Museveni, who had backed Mr Odinga’s opponents in the 2007 and 2013 elections.

In 2007, the Kenyan opposition claimed that Uganda People’s Defence Forces were sent to Eldoret and Kisumu to put down protests against former president Mwai Kibaki at the height of the post-election violence.

The differences between President Museveni and Mr Odinga were heightened by Uganda’s ownership claim of Migingo Island in Lake Victoria where UPDF continues to harass Kenyan fishermen.

Wanting to influence outcome

In Tanzania, the opposition party Chadema recently declared its support for Mr Kenyatta on the grounds that Mr Odinga supported President Magufuli of the ruling CCM in the October 2015 elections.

Mr Minde says the change of heart in Chadema — which previously had close association with Mr Odinga in 2007 and 2013 — could be traced to former prime minister Edward  Lowassa’s entry into Chadema and the friendship between Mr Odinga and President Magufuli.

Historians say that the history of the region is that those who consider themselves as elders always want to influence whoever comes to power in the neighbouring countries, especially among the three initial EAC states — Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

For instance, President Museveni was very anxious about the coming in of former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete in 2005, having had good working relations with his predecessor, Benjamin Mkapa.

Similarly, the late Julius Nyerere effected the ouster of Idi Amin in 1979 perhaps because he was a close friend to Uganda’s former leader Milton Obote.

In Kenya, President Daniel arap Moi was not comfortable with Museveni’s imminent ascendancy to power and unsuccessfully tried to broker a government of national unity in Nairobi in 1985, between Mr Museveni and Tito Okello.