Peace at last: No polls in East Africa in 2019, imagine that!

Tuesday January 8 2019

EAC presidents 2001

EAC presidents in this picture taken on May 12, 2001 in Kampala: Tanzania's Benjamin Mkapa (left), Uganda's Yoweri Museveni (centre) and Daniel arap Moi of Kenya. The three signed the treaty to re-establish the EAC on November 30, 1999. It came fully in force in July 2000. PHOTO | NMG 

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Years like 2019 don’t come along frequently in East Africa, so let’s relish it.

Consider, for example, that this year there will no election or referendum in any East African Community country. Last year in May, there was the constitutional referendum in Burundi, to extend Supreme Eternal Guide Pierre Nkurunziza’s rule.

And Kenya’s contentious and drawn-out 2017 election effectively only ended in March 2018, when President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition chief Raila Odinga famously shook hands.

Next year, election observers, and presumably court judges hearing election disputes, won’t get any sleep. Tanzania will have a general election; and Burundi too. And we don’t know what will happen in South Sudan.

On the fringes of the EAC, there will be a general election in Sudan, parliamentary elections in Somalia, and the big one – Ethiopia. If Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed continues in his reformist and enlightened vein, the outcome in Ethiopia could be uplifting for the sub-region.

In Sudan, where Omar al-Bashir has been caught on the back foot by protests, anything could happen. Somalia too is iffy. In any event, outcomes there could, as usual, have a far-reaching impact on the EAC.

Then early in 2021, Uganda will go to the polls, with President Yoweri Museveni, who last year orchestrated another presidential-longevity constitutional amendment – this time to lift the presidential age limit – will seek to notch his fourth decade in office, and surpass the East African record by many years.

So if you are planning a regional wedding, or on setting up an East Africa-wide business, and want to do it peacefully, 2019 is the year for it.

Which all takes us back to 1999. This year, if we have the presence of mind, we should be holding year-long festivities to mark the 20th anniversary of the revival of the EAC.

The treaty to re-establish the EAC was signed on November 30, 1999. It came fully in force in July 2000.

In Uganda, Museveni was president. In Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa was president. And in Kenya, it was Daniel arap Moi.

Kenya was a shambles, and Moi was facing pressure for political reform.

It was a point at which Museveni was still in his element. Mkapa, a graduate of Makerere University, Kampala, was both pan-East African and pan-Africanist. Like Museveni, who saw some action in the Mozambique struggle, Mkapa was steeped in Southern Africa liberation.

They were thus willing to pay a reasonable price for the revival of the EAC, and being deferential to Moi was an important part of that.

Despite the fact that in both countries Kenya was blamed for the collapse of the first EAC, they were happy to let Moi’s choice, Francis Muthaura, be the first secretary general of the EAC.

But there was more to it. At that point, Moi had run out of track. It appeared there was nothing he could do to salvage a legacy. However, it seems now that Moi was shrewd enough to see the EAC as a legacy project.

At least he could leave an East Africa that was different from what it was when he became president in 1978 – with a Kenyan heading it.

In many ways, one of key reasons for Moi’s departure in 2002, and Kenya’s return to democracy, was the EAC revival – to 1999.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]