Kagame's leadership more influential on continent than East Africa

Saturday July 29 2017

As Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame looks to another seven-year term, his expected victory in the August 4 polls is sure to guarantee his place as East Africa’s second longest-serving leader after Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.

That, however, is unlikely to earn him any more influence than he presently commands in the bloc. Some observers attribute this to the small pool of leaders in the region, some of whom already have difficult relations with Kigali that are not likely to thaw soon.

They posit that he is likely to do better at the continental level, where opportunities for more likeminded leaders are more, and in some sections of Central and West Africa inspired by his stance against Paris and rhetoric to wean off African countries from foreign dependence.

Last year, for instance, President Kagame was lauded for leading a review of the African Union and coming up with four practical recommendations in a swift manner.

They include enabling the AU to finance itself in the long term; focusing the AU on key priorities with continental scope; realigning its institutions to deliver against those priorities; and improving AU’s political and operational efficiency.

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Kigali also concluded the establishment of co-operation with a number of Central and West African countries — notably, Guinea Conakry, Benin, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, and Equatorial Guinea — even as it re-joined the Central African economic bloc ostensibly to reset commercial ties with its 11 member states, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Ten years ago, Kigali quit the Communauté économique des Etats de l’Afrique centrale (CEEAC) on the pretext that it needed to focus on its membership in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the East African Community.

According to some sources, though, Kigali has in recent times been none too pleased by what it views as unnecessary red tape in Kenya and Uganda, which slows down implementation of resolutions made, and the shifts in hitherto agreed positions.

They cite, for instance, Kampala’s decision to change the route of the Standard Gauge Railway to South Sudan ahead of Kigali when all along Rwanda had been proactive in promoting the regional project.

A glimmer of hope seems to have emerged from the least likely source. After years of tense relations, Kigali and Dar es Salaam made amends following President John Magufuli’s win in November 2015.

His leadership style has been likened to President Kagame’s. Tanzania is known to wield considerable influence over Burundi and this could help to de-escalate tensions between Bujumbura and Kigali.

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