Uganda’s opposition has questioned the endless trips by Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto to Uganda, particularly his appearance at the campaign rally of President Yoweri Museveni in Kapchorwa town in eastern Uganda, which they described as a foreign leader meddling in the politics of another sovereign country.
This was the second time in as many months that Mr Ruto was being hosted by the Ugandan leader, but The EastAfrican has learnt that the core agenda behind these frequent visits is the formation of a Union of East Africa, a delicate regional matter that President Museveni and the Jubilee Alliance leaders President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy are discussing.
The Kenyan leaders have in the recent past paid regular visits to Uganda to engage President Museveni, according to Mike Mukula, a high-ranking official in Uganda’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), who is also a longtime friend of Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga.
Speaking to The EastAfrican at his residence in Kampala on December 10, Mr Mukula claimed that Mr Ruto’s latest visit was in furtherance of talks to fast-track the political federation.
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“This is why Deputy President Ruto was here,” said Mr Mukula. “He didn’t come to campaign for President Museveni as some people are suggesting; he was here on matters of a bilateral nature pertaining to East Africa.
“Mr Ruto paid a courtesy call on President Museveni who, in turn, out of courtesy, invited his guest to greet the people. Ruto is very positive [about the political federation]. This is part of the ongoing brotherly consultation between the two sister nations.”
The opposition criticised Mr Ruto’s presence at the rally, where he urged the crowd to vote for President Museveni because “he is the best person to continue leading Uganda.” If, as claimed, Mr Ruto’s visit was official, he should have met President Museveni at his office, they said.
“It goes against all reason because why would a foreign leader come to interfere in the internal affairs of our country?” independent presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi was quoted by the Observer as asking.
Democratic Party leader Norbert Mao said Mr Ruto should take up Ugandan citizenship and be appointed a minister in President Museveni’s government if he cannot refrain from making political statements during these repeated “official” visits.
However, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Amina Mohamed told The EastAfrican that Mr Ruto visited Uganda in an official capacity and denied that Kenya was interfering in the internal affairs of Uganda.
Mr Ruto’s spokesman David Mugonyi also maintained that this was an “official visit,” although he differed with Mr Mukula’s claim that the core agenda was EAC political unity.
According to Mr Mugonyi, the deputy president was in Uganda to discuss three issues with President Museveni: The Kapchorwa road linking the two countries; the problem of cattle rustling involving various communities in Kenya and Uganda such as the Sebei, Sabaot, Turkana, Karimojong, Pokot and, to some extent, the Toposa of South Sudan; and the need to preserve the forest around Mt Elgon that cuts across the border.
Mr Mukula, who is the national vice-chairman of NRM and also Member of Parliament for Soroti Municipality, claimed that Mr Ruto had been doing informal shuttle diplomacy in the region to canvas for the federation. He claimed to have engaged Mr Ruto on the subject immediately after the Kenyan leader met President Museveni so as to emphasise Uganda’s push for the political unity of East Africa and Mr Ruto “was positive.”
Mr Mukula said: “We talked about political federation with Ruto yesterday [Wednesday] when I saw him off at the airport. He said Kenyans believe in Museveni because he is an active partner for Kenya’s peace by fighting terrorism in Somalia.”
What is interesting though is that President Museveni’s friendship with Kenyan leaders has been shifting from one political camp to another. In the past, Museveni appeared to be very close to former president Mwai Kibaki before eventually allying with Raila Odinga.
In February 2012, the Ugandan leader met Mr Odinga in the latter’s home town of Kisumu, and a fortnight later, the two met again at State House Entebbe over the EAC political federation. At the time, President Museveni’s calculation was that Mr Odinga enjoyed unrivalled popularity and was a shoo-in for Kenya’s next president once the Kibaki presidency ended in 2013.
However, political realignments in Kenya ahead of the March 2013 elections saw the birth of the Jubilee Alliance that defeated Mr Odinga’s Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) in the presidential race.
President Museveni switched gears and backed the Jubilee leaders; he was the first African leader to publicly attack the International Criminal Court for indicting President Kenyatta and his running mate over alleged crimes in the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya.
“Jubilee Alliance as a government in power is our natural partner. It would be a fallacy for Museveni to work with the opposition in Kenya. However, in the spirit of pan-Africanism, President Museveni works with Raila Odinga.… We should understand that there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies in politics; it is just interests that matter,” Mr Mukula said.
Mr Mukula revealed that he has had informal discussions with leaders in the region at various levels including former Tanzania president Jakaya Kikwete, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and Raila Odinga on EAC unity. During these discussions, Mr Kikwete said Tanzanians want their land protected in the political integration framework.
There appears to be consensus between the leadership in Kenya and Uganda on forming one government for the regional bloc, but Mukula says the matter still needs further discussion by all stakeholders.
“There will be formal and informal diplomatic engagements to fast-track political integration. Political federation should be embraced not only at the highest level but also at the lowest level, and by all political actors,” he said.
By Charles Kazooba, Julius Barigaba and Fred Oluoch