US poll: Uganda caught off-guard as Rwanda praises people-first politics

Sunday November 13 2016

Supporters of US Republican president-elect Donald Trump react at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 8, 2016. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

As all the region’s presidents sent their congratulatory messages to US president-elect Donald Trump, their lieutenants were weighing the surprise result and its implications.

Uganda’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs James Mugume said that the country was “going back to the drawing board” to figure out what the new administration in Washington DC would mean for bilateral relations.

“We did not anticipate it. Most people were expecting a Clinton victory, now we have to analyse the situation afresh,” he said on Wednesday evening.

In his congratulatory message President Yoweri Museveni said he looked forward to working with Mr Trump “as we have been working with other leaders before him”.

Earlier this year, President Museveni asked Mr Trump to mind America’s business after it was reported that the Republican candidate, if elected, would go after long-serving African leaders.

Kampala has enjoyed a close relationship with Washington but the election of Trump poses a significant puzzle, analysts say. Kampala is a critical ally of the US in terms of regional security with its troops engaged in peace keeping missions from Somalia to South Sudan and Central Africa Republic


A small elite

In CAR, Ugandan troops are fighting alongside a small elite unit of the America Special Forces in the hunt for Joseph Kony. In Somalia, intervention by Uganda and other African countries have helped return the troubled Horn of Africa country to near normalcy ridding the seas of pirates and opening both Somalia and its strategic coastline to business.

But Rwanda saw the Trump win as a vindication of people-first politics, a phenomenon  the country has found difficult to explain to its critics. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said the lesson for Africa from the surprise outcome in which the apparent favourite Hillary Clinton lost was that politicians should listen to the desires and demands of the people. 

“When citizens decide, their decisions are final,” Ms Mushikiwabo said in a thinly veiled dig at President Barack Obama’s administration, which castigated President Paul Kagame for agreeing to seek a third term in 2017. 

“It is important to listen and respect people’s demands; the leadership cannot do the opposite of what people want. As a country, the core of our leadership is to involve citizens. Leadership is not the business of leaders but the people,” Ms Mushikiwabo said on Thursday, hours after President Paul Kagame had tweeted to congratulate US President elect Trump.

She added: “We are ready to work with the new administration. We have had a very good relationship with the United States, especially over the past two decades.”

Biggest donor

The US is by far Rwanda’s biggest donor and development partner since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. However, Washington did not approve constitutional amendments through a referendum last year that changed provisions for presidential term limits effectively allowing President Kagame to contest next year.

Under the changes, the two term limit remains but each for a shorter five years instead of seven years --previously. However, they will start applying from 2024, implying President Kagame can remain in office until 2034. The president, who took office in 2000, has not said he will contest in 2024 but is expected to.

In Tanzania, international relations experts said the change in administration would see a decline in the country’s aid to Africa, but an intensified push for democracy and anti- corruption fight.

“This doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a change in the way the US relates to Africa on matters it considers to be in its interest, particularly regarding security,”  Phineas Timondi, an international relations lecturer in Dar es Salaam said.

He thought America’s aid, if any, would be directed at empowering civil society or establishing democratic institutions, because Trump believes “the problem is African leaders and not African economies.” 

Not greedy

Mr Timondi added that Trump was likely to be keen on working with leaders like Tanzania’s President John Magufuli “who are not greedy and appear to fight for development of their people with conviction.”

Shoo Innocent, a lecturer at the Centre for Foreign Relations in Dar es Salaam believes Tanzania is likely to find favour with Trump. He said that under President Trump, security will be at the top of US priorities in Africa because of his commitment to fight terrorist groups like Boko Haram, Al Shaabab and their satellites. 

“Trump will push further for American agenda to manufacture drones across strategic areas of the continent. He won’t be satisfied with Djibouti and Cameroon bases,” he said.

According to Innocent, the US will continue to provide military support, especially training and intelligence to countries that will show interest in helping it combat terrorism.

In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta indicated that he does not expect the historical link between Kenya and the US to change despite the change of guard from Democrats to the Republicans.

“The ties that bind Kenya and the US are close and strong. They are old, and based on the values that we hold dear: In democracy, in the rule of law, and in the equality of peoples. These values remain dear to the peoples of both nations, and so our friendship will endure,” said President Kenyatta in his congratulatory statement.

Against terrorism

Top on  Kenya’s agenda is the war against terrorism on which the country would like to see its partnership with the US continue. Under the leadership of President Barack Obama Kenya, as one of the key frontline state in the war on terror in region, received military hardware and equipment. 

Prior to President Obama’s visit to Kenya in July last year, the US Secretary of State John Kerry announced an increase in counter-terrorism assistance to Kenya to $100 million this year, up from the $38 million in 2014. 

Counter-terrorism assistance

The US has expanded its drone programme in Somalia based at the African Command (Africom) base in Djibouti, which has been a major boost to the war against Al Shabaab. Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti not only serves to monitor the eastern African region but also the Middle East.

This year, the American Department of Defence gave an additional $51 billion for its Overseas Contingency Operations war fund, part of which is to support accelerating operations Africom with its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

Dr Ben Sihanya, an international law lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said that while the fight against terror in the region has of late been overriding American foreign policy on other issues such as democracy and human rights, Trump can only be different if he tackles the war against terror on a case by case basis.

Immediate changes

“It has been proven that not every country in the region which claims that it is central to the war against terror actually delivers. However, Obama failed to critically engage the countries individually and things could change if Trump decides to do so,” said Dr Sihanya. 

But the US ambassador to South Sudan Mary Catherine, said in Nairobi on Friday that her country’s policy towards Juba is bipartisan and people should not expect any immediate changes.

Kuir E Garang, a South Sudanese author based in Canada, said that there is a general misconception in South Sudan that the Republican Party is the party whose policies are good for South Sudan, taking into account that the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that led to the country’s independence was realised during the reign of George W. Bush.

However, Mr Garang says Trump’s nationalist leanings and the fervour with which his supporters took issue with American diversity and global outlook will be an impediment to American foreign policy in Africa.

“While it’s possible that Washington’s relations with Juba might change, any euphoric celebration of Trump’s victory is misplaced. I’m still open, however, to the idea that I could be wrong, however remote,” said Mr Garang.


By Edmund Kagire, Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi, Asterius Banzi and Fred Oluoch