Ruto came just when EA was starved of presidential charm
Saturday October 15 2022
Kenya’s brand-new president William Ruto has hit the road, in the footsteps of other East African presidents when they are new. And about time too, since the region was getting starved of presidential charm, after Tanzania’s Mama Samia Suluhu started settling down.
Before Samia settled down, she had really taken the region by the storm, shuttling into all the capitals, including DR Congo’s even before it joined the East African Community. Wherever she went, she talked business and signed billion-dollar deals. The one of the oil pipeline with Uganda is about to take off despite opposition by the European Parliament. We pray the others she signed will come to fruition too.
Before Samia, the new arrival was her predecessor, now deceased, John Pombe Magufuli. He was not big on travelling, but he sent tremors in the region with his hands-on, no-nonsense style. True to Tanzania’s introverted state character, Magufuli stayed much at home, where he unleashed a management style that was noticed all over the region and beyond. He was so unlike his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete, who probably logged a million kilometres in the air if you add the 10 years he spent as Foreign minister.
When JK got jittery over the opposition’s criticism claiming he was spending more time travelling outside the country than inside, he scoffed wondering whether they wanted him to stay in State House admiring (First Lady Mama Salma).
In Kikwete’s last years and overlapping Magufuli’s five years, the region got the dynamic duo of Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto. They were a sensation when they took over, two youthful businessmen at the helm of the region’s biggest economy. And they did not disappoint. They talked business and with action. UK focused on Mombasa and quickly cut the cargo turnaround time to Kampala to a quarter. He publicly ordered the Customs boss out of Nairobi to go sit where his job was – at the port.
Back to new kid on the block, William Ruto, who has come to fill the vacuum that Mama Samia left willingly when she settled down to running Tanzania. Ruto has hit the ground running, but he is running out and in the region. On October 9 he was in Uganda for the country’s 60 Independence anniversary, before heading to Tanzania to preach some more integration.
But before visiting Kenya’s two oldest partners, Ruto had to take care of bigger things. He first went to Addis Ababa to check on Safaricom’s new baby, the gigantic telecom/money deal. Kenya is also set to be the biggest offtaker of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam power output. Anytime soon we should expect Ruto in Kinshasa, where Equity Bank has bagged the giant country’s banking sector.
Cutting a humble and respectful pose, Ruto beseeched his Ugandan counterpart to spearhead the deepening of EAC integration by removing the borders. Humility is a virtue, for really it should be Kampala asking Nairobi to spearhead integration deepening. Safaricom, Equity, Kenya Power & Lighting have no equivalent in Uganda, for their Ugandan counterparts, which share a similar background, cannot be described without sounding unkind.
Brother Ruto should continue to preach integration, for while it benefits all East African states, the biggest economy stands to benefit most. During the trial run of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) last week, Kenya and Rwanda in this region took part in sending their goods to Ghana. And, oh yes, Ruto flagged off the Kenyan consignments before flying to Kampala.
The AfCFTA CEO was in Kampala to attend a local Independence Day trade show, and a Ugandan Cabinet minister admitted to him that the vast majority of Ugandans have no clue what AfCFTA is. At the trade show, the local manufacturer of original electric vehicles was exhibiting. Hopefully, the minister made note to convince his Cabinet colleagues to take AfCFTA seriously, for Uganda is well poised to be a major continental supplier of electric vehicles as trade borders get removed.
And this had better be fast for Uganda, before Kenya grabs the ball and starts manufacturing many more times electric vehicles for the continental market than Uganda, as it does in other sectors.
Meanwhile, who’s poised to be the next regional star after Ruto?
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]