Friday April 19 2013

Uganda has a long way to catch up with Kenya

By William G. Naggaga

Mr Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta was sworn in on April 9 as the Fourth President of the Republic of Kenya. The son of the first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, Uhuru is no stranger to State House. He actually grew up there, enjoying the privileges that come with being the son of the president. He is also fabulously wealthy, so it is most unlikely that he will be preoccupied with ‘nose-diving’ into the Kenya Treasury for self-enrichment. Many describe him as a jolly fellow who has never let the family fame get into his head.

As he demonstrated in the presidential debates, he is also a man of substance, conversant with the issues at hand. A ‘reluctant politician’ whom former president Daniel arap Moi single- handedly picked to lead Kanu when all leading Kanu figures, including Mwai Kibaki, had decamped to the opposition, Uhuru won the presidency on a Jubilee Coalition ticket, and not Kanu.

The political tussle between Raila Odinga, son of Kenya’s first Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, and Uhuru, was bound to leave a lot of bruises either way and invoke old memories of the political rivalry between Jomo and Jaramogi. It would have been “poetic justice” if Raila had won the election to avenge the defeat his father suffered many times from the old lion of Gatundu. He came close to doing so, if he had not messed up his previous alliance with William Ruto, the Kalenjin ‘kingmaker’, who became Uhuru’s running mate and now Vice President, after falling out with Raila.

As they say the rest is history. Raila, however, played a crucial role in the drafting of Kenya’s 2010 Constitution which devolved power to the counties and reduced the powers and patronage of the presidency. I hope Kenyans will always remember him with gratitude for the sacrifices he made to make Kenya a better place.

Talking of the new Kenya Constitution, Mr Mwai Kibaki also deserves a pat on the back for giving it his blessing. As outgoing president with no desire to return, Kibaki was the right man to preside over the dismantling of the ‘imperial presidency’ in Kenya, which has also bedevilled many African countries, Uganda inclusive. A sitting president with an eye on returning to office would not have accepted devolution of power from the centre. Both Jomo Kenyatta and Moi, refused to do so.

A president on his way out is always in a better frame of mind to make such a momentous decision, completely divorced from self-interest. In the US it is said that the president spends the first term dealing with issues which will assure his re-election and postpones hard decisions to the second term. Kibaki may not have won the 2007 elections but his actions thereafter ironically made Kenya a more democratic country. On the economy, his 10 years of stewardship of Kenya undid the mess left behind by Moi’s 24-year rule but corruption has stubbornly refused to go.

Uganda has a long way to catch up with Kenya both politically and economically. As long as our leaders don’t envisage a Uganda not governed by them, we are unlikely to redeem ourselves. Change comes when leaders have term limits and do not manipulate the Constitution to prolong their stay in power. The argument that a leader should present himself for elections as long as people want him is hollow; given that elections in Uganda have never truly been free and fair. Our leaders must also desist from personalising everything from political office, the army and even natural resources.

Personalisation breeds reluctance to quit since the leader increasingly associates the State with himself. President Charles De Gaulle of France many times equated himself to the State! He was such a towering military and political figure that he couldn’t envision France without him. The question we often asked was “After De Gaulle Who?” General De Gaulle died in 1970 and five presidents have successfully governed France since then.

There was one disturbing feature about Kenya’s recent presidential elections, though - the tribal element. Out of the 6.1 million votes, Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto got, over 90 per cent came from the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes of Central and Rift Valley Provinces respectively and less than 10 per cent from the rest of the Kenyans.

Mr Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador.