After ‘electing’ former South African president Thabo Mbeki as my surviving and active ‘elder African statesman’ of choice, I have been at pains to establish if in East Africa, it is possible for a regional ‘elder’ leader to emerge.
In Uganda, ‘gun-elected’ dictators either never allow this to happen or, if any, they die in exile. While it is still work in progress in Kenya, for Rwanda the strong-man ‘victors’ culture impedes that for the moment.
Every time I discuss challenges political leadership in Africa on my weekly show, ‘Talking Africa’, I leave the studios emotionally drained. Exemplary leadership is an endangered species on the continent.
We lament the absence of a leadership that is genuine, bold and people-focused. Genuine in mission tested deliverables. Bold in taking tough decisions at home, regionally and as a voice for Africans at home and abroad. People-focused, that power belongs to the people. That they would have failed unless the genuine dreams and aspirations of the ‘governed’, including ability to change leaders and governments at will are met.
Earlier this week though, as if fated to coincide with April 6, 1994 (20th anniversary), when the plane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counter-part Cyprien Ntaryamira were killed in a missile attack on their plane near Kigali, sparking off genocide in Rwanda and Congo, I listened to Tanzanian president Jakaya Kitwete tell a London meeting that East Africa has and continues to contribute disproportionately to wars and conflicts on the continent.
The president was right. Just think of Rwanda since the Ugandan invasion in October 1990, Burundi, the invasion and occupation of the Democratic Republic of Congo by Uganda and Rwanda, the conflicts in the two Sudans and the ongoing one in South Sudan in which Ugandans are again, at the centre, the Somalia mess and Kenya. He was not hesitant to show his dislike for war and war mongers and their impediment to development contrasting that to Tanzania’s apparent and relative stability since independence in 1964 (excluding their involvement in the 1979 liberation of Uganda, later usurped by gun-men).
The meeting, held at Chatham House in London was themed: “Tanzania’s Transformation and Vision 2025: Governing economic growth for social gain”.
He boasted with some impressive and persuasive economic figures that seemed to suggest that in nine years time - holding all factors constant - the country will have reached a stable middle income status. And perhaps why not, they are even setting up a sovereign fund akin to that of oil rich Norway to cater for their much anticipated wealth in natural gas and other minerals.
Yet while at it and, answering a chance question from the audience, the president said, ‘you can develop without brutalising your people…’ He seemed so taken up by the issue that he repeated this in an emphatic and almost sarcastic tone, as to tell some rulers in the region that, ’what is wrong with you...?’
But my permanent impression was left for why some rulers just keep hanging on to power….
He reminded the audience that he had served Tanzania in various capacities before becoming president nine years ago. Surely come October next year, he would have done his two-term 10 years and, barring surprises (Africa is full of surprises, he said, perhaps meaning a coup) - he would be leaving power –again, with a bemused demeanor.
Kitwete said 10 years is enough for anyone to make their mark in a presidential capacity and, “Nyerere was in power for 23 years but he did not finish the job. My two predecessors were there for 10 years each and they did not do so either. Surely my job is to do the best for others to follow”, including setting the structural foundation for the 2025 vision! After all, he said, there is so much to do outside state house, like ‘looking after my chicken’.
The recent political history of Tanzania is of course different from the rest of East Africa and, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) remains the dominant and ruling party. But it is hard to see how a retired Kitwete would for a thing or two, not be a valuable addition to Tanzanian leadership after October next year, giving wise counsel to whoever will be the next occupant-of-State.
But for his position on certain issues-East African and his own track record, could we – at last – see a possible regional elder statesman emerging, willing to intervene, tackle and lead without personal self interest?
Whatever happens, for a moment this week, I seemed to envy Tanzanians.
Mr Ochieno is former UPC member of Cabinet/Spokesman . Jop3upc@yahoo.co.uk/@Ochieno