Lately, many Kenyan politicians have been drawn to Uganda the way moths and grasshoppers are attracted to lit bulbs, or bees to nectar.
In August, Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto, 52, was in Kampala where he met President Museveni. They discussed strengthening cross-border trade.
And in September, the former vice president, Kalonzo Musyoka, 64, was here to pay Mr Museveni, 74, a courtesy call during which they deliberated on a strong East African Community.
Now, according to Heal the Planet Global Organisation – a body that aims to use humanitarian programmes to better the world, Mr Ruto will be in Uganda, again, on Monday, October 29, as a special guest during a Senior Citizens Convention.
However, David Mugonyi, the communications secretary in the Office of Kenya’s Deputy President, said he is not aware of the event.
“There is nothing like that in [Ruto’s] diary,” Mr Mugonyi said when the Sunday Monitor phoned him on Wednesday, October 24.
Whether Mr Ruto will be in Uganda at the end of this month or not, it won’t be lost on observers that he frequented the country in the run-up to the 2016 election in which President Museveni fought off a stern challenge from his perennial nemesis, Dr Kizza Besigye.
Mr Ruto especially frequented the Sebei sub-region to meet with his kinsmen on the Uganda side and once met with Mr Museveni in Mbale District. The visits were interpreted as an act of campaigning for Mr Museveni.
Before Mr Ruto, in the middle of the campaigns for the 2011 election, Kenya’s Opposition leader Raila Odinga paid a courtesy call on President Museveni, who he met in Jinja District and accompanied to a rally in Iganga District. At the rally Mr Odinga praised Mr Museveni’s leadership but stopped short of openly calling on Ugandans to re-elect him.
Why do Kenyan politicians, especially those thought to nurse presidential aspirations, like to visit President Museveni?
Prof Sabiti Makara, a senior academic at Makerere University, said there are three possible reasons.
These are Mr Museveni’s longevity in power, his stature as an elderly statesman and his role in resolving conflicts in the Great Lakes Region.
“Having been in power for long, I think there is a skill that they might want to learn from him [from Museveni],” Prof Makara told Sunday Monitor on Tuesday.
Mr Museveni has been in power for 32 years. At the end of the current term in 2021, he will clock 35 years in State House.
It is believed that it is this particular skill of Mr Museveni that informed Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo’s visit to Uganda in 2006 to get tips on how to extend his – Obasanjo’s – term in office by one more term.
Mr Obasanjo’s attempt failed.
Since then, Uganda’s Parliament amended the Constitution to remove the 75-years-old upper cap limit on presidential candidates, paving the way for Mr Museveni to keep contesting for the top seat.
While amending the Constitution, Members of Parliament who voted in support of amendment of the article, which the Constituent Assembly had included in the Constitution to block Milton Obote from running for the position, said locking out those above 75 was unconstitutional.
Given that Kenyan policy is affected by five-year election cycles, perhaps the Kenyan politicians need tips on how to get and retain executive power for at least the maximum of 10 years that their country’s constitution provides for.
It is not clear though if the Kenyans hope to pick a leaf from Mr Museveni on values such as the respect for human rights like freedom of assembly and association as well as on free and fair elections.
The visits, it should be noted, are also to Mr Museveni’s advantage. A year ago when Mr Musyoka was in Uganda to officiate at the Uganda Technical and Management University (UTAMU) graduation, he said Mr Museveni should become the first president of the East African Federation (EAF) once it is established since he is passionate about East African matters.
Mr Musyoka must be aware Mr Museveni longs to head the federation even though Jakaya Kikwete, a former president of Tanzania, once said the position of EAF president should be open to an East African of good standing regardless of whether they were once head of state or not.
There is also an economic explanation for the Kenyan politicians buttering up to Mr Museveni.
Mr Ruto, through social networking site Twitter, acknowledged Uganda and Kenya share mutual interests.
On August 19, he tweeted, “We are the largest recipients of Ugandan products within the East African Community and our companies are the biggest investors.”
Many of the consumer goods manufactured in Kenya are sold in Uganda than anywhere else in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
According to data from the Bank of Uganda (BoU) released on October 3, as of calendar year 2017, Kenya exported items worth $512.85 million (Shs1.9 trillion at today’s exchange rate) to Uganda.
The imports from Kenya accounted for 62 per cent of Uganda’s bill on imports from the COMESA.
Kenya’s long distance haulers make money transporting by road items such as petroleum products like diesel, kerosene and petrol from Mombasa to Uganda via Kenya.
With the establishment of more industries in Uganda and exports from Uganda to Kenya, the trade imbalance between Kenya and Uganda has thinned.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Uganda, like Kenya, benefits from the bilateral trade. According to BoU, Uganda’s inflows from exports to Kenya have increased from $157.43 million (Shs590 billion) in 2008 to $551.06 million (Shs2 trillion today) in 2017 calendar year.
Up to 95 per cent of Uganda’s imports from overseas come in through Mombasa, Kenya’s port city.
The other reason Prof Makara advanced for Kenyan politicians calling on Mr Museveni is his standing as an elder.
“I think he [Museveni] is an elder statesman in the region; I think they are tapping into his wisdom,” Prof Makara said.
The region though is not short of elderly statesmen. There is Ali Hassan Mwinyi, 93, a former president of Tanzania and Daniel arap Moi, 94, and Mwai Kibaki, 86, both former presidents of Kenya.
Of Mr Ruto, Musyoka and the former prime minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga, the three likely contenders for president during Kenya’s 2022 general election, Mr Odinga has visited Moi and Kibaki separately to discuss national politics.
Even president Uhuru Kenyatta has been to Mr Moi’s and has met Mr Museveni many times though his rendezvous with Mr Museveni rotate around trade, something dear to both leaders.
When Mr Ruto went to Moi’s residence in Nakuru, Mr Moi’s family did not allow him to meet the senior citizen because Mr Moi was reportedly doing doctor-supervised physical exercises at the time.
Perhaps that left Mr Museveni as the elderly statesman Mr Ruto could talk to.
The third reason Prof Makara gave for the visits is that Mr Museveni has been involved in the settlement of conflicts in the Great Lakes Region.
Though he did not delve into the conflicts, Uganda, like the African Union, is involved in resolving the South Sudan conflict pitting Mr Salva Kiir against Riek Machar. Mr Museveni sent Ugandan troops to Somalia to protect the government there from the al-Shabaab militants. He played a role in Rwanda’s 1994 liberation.
He could also contribute to finding a permanent solution to the Migingo Island issue. In 2009, Mr Museveni said the island is in Kenya but it is surrounded by Uganda’s waters.
The rocky hamlet is home to a Kenyan Luo fishing community though there have been many reports of Ugandan security officials harassing the community there.
During the campaigns ahead of general elections in Kenya the matter crops up. Mr Odinga is from the county in which Migingo is geographically situated.
In late September, he said he planned to meet Mr Museveni to settle the ownership of the Migingo Island, which he claimed Idi Amin Dada, who ruled Uganda from 1971 to 1979, grabbed from Kenya.
Like Mr Ruto, Mr Odinga is likely to run for president in 2022 – going by statements by James Orengo, Kenya’s Senate Minority Leader, and a confidant of Mr Odinga.
Mr Odinga is aware how charged Kenyans get when talking about Migingo and the treatment of their fellow countrymen by Uganda security officials.
Mr Ruto supported Mr Kenyatta’s election in 2013 and again in 2017 on the understanding that Mr Kenyatta would in 2022 support Mr Ruto in the latter’s quest for Kenya’s top elective position.
All seemed to be going according to script until in March this year when Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga had the handshake.
Mr Odinga said the handshake is meant to address tribalism, poverty, nepotism, unemployment and corruption.
Others see it differently. At the beginning of October, Mr Ruto accused Mr Raila of working to have him edged out of the ruling Jubilee Party, an accusation Mr Raila has dismissed.
In a rejoinder, the Orange Democratic Party, which Mr Odinga is affiliated with, said Mr Ruto was looking for an excuse to leave Jubilee because he is uncomfortable with the newfound friendship between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
In Uganda, according to one unofficial Ugandan account, the handshake ruffled Mr Ruto, who has his eyes on the 2022 presidential election, forcing him to run to Mr Museveni for advice.
Asked if Mr Ruto’s rendezvous’ with Mr Museveni are about Kenya’s next general election, Mr Mugonyi said no.
“Uganda has nothing to do with 2022. He – Ruto – cannot come to campaign in Uganda [for an election in Kenya],” Mr Mugonyi said.
Before Mr Ruto, in the middle of the campaigns for the 2011 election, Kenya’s Opposition leader Raila Odinga paid a courtesy call on President Museveni, who he met in Jinja and accompanied him to a rally in Iganga. At the rally Mr Odinga praised Mr Museveni’s leadership but stopped short of openly calling on Ugandans to re-elect him.