As ruptured Rwanda-Uganda ties rattle region, will Kenyatta help?

Thursday March 14 2019


By Karoli Ssemogerere

The military strongmen in Kigali and Kampala have not flinched an eye-lid necessitating the intervention of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Mr Kenyatta, 58, is about the same age as Gen Paul Kagame and much younger than Gen Yoweri Museveni, who turns 75 this year.

Generationally, Mr Kenyatta though is much closer to the post-independence generation middle class born at a time of great promise after the Union Jack came down in the region. From a privileged background as a son of the president, Mr Kenyatta made it to Amherst, a respectable second tier elite liberal arts school in the United States, made his first run for his father’s former seat in Gatundu and losing it at age 41. What then followed was a phenomenal rise, first as a KANU nominated MP, Local Government minister and quickly KANU presidential candidate in 2002. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta did not take long to ditch KANU after he joined Mwai Kibaki’s government of national unity becoming Finance minister, Deputy Prime Minister and defeating Raila Odinga in a closely and bitterly fought presidential contest in 2013.

The Supreme Court in 2013 had many valid grounds to strike out the presidential election. African election systems are notoriously rigged to pick winners and losers at will, and grassroots results almost always disappear the night of polling day even where documents are signed and sent to headquarters.
The Mutunga court demurred choosing to avoid the path to obscurity that would have possibly caused more unrest at a sensitive time in Kenya’s history. In 2017, the Maraga Court bit the gauntlet struck down the election causing a rerun that Odinga couldn’t participate in because he was wounded psychologically and financially.

Like a good African regime, Mr Kenyatta has delivered plenty of payback, downgrading the status of the Judiciary a famous patronage centre, arresting the Deputy Chief Justice on grounds of financial impropriety and further diminishing the powers of certain brokers in Kenya’s elite legal circles, including Tom Ojienda, who represented Odinga in the 2017 petition. Wary of another fight, Odinga ran into Kenyatta’s arms at a difficult time for him, the loss of his son Ferdinand, and then the tragic loss of eyesight of his daughter Rosemary, who at 40, was preparing to run for Parliament in Nairobi.

Mr Kenyatta hardly an angel, seems to have cast the ICC demons permanently with this handshake. By entering into cohabitation where you invite the neighbour’s wife to start preparing meals in your kitchen, Mr Kenyatta got a new angle to hammer at one of the negative legacies of his presidency, an alarming scope of state corruption and pilfering of resources.

This fight has had some victims as it is deemed to unfairly target his onetime heir apparent William S. Ruto, the Deputy President, whose party United Republican Party (URP) supplies other luminaries like Finance minister Rotich and Majority Leader Aden Duale.
How Mr Kenyatta will manage applying this triangulation in the Uganda-Rwanda, which is just a short bout of frosty relations, is anyone’s guess. He has never forgiven Ugandans for their high profile failure on the Standard Gauge Railways that caused grave harm on Kenyan public finances.
President Museveni after missing a series of deadlines and switching contractors, gave up on Uganda’s side of the rail, which would cover 960km on the main lines, and hundreds of bridges across the country.


For Rwanda a much smaller country, Mr Kenyatta hasn’t been paying much attention although after a lull, there is a sign of closer economic ties. Kenyan midsize companies are setting up in Rwanda, and Rwanda is attractive for its highly lucrative tourism sector where State regulation has delivered a very high value product per square meter whether tracking mountain gorillas or enjoying the Kivu highlands or Akagera National Game Park.
Mr Kenyatta, a businessman already with vast interests in Uganda, may dangle carrot, shape up or I will take my businesses to Burundi and DRC, the regional laggards that are kicking signs of new life.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.