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The smooth transfer of power from Uhuru Kenyatta to William Ruto in Kenya has been praised as a trendsetter in the volatile Great Lakes Region, but it has posed doubts on the much talked about political federation since other countries in the East African Community are not on the same democratic trajectory.
The smooth transfer of power from Uhuru Kenyatta to William Ruto in Kenya has been praised as a trendsetter in the volatile Great Lakes Region, but it has posed doubts on the much talked about political federation since other countries in the East African Community are not on the same democratic trajectory, writes Derrick Kiyonga.
Upon taking oath as the fifth president of Kenya, William Ruto christened his Ugandan counterpart as the “father of the region”.
In the 36 years President Museveni has ruled Uganda, he has outlasted three Kenyan presidents, starting with Daniel arap Moi who ruled Kenya between 1978 and 2002, establishing a single party state.
Museveni attended the swearing-in ceremony of Mwai Kibaki, who ruled Kenya between 2002 and 2013, and then he was around to see Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta, complete his two constitutionally mandated terms and then peacefully hand over to Ruto despite vouching for Raila Odinga.
Museveni has also outlived four Tanzanian presidents, albeit coming from the same Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) political party, starting with Ali Hassan Mwinyi who ruled between 1985 and 1995.
He outlived Mwinyi’s successor Benjamin Mkapa who ruled from 1995 to 2005, outlasted Jakwaya Kikwete who ruled between 2005 and 2015 and John Pombe Magufuli who ruled from 2015 to 2021 when he met his death during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Museveni has also outlasted three Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) presidents; Mobutu Sese Seko, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Joseph Kabila who retired in 2019 before Felix Tshisekedi was elected.
Museveni has also outlasted about nine Burundian presidents; Jean Baptiste Bagaza, Jean Pierre Buyoya, Melchior Ndadaye, François Ngeze, Sylvie Kinig, Cyprien Ntaryamira, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, Domitien Ndayizeye and Pierre Nkurunziza, who was succeeded by the incumbent Évariste Ndayishimiye when he passed on in 2020.
In the East African Community, Museveni’s statistics are dampened by two countries: Rwanda and South Sudan.
In Rwanda, Museveni has only outlived its ceremonial president Pasteur Bizimungu, who was ousted in 2000 by his vice president Paul Kagame, who in any case had the executive powers from the time his rebel outfit Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) shot its way to power in 1994 amid a genocide.
Ever since it got independence in 2011, South Sudan has had Salva Kiir as its only president with the Ugandan army playing a role in saving his presidency when rebels had built momentum to oust him in 2013.
Museveni has been able to stay in power by amending the Constitution to remove the two-term limit that would have ensured that his presidency would have ended in 2006, and also the age limit that would have ensured that he wouldn’t have stood in the 2021 presidential election, but he is now at the forefront of marketing integration of the EAC, which include a political federation that on paper would see all countries ruled under one president.
“Are the people at the forefront of this federation democrats?” asks Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a senior lecturer at Makerere University College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “Do we agree on how this federation should be formed? What are our ideals as East Africans?”
When the EAC was reinvigorated by Museveni, Mukapa, and Moi on November 30, 1999 – having gone into limbo in 1977 – a political federation was announced as the eventual goal of this regional integration, the fourth step after the customs union, common market and monetary union.
A federation is provided for under Article 5(2) of the Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community and is founded on three pillars: common foreign and security policies, good governance, and effective implementation of the prior stages of regional integration, but experts believe any talk of the federation is not grounded in reality.
“There has been a political federation song, but do you think anything is going to happen?” asks Dan Wandera-Ogalo who was a member of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala). Though he says the federation isn’t practical, Wandera-Ogalo says even the theoretical part doesn’t make sense.
“If there was to be a federation, it would mean you need a constitution. When you federate you become one country and clearly you would have to have a federal constitution. In that federal constitution, you would have to re-align all these differences,” he says.
“So, in terms of politics, if Kenya has terms limits, Tanzania has terms limits, Uganda and Rwanda don’t have term limits when drafting a federal constitution, they would have to agree on what to adopt. Does Kenya drop the limits or does Uganda bring back the limits?”
Constitutionalism has been a thorn in the flesh of East African countries with Kenya and Tanzania doing better than Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and DRC, the latest entrant.
For Kenya, the resolve to have new constitutional order came in the aftermath of the 2007 post-election violence in which thousands died and many were displaced, prompting Kenyans to adopt a new constitution that had many progressive clauses such as reducing executive powers, devolving authority, and guaranteeing rights to women, minorities, and marginalised communities.
But it also maintained the two-term presidential limit that was adopted in 1992 during the Moi era.
For Tanzania, its adherence to constitutionalism came under strain during the rule of Magufuli who was accused of oppressing the opposition and civil society, but still Article 40(2) of Tanzania’s constitution, which provides for two terms, each five-year long, remained intact.
Even when Magufuli passed on, his vice president, Samia Suluhu Hassan succeeded him in accordance with the constitution without any farce, becoming the first female president in the region.
Tanzania’s Achilles heel is that ever since it got impendence in 1961, all its presidents have come from one political party, CCM, which was earlier known as Tanganyika African National Union (TANU).
“In order to test if they really believe in constitutionalism, the ruling party has to lose to the opposition and they handover power. Otherwise, as things stand now they have lots of question marks,” Fred Mukasa Mbidde, an outgoing member of, Eala, says.
Rwanda, just like Uganda, scrapped the two-term limits in 2015 because maintaining them would have meant that Kagame wouldn’t have run in the 2017 elections which he won 99 percent with the opposition stifled.
The referendum that scrapped the term limits also gave Kagame a chance to run for an additional seven-year term and then two five-year terms, which means he could conceivably stay in power until 2034.
“Kagame’s landslide win came as no surprise in a context in which Rwandans who have dared raise their voices or challenge the status quo have been arrested, forcibly disappeared, or killed, independent media have been muzzled, and intimidation has silenced groups working on civil rights or free speech,” Human Rights Watch, a New York-based human rights body, characterised Kagame’s 99 percent victory. “Yet the Rwandan authorities took no chances with the presidential vote, as repression continued in recent months despite the weak prospects for any opposition candidate.”
For South Sudan, it is 11 years since they attained independence, but upholding rule of law, let alone holding elections, has proven a hard task. South Sudan was supposed to hold general elections next year, but the so-called transitional period was extended by two years, with Kiir claiming that it was in the interest of his country as it would avert a bloodbath.
“I am not extending the transitional period because I want to stay in the government longer. I do not want to rush you into an election that will take us back to war,” Kiir, who has led the country since 2011, was quoted by the Associated Press.
The EAC’s latest entrant, DRC, has a constitutional term limit in which a president can only serve two consecutive five-year terms, but the major problem facing the bloc’s biggest state is the civil wars that keep on popping up in the east of this mineral-rich country.
DRC has squarely heaped its troubles in the east on its tiny neighbour Rwanda, further posing a challenge to a political federation as both countries are members of EAC.
“When you see the wrangles between Rwanda and the DRC, you really wonder if the leaders who talk about political federation understand what they are talking about or they just say it just for the sake,” Wandera-Ogalo says.
With political federation seemingly not attainable, the leaders have focused on the economic gains they can get.
“According to my experience of 60 years, I would advise Africans to know that prosperity comes from wealth creation. You might have natural resources but not get the wealth out of them. In order for us to catch up with the United States, we need to look at the issue of the regional market,” Museveni said during Ruto’s inauguration at Kasarani stadium in Kenya’s capital Nairobi this week.
Economic interests seemed to have been the overriding reason as to why DRC – which has an untapped mineral range of cobalt, gold, diamond, aluminium, copper, tin, among others, all valued at $24 trillion – was adopted as the seventh member of the bloc.
“The accession of DRC as a member state of EAC will, even more, elevate these gains and strengthen our economic muscles and competitiveness in the continent and globally,” Kenyatta, who as the time of DRC joining was the chairperson of the EAC Summit, said.
“We welcome DRC to the customs union and common market which are the signature pillars of our community and the foundation upon which our social, political, trade, investment and economic interests stand.”
Though the scepticism about a political federation is mounting, those who believe insist that attaining it is a process and not an event.
“Since 2004, the EAC has been putting in place initiatives to fast-track political integration. Summit directives were given and national consultations with stakeholders between 2006 and 2008 as well as various studies were undertaken to examine, facilitate and fast-track the process,” the Arusha-based entity states on it’s website.
“In the consultations, it became clear that the East African citizens want to be adequately engaged and to have a say in the decisions and policies pursued by the East African Community.”
On May 20, 2017, EAC heads of state adopted the political confederation as a transitional model of the East African political federation, but still no direction has been given on how the confederation will be executed.
“Our leaders use the political federation for internal politics because President Museveni said in 2006 that he was running to ensure that we get a political federation and we have nothing. I think our leaders know those issues but they can use it for internal politics and it can work,” Wandera- Ogalo said.
Pillars of EAC regional integration
Customs Union: Through the Customs Union Protocol, trade within the EAC region has been enhanced significantly. Additionally, the EAC has been an attractive foreign direct investment hub.
Common Market: EAC guides the free movement of goods, people, labour, services and capital from one partner state to another as well as the rights of establishment and residence without restrictions.
Monetary Union: The East African Monetary Union Protocol provides for the attainment of a single currency for daily transactions within the common market.
Political Federation: The EAC partner states envisage coming together to form a super-state under a single political authority / government.
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