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Here is why Museveni made Kenya state visit

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President Museveni (left) and his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto in Nairobi, Kenya, this week. PHOTO |  PPU

President Museveni’s state visit to the neighbouring state of Kenya was intended to recalibrate ties with one of Uganda’s major partners in the region as well as unlock the potential of trade, investment, and major infrastructure projects scuttled by recent trade disputes.

But beyond the trade deals and symbolism of the visit, the two leaders continued to project a raging debate from the global political galaxy—the attempt to break from a unipolar to a multipolar system.

The East African regional bloc remains a key geo-political and geo-strategic bloc. It also remains a major Western ally in dealing with, counter-terrorism and peace-keeping duties in the volatile Horn of Africa enclave.

In the post-Cold War era, Africa has ceased to be portrayed as the continent in dystopian ruin afflicted by violence, disease, and death as the continent’s vast mineral wealth is the cog in the wheels of the fifth industrial revolution.

At the commencement of his term, Kenyan president William Ruto appeared to pursue a non-aligned agenda and clamoured for the time when Africa would wean itself off the dollar to promote intercontinental trade, a sensitive subject, which had earlier on been pushed by the slain Libyan leader, Muammar Gadaffi. But with the Kenyan economy saddled with debt, the boundaries had to be drawn between Ruto’s moral crusade and realpolitik.

“He is doing what he has to do, he has a big debt and he needs to refinance it with the IMF and World Bank and he needs to kowtow to the foreign policy of the Americans, he is non-aligned, he is just using this,” argued Mutahi Ngunyi, a Political Scientist based in Nairobi.

“Harry Kissinger said foreign policy begins where domestic policy ends. The domestic policy of William Ruto is well-aligned with America, especially in the digital economy and the desire to grow younger talent,” he added.

Nairobi continues to pursue the lofty dream of becoming the ICT continental hub and the current United States envoy, Meg Whitman, a corporate titan and former CEO of transformed eBay, is a leading exponent of Ruto’s policies.

But the leader of the Safina Party in Kenya, Jimmy Wanjigi says, “Ruto has decided he is going to perpetuate the interests of the West, he is doing it for his ends. We support President Museveni to make sure that Africans remain Africans, we have our own culture, and as much as we accommodated many things, they changed every aspect and fabric of who we are, we must weed out those who are perpetuating the agenda of the colonisers.”

Wajingi told Sunday Monitor that about 80 percent of Kenya’s debt is odious debt “which did not follow our laws, why is [Ruto] pandering for more debt and why is he pushing for more taxes, he cannot do that because he was in the previous regime where he co-signed this odious debt?”

Darling of the West

Ruto, who is in the good graces of Washington, next Thursday will visit the United States where he will be feted with a state dinner by US President Joe Biden.

He will join an exclusive club of only six heads of state globally, including Japan, South Korea, France, Australia, and India, who have been invited for state visits during Joe Biden’s tenure.

Ken Opala, a senior journalist in Kenya and founder of the African Investigative News Service, opines that President Museveni’s hurriedly arranged trip to Kenya may be part of an attempt to implore President Ruto to lobby for his country, which has received flak as a result of the legislation of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which is seen as draconian in the West.

“This is a major trip and it’s going to coincide with Kenya’s troop deployment to Haiti. If [Ruto] plays ball with America, he will be a major player. Museveni will want to leverage on that, and Ruto also wants to leverage on that. There has to be some sort of political horse-trading,” argues Mutahi Ngunyi.

“… the timing with Ruto’s visit to the US, that will be misreading. Museveni is Kenyan, he gets more accolades from the public than our leaders, he is just coming back, Museveni is a big brother, I don’t read anything around it,” he adds.

Prof Ken Opalo, who teaches in the School of Foreign Services at Georgetown University in the United States, argues that attempting to lobby the United States on behalf of President Museveni regarding the Anti-Homosexuality Act, “is not something Ruto would want to take on, Museveni may take this on directly. I don’t think that is a big factor because the Kenyan administration shares the views of the Ugandan MPs, It is only that the Kenyan MPs are reasonable and tactful with the [LGBTQ] law instead of advocating for the draconian measures, which are inhumane.”

Mending fences

Prof Opalo says Ruto was eager to invite Museveni for the visit to “mend fences since the different disputes arose, including the blockage of the Kenyatta family dairy products from Uganda, the fact that Uganda diversified by going to Tanzania on the oil deal, which makes sense to Uganda.”

Opalo told Sunday Monitor that Ruto’s impending state visit, where he is expected to sign a trade deal with the US, may have required discussion to avoid the suspicion that greeted the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union, a deal which seeks to grant the country a quota-free, duty-free access to the European market by local exporters and has been viewed by partner states as a policy, which goes against the values of integration.

Wanjigi told Sunday Monitor thus: “First and foremost, Kenya and Uganda need each other, we have got to get along. My personal view is the difference is not the mundane issues, but our President [Ruto] who bent backward to side with our former colonisers, starting with the [African] climate conference, [held in September 2023 in Nairobi], which was driven by the West, there is an African renaissance which [Ruto] does not understand. We are seeing the world better than yesterday, we are no longer a colony of the West. We have a different conversation, President Museveni has clarity about the economy of Africa and social affairs, the West has enslaved us economically and socially.”

Ties that bind

The timing of President Museveni’s visit came barely a fortnight after he attended the World Bank’s International Development Association summit for African Heads of state in Nairobi where he used the occasion to fire salvoes at the Washington-led Bretton Woods Institutions.

“Aid has been for profiteering, this has been the problem… Wonderful people, IMF, where will low-cost operations come from if you don’t have a railway? If you don’t fund the railway, how would you get low transport costs?” he argued.

Uganda and Kenya’s ethnic tendrils, among others, travel across the revolving hills of Sebei to the western escarpment of the Rift Valley. Museveni has often used this rich historical heritage to cast a spell on his audiences by preaching about his pet subject of integration in Africa.

“The Karimojongs and the Turkanas who are stealing cows…but they speak the same language, the Luos of Kisumu. They come from South Sudan through northern Uganda. Jaramogi if you go to Amuru District you will find the Jaramogi clan there, the one of His Excellency Raila Odinga,” he said, adding, “The other day I saw a boy who came with Her Excellency, the charge de affairs from Kiamara….. the boy is called Kalisa, I said what is Kalisa in your language, it means exactly what it means in my language, we are begging please work for your prosperity, work for your strategic security by uniting economically and politically, you are the same people.”

Mutahi Ngunyi says, “Museveni speaks for the African renaissance, he is the truth sayer, the older you get the more truthful you become, and Ruto had begun that trajectory of truth saying when he said we need a new finance structure, Ruto was a student of [former Kenyan president Daniel] arap Moi and following in the footsteps of Museveni.”

In the early days of his presidency, Museveni embraced neo-liberal reforms from the Bretton Woods Institutions, including structural adjustment programmes as a condition to receive funding from the IMF and World Bank to revive Uganda’s post-conflict economy.

His government privatised several parastatals on the advice of the World Bank, including Uganda Commercial Bank, which held at least half of the country’s entire banking deposits.


The timing of President Museveni’s visit came barely a fortnight after he attended the World Bank’s Intern-ational Devel-opment Association summit for African Heads of state in Nairobi where he used the occasion to fire salvoes at the Washington-led Bretton Woods Institutions.