Kenya @58: Challenge of building national unity

Harold Acemah

What you need to know:

  • While Kenya is now classified as a middle income economy, Uganda is stuck in a typical third world category.   
  • In Uganda, corruption is sadly the hallmark and enduring legacy of the NRM regime. According to IGG Beti Kamya, a whopping and mind boggling Shs 10 trillion (25% of the national budget) is stolen annually, with impunity, from public resources by Uganda’s corrupt and greedy ruling clique, political elite and senior bureaucrats!


Uganda’s neighbour to the east and partner state in the East African Community, Kenya, will today celebrate the 58th anniversary of independence with pomp and pageantry. One year after achieving independence in 1963, Kenya became a Republic on December 12, 1964 which explains why today is officially called Jamhuri Day. 

Jamhuri is Swahili word for Republic.

Congratulations to the people and Government of Kenya on this auspicious occasion and national day. 

Uganda and Kenya have, on balance, enjoyed cordial and mutually beneficial bilateral relations since both countries attained independence in 1962 and 1963, respectively. I was in Senior 3 when Kenya achieved independence.  As Uganda’s principal route and gateway to the sea, I believe it’s in Uganda’s national interest to develop and maintain cordial diplomatic relations with Kenya.  Except for a few unfortunate and regrettable incidents in the 1970s and 1980s, Uganda has enjoyed friendly and fruitful relations with Kenya, consistent with one of the pillars of Uganda’s foreign policy, namely promotion of good neighbourliness.

 In order to promote and maintain cordial, friendly and mutually beneficial relations with Kenya, the government of Uganda should post a credible career diplomat as High Commissioner to Nairobi together with equally credible support staff, preferably career diplomats. 

Many failed politicians who have been sent to Nairobi as Uganda’s High Commissioner to Kenya have frankly done enormous damage to Uganda’s national interest.

 In the 1960s when Uganda and Kenya achieved independence, the two countries were comparable in terms of economic and social development. Uganda shilling and Kenya shilling were at par. In the education sector Uganda was slightly ahead of Kenya. 

It’s not surprising that many Kenyan leaders were educated in Uganda, such as, former President Mwai Kibaki, Kisumu Governor Prof Peter Anyang Nyongo and Mr Charles Njonjo, to mention but a few.

 Today a chasm divides Kenya and Uganda. While Kenya is now classified as a middle income economy, Uganda is stuck in a typical third world category, with bleak and doubtful prospects of joining Kenya and Tanzania soon as middle income countries. One Kenya shilling is today the equivalent of 30 Uganda shillings! 

The national budget of Kenya is more than three times that of Uganda. The gap appears to be widening annually which begs the question, why is Uganda lagging behind Kenya and Tanzania?

In my opinion, adoption of wrong national priorities since 1990, lack of good governance and lack of competent, effective and efficient leadership of integrity are the main root causes of the ever-widening gap between Kenya and Uganda. 

Endemic and systemic corruption on a massive scale is deeply rooted in both countries and unless corruption is eradicated soon, the vice will retard progress and continue to negatively affect economic and social development of Kenya and Uganda, and the biggest losers are wananchi of East Africa. 

In Uganda, corruption is sadly the hallmark and enduring legacy of the NRM regime. According to IGG Beti Kamya, a whopping and mind boggling Shs 10 trillion (25% of the national budget) is stolen annually, with impunity, from public resources by Uganda’s corrupt and greedy ruling clique, political elite and senior bureaucrats! It’s an outrage and a tragedy of monumental proportions! Uganda’s political leaders routinely pay lip service to the urgent need to eradicate corruption from our beloved country. Their slogan, “zero tolerance to corruption” is empty talk and as worthless as the Zimbabwe dollar.

 As Kenyans prepare to go to the polls in August 2022, the country appears to have caught “election fever” amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The frontrunners for the presidential race are Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.  Raila seems to enjoy the support of outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta. I congratulate Kenyans for honouring presidential term limits.

I wish the people of Kenya free, fair, credible, legitimate and peaceful elections. May the best candidates win!

Harold Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat 

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