Will East African citizens get rid of these despots?

East African Whispers

Sunday January 7, 2018

By Isaac Mwangi

East African News Agency, Arusha

Nobody could have predicted that 2017 would bring so much drama; as the year draws to a close, it is certain that the events of this year will have an enormous impact over the region for many years to come. And the action wasn’t just in one country. Most of the region passed through tumultuous moments that threatened to redefine power relations and fortunes in fundamental ways.

This also transcended the national agenda of individual partner states to affect inter-state relations. East Africa’s longest-reigning strongman featured prominently this year as he prepares to prolong his stay in power. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is determined to overcome a clause in the constitution that would prohibit him from contesting in the next election, since he will by then have exceeded the age range of 35 to 75 years. At one point, Members of Parliament resorted to fisticuffs as the debate raged. At the end of it all, it appears that nothing will stop Museveni from reigning for life.

Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament Rebecca Kadaga suspended 25 members of the house over a brawl surrounding a heated presidential age limit motion. PHOTO | AFRICA NEWS

Events to the south, in Zimbabwe, must of course have attracted much interest from Museveni and other leaders hoping to reign for as long as the sun rises from the east. But rather than take the lesson that they should leave power while they can still have some control over the course of events, despots are studying the weaknesses that could have led to Robert Mugabe’s overthrow in an effort to seal all such loopholes. 

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza, as though picking the cue from his Ugandan counterpart, has equally backed changes to the county’s constitution that could see him in power for another 14 years after 2020. 

There is no knowing what Rwandan President Paul Kagame has up his sleeves, but it is clear that the fate of his country has become so intertwined with him that there is as yet no contemplation of Rwanda without him. While he cannot be accused of looting the economy like his peers in the rest of Africa, Kagame is certainly no democrat – it is more apt to describe him as an enlightened or benevolent dictator. 

Of course, Kenya stole the show with its prolonged electioneering period, demonstrations and a violent state clampdown. From the killing of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) ICT chief Chris Msando to the “coronation” of Uhuru Kenyatta for a second term in office, the country was held in suspense as the ruling clique did it all they could to subvert the popular will. That subversion took many forms.

When ordered to open its servers to show the votes garnered in the August presidential election, the IEBC openly defied the Supreme Court, with no consequences. As a result, the country was dragged through another election, with the main opposition National Super Alliance declining to participate owing to lack of changes in the management of those polls.

The Supreme Court judges who annulled the earlier poll were vilified and threatened by the Executive, with the result that there was little public expectation they could dare annul the repeat charade of a poll. 

But the Kenyan government did not stop there. It is said to have trailed opposition leader Raila Odinga both locally and internationally, leading to the arrest of ruling Jubilee party operatives and intelligence officers in Tanzania – a matter that has been largely hushed up and kept out of the public limelight. 

This last dispute came hot on the heels of another one involving the two countries, in which Tanzania auctioned over 1,300 cattle belonging to Kenyan Maasai herdsmen who were found grazing across the border. It is common for nomadic pastoralists to move across borders in the region, a practice that started well before the partition of Africa into the current nation states by the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. Tanzania later seized a further 10,000 cattle from Rwanda and Uganda for the same reason.

Authorities in Tanzania burnt to death 6,400 one-day-old chicks from Kenya at Namanga border, on suspicion they could spread bird flu. Arusha regional livestock official Obedi Nyasembwa said the chicks — worth about Sh12 million — were smuggled from Kenya and were a health risk. PHOTO | AGENCY

It is becoming certain that the region and Africa as a whole are moving in reverse gear.

Initial expectations that democracy would prevail in a unipolar world are now being dealt a severe blow in Africa, partly because of China’s ascendancy and its competition with Western countries for Africa’s resources.

The year 2017 has been a game-changer: The gloves are off, and Africa’s citizens will have to fight their own battles without any delusions that Western powers will help them overthrow the despots in our midst. Those presumed bastions of democracy are, if anything, more interested in maintaining the status quo and continuing the rip-off of poor countries.

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