Kenya: Leading EA By Example


JF-Expert Member
Nov 7, 2006
Kenyan elections setting a new pace, but Rwanda still leads


In the recent past all opinion polls have been indicating that if the Kenyan elections had been held in the week of the surveys, opposition leader Raila Odinga would have swept to the presidency.

President Mwai Kibaki would have come second and Kalonzo Musyoka third.
Two months is a long time in politics, so this is still an election for any of the top three contenders to win.

That fact sets Kenyan politics apart in the East African Community, and is likely to shape regional politics in important ways in future.

Compare the Kenyan situation with Uganda where President Yoweri Museveni wins elections even before they are held. So much so that, as he recently confessed, if he were beaten, he wouldn't relinquish power to the victors.

But there will probably never be a need for Museveni to refuse to hand over power because, as the last two elections testified, his team is careful to ensure that when he is headed for defeat, they rig the voting and count.

In Tanzania, it is taken for granted that the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (Party of Revolution) has already won all the elections that will be held over the next 20 years.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame's opponents never had even a long shot at beating him in the last election.

In Kenya, however, President Kibaki has the political fight of his life on his hands. If he loses, it will be a repeat of 2002 when he handily beat the ruling party's candidate Uhuru Kenyatta.

So, while since the Constituent Assembly elections of 1994 Uganda has been locked in very emotional debates about "levelling the political playing field" - and there remains disagreement about what the expression means - you don't hear those words uttered in Kenya.

As both the wananchi and politicians in Kenya's neighbourhood witness the opposition giving the government a run for its money, it could become very difficult and politically explosive to continue hobbling the rivals to the ruling parties in places like Uganda and Kenya.

So, while Kenyan elections don't have the radical rhetoric of Tanzania, Rwanda, or Uganda's, its example might still turn out to be extremely subversive for other leaders in the EAC.

BUT IF that was all, they could still rest easy. The problem is that outside electoral politics, there are developments in Rwanda that are combining with events in Kenya to make ours a very interesting region.

Critics slate Rwanda for having easily the most illiberal politics in the region, but it has ably demonstrated that an African government can be effective and competent.

Rwanda is now famed as an emerging ICT leader in Africa, but it is the more ordinary things that are gradually putting it a class above its EAC partners. For example, the matatu and dalala taxi madness that you find in Dar es Salaam, Kampala and Nairobi is simply alien in Kigali.

CABINET MINISTERS' cars often clamber over the pavements to beat the traffic jams in Nairobi, and, in Uganda, military generals, the prime minister, and vice president are transported in a lawless manner.

In Rwanda, they would go to jail. And, of course, the garbage is collected. And this for a country whose total national budget was once equal to just Uganda's annual defence expenditure. A shilling goes a very long way in Rwanda.

This is beginning to be a problem for Uganda's politicians. As Ugandans put it, barely 20 years ago, the present crop of leaders in Kigali were refugees, junior officers and bodyguards to Uganda's potbellied military chiefs.

Today, it would seem there's nothing that Kampala can teach them. Instead, they run a more orderly state and their housekeeping is already many years ahead of Uganda's.
Again, if Kigali continues on this path, it will not be long before Nairobians, Kampalans, and Dar residents - whose cities have more money - demand the same quality of urban life. We can't wait for the day.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group's managing editor for convergence and new products.
0 Reactions
Top Bottom