The one thing East Africa leaders must do

President William Ruto and Paul Kagame at World Governments Summit. [PCS]

The conviction of every African is that they deserve peace and progress fostered by their governments and responsive leaders.

While this aspiration has often been marred by turmoil and political unrest across this ‘emerging’ continent, hope needs to remain alive, no matter how distant it seems.

Casting our minds back, there was a time many African nations stood shoulder to shoulder with powerhouses like South Korea. They piteously overtook us. Even if so, our dreams are still valid!

Next week, the spotlight turns to East Africa as Rwanda prepares to commemorate the genocide against the Tutsi. It’s a poignant moment for the East African Community bloc and its leaders to reflect and, eliminate huddles to progress.

April 7, 2024 will be the start of Kwibuka 30, the 30th commemoration of the genocide that started on April 7, 1994. The world, especially the victims and survivors, will take a leap of faith in seeking healing and remembering the 800,000 loved ones brutally wiped out.

The international community’s inaction at the height of the killings remains a painful scar. While apologies were issued by the UN Security Council and even President Emmanuel Macron of France, accountability and acknowledgment of past wrongs are imperative for true reconciliation followed by a forward political, social and economic march.

The commemoration in Kigali and Rwanda’s embassies and some UN offices will serve as a time for global reflection and a reaffirmation of the commitment by every man and woman in the world to prevent such atrocities from recurring.

For EAC and its leaders, they must do one thing: Muster the courage to confront its tumultuous past and embark on a path towards honest renewal. But how?

First and foremost, it’s time to shun sham elections. Leaders who trample on citizens’ rights to make decisions through the ballot must be held accountable for their actions. Additionally, the region must confront corruption, negative ethnicity and distrust, which are corroding the fabric of EAC bloc.

From restricted political freedoms to arbitrary detentions and intimidation, many African countries continue to witness violations of human rights not to mention the risky use of ethnicity as a political weapon.

However, reflection alone is not sufficient. The world and the region must move beyond rhetoric to ensure harmony. Within the bloc, accountability and establishment of robust checks and balances will be essential to addressing divisions between countries, tribes or citizens.

Now, the genocide memorial must prick our conscience and wean us from bad habits. Ugandan opposition politician Kizza Besigye aptly summarises Africa’s dichotomy as a land divided between oppressors and the oppressed. We must make amends and promote equity that leads to growth, not impunity and mass murders.

Another big question: For how long will this region put up with the conflict in Sudan and parts of Ethiopia? How about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the tensions between it and Rwanda on one hand, and between Rwanda and Burundi on the other?

Regional leaders must address the DRC government’s reluctance to cooperate with peacekeeping efforts in eastern Congo, which jeopardises stability in the region. Let’s not take things for granted only to regret like we did with the 1994 Rwanda tragedy. Bloodshed must be averted.

Granted, only through collective effort can East Africa realize its full potential as it seeks to empower its more than 150 million citizens through a federation. Let us seize this Rwanda moment to relook at the past to make a difference. It matters a lot.

With President William Ruto’s pan-African credentials and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s quest to lead the Africa Union Commission, Kenya must make its voice heard in ‘soul-searching’ for East Africa.

But also, the world must thank President Paul Kagame for leading a powerful reinsurance in his country since the genocide.   

The writer is a communications practitioner