Museveni cries are on right side of history

President William Ruto and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni in Entebbe ahead of the 19th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit. [PCS]

A battle-hardened politician who knows when to speak, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni or ‘M7’ is a man on a mission.   

Lately, when he isn’t berating homosexuals and chiding the West over ‘colonial’ tendencies, he sees big trouble with the East African Community (EAC) and mostly Kenya, his pet neighbour. After donors halted loans to Uganda over the country’s anti-LGBTQ law and then a fuel haulage row with Nairobi erupted, the veteran leader took to the political chessboard. He thinks Kenya ‘abuses’ Uganda’s spirit of Pan-Africanism.

When a geologist was killed in Karamoja region in March 2022, the strongman with a cowboy hat concluded – without batting an eyelid – that Kenya was breaching the peace by doing little to end the proliferation of illegal arms. And in the new year, Museveni delivered a hard punch on East African countries he accuses of imposing non-tariff barriers. “We won’t be part of blind policies... I can’t retaliate,” he teased in a dig at Kenya over supposed bans on Ugandan milk and eggs.

During poll chaos in Kenya in 2017, he whined about what he called ‘kunyoa reli’ after picketers pulled down railway in Kibera, disrupting transport to his land-locked country. And at one point, he apologised on behalf of his son and heir-apparent Muhoozi Kainerugaba who had gone on a social media rant against Kenya.  

It seems all isn’t rosy in EAC. Kenya faces serious distrust within the bloc. This week, Tanzania sprung up and banned Kenya Airways flights. Burundi and Rwanda recently clashed over rebel attacks along their border. Rwanda and DRC are facing off over M23. Somalia is aloof.

Give it to him, strongman Museveni has been calling it as it is. At 79, he is uniquely consistent in his unification call. He wants East African folks to gel. Observers say he could use this route to clean up his image and soothe misgivings around his lengthy rule. While critics claim ‘M7’ may be out to raise his clout as the ‘father’ of EAC, this is a watershed moment for him.  

The fifth-term Ugandan leader is a loud proponent of regional integration and ‘make EAC, buy EAC’ idea which he believes will protect jobs and stimulate investments. “One country cannot do it alone, we need a federation,” he once told the East African Legislative Assembly.

Despite the fear of the all-pervading big man syndrome typified in him and other ‘life presidents’ like Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Paul Biya of Cameroon and Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, Museveni’s idea of a vibrant EAC merits favourable judgment seen against the need for better flow of goods, services, people, capital and ideas. It must be supported.

Asking for citizens: When will EAC end petty rifts and translate itself into benefits for hustlers? Will it ever end assumptions on which it is grounded? Presidents Museveni, Salva Kiir, William Ruto, Paul Kagame, Suluhu Hassan, Hassan Mohamud, Évariste Ndayishimiye and Felix Tsishekedi must look each other in the eye and offer full political commitment.

Sad that EAC, with a combined GDP of $1,917,904 million and 174 million people, is expanding membership but citizens becoming poorer. How do the eight nations intend to achieve vibrant cross-border trade, low tariffs, free people movement and intermodal connectivity with all the recurrent rifts?  

Countries don’t have to view each other as ‘aliens’ out to grab opportunities. However, Kenya must do more to win neighbours’ trust. Like ‘M7’, we must seek an EAC reawakening in 2024. EAC chairman Kiir and team shouldn’t be piteously laid-back. Let leaders hearten Wanjikus to resuscitate the bloc’s noble vision.

And yet again, let’s remind President Museveni to confront territorial conflicts on Lake Victoria that threaten his Pan-Africanism. The question is why, for all intent and purposes, is he reluctant to resolve the bitter Migingo Island row with Kenya? It’s a big blot on his diplomacy credentials!

-The writer is a communications practitioner. X:@markoloo

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