East Africa roundup for February: Rwanda, South Sudan, Kenya and Burundi

A roundup of East Africa democracy news and opinion:

Julian Hattem in World Politics Review explains that “Rwanda’s Opposition is Disappearing Along With Kagame’s Credibility“, keyed off the death of popular gospel singer Kizito Mihigo in custody.

This is a good article and I recommend it (while I have to note my pet peeve that it indulges as so many accounts do in the Kagame mythology that the RPF “marched in from Uganda to end the genocide” rather than noting that they came across the border and began fighting years earlier than their march into Kigale in 1994.)

Is there a day coming where Americans notice the problem even of repression of religious freedom in Rwanda in spite of the lionization of Kagame and his willingness to transact with foreigners on terms not available internally?

In South Sudan, a formal unity government was announced to meet the extended February 22 deadline. Most important details are either unresolved, or to be executed from a dead start, but this was a necessary step for hope for deeper progress, especially for one day when the people are free of their current warlord leaders. Riek Machar upon being re-instated as First Vice President was accordingly released from IGAD “house arrest”.

Update–Here is a report from the International Crisis Group: “A Major Step Toward Ending South Sudan’s Civil War

Kudos are in order for the diplomatic efforts to step up pressure on both sides, and in particular on Salva Kiir who had the most power and leverage through defacto control of the government. It seems that the State Department under Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy in particular engaged and showed leadership. The US has a unique diplomatic responsibility and opportunity in South Sudan so it is encouraging to see us step up to the plate.

Not sure what to make of this article in which Kalonzo Musyoka and the reporter posit a leading role for himself as Kenya’s envoy: “Kalonzo: How we brokered Kiir Machar peace pact“:

Former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka returned to the country on Sunday from Juba after accomplishing a delicate peace deal that saw South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar form a unity government.

The negotiators of the peace agreement heavily relied on Mr Musyoka to achieve the long-delayed process towards ending a six-year civil war that has led to loss of thousands of lives.

It is very much true that (1) Kalonzo was a Kenyan insider under Moi and then Kibaki’s Foreign Minister on though the negotiation of the CPA in 2005; (2) Kenya is inevitably of importance in South Sudanese power struggles because of the role of Nairobi as at least the “back office” and “capitol of capital” for South Sudanese kingpins; (3) Gideon Moi (as reported by The Sentry) and certainly other leading Kenyan figures are major players in financial dealings at issue in South Sudan; (4) the U.S. as the leading international power involved in the nascent building of a South Sudanese nation is closest to Kenya and to Uhuru Kenyatta in particular among the IGAD members and leaders, so Kalonzo in representing Kenya and Uhuru presumably has standing with the US in addition to his own background with the negotiations.

Remember that after his deal with Mwai Kibaki during the 2007 presidential campaign to stay in the race and be appointed Vice President, Kalonzo was trusted enough by Kibaki and his men to represent them in Washington during the Post Election Violence in lobbying against a “unity government” with Raila. At that time in early 2008 Uhuru was also in Kibaki’s initial cabinet Minister of Local Government, as he had been under Moi in 2000-2002, administering Nairobi issues in those pre-devolution days.

Speaking of Nairobi, Uhuru and devolution, the purported “sign over” of governmental powers from Nairobi Governor Sonko, to the Kenyatta Administration, while seemingly suspended from official action by court order and facing impeachment and criminal charges, is the big new story.

According to The Standard, “Human Rights Activist Okiya Omtatah and Lawyer Robbin Murimi filed separate applications at the High Court Nairobi challenging the move.”

Uhuru Park

Close behind is the damning latest round of leaks of secret details of corruption and dereliction in the Kenya Railways/Standard Gauge Railroad saga.

Otherwise, as it has become more clear that the BBI is generating inevitable controversy, Ambassador McCarter has tempered his language of American support to emphasize a robust debate with wananchi involvement on “which provisions to enact”. At the same time, three months now since the release of the original BBI Report and almost two years after the Handshake, it remains unclear (or undisclosed) exactly what the “deal” is.

Meanwhile, elections are coming up fast in Burundi on May 20. For the latest on the ongoing pre-election violence, see The New Humanitarian: “Killings, arrests as elections draw near in Burundi.

The EAC will send Observers since Burundi is a member:

EAC Secretary General Ambassador Liberat Mfumukeko informed the UN delegation that the EAC observes elections within the context of the National Constitutions of the Partner States.

He assured the delegation that preparations were underway for the launch of a longterm EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the Burundi electoral process in its entirety, as well as a short-term EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the polling only.

“I am confident that the peaceful spirit we have experienced during the party nominations will continue during and after elections,” said the secretary general.

“The EAC is calling on all the people of Burundi to sidestep violence, regardless of the situation,” he added. In 2018, Burundi promulgated a new Constitution.

Kenya-USA Bilateral Trade Talks: Ambassador McCarter confirms “cat is out of the bag” on Bloomberg scoop on negotiations for Free Trade Agreement

U.S., Kenya to start trade talks seen as template for Africa

Key takeaway is that Bloomberg reports that trade talks have been underway between the United States and Kenya, with the Kenyan officials confirming progress and the US expecting to publicize status in conjunction with Uhuru Kenyatta visit to Washington next week.

The East African nation’s cabinet will probably approve discussions with the U.S. this week, Kamau [Permanent Secretary] said.

Kenya is America’s 11th largest trading partner on the continent and the sixth biggest in sub-Saharan Africa, with total trade between the two countries at $1.17 billion in 2018.

The U.S. currently has one free-trade agreement on the African continent — with Morocco. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy said in August that the nation was pursuing a trade deal with an unidentified country in sub-Saharan Africa, adding that it would be used as a model for others when AGOA expires.

The Trump Administration wants to use an agreement with Kenya as a template for other bilateral agreements in region, as opposed to the African Union’s expressed preference for a multilateral pact in the context of the new African Continental Free Trade Area. It is also somewhat unclear as to how this would integrate with the longstanding US support for the federation process among the members of the East African Community.

Update:

Uganda: Retiring US Ambassador “stings Museveni for overstaying in power” but emphasizes support for Uganda’s role n regional stability

Outgoing US Ambassador Malec stings Museveni on overstaying in power as she bids farewell Nile Post, Jan 23:

The outgoing US Ambassador Deborah Malac, has aimed a dig at President Museveni and his NRM government for staying long in power saying it might lead to problems in the future.

Having served in Uganda for four years, Malac will late this month leave the country as US Ambassador but also retire to private work after spending 39 years doing US public service, mainly in Africa.

Speaking at her last press briefing on Thursday, Malac said the long stay in power and failure to have a peaceful transition will at one time lead to problems for the country.

. . . .

Speaking on Thursday, Malac however said because Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence people have a number of concerns over the same.

“I know it becomes difficult in countries like Uganda to talk about succession and transition and not sound political in the sense that you must be against or for a particular group but the issue is figuring out the other voices so they are heard and issues discussed,” she said.

The outgoing US Ambassador who has been in Uganda for four years, has been very vocal on issues of human rights and democracy and has on several occasions been accused of interfering in local politics after being viewed as being pro-opposition but speaking about the same, she said she does not care about what many think of her.

. . . .

Uganda remains a cornerstone of stability in the region says outgoing US Ambassador MalacNile Post, Jan 24:

. . . .

In 2007, Uganda was the first country to deploy troops in Somalia under the AMISOM and turned around what had for long been termed as a “mission dead on arrival.”

The Ugandan troops are deployed in Sector One in Benadir,(has 16 districts) Banadir, and Lower Shabelle regions having pushed Al Shabaab militants for over 200km away from Mogadishu city for normalcy to return to the capital where the militants roamed freely.

. . . .

She said that in her time, the US has supported the training, equipping and deployment of nearly 25000 Uganda military personnel to Somalia to help in improving regional security and stability.

Uganda has been at the forefront of fighting Allied Democratic Forces that have made life difficult in the volatile Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where they roam freely and have killed thousands of locals.

Uganda has also played an important role in brokering peace in the continent’s newest country, South Sudan.

. . . .

The Kampala government has also been influential in ensuring peace in Burundi and Central African Republic.

The outgoing US Ambassador said her government will continue supporting Uganda’s efforts to ensure stability in the region.

. . . .

See also “US Ambassador bids Museveni farewell“, Daily Monitor, Jan 17.

Uganda campaign flyer on tree says vote NRM Yoweri Museveni for peace, unity and transformation for prosperity

Kenya manufacturing shrinks and exports to region fall, contributing to job losses, raising more questions on #BBIReport

I had not realized quite how badly this was going, as reported in Standard story this weekend.

No wonder Kenyans On Twitter are energized against the performance of the Government in a seemingly broader and deeper way than in the past when the the economic malaise did not get as deep into the “middle class”.

The employment emergency described by the BBI Report is real, but the proposed solution is rapid industrialization for regional exports. There was already a credibility problem for the current Government as to what in the Building Bridges Initiative would make that type of rapid growth likely to happen. Now we see that the actual performance of the current system is not slow growth but rather a sharp decline in manufacturing and regional exports.

And again, a lot of the problem is thinking based on a relatively paternalistic environment where as long as Kenya “played by the rules” the major world economic powers that could otherwise squash Kenyan manufacturing at least conceptually would cheer Kenya on in developing into a regional manufacturing leader. In the real world of 2013 to date and in the future envisioned by the BBI, Kenyan manufacturing has to compete with Chinese manufacturing both domestically and for regional exports. And China doesn’t have the debt problem that Kenya now has.

East Africa is the pits for press freedom, but congratulations to Namibia, Ghana and South Africa for outranking France, the U.K. and the U.S. in the World Press Freedom index

Here is the new 2019 World Press Freedom index from RSF, with the United States down to No. 48 (!) and France and the U.K. at 32 and 33 respectively. Namibia at 23, Ghana at 27 and South Africa at 31 lead SubSaharan Africa. Burkina Faso at 36 and Botswana at 44 also outrank the United States.

Thus, five African nations are ranked above the United States for press freedom this year according to Reporters Without Borders. The United States continues to rank above all of the East African nations.

Here are the East African Community member rankings:

Kenya 100

Tanzania 118

Uganda 125

South Sudan 139

Rwanda 155

Burundi 159

Elsewhere in the East and Horn Region: Ethiopia 110; Somalia 164; Djibouti 173; Sudan 175.

And other “development partners”: Norway 1; Germany 13; Japan 67; UAE 133; Russia 149; Egypt 163; Iran 170; Saudi Arabia 172; North Korea 179

As we remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an ungoverned preacher, Paul Kagame moves to govern Rwanda’s churches

A regulated church modulated by a political military autocrat — or even a majoritarian elective republic — would not have allowed a prophetic, challenging voice like that of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. to be heard.

It was hard enough in the relative free-for-all of American Protestantism of the 1950s and ’60s. This is addressed in King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” which has had renewed attention in light of the anniversary of his assassination and a new spirit of contention and race-baiting in post-2008 American politics.

I rediscovered the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as an adult in the early years of this century, before Obama or Trump or my connection to Kenya, and was inspired to use it as the basis for a Sunday School lesson in my defacto nearly all white Mississippi church knowing that it would still challenge all of us as it still will today.

Today’s AP story: “Rwanda closes thousands of churches in bid for more control” (h/t @Smith_JeffreyT). Read and make up your own mind as to Kagame’s objectives.

Aside from his own record as an RPF military leader in the early 1990s and what I see as the ruthlessness expansiveness of his continued consolidation of power over Rwandans, I am concerned that Kagame represents a dangerous force more broadly in East Africa and beyond because of the notion of outsiders with extraneous interests aligning with him to use his rule as a model — or excuse — for things that are flatly against our values. Like a surrender of religious liberty to the State, as one example.

[See yesterday’s CBC story about Canadian journalist Judi Rever’s new book In Praise of Blood which is being seen by many as offering revelatory revision on Kagame’s record during the genocide. I am adding it to my reading list recognizing that I have no independent background or insight on events then in Rwanda but perhaps some in how East African history is shaped and used in the West. Helen C. Epstein’s Another Fine Mess; America, Uganda and the War on Terrorwhich I intend to review– offers insight into Kagame’s background and role as a Ugandan soldier/insurgent under Museveni.]

Update April 7: Statement from Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan – “Commemoration of the 24th Anniversary of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda“:

We stand today with the people of Rwanda in commemorating the 1994 genocide during which more than 800,000 men, women, and children were brutally murdered. On this solemn occasion, we remember those who lost their lives and honor the courage of those who risked their lives to save others.

The United States values its strong partnership with Rwanda, and we are inspired by the remarkable progress that Rwanda has made in rebuilding since 1994. We are proud to support Rwanda as it continues to fight impunity for atrocities, lift millions of its people out of poverty, and build a peaceful and prosperous future for its citizens.

We also honor the contributions of Rwandans such as Godelieve Mukasarasi, recipient of the Department’s 2018 International Woman of Courage Award, who have dedicated their lives to fighting for a culture of peace and non-violence in Rwanda. We are inspired by their bravery and dedication to justice and reconciliation.

Meanwhile, Uganda is reported “sliding into crisis”

With attention focused on Mugabe’s capitulation to the military and his erstwhile ZANU-PF cronies in Zimbabwe, and the accompanying exuberant popular optimism, the Crisis Group released its latest report of 30+ pages on Uganda as Museveni moves to clarify his status as supra-party, supra-legal supremo.

Here is the link to download: “Uganda’s Slow Slide Into Crisis“:

Crisis Group: Principal Findings

What’s the issue? Popular discontent is growing over President Museveni’s apparent desire to remain in power while governance, economic performance and security deteriorate.

Why does it matter? Uganda is not in danger of renewed civil war or rebel violence, but it risks sliding into a political crisis that could eventually threaten the country’s hard-won stability.

What should be done? The government should hold a national dialogue over presidential succession, enact reforms to the partisan police force, stop post- poning local elections and initiate broad consultations on land reform. Donors should encourage these efforts, while avoiding projects that help perpetuate political patronage.

Museveni has continued to have amazing grace from the United States which has taken a position of official neutrality as he has sought to strong arm his way to another constitutional change to eliminate the 75 year presidential age limit for the presidency.

As AMISOM has indicated its first troop drawdown of 1,000, and more U.S. forces deploy to assist the Somali National Army, Museveni volunteered another 5,000 Ugandans for the Somalia-building endeavor during President Trump’s “Nambia lunch” with African leaders in New York in September. No indication that we want to take him up on the offer, but we seem to continue to hold a stream of various defense-funded public events in Uganda and otherwise seem to desire to telegraph “strategic patience”, “immoral indulgence”, “complacent complicity” or whatever it is that best characterizes our multigenerational intertwining with the M7 regime.

Always “steady progress” – COMESA “elders” to observe COMESA member elections in Kenya and Rwanda

From a COMESA Press Release yesterday:

COMESA believes that elections play a pivotal role in societal transformation in the region and provide a footstall for entrenching democratic principles.

Premised on this critical role, Member States have continued holding periodic elections which have heralded a new dawn by signifying steady progress towards deepening and institutionalizing democracy in the 19-member bloc.

Nonetheless, COMESA is still dispatching teams of Election Observers to issue Preliminary Statements just after the upcoming elections in Rwanda on August 4 and Kenya on August 8, with further reports after 90 days.

Zimbabwean Ambassador Dr. Simbi Mubako will lead the team for Kenya to arrive 30 July.

Think I am too jaded?  Enjoy this:

The presidential elections in Rwanda follows the 2015 referendum that unanimously approved a constitutional amendment that allowed President Kagame to run for office in 2017.  The forthcoming elections are considered important in Rwanda’s socio-economic and political progress.

In the past years, Rwanda has made significant progress in consolidating its political stability, economic growth and development.  Furthermore, Rwanda has recorded major milestones in consolidating democracy through holding periodic parliamentary and presidential elections as stipulated in its legal framework.

Since 2008, COMESA has continued to support the elections process in Rwanda.  COMESA observed the parliamentary that were held in 2008, 2013 and the presidential elections held in 2010.

I am all for extra diplomats and elders from the region being in Kenya for the election to meet diplomatic needs that may arise.  But let’s not confuse this type of “intramembership” diplomatic obsevation with an independent election observation. 

[See U.S. and IGAD Statements on Djibouti election from last year, featuring Kenya’s Issack Hassan for IGAD]

“Look, no hands” — Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Uganda declines to offer support for electoral reforms (updated)

In an interview in today’s edition of Uganda’s state owned New Vision, retiring U.S. Ambassador Scott DeLisi addressed the current Ugandan campaign for the 2016 elections. In response to a question about civil society concerns about narrowing of the democratic space in Uganda, DeLisi declined to weigh in and went so far as to volunteer a position on behalf of the United States that he would leave the issue of electoral reforms for Ugandans to “discuss among themselves”.  Translated from diplospeak, discussion among Ugandans here means that prospective voters can mutter, murmur or swear and Museveni can decide as he will without consequence.

In his most recent re-election in 2011, Museveni stiffed the United States by keeping control of the appointment of Uganda’s electoral commission. See “High level U.S. delegation carries requests to Museveni on fair elections and Iran sanctions” and “Plenty of reason to be concerned about Uganda election” along with linked related posts. This time, the Obama Administration, fresh off dancing with Kenyatta literally and with Hailemariam figuratively, seems to have given up on any aspiration for pro-reform influence well in advance.

From the interview:

You have always asserted that the US mission will not get entangled in local politics. But as an ambassador, what advice would you give to players in the impending elections?

We never said we will not get involved in politics. Just as citizens of this country, we have invested in this country. Do we want this country to be a success with a strong and vibrant democracy? Yes.
If caring about this means getting involved in politics, then we will do. As for which candidate or party to support, that is for people of Uganda to decide.

We talk to leaders of all political parties – NRM, FDC, DP, UPC. Name them, we talk to them. We tell them that there should be a constructive electoral process in which people’s views are respected, where people engage each other respectively, where there is no room for violence.

So that, at the end of the day, no matter who wins the election, it is a credible result that services Uganda well and gives the new leader legitimacy to lead the country effectively and deal with the challenges that will emerge.

Do you share concerns by civil society that political space in Uganda is narrowing?

I don’t know whether it is narrowing down but I perfectly appreciate the challenges of civil society. But this is a constant dialogue we are always having with the Government to ensure that there is room for meaningful dialogue and engagement.

There is the NGO Bill currently before Parliament and during consultations; we have seen the NGO community, civil society engage with MPs in a robust dialogue that has brought significant changes to this piece of legislation. I don’t know what the final law will look like.

I know civil society would have liked to see the issue of electoral reforms addressed fully, but I leave that to Ugandans to debate among themselves about the need to strengthen the democratic process. We have seen in US that even after 250 years, we are still working to improve our democracy.

Update: To understand the context and significance of the Museveni government’s continued stonewalling, see today’s Daily Monitor: The Unresolved Question of  Electoral Reforms, What it Means for 2016.

How will the Iran nuclear deal play out in East Africa?

I wish I had a clear sense of how this might develop but I don’t.  It seems to me that there may be several areas of impact over the next few years:

+Diplomatic leverage of Museveni, Kenyatta, Kigame et al vis-a-vis the United States will be reduced as one of the main US “asks”–UN votes to maintain nuclear-related sanctions against Iran–drops away.

+While I do not foresee the current US administration raising expectations for other US priorities from these East African leaders, the next US administration might feel some greater freedom to address “the democratic recession,” declining press freedom, and other issues on the formal US policy list.

+Oil prices:  if a lot more Iranian oil gets to market both in the near term from the immediate impact of lifting sanctions and the longer term from the increase in capacity associated with ramped up foreign investment, the prospects for oil production in Uganda and Kenya will be impacted, especially as related to the 2021-22 election cycle.

+Iran will reassume a stronger role in trade and finance in the region and thus compete more strongly with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

+Iran will presumably increase its regional naval presence.

+The fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya and subsequent sad state of affairs in that country reduced one major “petrocash” player in East African politics; an Iran less cash-strapped by UN sanctions might have aspirations to finance East African politicians aside from its espionage/security/terrorism enagement.

New Developments on Iran’s Geopolitcal Efforts in Africa–another challenge for democracy?

Uganda, Iran and the Security-Democracy Trade Space?

High Level  U.S. Delegation Carries Requests to Museveni on Fair Elections and Iran Sanctions