Archive for the ‘Ethnicity’ Category

Uganda decides

Presidential Candidates hols hands before the beginning of a live Presidential Debate held at Kampala’s Serena Hotel on Saturday. PHOTO:

In under a week from today (Monday) Uganda goes to the polls to decide whether incumbent president Yoweri Kagutta Museveni who has been in power for over three decades will continue ruling the “pearl of Africa” for another five years or that he will hand over power in a new dawn that will see the country’s leadership shift to the opposition.

No doubt that this is a defining moment for Uganda whichever way ‘the dice rolls.’

These elections are however not just significant for Ugandans, across the border in Kenya people are closely following the developments. Kenyan media outlets have sent correspondents to Uganda who give live updates during news bulletins.

Kenyans are also regularly commenting about developments in Uganda on social media.

Why is this election important to Kenyans?

Uganda is a key partner in the East African Community with very strong ties to Kenya. A lot of Kenyans are working in Uganda and likewise there are so many Ugandans working in Kenya due to several agreements between the two countries.

John Okello sells car spare parts at Kisumu’s industrial area, he regularly travels to Uganda to source second hand car parts and he explains why Kenyan’s care so much about Uganda.

“Unlike Tanzania, Uganda has been very welcoming to Kenyans and a lot of us do business there or go there to get supplies. Look at Kisumu streets today, how many vehicles do you see bearing Ugandan registration?”

Esther Waliaula works with an NGO in Jinja providing bicycles to volunteer health workers and students in remote areas of Uganda to improve access to healthcare and basic education. She is from Western Kenya and is currently back in the country because of the uncertainties that could come with the hotly contested elections.

“I have only been in Uganda for a month and I largely hope that the elections will be peaceful so that we can soon go back to work. I however came back because I know how African elections sometimes go and you do not want to be caught up when violence erupts in a foreign country.”

Dr. Cyprine Oduogo an International Relations lecturer and dean at the School of Development and Strategic studies at Maseno University agrees that a stable Uganda is very key for Kenyans’ economic interests.

“Uganda being a landlocked country relies a lot on Kenya for the movement of its goods and a lot of Kenyans do business in Uganda or with Ugandans. A stable Uganda is most definitely in the entire region’s best interest.”

The Connection between Kenyan and Ugandan politics

These elections are not only significant to people who work in Uganda or travel there for business. There are domestic political reasons as well.

Kenya will be going to elections too in about a year from now. Kenya’s opposition politicians and their supporters have had very frosty relationships with Museveni’s regime. At the height of the violence that occurred in Kenya after the disputed 2007 elections, Museveni is alleged to have provided police officers that backed up the Kenyan forces in Kisumu and other opposition strongholds and helped Kibaki hold on to power. To many Kenyans he helped rob them of their victory.

“Museveni was party to our stolen victory in 2007. He was a close confidant of President Kibaki and now it’s time for him to go home too,” adds Dick Okech, a resident of Kisumu and supporter of opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Dr. Odugo (quoted earlier) thinks that Museveni has immersed himself into Kenya’s ethnic divisions and sections of Kenyans would welcome a politically neutral leader of their western neighbor.

“Kenyans would most definitely want to see a more neutral leader in Uganda who does not align themselves to the various tribal factions of Kenya.”

Even though President Kenyatta has remained silent on his stand regarding the elections across the border, his deputy who is a close ally openly campaigned for Museveni in Eastern Uganda where a huge population from his Kalenjin tribe reside. That was probably the biggest indication of President Kenyatta’s support for a Museveni win and more reason why Kenyan’s allied to the opposition are against a Museveni win.

While it’s impossible to ascertain whether Kenyans in support of Kenyatta’s administration also support a Museveni win, a lot of Kenyans think he has led the East African nation for too long and it’s now time to change guard.

Museveni is attempting to hold on to power like his counterparts from Rwanda and Burundi, a move Kenyans on social media openly showed their displeasure with.

As far as over staying in power is concerned, your guess on where Kenyans stand is as good as mine.

The politics around the disputed Migingo island in Lake Victoria have also not helped the relationship between Museveni and opposition supporters who mostly hail from Western Kenya. In 2008, Museveni’s claim to the small island led residents of Kibera in Nairobi to uproot sections of the railway connecting the Kenyan coast to Uganda thereby disrupting delivery of goods to the landlocked nation.

“Museveni is widely seen to exhibit irresponsible leadership when it comes to his frequent claims to Kenyan territory. These are things that the average Kenyan does not take lightly even if the disputed land is just a small island,” says Dr. Oduogo.

To others though a win for opposition candidate Dr. Kiza Besigye is symbolic of things to come in the greater East Africa region including Kenya. In Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete peacefully handed over power to John Pombe Magufuli (a close confidant of Raila Odinga) and an opposition win in Uganda would be a much needed morale boost in the Kenyan opposition rings.

Linda Okado ia a member of the ODM Women’s league and supports a Besigye win in the Thursday elections. To her an opposition win in Uganda  will be an affirmation that it’s possible to defeat an incumbent in Africa.

“The challenges the opposition is facing in Uganda are similar to ours. A win there would mean that it is possible for transition in free and fair elections.”

A view shared by Dr. Oduogo who thinks that the opposition in Uganda is facing an impossible challenge and ” a miraculous win” for the opposition in Uganda where “democracy is in a bad state” coming hot on the heels of a change of guard in Tanzania will be a sign of hope for the opposition politicians in Kenya and their supporters.

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This week Africa and indeed the whole world is celebrating the life and times of one of the greatest men that ever walked the surface of the earth – Nelson Mandela. A man whose legacy can only be mentioned alongside the likes of Mother Teressa, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jnr.

That his death came at a time when Kenya is celebrating 50 years of self rule is more than a coincidence. I remember watching the national prayer service held in Johannesburg, South Africa yesterday and one quote from one the priests stood out for me: “While the living close the eyes of the dead, it is the dead who open the eyes of the living.”

Nelson Mandela’s death should be an eye opener for us and the rest of the continent. Like the Christians live by the principle of What Would Jesus Do (WWJD), Africans should start living by the principle of What Would Madiba Do (WWMD).

In the past few days I have watched a lot of documentaries on Mandela’s life (thanx to Channel 200 on Dstv) and I can’t help but draw parallels to the Kenyan situation. When Madiba was released from prison, he came out to a deeply divided society. Divisions both racial and tribal.

Even though he had every right to seek revenge for the atrocities committed against him by the colonial administration he chose the path of peace. Embracing the same people who took him away from his family for 27 years…embracing them so much so that he gave them a share in his government.

It was not an easy ride for the statesman…in 1993 just before he became president, South Africa saw the first ever ethnic violence that followed disagreements between the Zulu tribe who wanted to set up their own autonomous Kingdom and the ANC supporters. That violence cost the lives of more than 4,000 South Africans. This was worse than the post election violence we had in Kenya….

Madiba still sought for negotiations and eventually brought the Zulu to the table with one of their own even running for President alongside him.

The biggest lesson we can learn from the fallen soldier is that of forgiveness and inclusion…as Kenyans we need to forgive one another for past atrocities for crimes we committed or for those that were committed by people purporting to represent us. Then moving forward we need to include everybody in the development plans for this country.

As divided as South Africa was Mandela found little things that united his people…SPORTS was one of them. He used football, rugby and cricket to rally South Africans for their nation. The results were indeed amazing. I love the unity I see when we support Shujaa Sevens team at the IRB circuit, the joy our athletes give us when they race and win medals abroad…our lovely footballers. What we need is a leader who will take advantage of the opportunities that these sporting events provide and use that to unite our people.

So instead of mourning a man who has lived his life so well, we should ask ourselves whether we are ready to take up the Mandela challenge. This country badly needs a Kenyan Mandela who will deliver us from the bondage of ethnicity, greed and haughtiness. It’s time for another Mandela to rise up – In Kenya.

Happy 50th Birthday Kenya….Long Live Nelson Mandela.

 “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela

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