Sunday, January 12, 2014
The East African Community: An Integration of Corrupt, Dictatorial and Murderous Regimes
By Bakampa Brian Baryaguma
Formation of regional blocks for political and trade related purposes at state level, is the in-thing of global trends today. The East African Community (hereinafter, ‘the EAC’ or ‘the Community’), an intended federation of five East African states, is an interesting integration that we ought to watch closely. The Community is comprised of five partner states – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Based in Arusha, Tanzania, it was re-established in 1999, by the presidents of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, after the collapse of its predecessor in 1977. The current EAC heads of state look forward to forming a political union and have among others, agreed to establish a monetary union, necessitating the formation of a single East African currency. In 2013, South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, applied to join the Community and is currently holding observer status.
The EAC is a promising body that deserves the support of all East Africans and other well wishers, but it faces huge challenges especially, around its respective political leadership, particularly the presidency. The EAC’s regimes are repeatedly accused of rampant corruption, dictatorship and in some cases harassment and killing of political opponents. One thing is clear: all this is done for political expediency and personal entrenchment in power. Late last year, Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, released a report entitled, Global Corruption Barometer, 2013, (hereinafter, ‘the Transparency International report’), which places most EAC countries highly on the corruption radar.
Then, on many occasions in the past, many human rights watchdogs like the American based Human Rights Watch, also released numerous reports that accused the EAC governments of widespread abuse of basic human rights, through gross violations like torture and murder. One wonders therefore, what the intended federation is all about; an integration of virtues, as it ought to be, or one of vices, as seems to be the case presently. It is hoped that the EAC Secretariat, the Community’s technical wing, led by Ambassador Dr Sezibera Richard, ensures that East Africans get value for money and belonging, by detaching itself from the faults, troubles and excesses of the region’s political leadership.
The ensuing discussion is a country-by-country profile on these and more related matters that are of critical importance to the meaningful and profitable development of the Community and its people.
Burundi, East Africa’s fifth largest economy is a country that is still emerging and recovering from the pangs of civil war. The country is generally still nursing and healing from wounds of longstanding socio-political conflict and instability. Thanks to the able leadership of current president, Mr Nkurunziza Pierre, the country is making important strides in economic growth and development.
The government is also doing well in the fight against corruption because according to the Transparency International report, Burundi registered low perceptions of corruption rates, the second after Rwanda in the EAC, although very many people, 96%, expressed willingness to get involved in corruption. The report though, does not indicate bribery rates in the tiny country.
But Mr Nkurunziza’s government is accused of clamping down on media freedom, frustrating full enjoyment of civil liberties and sometimes intimidating and harassing the regime’s political opponents. Some analysts and commentators warn that the president may be a staunch dictator in the making.
Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, was thought to be a beacon of stability in the East African region, for a long time, alongside Tanzania. Unlike many of its counterparts, the country has never had a civil war, let alone a coup, except the botched attempt of one in 1982, against former President Daniel Arap Moi. This stability facilitated the emergency of a middle and entrepreneurial class that has for long enabled the country to rapidly develop economically and surpass all its counterparts by far.
The country however, shocked the world when widespread ethnic violence erupted and engulfed it, following the 27 December, 2007 presidential election, results of which were disputed. Kenyans picked machetes and other deadly weapons and embarked on butchering themselves en masse. An estimated 1000 people perished in this mayhem that lasted up to early 2008. Consequently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted some people for flaming the electoral violence, accusing them of committing crimes against humanity in the process. Currently, three of those indicted namely, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, (now President), Mr William Samoei Ruto (now Deputy President) and Mr Joshua Arap Sang (a journalist), are to answer for their alleged crimes before The Hague based court. Mr Kenyatta is slated to undergo trial in February, 2014, while Mr Ruto and Mr Sang are already undergoing trial there.
The violence exposed the facade of stability existing in Kenya, thereby revealing its underlying irony – a case of stability sitting on instability. Most importantly, however, it proved that many East African leaders are willing to do anything to gain political power, including unleashing mass terror, destruction and murder, bordering on genocide; in tandem with the Machiavellian principle: the end justifies the means. This is very worrying and East Africans should ensure that it does not become a trend.
The country faces deeply entrenched corruption too. The Transparency International report found that Kenya has very high perceptions of corruption; that 70% of people there had given bribes; and 99% of the people expressed willingness to get involved in corruption – the highest percentage in the EAC. Anyway, this is no surprise at all because endemic corruption has been a well known phenomenon in Kenya for a very long time. Alarming levels of corruption are well documented and attested to in numerous publications like Mr Miguna Miguna’s book, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya and Mr Babafemi A. Badejo’s book, Raila Odinga: An Enigma in Kenyan Politics. Both of them give harrowing accounts of human rights violations too especially, during the Moi presidency.
Rwanda, East Africa’s fourth largest economy, is progressing well economically and is nearly free of corruption. The country’s leader, President Paul Kagame, in power since 1994, has zealously fought this vice. According to the Transparency International report, the country is the least corrupt among EAC member states with only 13% of people reporting having given a bribe and has extremely low perceptions of corruption. Actually, in this area, Rwanda out-performs many other technologically advanced and highly economically developed countries in the world. Interestingly though, a huge number of people there, 96%, expressed willingness to get involved in corruption. I think it is because they feel denied and deprived of an opportunity to wilfully loot and plunder public resources like many of their counterparts in the Community.
President Kagame has also led the tiny East African country to economic recovery after a devastating genocide that ravaged the country, 20 years ago, in 1994. The country has previously been ranked the best investment destination in Africa. The president’s investment strategies have been praised by many people as realistic, workable and indeed pro people. Rwanda is said to be ‘a country where things work.’ For this President Kagame deserves applause and perhaps a bouquet of flowers.
In spite of this impressive economic record however, Rwanda is a total police state, where there is high abuse of civil and political rights, basing on claims of avoiding further genocide. The country’s media is muzzled and is incapable of freely criticizing the government. Severe critics of Kagame’s regime are repeatedly harassed and savagely killed, no matter where they are: whether inside Rwanda or outside in exile. This state of affairs has instilled a deep sense of fear and lack of freedom among the Rwandese. I recall that in around 2011, the British government issued a statement warning Mr Kagame and his government against following people in exile, purposively to eliminate them. The latest incident of politically motivated killings is the one of former director of intelligence, Colonel Karegeya Patrick, who was found murdered in his room in a South African hotel, on New Year’s Day, 2014. Karegesa’s opposition political party, Rwanda National Congress, has accused the Rwandan government of killing him. In 2010, another member of the party, Major General Kayumba Nyamwasa, was shot twice. Investigations by South African police revealed that the Rwandan government had a hand in these attempted murders. Apparently, Mr Kagame is a bloody, power hungry dictator, opposition to whom is strictly forbidden and extremely risky. I think his friends ought to remind him of the wise words of Nicolo Machiavelli, who said in The Prince, that, ‘It cannot be called prowess to kill fellow citizens, to betray friends, to be treacherous, pitiless, irreligious.’
Tanzania, East Africa’s second largest economy, is a true giant of political stability and peace in the EAC. This country is the only one in the Community that has never experienced civil war or even a coup since independence. None of its presidents has ever been to exile or was politically forced to step down and leave office. Tanzania has gone through peaceful and democratic transitions of power right from the time of founding president, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, all the way through former presidents, Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Benjamin Mkapa, up to current president, Mr Jakaya Kikwete, who soon after being elected president, promised to respect and uphold the country’s tradition of peaceful and democratic regime change, like all his predecessors did. With this impressive record, it is only fair to say that the country is a good role model for democratic governance in the EAC, although it may not necessarily be perfect at it, since some critics say that President Kikwete’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi party also intimidates its political opponents during elections.
The wonderful political and democratic performance of Tanzania has resulted into impressive economic growth and development. Political stability and democracy has enabled a sense of sobriety to prevail in the EAC’s biggest country and this has enabled it to overcome the devastating effects of late President Nyerere’s failed socialist oriented policy, Ujaama. This policy broke down the country’s economy and greatly impoverished its people, so much so that Mzee Nyerere had to apologise to his fellow Tanzanians for the program’s failure.
But Tanzania has its own Achilles heel to grapple with – high levels of rampant corruption. According to the Transparency International report, the country has the highest level of perceptions of corruption in the Community; 56% of the population acknowledged having given bribes; and another 75% of them expressed willingness to get involved in corruption. It is hoped that Mr Kikwete’s government does more to fight this vice.
Uganda, East Africa’s third largest economy, has registered remarkable economic growth rates for the last 28 years of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s leadership. This growth is largely due to political stability the country has enjoyed since 1986, when Mr Museveni came to power, after a five year guerrilla style bush war. He is the EAC’s longest serving leader, who came at a time when the country was virtually ruled by incompetent and dictatorial warlords and militias that had mismanaged the country politically and economically. His government pursued sound economic policies like privatization, encouraging private led development. These have put the economy on the path of progress, which is very good.
However, alongside these achievements, the Ugandan leader has nurtured and sustained a patronage network that thrives on bribery and other forms of corruption. As a Ugandan living in Uganda, I can comfortably say that President Museveni is a master of political bribery and the architect of grand corruption in the country. According to the Transparency International report, 61% of Ugandans confessed having paid a bribe to officials. No wonder Uganda has very high perception rates of corruption as revealed in the report. The president is the patron saint of the corrupt and dubious characters in his regime, who he promotes at will and demotes or punishes only when it serves him well to do so.
These are the type that Mr Museveni’s former vice president, Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, famously described as ‘mafias.’ Under the rule of mafias and His Greatness President Museveni’s control, corruption in Uganda has come to be accepted as normal and acceptable. Consequently, the Transparency International report revealed that 89% of people in Uganda expressed willingness to get involved in corruption. In this country, the corrupt are praised as being brilliant. Unfortunately, corruption is a lingua franca of sorts. Uganda under President Museveni is effectively more corrupt and dictatorial than even the warlords he castigated and removed from power.
Mr Museveni’s late dictator close friend, Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddaffi, once advised him that “revolutionaries don’t retire.” Being a good student, Mr Museveni well understood and accepted this mischievous idea because he said that a mere paper (i.e. a ballot) cannot get him out of power. Further, in response to his critics who said that he has overstayed in power and should therefore, consider retiring, he said, in around 2008, that, ‘I hunted for my carcass. No sooner have I started skinning it than people are telling me to go. Go where?’ President Museveni has been described by many of his former guerrilla war comrades as a betrayer, who hijacked their five year liberation struggle for personal grandeur and satisfaction. This in effect smirks of incompetence, which credential is not at all nice for a man who aspires to become the Community’s first president.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, applied to join the EAC in late 2013 and as earlier stated, it currently holds observer status in the Community. Whereas I highly appreciate South Sudan’s desire to join the EAC and welcome it, I nevertheless have to say that due to the short time the country has been in existence, I am at pains finding positive things to comment about its leadership in this write-up. In light of recent developments there, I am sorry if nothing positive shows up in my analysis. So, I shall do my best to objectively analyze issues as they stand today.
I recall that on the occasion of applying for EAC membership, one of the cabinet ministers, I think that of foreign affairs, told leaders and reporters present that, ‘We promise not to wet the bed, but we may break some cups along the way.’ Unfortunately, however, even before half a year elapses, the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) has failed to keep this promise. The country disappointed and rather, embarrassed many people across the world, after erupting into sporadic political and military violence, on 15 December, 2013, hardly two years after gaining independence from mainstream Sudan. The violence has so far claimed about 1000 lives and displaced close to 200,000 people, some of whom have scampered for safety and fled into exile as refugees in neighbouring countries.
Since I have already had my say on this conflict elsewhere, suffice to say that the disagreements in the government and party materialized in July, 2013, after President Kiir fired his vice president, Mr Riek Machar and all other cabinet ministers. This followed Mr Machar’s announcement of his candidature for the country’s top job in the forthcoming 2015 elections. This did not please his boss, President Kiir, who according to many analysts and observers both in and out of South Sudan decided to embark on a treacherous move to suppress him and his supporters. These analysts and commentators who include Mrs Rebecca Garang, the widow of late John Garang, who led South Sudan into rebellion against mainstream Sudan, have argued and maintained that Mr Kiir is the one who sparked off the violence through an attempted purge of his political opponents in both the government and the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) political party and then frame them up on allegations of attempting to overthrow the government in a coup. Mrs Garang recently visited Uganda to discuss the ongoing crisis with President Museveni. In a television interview, she said that President Kiir has changed and no longer listens. She added that, ‘The President is not doing things he should be doing’ and that Mr Kiir ‘... is preaching words of war.’ Apparently, soon after testing the sweetness of presidential power, President Kiir has formally joined the EAC’s exclusive dictators’ club. His mischievous political machinations to keep political power show that he is also ready and willing to do everything necessary to get and entrench himself in power, including engaging in outright criminality.
Yet that’s not all about South Sudan. Rampant corruption has eaten deeply into its socio-political and economic fabric. As we speak, just two years after independence, the country registers alarmingly high levels of corruption. According to the Transparency International report, 39% of people in South Sudan confirmed having given bribes; 75% expressed willingness to get involved in corruption; and the country’s perceptions of corruption rate is the second highest in the EAC, after Tanzania. Last year alone, it was reported that an estimated US$ 4.6 billion was embezzled by government officials, yet not even a single road has been constructed by the government since the country gained independence in 2011! This was revealed by Mrs Garang, during her television interview. No wonder, nowadays the GoSS is jokingly stated in full as the Government of Self Service. This is very unfortunate and regrettable. The high level of corruption hinders service delivery to the country’s population that has more or less only experienced war, deprivation and the worst conditions of suffering on earth. With all this, President Kiir and his government have not only wetted the bed, but have gone on to actually defecate on it; they have exceeded breaking cups and ended up breaking people’s livelihoods. It seems accurate to say that judging from current political developments in South Sudan, President Kiir and his team are bringing with them more of the usual stuff into the EAC, with no hope of value addition.
In conclusion, one may say that corruption, dictatorship and sometimes petty criminality like murder, seem to be the oil that lubricates the EAC leadership. They appear to be the definitive marks that characterize them. Stopping this bizarre trend should be the concern of all East Africans, working with the rest of the world. As a people, these challenges inevitably call upon us to be patriotic, while at the same time dedicating ourselves, like Robert Francis Kennedy said, to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. It also serves us well to remember Edmund Burke’s caution that, ‘The only necessary thing for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’ Societies either develop or perish on leadership. With good leadership comes development and prosperity; with bad leadership comes suffering and misery. For purposes of our development agenda, I would advise all present and future EAC leaders to read William H. McNeill’s book, The Pursuit of Power, particularly chapter two, for the valuable lessons that democracy and a free market that facilitates private entrepreneurship are the two tested and proven forces in world history that have distinguished themselves in socially, politically and economically emancipating societies. Our people deserve a chance to fully harness real, participatory democracy and the free market environment, in order to enjoy the good feeling of enduring peace, stability and prosperity that come and are associated with these twin forces.