When Kenya coughs it is Uganda that catches a cold

Published: 4 Mar 2013
By: Dismas Nkunda

Today, 4th March, Kenyans go to the polls to elect a new leader after current President Mwai Kibaki bows out. The elections are being watched with a keen eye across the world, and particularly throughout the region given the wider regional implications of its outcome. But no country in the region will be watching more closely than Uganda, and for good reason.

Uganda relies heavily on her imports from the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa, and already fuel prices in Kampala are beginning to go up. Should the elections have a repeat of the violence in 2007-2008, then Uganda will have to contend to use the longer route of Dar Es Salaam to be able to both import and export. This could have serious economic implications for the country.

But there is also the political gymnastics that are going on, and their implications for the region. The two front runners in the Kenyan elections, (Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga) have spoken about Uganda’s dispute with Kenya over a small Island in Lake Victoria (Migingo), which both countries claim. More importantly, however, is the manner in which the much younger Uhuru and Raila will relate to East Africa’s oldest president, Yoweri Museveni, and his widely known view of making East Africa’s five countries into a political federation. Indeed, the election of either Uhuru or Raila will certainly shift the regional dynamics.

After the ballot count, Museveni will remain the oldest and the oddest president in the region. With the clear path of political maturity that is being witnessed in the region, Uganda will certainly sit in an awkward position within the region as it relates to governance. With the Rwandan President declaring that he will not change the constitution and stand for another term, and with the impending exit of Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and the prospect of former Organization of Africa Union secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim taking over the mantle of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), Uganda will be seen as the only country in the region that has not shown signs of peaceful transition from one elected government to another.

These elections are also likely to create a number of political dilemmas for Museveni. In the last Kenyan elections, Museveni was the first leader in the region to recognize Mwai Kibaki as the winner. This did not go down well with those who were questioning the results that led to ethnic violence that claimed the lives of over 1,000 people and forced another 600,000 into displacement.

The other diplomatic dilemma would arise if Uhuru and Ruto won the elections. Both have a case to answer before the International Criminal Court based in the Hague. Would Uganda recognise those who are possible “criminals” but who are also in charge of running East Africa’s biggest economy?

With the regional importance attached to the outcome of Kenya’s election, therefore, there are issues that are likely to create a number of dilemmas not only for Uganda as a country, but specifically for Museveni as a person. Yes indeed, when Kenya coughs Uganda catches a cold.

Regions: Great Lakes Region, Uganda
Type: IRRI Blog