MWANGI: As a horrible year ends, what’s in the crystal ball for East Africa?


MWANGI: As a horrible year ends, what’s in the crystal ball for East Africa?

By Isaac Mwangi, East African News Agency

For most of East Africa, this was a year of shame and tears, suffering and anguish, protest and hopelessness. But there were also glimmers of hope.

Perhaps the people most to pitied – not just in the region but throughout the world – were our brothers and sisters in Burundi. For them, it has been a quick slide into the anarchy that has defined most of their post-independence history. And the worst is yet to come, from the look of things.

The crisis in Burundi has also brought out the helplessness of East Africa’s leaders, who have quietly watched from the periphery as that country disintegrates. Granted, the African Union has resolved to send a peacekeeping force into Burundi, but it remains to be seen whether strong words from the continental body will this time round be matched with equally strong action.

Indeed, after the United Nations messed up in its reaction to the Rwanda genocide back in 1994, one would have expected greater resolve to stop a pogrom this time round. But alas! This is not to be; that global outfit is still struggling with semantics to describe the situation in Burundi, showing that the situation is not that dire, after all.

As the world dithers, a steady stream of Burundians is crossing borders to face life as refugees. Street protests have morphed into armed struggle against the regime of strongman Pierre Nkurunziza. And isolated killings have now turned into a bloodbath on the streets of Bujumbura.

History, it appears, must keep repeating itself. Once the damage is done, there will be expressions of remorse from world leaders about how the people of Burundi had been let down; these hypocrites will then proceed to pontificate about the steps that will need to be taken to ensure that “never again” shall the world sit back and watch helplessly as tragedy unfolds anywhere else.

Looking at the course of human history, anyone who believes them would have to be the dumbest fool that ever lived.

But it is not only with regard to Burundi that our people are being turned into fools and slaves. Kenyans are making great strides to reach the path of self-destruction, and that may not be in the too distant future. In 2015, corruption reached such gigantic proportions that it appeared there is a conspiracy to bankrupt the country as quickly as possible.

The impact of massive corruption is yet to sink into people’s minds…or perhaps our children and grandchildren will feel the pinch more as they pay for massive loans to international creditors – money that was directly stolen from the country’s coffers.

The scale of the thievery is unprecedented, the figures mind-boggling, and the repercussions on the poor unconscionable.

Anywhere in the world where people have a modicum of self-respect and basic morals, there would have been angry street protests to force out the regime from power, maybe even have a few heads rolling off the guillotine. Not in Kenya, where the people have allowed the thieving elites to cushion themselves through ethnic bastions.

The struggle for good governance has been left to a small circle, as the regime in power makes one effort after another to create a legal environment that safeguards looting of public resources. Or could this worsening situation be the precursor to a Kenyan version of the Arab Spring?

In Uganda, this was a shameful year for democracy. The forthcoming General Elections now appear to be a fait accompli in favour of sitting President Yoweri Museveni – especially with the opposition unable to agree on a single candidate. At least, unlike Kenya, there is an element of predictability –there won’t be a new elite out to enrich itself as fast as possible.

For Rwanda, the entrenchment of one-man rule through a change in the constitution was counter-balanced by the element of predictability provided by the able leadership of President Paul Kagame. Yet, because no man is immortal or infallible a single man’s leadership qualities cannot serve as a substitute for strong national institutions. Rwanda badly needs to develop a culture of political succession, if it is to hold together in a future post-Kagame era.

That, basically, means that only Tanzanians have a reason to smile. Despite some alleged poll misgivings, the new President, Dr. John Pombe Magufuli has proved his mettle.

In 2016, is there a possibility that Magufuli’s magic could rub off some of his neighbours? Or that Kagame’s pragmatic and no-nonsense approach could help in easing the burden placed on the poor through corruption and bad governance in the rest of the region? Only time will tell: The prognosis isn’t good, but there’s certainly hope.

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