MWANGI: Noise from Nairobi: end of the road for regional integration?
In a pronouncement reminiscent of the 1970s when the first East African Community collapsed, Kenya’s increasingly paranoid Jubilee government has dropped a bombshell: That there are two neighbouring states out to destabilize the country.
The announcement by government spokesman Eric Kiraithe has driven speculation to a new level. Tanzania has been mentioned in social media circles as a natural suspect given the close ties between the country’s President John Magufuli and Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga. In fact, one Member of Parliament was reported in local media to have singled out Magufuli and South Sudan’s Salva Kiir as those working to bring down President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government. Others have speculated that apart from Tanzania, the second country could possibly be Rwanda.
Whatever the case, the reckless announcement from Kenya’s leadership does not portend well for East African integration. As a strategy to detract the attention of citizens from the problems afflicting the country, it was a deeply disturbing accusation. Rather than confront the growing mountain of problems that Kenya faces today, the regime has now turned to escapist accusations and sideshows, in the process compromising regional peace and security.
But perhaps this kind of pronouncement should not be surprising. If anything, the surprise is that it didn’t come earlier; certainly, if they are not reined in, some of the ideologically bankrupt and desperate powerbrokers in Nairobi will come up with even more disingenuous ways of running down all the goodwill that East Africans have built over the years.
This is also a lesson that what happens in one country affects all, especially immediate neighbours. The trouble in Burundi should concern us all, and so should the diatribe now coming from the Kenyan leadership: First against its own citizens, and then against other countries.
That is a lesson that East Africans are yet to learn: That political instability, repression and intolerance in any partner state is bound to affect all others in the region. Within the new regional dispensation that is being constructed, hawkish pronouncements from leaders seeking to establish dictatorships have no place and will only bring the whole region to grief.
The root of the problem is that Kenya’s leaders current crop of leaders have never believed in the country’s new and progressive constitution promulgated in 2010. No effort has been spared in whittling down all the rights enshrined in that document. Relying on the backing of an ethnic constituency, they have shown scant respect for the rights of citizens to assemble or to protest peacefully.
This curtailing of freedoms has been accompanied by massive corruption on a scale never experienced before, sending millions of Kenyans deeper into poverty. To protect their ill-gotten wealth, it is no wonder that they would seek to stifle dissent and criminalize opposition.
The precarious position of Kenya’s leaders is made worse by the country’s shrinking geopolitical importance. The scale of corruption is inflating the cost of projects to unattractive levels, sending investors fleeing to other countries, and creating a crippling debt crisis for present and future generations.
It is this stench that has sent neighbouring countries fleeing, abandoning commonly-agreed projects. Rather than face the reality why Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda have all abandoned plans to connect their infrastructure through Kenya in preference to other alternatives, the country has proceeded with the construction of these huge projects. This is despite the fact that the changing regional scene dictates greater caution.
Given this background, what happens when the heat gets too much? It is a well-known trick from ancient times for rulers to divert the attention of their citizens to an external enemy. When the late Uganda despot Idi Amin was drunk with power, he tried Tanzania – and lived to regret.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni tried the same trick with Kenya when Daniel arap Moi was president – and quickly withdrew when Moi rebuffed his bluff and sent troops to the border. He was more fortunate with the laidback President Mwai Kibaki as well as the Jubilee administration, virtually taking over Migingo Island from Kenya without a fight.
Given the strides that have so far been made in regional integration, it is unfortunate for any member state to make unsubstantiated allegations that other partner states have ganged up to destabilize it. The repercussions could be dire and difficult to heal. The first EAC went down because of inter-state suspicions and quarrels: Are we about to head down the same path once again?
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