Recently The Star newspaper in Nairobi reported that Kenya’s Deputy Prime Minister and Local Government minister Musalia Mudavadi held “secret” talks with Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in Kampala in early April.
The meeting, the paper reported, was also attended by former Kenya president Daniel arap Moi’s roving envoy Mark Too. That was a richly significant detail because to understand Museveni’s approach to Kenya, one needs to appreciate his relationship with Moi—and how that affected his posture in Kenya’s disputed 2007 election, and probably still determines his thinking toward Nairobi.
In recent months, several of the Kenyan politicians vying to succeed President Mwai Kibaki at the next elections either in December or March 2013, have been beating a path to Museveni’s doorstep in Kampala. Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the man several opinion polls suggest is currently in the lead to win the presidency, has been there. So have Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Eldoret North MP William Ruto and Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Eugene Wamalwa. The one notable exception is Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua.
The Star quoted sources telling it that; “We know that they discussed regional politics, including succession politics in Kenya. Other than that we can’t tell.” This has renewed speculation about what card Museveni is playing in the Kenya succession.
Musalia, of course, has been in the news in recent weeks as he moves to break from the Orange Democratic Movement – because he doesn’t think he has a fair chance of winning the party’s presidential ticket – and launch his own bid for State House.
The fact that Museveni is trying to influence events in Kenya emerged most clearly when on February 19 he visited Kisumu to be chief guest at the inauguration of the Great Lakes University’s Education Fund. On arrival, Museveni and Raila pulled away from everyone else and spoke in a corner for about 20 minutes. Later in the day he was Raila’s guest at his Bondo home. Museveni was also installed as an elder of the Luo community during his Kisumu trip (and given the name Ogolla).
My investigations suggest that Museveni is indeed interested in the Kenya succession, but he is so far acting partly on behalf of leaders in the Great Lakes region – he will only show his true hand later. And, it is not only Kenya which is concerning Museveni and other regional Big Men, but several other issues in the Greater Horn of Africa:
•How the Kenya election outcome could impact Nairobi’s ability to remain engaged in Somalia.
•South Sudan’s nearly inevitable war with (North) Sudan – what we saw recently when the south briefly occupied the oil-rich Hegleig was only a curtain raiser.
•The push to oust President Isaias Afwerki in Eritrea; which has partly got to do with both the situation in Somalia and the internal and regional dynamics of a post-Meles Zenawi Ethiopia.
•The necessity to insulate Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, and northern Tanzania against the kind of painful economic disruption that happened during the post-election violence (PEV) in Kenya in 2008.
•The changing regional security architecture as Ethiopia inches ever closer to joining Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda in the East African Community.
The Moi Factor
There is perhaps no Kenyan whose political instincts Museveni trusts more than former president Moi’s, Kenya’s “Professor of Politics”.
Museveni started out, after he took power in January 1986 at the head of victorious rebel army, as a critic of Moi. Moi represented everything that the young radical Museveni despised about African politics. He was an old guard who, at that point – if you combined his years as Jomo Kenyatta’s vice president – had been in power for 19 years.
Museveni was seen by Moi to be close to Kenya’s anti-government radicals. Because he was greatly admired by oppressed Kenyans, Moi saw him as a destabilising influence. But it was over pocket issues that Museveni most upset Moi. One of the first acts of the Museveni government was to rule that all Ugandan imports and exports would no longer travel by road, but by railway.
Road haulage in Kenya was at that dominated by ruling KANU politicians, Moi ministers, and pro-regime businessmen. It was among the most lucrative businesses in Kenya then because beneath the legitimate cargo, most of the lorries also carried contraband that made their way into Uganda, south Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi.
The “railway only” ruling threatened all that. Not surprisingly, in 1987 Uganda and Kenya had two brief small border shooting wars – and Kenya closed its border with Uganda for weeks.
Faced with economic ruin at home, Museveni offered an olive branch. KANU politicians and businessmen were allowed to regain many privileges. First, the restrictions on the cash-rich Uganda coffee were lifted, and the KANU men got back in the business. To ensure that their interests were taken care of, Museveni appointed his influential brother-in-law John Kazoora, who had extensive business dealings with the KANU business elite, to be chairman of the Uganda Coffee Marketing Board.
The rules on transport of Ugandan imports and exports by railway were abandoned, and Kenya trucks – complete with their contraband – were back in business. Nairobi was happy again.
Moi showed his gratitude. He moved closer to Museveni on Sudan policy, where folks like Mark Too – yes, he who was with Mudavadi in Kampala last week – was Moi’s point man. In fact, often unacknowledged is that Mark Too – together with British tycoon, African fixer, and chairman of the Lonrho conglomerate Tiny Rowland (died in 1998) played a critical role in getting Khartoum and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) to agree to talks that eventually started in 2001 and led to the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement that was signed in Nairobi in January 2005.
That agreement opened the door to South Sudan independence.
Museveni became the principal military backer of the SPLA, and Moi gave him diplomatic cover.
Rowland, it should be noted, supported Museveni during his bush war too, and his private jet was often put at the service of the young rebel leader.
Moi also moved on other Museveni pet projects, like the revival of the East African Community (EAC) that had collapsed in 1997. In November 1999 Museveni, Moi, and Tanzania’s Hassan Mwinyi in Arusha signed the treaty for the re-establishment of the EAC.
Mindful to always humour Moi as an “African elder”, Museveni happily accepted that Moi should become the first president of the fully revived EAC in 2000 – and that Kenya should also provide the secretary-general. And so Francis Muthaura, later to be Kibaki’s Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Civil Service, became the EAC’s first secretary general.
Moi ensured that no anti-Museveni dissident group – unlike the Ugandan leader’s own National Resistance Movement (NRM) whose political wing was based in Nairobi during exile – took root in Kenya. In addition, while Museveni moved from being a leftist radical to the leading free market and economic liberalisation champion in Africa and the West’s blue-eyed boy, while at the same time playing at being independent, Moi had no such problems. He remained largely anti-imperialist and Mugabe-ist in his attitude toward the west.
The need to manage Moi and KANU using Ugandans who had links to the Establishment in Nairobi, had an unintended effect on internal politics in Uganda – it led to the rise of some of the most rightwing elements in the country to power, a decidedly conservative shift, and the fuelling of the emergence of Cowboy business that is smothering the country today.
Museveni became and remains friends with Moi, a great admirer of his “native cunning”, and his astuteness in foreign policy. To this day, Museveni thinks Moi is the shrewdest Kenyan politician, and that his instincts are unrivalled.
IN THE NEXT REPORT, we examine how the move from the Kenya of Moi to that of Kibaki that has seen the country sucked into its first war abroad in Somalia, might ironically have reduced the country’s sovereignty, and made the question of who becomes its next president a matter for both the regional power players and the international community.
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