Museveni a key factor in the ongoing talks
Published on February 10, 2008, 12:00 am
By Oscar Obonyo
Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni is the all-critical man that each of the combatants of the highly discredited December 27 presidential polls, President Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga, would want to be on his side.
Museveni wears two crucial hats that accord him the licence to oversee the Kibaki-Raila political impasse. He is chairman of the East African Community and the Commonwealth.
He has intervened in his capacity as the regional boss and depending on how the situation goes or where his interests lie, he could revisit the impasse and influence its direction in an even bigger capacity of Commonwealth chairman.
Already Museveni has embarked on the Kenyan question and there is a similarity about the way he
|President Kibaki and Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni. Kibaki welcomed Museveni when he visited the country to try and broker a peace deal, last month.|
left the country last month and 22 years ago after “striking a deal” with Gen Tito Okello Lutwa at the Uganda Peace Talks.
In both instances, his presence involved seeking a solution to a political impasse over the presidency and he jetted out dissatisfied — his mission half-fulfilled. However, unlike in 1985 when he was one of the combatants, today Museveni plunges into the Kenyan post-election fray in the powerful capacity of a regional boss.
But even more curious is the Museveni-President Kibaki link in the 1985 Uganda Peace Talks and the ongoing Kenyan mediation talks headed by former UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan.
As Vice-President and Home Affairs minister, Kibaki served as deputy chairman in the Ugandan talks, but with the current efforts revolving around him, Kibaki and Museveni have now swapped roles.
Twenty-two years ago on Tuesday, December 17, 1985, a thoughtful Museveni emerged from Harambee House, Nairobi, flanked by the then President Moi, who was chairing the talks, and Okello after signing a pact. However, Museveni disregarded it a month later and led his National Resistance Army (NRA) to capture Kampala.
The scenes at Harambee House were replicated last month moments after Museveni flew in and out of the country.
Watching Annan emerge out of the building flanked by Kibaki and Raila and then shake hands before clicking cameras, in the same way Museveni and Okello did before Moi, one hopes this particular pact will be fruitful.
The Sunday Standard has since established that Museveni may have played a vital behind-the-scenes role in bringing Kibaki and Raila to the talking table.
The ODM side equally welcomed Museveni’s intervention: “He telephoned Hon Raila Odinga informing him of intentions to travel to Kenya and mediate between us and the PNU in efforts to make sure that there is peace and democracy in Kenya. As the chairman of the East African Community he is welcome,” said party spokesman Mr Salim Lone.
But it is the editorial of a Ugandan newspaper, “Daily Monitor” on January 24 that captured Museveni’s intricate role in the Kenyan mediation.
Daily Monitor of Uganda put it: “Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday joined a growing list of leaders and prominent Africans seeking to get the warring parties in troubled Kenya to the negotiation table”.
Ugandan soldiers in Kenya
The paper says Museveni flew to Nairobi not with as much advantage as the others (mediators) because of his “hasty” congratulatory message to Kibaki and rumours that Ugandan soldiers were helping Kibaki to quell incessant riots.
It , however, pointed out that his mission might still offer a lot more hope for Kenya and East Africa than all his predecessors.
“Here is why: With or without a disputed election, Uganda more than any other East African country, needs a stable Kenya whatever the cost of that stability.
Secondly, it is important to note that more than any other country in the region, Uganda has tested the bitter fruits of disputed elections-generated conflict losing anything between 100,000 and 300,000 lives in the post December 1980 elections,” wrote the editor.
The paper opines that Museveni stepped on the Kenyan soil with these facts in mind and that he was also aware that the disruption to life in Uganda was caused by fuel scarcity and spiralling prices, courtesy of the mess in Kenya.
“If these factors weighed on Museveni’s mind, then there is hope that he could summon this consciousness to present candid options for President Kibaki and his main challenger Raila Odinga,” concludes the editorial.
Separately, though, Museveni has reportedly expressed his discomfort with a Raila presidency. Prior to the polls, a Ugandan daily quoted a Cabinet minister claiming that Museveni is uncomfortable with the possible election of “youthful politicians Raila or Kalonzo (Musyoka)”.
He was accordingly monitoring the Kenyan elections closely.
His apparent preference for the elderly Kibaki seems to have been betrayed by his hasty decision to congratulate the Kenyan leader upon declaration by ECK that he had emerged the victor.
Viewed in the contest of Pan-Africanism and the East African Federation leadership, then Raila, more than Kibaki or Kalonzo, poses the biggest possible challenge to Museveni’s perceived quest. Like the Ugandan leader, Raila has openly exhibited interest and traits of a Pan-Africanist.
And regionally, the controversial December poll has attracted a lot of interest in Uganda, especially among the Iteso, Lang’i and Acholi people in the northern part of the country — a development that is doubtlessly discomforting to the country’s leadership.
Although he has not confirmed or denied it, there have been suspicions that Museveni aspires to become the proposed federation’s first head.
Indeed, his tenure as the longest-serving head of state in East Africa is an advantage.
There is no denying that Museveni, more than any other leader in the region, holds the EAC federation notion more dearly.
Having schooled in Tanzania up to university and lived in Kenya when he staged a guerrilla war against the Ugandan leadership in the 1980s, Museveni is deeply rooted and involved in regional politics.
Only last year, he undertook a grand tour across Kenya and Tanzania to confer awards on the families of former Vice-President Mr Moody Awori and Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president.
Honoured Awori’s family
Even though Museveni described the gruelling road journey that took him through Busia, Kisumu, Kisii, Migori, Isebania and Mwanza and Butiama in Tanzania, as simple personal affair in honour of friends, political pundits perceived it differently. It looked more like a precursor to a political federation campaign tour.
Museveni awarded the Awori family for its contribution to his guerrilla war that eventually brought him to power in 1986. Museveni says the former Funyula MP employed some of his fighters. Nyerere was awarded for his role in bringing down the dictatorial government of Idi Amin in 1979.
Regarded by many as an expansionist, Museveni’s political and military interventions in neighbouring countries over the last 22 years have greatly influenced and shaped the politics of the region.
His support for the Rwandan Patriotic Front contributed to the overthrow of the Hutu regime of Juvenal Habyarimana.
In 1995, he severed diplomatic links with the Sudanese government in protest against its alleged support of the LRA. Sudan in turn accused Museveni of backing the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army.
Museveni’s relationship with the Democratic Republic of Congo was equally frosty following his invasion twice — in the 1990s to oust long-term leader Mobutu Sese Seko, then to remove his successor and former ally, Laurent Kabila.
Ten years later, the DRC sued Uganda at the International Court of Justice for plundering its resources and committing atrocities. Museveni’s brother, Lt Gen Caleb Akandwanaho alias Salim Saleh and his son, Maj Muhozi Kainerugaba, have been implicated in the plunder.
The alleged involvement in Kenyan affairs has been met with a barrage of criticism. The Museveni administration has, however, formally distanced itself from any such move.
Uganda’s opposition chiefs have warned Museveni that he would be held personally responsible for possible disintegration of Kenya.
“It is completely absurd to expect that sending troops to Kenya under the guise of protecting Uganda transit goods will provide the answer as that country disintegrates into a Somalia fiasco,” Mr Jaberi Bidandi Ssali — one of the respected opposition leaders — told Museveni.
In an open letter published on Friday, Bidandi observes: “The media have been awash with Uganda’s involvement in what is happening in Kenya.
Unfortunately, there has been no categorical response about these accusations from you (President Museveni).”
“It is absolutely important and imperative that your Excellency distance yourself and the people of Uganda from the unfortunate events taking place in Kenya,” Bidandi wrote recently in a letter published in the Daily Monitor and Weekly Observer, both independent publications.
The regional strongman has formally denied sending troops to Kenya or undermining its leadership. Instead he has embarked on a parallel effort to end the crisis by making three proposals, including the creation of a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate rigging claims and a power sharing deal.
Museveni may be the most maligned of all the mediators who have volunteered to resolve the Kenyan crisis, but it is probably he who has the best chance of sweet-talking and cutting a deal with Kibaki.