News 2008


Where was the EAC when the region's head was being cut off?



10. March 2008

At the signing of the power-sharing pact between President Mwai Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga two weeks ago, both leaders thanked the international figures who had helped make the deal possible.

Lead mediator Kofi Annan received the most kudos; then Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete and former president Ben Mkapa, who was a member of Annan’s team, were also showered with praise . Ghana’s President John Kufuor, the man who started it all as chair of the African Union, was mentioned, as was another member of the Annan team, Graca Machel.

Raila was particularly generous in his appreciation, reeling off a long list that included the US and UK (indeed, he stopped just short of thanking the chaps who served tea at the meetings).

There was one man whom Kibaki and Raila seemed agreed not to mention — Uganda President Yoweri Museveni. It was understandable that Raila wouldn’t acknowledge Museveni, because the ODM feel Museveni was too hasty in congratulating Kibaki immediately he was announced victor in the disputed December polls.

However, in Uganda, the government was keen to explain that Museveni had not had a falling out with Raila or ODM and that, after all, when he was fleeing Daniel arap Moi’s oppression in 1991, the Museveni government harboured and helped Raila move on to Norway.

Museveni was one of the long chain of big men and women who came to Nairobi to get Kibaki and Raila to make peace, and according to one version helped open the door for Annan, who was till then being stalled.

In Kampala, the word was that, as chair of the East African Community, Museveni was asked by regional leaders to call a summit on the Kenya crisis, given that it was hurting the economies of its neighbours.

To invite President Kibaki to the summit, Museveni had to acknowledge his legitimacy, and therefore to congratulate him on his victory. In the end, Kibaki couldn’t travel for the summit and requested that since Kenya was the main item on the agenda, the meeting should not take place without him. It didn’t.

The bigger story this tells is that the Kenya violence exposed the new EAC as deeply ineffectual in the first big crisis to face a member state since it was formed. In a recent speech to the East African Legislative Assembly in Arusha, Museveni said the fact that Uganda, Rwanda, eastern DR Congo, and Southern Sudan faced shortages only proved just how much the countries in the region are interdependent. He said the region was like a body — you cannot cut away the head and hope that the torso will remain alive.

Right. But what did the EAC do to prevent the head from being cut off? Little. It can’t take credit for Kikwete’s contribution, because he jumped into the fray as the new chairman of the African Union.

STILL, THE KENYA CRISIS AND ITS regional effect are just what the EAC needed to understand the meaning of the world “relevance” and “authority” in international power play.Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s controversial remarks that the army should have intervened to stop the killings in Kenya —construed by some observers as a call for a military coup — might just be where the EAC’s salvation lies.

It might consider forming a “humanitarian” intervention force, which could be rushed into situations like the Rift Valley at the height of the crisis, in countries where there are too many political sensitivities about using the national army.

When what happened in Kenya happens again anywhere in East Africa, the EAC should deal with it before the UN or AU come to town. And you can almost be sure that this is not the last such violence that region has seen.