By Morris Komakech
Two major elections have happened in the East African region in the last couple of weeks: one in Rwanda, where the incumbent, Paul Kagame won resoundingly with 98%, and; the just concluded Kenyan general elections, marred in credibility issues.
The EAC must address chronic election problems among its member states else this will kill the EAC spirit again.
Elections in Sub-Sahara Africa bear unfortunate traits – either too easy to win, like in Rwanda, or so difficult to settle, like that of Uganda and Kenya.
Kenya holds a special place in the East African Community. It’s strategic location and historical economic set-up makes Kenya a de-facto leader of the region.
Kenya holds the comparative advantage as the gateway to the hinterland of Eastern African region, supplying Uganda, Southern Sudan and the vast parts of Eastern DR Congo.
Most of the nearly 60 million populations depend on Kenya’s stability and economic health.
If Kenya catches a cold, they all suffer. In essence, the democratic governance, peace, and tranquil as well as economic health of Kenya are a matter of interest to Uganda, DRC, and Southern Sudan.
In 2007, when Kenya’s elections went bonkers, the riot that marred Nairobi suburbs severely curtailed Uganda’s economy.
Uganda depends on Mombasa for shipments – imports and export. Any delays or chaos in Kenya profoundly escalates the costs of imports and export.
Unfortunately, Uganda’s own democratic credentials, and its chronic vote tinkering during elections, leave it in a remote position to demand for clean elections in Kenya. Southern Sudan, like Uganda, does not even deserve a mention in a discussion of elections or democratic governance.
The two most affected countries with legitimate interests in Kenya’s elections lack the legitimacy to enforce their interests, except in perpetuating the rigging itself.
The business community could now look up to Tanzania as regional leader.
However, Tanzania also has its own flaws. President JP Mugufuli has increasingly demonstrated traits of intolerance to dissent.
He is locking up opposition politicians on fringe accounts of appearing critical of him.
Even then, Tanzania’s ports are not favored as much as Kenya’s for poor infrastructure, distance, and security in its vast hinterland.
In essence, the EAC is a country locked up in contradictions and democratic deficits. Rwanda appears decisive and coherent in its economic policies – least vibrant political space occasioned by low levels of corruption and state inefficiencies.
Rwanda is equally as dependent as Uganda and Southern Sudan on Tanzania’s and Kenya’s ports.
While we ponder on how the Kenyan elections impasse will resolve, the regional leaders ought to tap into this situation as a primer to formulate acceptable standards for the region to resolve the embarrassing deficits in its democratic profiles.
You cannot have an economic partnership with different election standards, where one is chronically chaotic, while others enjoy semi-peace, and others are repressive. This task falls before the East African Legislative Assembly.
The legitimacy and sustainability of the EAC depends on a stronger and more integrated region.
Such is achievable when we speak a common democratic language and conduct ourselves in an aggregated manner reflective of common aspirations economically, socially, and politically.
The disagreement over the Standard Gage Railway project between Uganda and Kenya is one such example where two leaders from the same regional economic block disagreed on a basic principle.
If the EAC were a coherent entity, why would the cost of building the same railway highly inflated and delayed in Uganda, and yet easily tested and operated in Kenya within an acceptable time-frame?
The EAC may be at risk of collapsing over the lack of a common ground to hold each other accountable. Members with democratic credentials will not want to ally with vote riggers.
This crisis of legitimacy is inherent in the fraudulent elections in the region.
EAC must resolve this problem if the co-operation is realize its goals. As is, the crisis of legitimacy among member states will kill the EAC spirit.