Democracy. At one point in the last 30 years, Uganda and Kenya set out on a democratic path but as Sunday Monitor’s Stephen Kafeero writes, the two East African countries are on but that road.
Kenya has taken a 180-degree turn from a beacon of democratic hope for much of East Africa to being just one of the rest with fears that the region’s economic powerhouse is on the brink of plunging back to the “dark Moi era” or even worse.
“Reset your TV sets 30 years back. It’s about to get ugly,” Gado, aka Godfrey Mwampembwa, a popular Kenyan political cartoonist remarked in a cartoon before last week’s event that, among other things, saw lawyer and former Nairobi County governor aspirant Miguna Miguna deported from Kenya to Canada and passports of several opposition politicians and strategists recalled.
A lawmaker, TJ Kajwang, who administered opposition leader Raila Odinga’s oath before a mammoth crowd in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park had earlier been arrested before being charged with treason. The Kenyan government has since defied a number of court orders or worked its way around to frustrate their implementation.
If the path the country has taken after last year’s historic Supreme Court ruling that annulled the August 8, 2017, elections is to go by then one can easily say “Kenya is Uganda” in contrast to a popular social media debate that “Kenya is not Uganda” in which many Kenyans had dismissed signs of creeping “dictatorship” at the time arguing that the events in their country were in no way to the level of Uganda.
“This is Kenya, not Uganda. Stop this nonsense, no reforms, no elections,” protestors were seen holding placards as they agitated for electoral reforms ahead of Kenya’s elections.
The idea could have been borne of a failure to enact any meaningful reforms ahead of Uganda’s 2016 general election despite spirited effort by the Opposition and civil society groups.
So, where does Uganda and Kenya’s politics stand today?
Kenya’s political system radically changed with the enactment of a new constitution in 2010. A lot of powers previously vested in the executive were devolved with the other two arms of government—legislature and the judiciary—granted more independence.
Under the 2010 constitution, Kenya is divided into 47 counties (including the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa). The Parliament of Kenya is the bicameral legislature consisting of the senate (upper house) and the national assembly (lower house).
The national assembly has 290 elected members, each representing part of a county, 47 women elected from each of the 47 counties and at least 12 members nominated to represent women, youth and the marginalised. These add up to 349 members.
The senate is comprised of 47 elected senators from each county, 16 women nominated for gender balance and four representatives of the youth and the disabled. This makes for 67 members. Since independence from Britain in 1963, Kenya has had four presidents including Uhuru Kenyatta who is currently serving his last term in office.
Compared to her neighbours, from Independence Kenya enjoyed relative stability countrywide until the 2007–2008 post-election violence that led to the death of more than 1,000 people, and the displacement of another 600,000.
Uganda, on the other hand, is a presidential republic with the president presiding over as both head of state and head of government. Parliament has more than 445 members including constituency representatives, district woman representatives, representatives of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces, youth, workers, and persons with disabilities representatives and 18 ex-official members. Unlike in Kenya where the powers of the president were largely trimmed, the president in Uganda retains a lot of power mostly enshrined in the Constitution.
Since their ascension to power, president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto have dominated government with opposition leader Raila Odinga and his coalition principals in challenge.
In power since 1986, President Museveni has faced many challengers but only two stand out from the pack: Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere who challenged him in 1996 and Dr Kizza Besigye who has challenged him, four times, since 2001.
Between 1986 to date, Kenya has witnessed a generally peaceful transfer of power from one elected leader to another at least twice. The country also has term limits and president Kenyatta is constitutionally bound to leave power in 2022 after his second term in office expires.
In Uganda, term limits were scrapped from the Constitution in 2005 and the only remaining constitutional barrier to what many have called a life presidency was also removed last year with the scrapping of the presidential age limit from the Constitution.
The term of office in Kenya is five years and looks set to remain so while Uganda seems on a steady path to emulate Rwanda and change the presidential and parliamentary term from five to seven years.
Kenya’s constitution was enacted on August 27, 2010, replacing the old one that had been in place since independence in 1963. The promulgation of the constitution that devolved more power to local governments, gave Kenyans a bill of rights and paved way for land reforms, among other things, followed a more than two-decade struggle for reforms.
About 67 per cent of Kenyan voters approved the constitution in a referendum. Mr Odinga, a revered advocate for reforms in Kenya, passionately supported the new constitution while the Kenyatta and William Ruto duo opposed it.
The two had the International Criminal Court (ICC) hanging over their heads at the time. Several amendments to the constitution and affronts to the constitutional order ushered in 2010 have since taken place with the hopes hinged on the constitution, some analysts have opined, but materialised.
After a bloody civil war that ended in 1986, Ugandans and the world welcomed the enactment of the 1995 Constitution that sought to guide Uganda on a new path from a troubled past. There are currently mixed reactions on the relevance of the supreme law especially after the presidential term limits (2005) and age limit (2017) were deleted.
Media and civil society threats
A head of the February 18, 2016, elections government directed telecoms to switch off social media and mobile money services, a ban that continued for three days. It was to be repeated in May the same year as Mr Museveni was sworn in for a fifth elective term. Through the industry regulator, Uganda Communications Commission and other institutions such as the police, government occasionally puts the media in line through threats and sometimes actual closures. A similar system has been adopted or has returned to Kenya were the Daniel arap Moi era has once been described as the most dangerous phase for press freedom.
A head of the Raila “swearing in” the embattled Kenyatta led government shutdown four television stations, including the three largest independent TV stations, NTV, KTN News and Citizen TV. Two were reopened seven days later, but Citizen TV had to wait much longer in despite several court orders.
Three senior Nation Media Group journalists had to spend a night in office after government dispatched security operatives to arrest them. To move freely again, they had to seek a court order.
Attacks to civil society groups thought to be sympathetic to the opposition in both countries by state agencies are all too common. In Kenya, organisations such as the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG), among others, bore the wrath of the state during the electioneering period with raids on their offices, arrests and intimidation of staff and freezing of bank accounts.
Here, in Uganda, offices of NGOs have been broken into with culprits never brought to book in most cases. Uganda has been accused of using legislation to restrict the operations of NGOs and civil society organisations, especially after the introduction of the NGO Bill of 2015.
As the House debated the controversial age limit Bill (now law) in September last year, police raided the offices of Action Aid Uganda, Great Lakes Initiative for Strategic Studies (GLISS) and their accounts were subsequently frozen.
Money and militia
In both Kenya and Uganda, politicking is nothing without money and violence. Ahead of elections, politicians in both Kenya and Uganda form militias to protect themselves, ensure victory and cause trouble for their opponents.
Criminal gangs such as Gaza, Superpower, 42 Brothers, American Marines, Acrobatic, Young Turks, Young Killers, Wakali Wao, Chapa Ilale and Akili Za Usiku, Taliban Boys, Seven Lions, Spanish Boys, Boston Boys, Sixty Four, Smarter, Tiacha Group, Rounder Seniors, Quick Response Group and Eminants among others were listed as operating in Kenya ahead of the elections.
A suspected gang member, Juma Muyirwa, stunned the country when he was paraded by Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kale Kayihura only to tell the country that their planning meetings are guarded by policemen with patrol cars.
Some groups such as the infamous Kifeesi gang and Boda Boda 2010 have been linked to the police which ideally is charged with controlling their activities. With high levels of unemployment, a young population, rising cost of living, frustrated youth are easy prey for individuals and groups running criminal gangs for political mobilisation.
Role of military
Ahead of Kenya’s August 8, 2017, elections, opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) presented what it said was evidence of a plan by the ruling Jubilee administration and top military commanders to use force to undermine the will of the people in that election.
The Nasa document showed a large number of officers and men would be participating in the alleged plot. It further stated that 226 new soldiers were being trained at the country’s Mariakani Barracks and were to be deployed on the mission.
The military, Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), quickly confirmed authenticity of the Nasa documents but insisted the document was quoted out of context and that military was “apolitical”, “professional” and that the preparations were to ensure there was no chaos during the elections and in the event such incidents would immediately be contained.
While the constitutions of Kenya and Uganda both spell out the role of the military in the two countries’ internal affairs, the Kenyan military is more laid back while in Uganda the military has taken a very open and active role in the politics of the country.
Serving army officers taking up Cabinet posts is one of many examples. The regimes of both countries have, with zeal, deployed the police to crackdown on the opposition.