East Africa is saddled with rogue and selfish leaders

Maina Kiai by Maina Kiai

Last week, I witnessed scenes that could have been snatched right out of war documentaries and films from Idi Amin’s Uganda, or Charles Taylor’s/Samuel Doe’s Liberia. I was leaving Kampala after a meeting with regional interfaith leaders on the same day that Bobi Wine was returning home. And I saw a regime at war with its own people; a regime that so despises and belittles its own people that it alone determines who can be welcome, and by whom. When brute force and violence is used in this way, then that is a regime with neither legitimacy nor credibility.  

Since the new expressway was opened recently, the trip between Kampala and the airport at Entebbe has reduced considerably especially if one avoids the horrific traffic jam hours of morning, afternoon and early evening. It now takes about 40 minutes if you leave early morning, compared to the minimum two hours it used to take no matter the time of travel.

But on this Thursday, and anticipating that Ugandans would go to the airport in their hundreds of thousands, the Museveni regime closed the expressway, diverting all traffic to the old Entebbe road which is easier to control. I counted ten trucks with military soldiers along the way, about fifteen lorries of police, four water cannons, and two tanks with big guns. There were also countless Toyota Land cruiser “technicals” with heavily armed security, and tens of soldiers patrolling the roads armed with AK47’s and canes.

We left Kampala at 7am and got to Entebbe just before 10am and that only because my taxi driver knew panya routes. But we nonetheless encountered 5 check points with angry looking soldiers who searched the taxi thoroughly. I made the flight but a lot of others missed it, with their places taken up by a host of other passengers who had missed the earlier flight due to this mess.

I wonder what all this cost Ugandan taxpayers! This was not about security at all. This was a political message, sent by a show of force, to Ugandans that their leader will do whatever it takes to stay in power, “wapende wasipende.”

Ironically, when such force is displayed, you know a regime is weak and impotent, and its claims to being popular and legitimate are plain hot air. The Museveni regime is effectively a military regime, much like the Idi Amin regime. And all because one young man has shown courage, conviction and clarity in standing up for the people of Uganda and expressing their disaffection and anger with the status quo.

The Museveni regime may have succeeded in cowing Ugandans from welcoming Bobi Wine, but that has not and does not solve the crisis and tenuous position that he is in. In fact, if anything, he may well be responsible for taking Uganda to the same state he found it when he took power in 1986, ensuring that his legacy will be seen as exactly the same as Idi Amin’s.

The sad thing about all this is that Mr Museveni is not an aberration in this our region. For some reason, East Africa seems to have been saddled with leaders whose only concern is themselves and their pockets, though the new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ali has made some promising moves. They may talk legacy, but their actions prove the contrary.  

Take Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee regime for example. They say they want to achieve the Big Four for the benefit of the majority. But by passing taxes that will make the poor even poorer, one wonders who will live in the “affordable” houses that we will pay for each month. Certainly not the same poor who are being taxed to penury! And all this because this regime took out loans that we could not afford, pocketed a sizeable chunk of them, and now is forcing us to pay for what they have stolen.

Some Jubilants have been quick to blame the new Constitution, but that is spin. We are broke because the regime borrowed more than it should have and “eaten” a huge part of those loans.

In fact, had this regime done away with the provincial administration as envisaged by the Constitution, we would have saved a significant amount of taxes. Had this regime allowed the institutions and commissions to work as planned, we would not be complaining.

Had this regime handed over functions to the Counties as required without insisting on keeping them because the functions and the parastatals they service are cash cows, we would be in a better place.

And had this regime not worked to subvert the Constitution at every turn so as to return us to the Imperial presidency, we would be talking different now.

It is impossible for a regime founded on the rock of impunity and electoral theft to stop corruption, no matter the rhetoric and donor support it receives. And it is impossible for a regime to take the high moral ground when it can’t account for the Eurobond, SGR excesses, land grabbing, extravagant and wasteful spending including domestic and foreign tanga tangaring. 

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