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Kenya polls: Former Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete to head EAC observer mission

Retired Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete will head the East African Community (EAC) election observation mission to Kenya.

The mission of 52 observers drawn from key governance and independent institutions and civil society organisations across the seven-member EAC bloc except Kenya is expected to be in the country from August 1st to 12th. Kenyans will vote in the general elections on August 9.

Speaking during the launch held on Monday at a Nairobi hotel, Mr Kikwete said the mission would assess the level of preparedness of key electoral stakeholders in Kenya.

“We are here to assess the level of preparedness of the key electoral stakeholders for this election. We are also looking at the level of compliance of the electoral processes and management and how they meet international, regional and national standards including established laws, principles and practices,” said Mr Kikwete.

“Our mission will interact with a number of key stakeholders in pursuit of peaceful elections. Among these will be IEBC, political parties, candidates, the judiciary, security organs, media and civil society.”

Read: Kenya’s change of guard: Why neighbours watch every step

The mission will build on the outcomes of the Joint African Union/EAC/IGAD/COMESA pre-election assessment conducted over the last one month.

The EAC will then announce the findings of the mission through an interim statement on August 11.

“We are committed to offer objective recommendations for continuous improvement for the conduct of this general election,” said Mr Kikwete.

The EAC Secretary-General, Dr Peter Mathuki, in remarks read on his behalf by the EAC Principal Political Affairs Officer, David Onen said that the bloc’s mandate to observe elections in the partner states is governed by the Treaty and the EAC Principles for the Observation and Evaluation of Elections.

“As a region, we have a conviction that regional observation is critical to enhancing the credibility of the elections, reinforcing the work of domestic observer groups and enhancing public confidence in the entire electoral process,” he said.


Retired Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete will head the East African Community (EAC) election observation mission to Kenya. The mission of 52 observers drawn from key governance and independent institutions and […]

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Change of guard in Kenya: 5 reasons neighbors watch every step

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta – whose final term in office ends after the 9 August polls – has been a key figure in east Africa. Over the last nine years, he has tried to create markets and address issues like peace, malaria and climate change. Within the East African Community, he signalled the end of an era on 21 July when he handed over the bloc’s leadership to his Burundian counterpart, Evariste Ndayishimiye.

International relations scholar Nicodemus Minde explores five reasons neighboring states follow the change of guard in Nairobi very keenly.

1. Participatory politics and term limits

Kenya’s democratic trajectory has always been viewed by east African neighbours as the bellwether for being fairly participatory. The annulment of President Kenyatta’s electoral victory on 1 September 2017 also offered crucial lessons to neighbours.

As court reversed Kenyatta’s win, John Magufuli (Tanzania’s president at the time) had banned all political party activities, ushering in an era of brutal dictatorship. In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame had just been declared winner with 98.8% of the votes.

In neighbouring Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza had controversially extended his stay in power through a “third term”. Over in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni was just clocking 31 years in office and showing no signs of letting go. The other East African Community member state, South Sudan, was still embroiled in a civil war.

Only Tanzania has enjoyed periodic transitions, albeit through the one-party dominant system.

Kenya has experienced many democratic transitions since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1992. Despite its ethnic cleavages, Kenyan elections have been competitive. In 2002, there was a transition from the independence party, the Kenya African National Union, to the opposition National Alliance Rainbow Coalition.

Since the 1990s, Kenya has been the only country in east Africa to transfer power smoothly from a ruling party to the opposition.

2. Political and economic network

Kenya has always projected itself as a regional economic hub and an international political player. It has the largest economy in east Africa, almost double that of Tanzania and nearly three times that of Uganda.

Tanzania, which previously had lukewarm relations with Kenya, has benefited immensely from rapprochement between Presidents Samia Hassan and Kenyatta. Recent reports indicate that bilateral trade hit US$905.5 million in the first 11 months of 2021 as their trade relations improved.

Over the years, Kenya has been Uganda’s biggest trading partner. Uganda accounted for 29.3% of Kenya’s exports to Africa in 2020. Kenya’s exports to the East African Community increased from Ksh140.4 billion ($1.28 billion) in 2019 to Ksh158.3 billion (US$1.44 billion) in 2020.

Kenya has also maintained close economic ties with Rwanda and South Sudan.

3. Transit trade

The landlocked countries in the region rely heavily on Kenya’s seaport and transport corridor. The maritime port of Mombasa serves parts of Tanzania, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda. These countries often follow very keenly how elections unfold in Kenya.

Kenya’s bungled 2007/8 political transition came as a surprise to many regional traders whose transit goods were destroyed along the transport corridor. The Northern Corridor and the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport Corridor that run through Kenya are designed as key commercial arteries for landlocked countries in the region.

4. Regional integration

In February this year, presidential candidate William Ruto made a diplomatic gaffe when he said the DRC did not have a single cow. He was speaking about Kenya’s dairy and beef investments.

The storm that erupted showed how quickly regional relations could sour. The remark epitomised the low priority assigned to the east Africa policy agenda among Kenyan presidential candidates – Raila Odinga included.

The DRC became the seventh member of the East African Community in April this year. President Kenyatta has steered the regional agenda, including the admission of the DRC. In June he hosted the east African leaders to discuss the tensions between Rwanda and the DRC. He has also taken political leadership in stabilising Somalia and South Sudan.

Read: Exit Uhuru, EA’s big hugger and master of soft power

The neighboring states may wish to have as Kenya’s next president a person who continues to seek solutions to the conflicts of the region.

5. An ally as Kenya’s president

Who do the east African leaders want to be Kenya’s next president? Today’s personal friendships can be used to advance or safeguard bilateral interests tomorrow. In July 2021, Museveni hosted Ruto as the chief guest when laying the foundation of a new vaccine facility. Museveni’s action was interpreted as an endorsement for Ruto.

Museveni has had a tepid relationship with Odinga since 2007 when Odinga’s supporters uprooted the railway line during the post-election violence, disrupting exports to Uganda. In an apparent attempt to heal old wounds and appear even-handed, Museveni hosted Odinga in May this year. The two later said they discussed ways of strengthening relations between Kenya and Uganda.

Odinga had flown to Uganda from South Sudan, where, as the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development, he had gone to commission a 3.6km bridge that will connect Juba to the rest of the east Africa region. He was received there by President Salva Kiir. At the event, Odinga talked of his presidential bid, pledging to reopen the troubled border with South Sudan and prioritise construction of a Mombasa-Juba highway, if he won the 9 August elections. President Kenyatta had in May 2018 appointed Odinga as his special envoy to South Sudan in the effort to reconcile Kiir and his vice-president, Riek Machar.

Key Odinga ally

In Tanzania, the late Magufuli was a key ally of Odinga’s, thanks to a friendship forged when both were works ministers in their countries. Magufuli’s support for Odinga against Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 polls led to a perfunctory relationship with Kenyatta and tense relations between the two countries.

His successor Hassan was quick to restore friendly terms. But Tanzania, just like Rwanda and Burundi, has not shown any signs of leaning towards one candidate. Many Tanzanians have, however, been excited by rank outsider George Wajackoyah’s eccentric promises.


Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta – whose final term in office ends after the 9 August polls – has been a key figure in east Africa. Over the last nine years, […]

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Death toll from Uganda floods rises to 21, many more ‘feared dead’

The death toll in the weekend flooding triggered by heavy rains in eastern Uganda has risen to 21, the Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) said Monday.

Esther Davinia Anyakun, Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, said seven of the dead were found in Mbale District, while three were found in Kapchorwa late Sunday.

URCS spokesperson Irene Nakasiita said 11 more bodies were retrieved from the River Nabiyonga on Monday morning, which brings the number of dead to 21.

“The rains have caused a lot of havoc that is beyond individual and community capacity. We ask the general public to leave all the potential waterways both in hills and valleys, landslide-prone areas; we don’t want to lose more lives,” the minister said.

The URCS said heavy rains had displaced thousands of people, and more than 1,000 households had been affected in neighbouring districts, while four others had been put on high alert.

The country’s meteorological department warned about the northern, eastern and midwestern parts receiving heavy rainfall in August two days before the incident occurred.

n Sunday, police and the military were called in to help in the search and rescue operations in Mbale, where stranded residents could only watch helplessly as their belongings were washed away by the floodwaters.

Mbale City resident commissioner Ahamada Waashaki on Sunday told AFP that “many more people are missing and feared dead.”

“There is a lot of destruction, roads cut off, buildings submerged as a result of heavy rain that started last night until this morning,” he said.

Rivers burst their banks

He said the situation deteriorated after the Nabuyonga and Namatala rivers burst their banks, causing flooding across most parts of the city.

Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja visited the scene of the disaster in Mbale, which lies about 300 kilometres (180 miles) northeast of the capital Kampala.

“Police and military marine forces will be coming to help in the rescue and search for dead bodies as we provide relief to the affected population,” her office said.

Floating bodies

Two local reporters told AFP they had seen bodies floating in the muddy brown floodwaters before being removed by police.

Several cars were also washed away, along with household goods and personal items as residents moved to higher ground for safety.

“In the past we experienced flooding but not the level of lives lost and destruction of property seen this time,” Waashaki said.

Nabbanja suggested environmental damage caused by human activity was to blame.

“I believe this disaster would have been avoided if people did not encroach on river banks,” she said in video shared by her office.


The death toll in the weekend flooding triggered by heavy rains in eastern Uganda has risen to 21, the Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) said Monday. Esther Davinia Anyakun, Minister […]

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Private sector to blame for blocking trade, East African integration

The private sector has come in for blame for the enduring non-tariff barriers (NTBs) that have perennially choked trade in spite of policies to eliminate them.

At a retreat on the EAC Common Market held on July 20 in Arusha, it was revealed that NTBs have significantly contributed to the declining intra-EAC trade, which is below 20 percent.

What is more, local laws and regulations of partner states continue to present barriers to increased cross-border trade and investment. And these laws are often the result of lobbying by local business groups in a bid to protect themselves from the competition beyond borders.

Since the Common Market Protocol was passed 10 years ago, the EAC Partner States have managed to resolve 230 NTBs as at the end of February, only for new ones to emerge.

Read: EAC Common Market scorecard falls short

“I have heard that business rivalry among individual companies that trade within the EAC borders canvass and connive to increase or reduce tariffs on their goods in order to deny others a chance to sell their goods,” said Betty Maina, chairperson to the EAC Council of Ministers and Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Trade, Industrialisation and Enterprise Development.

She is also acting Cabinet Secretary for EAC and Regional Development.

“Some of the trade issues that the private sector raise in the form of NTBs could be sorted out at the individual government level and should not find its way to the EAC level,” she told the retreat.

Read: Tax disputes, trade wars headache for new EABC board

Diversification call

Businesses are also blamed for churning out similar products such as maize, eggs, and sugar but then impose internal taxes to prohibit the same products from being imported.

Speaking at the retreat, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni observed that EAC partner states were competing to sell the same product instead of diversifying to give due advantage to the best or largest producer.

“Policy can make things fail. For instance, a country like Uganda easily produce enough food such as maize, milk and sugar, but we don’t produce a lot of rice like Tanzania does,” President Museveni explained.

He said it was better for Uganda to import more rice from Tanzania as it was better placed to produce more and efficiently than Uganda, instead of levying taxes on rice ostensibly to protect Ugandan rice growers.

Away from food, the implementation of the high charges and taxes in the region is contributing to high telecommunications and broadband internet costs.

Read: Lack of product diversity leaves East Africa exposed

These, together with high licensing and numbering fees, unharmonized inter-operator tariff rates and the non-adoption of the One Network Area (ONA) model across the EAC Partner States has contributed to the high costs of doing business.

“For instance, the cost of making a telephone call between Kigali (Rwanda) and Arusha (Tanzania) is similar to the cost of flying between the two cities,” said Prof Manasseh Nshuti, Rwanda’s Minister for EAC Affairs.

If the one network area is implemented, it would result in eliminating charges for receiving voice calls while roaming in Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.

Sovereignty vs freedom

“It is high time partner states implemented decisions they themselves agreed upon. This could save us a lot of time we spend in discussing what is not working under the CMP,” said Prof Nshuti. “Why can’t we all be under the ONA by the end of 2022?”

Government policy on agriculture (food), manufacturing, telecommunication, communication, the bureaucracy by civil servants manning the immigration and Customs, and partner states’ failure to cede sovereignty over the free movement of goods and services has contributed to the slow implementation of the common market.

In goods, the partner states have deviated from their commitments through application of tariff equivalent measures, resulting in an increase in non-tariff barriers while in services, they remain non-compliant in implementing their commitments, with the total number of non-conforming measures (NCMs) rising.

It is no better in capital as partner states maintain restrictions against freedom of movement of capital.


The private sector has come in for blame for the enduring non-tariff barriers (NTBs) that have perennially choked trade in spite of policies to eliminate them. At a retreat on […]

Continue reading "Private sector to blame for blocking trade, East African integration"

Exit Uhuru Kenyatta, East Africa’s big hugger, glad-hander and master of soft power

In the past 10 years the Kenyan president has perpetuated an unblinking business-led foreign policy in the region, playing the main character in the play. As he exits the stage, he might well say, with his bow to the audience: “East Africa is our plate. You don’t pee where you eat,” writes Charles Onyango-Obbo.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s political rodeo will end a few weeks after the August 9 General Election. With that, the East African Community (EAC) will see the departure of its most extroverted president. There was more, though, to Uhuru’s gregariousness than a happy lad.

The late Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, was a combative, prickly, volatile and quarrelsome leader who got things done. His government had trade disputes with nearly all his neighbours and, in an unforgettable “up yours” moment, set day-old chicks from Uganda and Kenya on fire. By July 2019, the trade fight with Kenya had reached a fever pitch.

Uhuru jumped on his plane and headed for Dar es Salaam to massage Magufuli’s feelings. He went one better, visiting Magufuli’s ailing mother and the grave of father.

He melted combative Magufuli’s heart. A weepy Magufuli spoke of how he was touched by Uhuru’s kind-heartedness and gifted him four peacocks, a gesture, which he said, had great significance in Tanzania’s history.

Read: Kenyatta arrives in Tanzania for two-day private visit

For effect, Magufuli said that he had never gifted any other Head of State the birds, nor was he planning to do so again. He died in March 2021 before he could go back on his word.

It was signature Uhuru to hug his peers and give them backslaps like none of them.

His most hearty hugs and backslaps were handed out to Rwanda President Paul Kagame, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and, curiously, newcomer Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta receives Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi at State House Nairobi on June 20, 2022. PHOTO | PSCU

He was less handsy with Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, an avuncular philosophising germaphobe who is averse to public cuddling but accorded him the reverence of an elder. He handled South Sudan’s fragile President Salva Kiir like a delicate pot.

When newish Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye broke the Pierre Nkurunziza-era isolation and visited Kenya in May 2021, the first time in nearly a decade that a Burundian leader had dropped in the country, Uhuru buttered and treated him like a long-lost brother. Ndayishimiye grinned happily throughout the visit.

Uhuru Kenyatta receiving President Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi at State House, Nairobi, in June 2022. PHOTO | PSCU

He liked to give PM Abiy massive bear hugs, and they would walk hand-in-hand, chuckling away. When new Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan visited Kenya in May 2021, Uhuru brought out the best family silver and laid on elite-level pampering for her. With a rare pro-Suluhu chorus in the Kenyan media during her visit, the Tanzanian president was visibly pleased.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (left) and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta embrace during the Kenyan leader’s visit to Addis Ababa on November 14, 2021. PHOTO | POOL

If it hadn’t been for the lingering social distancing of Covid-19, the awkwardness men feel around powerful women, and the austere signals sent by Suluhu’s hijab, Uhuru would probably have kissed her hand.

Also read: A region on the fly: Queen Samia and the five East African kings

As president, Uhuru was East Africa’s champion hugger and backslapper. If it were only about pressing the flesh, it would have gone down in history as little more than feel-good. But it wasn’t.

Uhuru Kenyatta receiving President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia during his official visit at State House, Nairobi on July 15, 2022. PHOTO | PSCU

It was partly a posture that allowed him to leverage soft power and steward the ever-expanding business interests of corporate Kenya in the region. And, too often panned at home, he seemed to find refuge in East Africa.

The result of the latter was that there were more peace meetings held in Nairobi during Uhuru’s presidency than in any other EAC capital.

When South Sudan descended into a deadly war again in 2013, the warring parties gathered in Nairobi under Uhuru’s watch to talk peace.

Uhuru Kenyatta receiving South Sudan President Salva Kiir at State House, Nairobi, in June 2022. PHOTO | PSCU

When the horrors of the Tigray war against the Ethiopian government eventually forced the adversaries to yield to negotiation, the Tigrayan rebels suggested that Uhuru host peace talks with Addis Ababa.

As the security situation in eastern DR Congo deteriorated sharply this year, Uhuru hosted the rebels and the Kinshasa government to seek a settlement.

A good part of all this is about oiling the wheels for Kenyan business. The chest bumps with Tshisekedi were not just boys’ play. It had money written all over it. During his presidency, Uhuru unlocked doors for companies like Equity Bank to enter DR Congo, make acquisitions and become the country’s second-largest bank in a blink. Profits for Kenyan banks in the East African region have soared.

Read: Equity to fund Kenyan businesses in DRC cities

His glad-handing of Abiy might well have helped telco giant Safaricom, East Africa’s most profitable company, to gain a foothold in the lucrative but closed 120-million-people Ethiopian market. Unsurprisingly, in June last year, Uhuru flew to Addis Ababa on an official visit that included witnessing the formal award of a telecom operating licence to a consortium led by Safaricom.

Uhuru Kenyatta after talks with his host Rwanda President Paul Kagame in Kigali in 2019. PHOTO | PSCU

His East African canoodling also represented perhaps the strongest stream of continuity with the policies of his predecessor Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki pushed a neutralist “don’t-rock-the-boat” policy with the rest of East Africa.

Thus, like Kibaki, Uhuru prevaricated and buried the dispute with Uganda over the pint-sized Migingo island in Lake Victoria in diplomatic niceties and promises of task forces to look into it. He was not going to die on that island.

Read: Kibaki was East Africa’s ‘good thief in the night’

This unblinking business-led foreign policy is uniquely Kenyan in the region. For the past nearly 10 years, Uhuru has been the main character in the play.

As he exits the stage, he might well say with his bow to the audience: “East Africa is our plate. You don’t pee where you eat.”


In the past 10 years the Kenyan president has perpetuated an unblinking business-led foreign policy in the region, playing the main character in the play. As he exits the stage, […]

Continue reading "Exit Uhuru Kenyatta, East Africa’s big hugger, glad-hander and master of soft power"

Elections: Why Kenya is worried about youth turnout

As a familiar campaign jingle brings the Kenyan crowd to their feet, Hellen Atieno joins her compatriots and sways to the catchy tune at a political rally in the lakeside city of Kisumu.

Just don’t expect the 23-year-old to vote.

“I have only come to the rally because there is money. I hope there will be something,” Atieno told AFP, referring to the widespread Kenyan practice of offering freebies to prospective voters. 

Currently, without a job, the former fishmonger says she is so fed up with the country’s insular political class that she plans to stay home when Kenya votes on August 9 in parliamentary and presidential polls.

She is not alone.

The East African economic powerhouse ranks among the world’s youngest countries — three-quarters of Kenyans are aged under 34, according to government figures.

Many have no interest in participating in an electoral process they widely dismiss as corrupt and pointless.

The number of registered young voters has dropped five percent since the 2017 poll, in contrast to over-35s, whose tally has increased, Kenya’s election commission announced last month.

Over 22 million Kenyans are eligible to take part in this year’s polls, with young people accounting for less than 40 percent of that number, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) said.

‘A dirty game’

Politicians have responded with a freebie bonanza, offering cash, umbrellas, shirts, caps and even packets of maize flour — a dietary staple — to anyone who attends their rallies.

The bribes — an electoral offence that can attract a fine of up to two million Kenyan shillings ($17,000) and/or a six-year jail term — are not new to Kenyan politics.

But galloping food inflation — made worse by the war in Ukraine — and an unemployment crisis have intensified the appetite for such handouts.

According to census figures published in 2020, about five million young Kenyans were out of work.

Brian Denzel has spent recent weeks hitting one rally after another, eager to pocket the cash on offer, even though the 19-year-old butcher has no plans to vote and sees politics as little more than “a dirty game”.

“Who will reject the free money that they are given?” he said, while waiting in line to collect 200 shillings ($1.70) from a local politician.

Kenya’s Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i even told reporters on Wednesday that the banks were running short of 100 and 200 shilling notes “because politicians are bribing villagers”.

In the months leading up to the polls, observers suggested that the youth factor could help heal Kenya’s often toxic tribal politics, with a younger electorate less likely to vote according to ethnic affiliations.

Yet, although young Kenyans are less tribally-minded, they also lack “ideological steadfastness”, Kisumu-based political analyst Francis Owuor told AFP.

“That conviction that normally comes with the political process is not there,” Owuor said.

“Everyone (is) to blame for this, both the people and the leaders, but again the leaders are the duty bearers, so they must take much of the blame.” 

Also read: What you need to know about the 2022 Kenya elections


Thirty years after the emergence of multi-party democracy in Kenya, many are disillusioned by constant battles over the credibility of polls and disputed election results.

This year’s presidential vote is largely a two-horse race between Deputy President William Ruto, 55, and Raila Odinga, the 77-year-old veteran opposition leader who is now backed by the ruling party.

If both leaders accept the results, it will be a first for the country since 2002.

Amina Soud, manager for voter education at the IEBC, told AFP the election watchdog was “worried” by the increasing indifference shown by young people towards the political process.

“We did a lot of mobilization during registration using all these tools and still voter apathy was too high,” Soud said, referring to the IEBC’s social media push to enlist new voters.

But exhorting youth to vote via campaigns on TikTok or comics in Sheng — a local slang popular with urban youth — does little to offer hope to a generation of Kenyans facing runaway inflation, corruption and unemployment.

“I don’t think I am going to vote,” 27-year-old salon owner Irene Awino Owino told AFP.

“I have no interest, because the government puts themselves first rather than us.”


As a familiar campaign jingle brings the Kenyan crowd to their feet, Hellen Atieno joins her compatriots and sways to the catchy tune at a political rally in the lakeside […]

Continue reading "Elections: Why Kenya is worried about youth turnout"

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