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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Source

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, […]

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Kenya threatens ban on Facebook over hate speech

Kenya has threatened to shut down Facebook over its failure to improve content moderation on hate speech in the run-up to the August 9 elections.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has given the social media giant seven days to adhere to recommendations on taming online hate speech on its platform in the country.

The state agency said Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has been reluctant to take action to combat the spread of hate speech, propaganda and disinformation, escalating the risk of violence ahead of the elections.

Read: Misinformation rears ugly head as Kenya poll campaigns heat up

As such, the commission has asked Facebook to urgently increase the number of content moderators in Kenya, expand its capacity to cover content expressed even in indigenous languages, and deploy integrity systems to “mitigate risk before, during and after the upcoming Kenyan election.”

This follows an investigative report by human rights organization, Global Witness, which revealed that Facebook approved several adverts promoting hate speech in both English and Kiswahili languages.

Jon Lloyd, a senior advisor at Global Witness, said that Facebook approved content that violates its own policy and community standards since it qualified as hate speech and ethnic-based calls to violence.

“Much of the speech was dehumanising, comparing specific tribal groups to animals and calling for rape, slaughter and beheading. We are deliberately not repeating the phrases used here as they are highly offensive,” Mr Lloyd said while presenting the findings to the NCIC.

NCIC Commissioner Dr Danvas Makori said Facebook’s inaction toward the inappropriate content on its platform is an outright violation of the Kenyan Constitution and threatens the peace of the country, especial during this election period.

“The freedom of expression does not extend to propaganda, incitement to violence, hate speech, or advocacy of hatred,” he said. “Facebook violates our laws because they have allowed themselves to be a medium of hate speech, incitement, misinformation, and disinformation.”

Dr Makori said that the commission has already engaged Meta’s representative in the country and informed them of the requirements failure to which the company’s operations in the country will be suspended until they abide.

Last Wednesday, Facebook published a statement saying it is working to “ensure a safe and secure” general election in Kenya.

“We’re investing in people and technology to reduce the spread of misinformation and remove harmful content across our apps,” Mercy Ndegwa, Meta’s Director of Public Policy for East and Horn of Africa, said in the statement.

However, according to Global Witness’ report, Facebook still allowed hate speech and spiteful adverts to run on the platform even after declaring its efforts against it.

Motaung petition

Meanwhile, Meta is fighting a court battle with Daniel Motaung, a South African national who was employed as a content moderator for Facebook in Kenya.

Motaung’s petition, also filed against Meta’s local outsourcing company Sama, alleges that workers moderating Facebook posts in Kenya are subjected to irregular pay, inadequate mental health support, refusal to join trade unions and violations of their privacy and dignity.

Read: Facebook faces suit over work conditions in Nairobi office

Last week, a group of human rights organisations, including Global Witness and Article 19, criticised Meta, saying it was actively trying to silence Motaung.

Recently, a report by Mozilla also revealed how social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, were used to propagate disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech in Kenya during the electioneering period.

Dr Makori said Twitter and TikTok have taken quick action to curb the menace, but Facebook has been slow, even refusing to promote the commission’s peace messages while allowing inappropriate content to continue.

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Kenya has threatened to shut down Facebook over its failure to improve content moderation on hate speech in the run-up to the August 9 elections. The National Cohesion and Integration […]

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Tanzania bans day-old chicks imports, again

Tanzania has imposed a total ban on the importation of day-old chicks effective next week as it seeks to protect its local hatcheries and limit the inflow of substandard chicks.

The ban, which takes effect on July 30, aims to protect the local poultry market, the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries said in a statement on Monday.

Deputy Minister for Livestock and Fisheries Abdallah Ulega said the government would no longer issue import permits on chicken from Saturday.

This was after a meeting with poultry business executives in the capital Dodoma. The government, Mr Ulega said, is currently collecting poultry industry data to ascertain the demand for day-old chicks.

Local poultry producers, Organia and Mkuza Chicks, had decried the rise in smuggled chicks sold at lower prices.

Most incubators in the country are selling day-old chicks at an average price of Tsh2,000 ($0.85), while the smuggled chicks sell at Tsh1,200 ($0.5) per chick.

In 2016, Tanzania banned the importation of chicks and fresh poultry meat from Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, South Africa and the US to protect local farmers.

On October 31, 2017, government authorities in Arusha destroyed 6,400 chicks imported from Kenya through the Namanga border crossing. The ban was later lifted.

Read: Tanzania destroys another 5,000 chicks from Kenya

Most of the day-old chicks are imported from the United Kingdom and South Africa, with substantial quantities imported from Kenya and Zambia.

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Tanzania has imposed a total ban on the importation of day-old chicks effective next week as it seeks to protect its local hatcheries and limit the inflow of substandard chicks. […]

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