What I didn’t hear from Rwanda and Kenya elections

In Kenya, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) eventually announced the results from yet another highly contested general election that saw eight candidates aiming for the top office while others went for gubernatorial, senatorial and other lower public offices.

The elections in Kenya are quite crowded given that on a single day, each voter had to go through several names to choose people to fill six elective positions. Compared to Rwanda where voters only had to vote for the president, the Kenyans know the six piece election takes a lot of time and some showed up as early as 3am yet voting was to start at 6am.

The election was followed keenly by other East Africans especially because events in Kenya often have a big impact on the rest of the East African region. Going by previous trends, some expected the elections to be violent since all Kenyan elections with an incumbent on the ballot have turned violent at some stage. And true to history soon after the announcement, cases of violence were reported mainly in the areas of Kisumu and Kibra.

According to the IEBC, the incumbent duo of Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and William Samoei Ruto were elected by over 54 percent of the voters compared to 44 percent who voted for Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka in what was more of a repeat of the 2013 election. This election was interesting because it is most likely the last time for the Kenyan voter to have to choose between an Odinga and Kenyatta. Going forward it is going to be interesting to see other political players jostling for the space the two political dynasties have occupied since independence.

For me in the two elections held in Rwanda and Kenya, I tried to listen to the politicians hoping to hear something about the East African Community. I like to call myself an East African and so my expectations were clearly quite selfish I guess. My efforts only confirmed something that is not only true but a little worrying as well. A few years back I came across the phrase, “All politics is local.”

In case you are wondering where foreign policy fits into all this, well it has to have an impact on the local politics for it to matter. So it still falls under all politics is local. In this region, the main foreign policy issue ideally would be the East African Community. However in the charismatic speeches of the politicians atop luxury SUVs or on podiums surrounded by lots of loud speakers, the phrase East African Community hardly stood a chance.

In Kenya, you can be lucky to hear something on Migingo but often it is just talk and for the next five years only the residents of that small Island will face the confusion. Everything else is kept at the local level with politicians tearing through the record of one of their opponents and promising to do ABC for the people at the rallies.

I long for the time when one’s agenda on EAC can be a key election matter for politicians seeking office now that our aspirations as a community are linked. We see this with EU countries and US elections come with a lot of talk about relations with Russia, China and Mexico. Here we pretend that all that matters is what happens inside our borders. And yet I feel we have legitimate challenges as a community.  

Several Kenyan trucks fearing for anticipated election related violence were parked in Uganda for their safety. At the same time there was a back and forth on which goods to allow or ban, between Kenya and Tanzania. Meanwhile in Uganda, Tanzania Ports Authority was running ads on TV stations urging local importers to use their stable port services.  

That aside, it is commendable that some media houses took the time to send their reporters across the borders to tell the stories that mattered regarding elections in neighbouring countries. At the bare minimum people get to learn more about a neighbouring country. It was also good to see Rwandans and Kenyans in other East African countries queuing to vote at their embassies.

Although EAC issues take a back seat as local politics enjoys the front row, I must say that the part where fellow East African leaders quickly congratulate the winners of the election is always heart-warming. May be next time EAC matters will be given a better seat as part of local politics instead of waiting for the routine EAC summits.