Collapsed Juba Peace Talks: Who is Responsible?

April 10 marked yet another impasse in the protracted posturing formally known as the Juba Peace Process. Kony balked, Matsanga split, and much of the delegation that had traipsed to Ri-Kwangba to witness the signing of the final agreement of the process returned home disappointed but unsurprised.
In fact, the absence of key participants on the day of the scheduled signing, including Norbert Mao, Walter Ochora, and Joaquim Chissano, could have been a hint that those in the know did not really expect Joseph Kony, leader of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), to come through. But does Kony’s failure to sign this final agreement mean that the peace process is over?
The patience of many is wearing thin with the incessant foot-dragging and flimsy excuses. A return to violence has always been an option for both the LRA and the government of Uganda, but is this the desirable or most attractive outcome for either? At this point the parties appear content with the status quo, suggesting that the process may drag on until outside pressure builds.
Over US $10 million has been spent to date on the “peace process” between Kony and the government of Uganda. Kony’s apparent distance from the peace process as a whole could suggest a lack of commitment, fear for his personal security, or both. The long life of the process and its failure to result in any meaningful commitments by any party begs the question of not only what those involved stand to gain from its resolution, but also how they benefit from its continual delay. It may not actually be in the benefit of Kony to conclude the process that has provided both money and a cessation of hostilities with the government of Uganda.
Those involved include not only the obvious parties, namely Joseph Kony and the government of Uganda, but all of those involved in this multimillion dollar endeavour – from mediators to negotiators to leaders in northern Uganda. There are political, security and financial interests at stake for all in this process. The major stumbling block would appear to be Kony himself, who has remained virtually perpetually elusive, but evidence may cast doubt on the commitment to peace of other key players.
Former LRA chief negotiator Martin Ojul and several others were fired by Kony, allegedly for using the peace talks for personal financial gain. All members of the LRA delegation reportedly received US $150 (approximately Shs 250,000) for their work daily, an indication of just how lucrative involvement in the process can be. Just last week Ojul’s replacement, David Nyekorach-Matsanga, was also sacked by Kony and reportedly arrested in Juba with $20,000 in cash. On March 21 The Independent quoted sources saying Matsanga was squeezing money out of the peace process. Matsanga’s apparent lack of communication with Kony also casts doubt on how committed both men were to seeing the peace processes quickly concluded.

Is it Kony or Matsanga to blame?

The questionable motivation of negotiators notwithstanding, it is Kony who would appear primarily responsible for causing the most recent setbacks. After delaying the signing for a supposed outbreak of gastrointestinal trouble, Kony’s most recent excuse for postponing was technical. Observers say he claimed he did not know what was written in the final agreement, and therefore requested that Acholi paramount chief Rwot Achana and religious leaders come and explain it to him. He specifically wanted clarification on mato oput and the special division of the High Court that would handle LRA cases.
If his claims are true, why is it that Matsanga did not discuss the details of the agreement with him?
But is it likely, as he claims that Kony had not seen the agreement? Onyango-Obbo is doubtful that this is the case. “In many ways he is like Museveni,” he explained, “They are control freaks,” and therefore it is highly unlikely that Kony was unaware of what was going on or what was written in the agreement. What is more likely is that there is something Kony wants from the agreement that he has not yet gotten. One can speculate as to whether this is monetary compensation, security assurances in the form of third country exile, or something else entirely.
In interviews following his sacking, Matsanga said Kony had instructed him to tell lies on his behalf. Was Matsanga telling the truth? It is difficult to be certain – of all the things he is known for, honesty is the least of them. After Matsanga met Kony in Ri-Kwangba on April 10, Kony reportedly kicked him out of his role as chief negotiator, ordering several of the rebels to escort him out of the LRA camp. Following his dismissal, he told the Daily Monitor, “I am tired of telling Kony’s lies to the world. I am very sorry I lied to all of you when I was asking for extensions for four times. Kony called me four days ago and told me to bring his sister, his uncle, and his wife but when I took them to his base in Garamba, he was not there.” But Martin Ojul has told The Independent in a recent interview that at least up until the end of March, Matsanga had never met Kony in person.
As The Independent has reported before, the history of his relationship with the LRA also casts doubt on how closely Matsanga would have worked with Kony on the negotiations. He had resigned as LRA spokesperson in 1998 and was interrogated by American intelligence services, reportedly telling all he knew about the LRA. Matsanga was known as a skilled debater and would have been a masterful negotiator, but some suggest that Kony never trusted him. Charles Onyango-Obbo, journalist and renowned commentator, described Matsanga, whom he knew personally in high school, as “ambitious in his own life,” but went on to say he thought “Matsanga would not be the kind of person Kony would trust.”
In any case, whatever Matsanga’s prior intentions, he is now, for all intents and purposes, out of the picture. Long-time chief mediator and Vice President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, now remains at centre stage. Though sources say Machar had not talked to Kony since December, contact between the two men resumed immediately preceding Matsanga’s dismissal. He now stands as the primary link to Kony. Despite his role as mediator, however, he may not be an entirely neutral figure. Some suggest he has hopes to lead an independent South Sudan in the near future. Kony and company could be potentially useful allies to have in this endeavour. Will he be able to deliver Kony to future peace talks? Is it in Machar’s interest to see the peace agreement signed?
It is unclear what the signing would mean for those involved. Kony has said that he will not disarm or come out of the bush until the arrest warrants for him and other top LRA officials, issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), are revoked. The question of the warrants has become a sticking point between the government of Uganda and the ICC. Museveni has suggested that if the peace agreement is signed he will not send those with warrants to The Hague but instead use Ugandan courts and traditional systems of justice to resolve the matter.
State minister for Foreign Affairs, Okello Oryem has explained, “The traditional justice is in line with the ICC statute which emphasizes addressing justice and impunity. This is what we are going to do under mato oput and there is nothing irregular.” This explanation sidesteps the issue however. Uganda signed and ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which requires that states parties “comply with requests for arrest and surrender,” regardless of who referred the case to the Court.

Is ICC stumbling block or Uganda govt?

What is the position of the ICC in this case? Maria Kamara, Field Public Information and Outreach Coordinator for the ICC in Uganda, spoke on radio April 12 saying, “The matter came to the court through a legal process and it can only get out of the Court through that same legal process…if the government of Uganda or the LRA are seeking a withdrawal [of arrest warrants] they have to challenge this through the legal process.”
According to Article 57 of the Rome Statute, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC may, “Where a warrant of arrest of a summons has been issued… seek the cooperation of States…to take protective measure for the purposes of forfeiture, in particular for the ultimate benefit of victims”. This suggests that the Court could conceivably withdraw the warrants, but this power lies with the Pre-Trial chamber, not with the government of Uganda. Ms Kamara also noted that the judges of the Court have asked whether the courts of Uganda have the capacity to try those accused according to the provisions stipulated by the Court. “I don’t know how far the government has gone in responding to the questions put before them by the Court,” she said.
Though Kamara claims the ICC and the government of Uganda have “good working relationships” and that “the government of Uganda has cooperated with the Court so far,” the extent to which the government will carry out the mandate of the Court with regard to the warrants is unclear. Kony clearly feels threatened by the warrants and his failure to sign the final agreement last week may be a sign that he feels his security needs have not yet been fully addressed. His stated reservations seemed to hinge on how justice would function in the absence of the ICC, namely through mato oput and the special division of the High Court.
The fact that Kony has not come out of the bush and did not sign the agreement on the arranged date indicates that he is not satisfied with the agreement as it stands, but what has the government of Uganda gotten out of the peace process? What strategic value was there in participating in these talks?
It is true that since the talks began in 2006 significant changes have been taking place in northern Uganda. While a return to war is not yet out of the question, observers note that the war in the north as it was known now appears to be effectively over. Minister for Internal Affairs, Ruhakana Rugunda told The Independent, “The peace process has accomplished what it has set out for. It has consolidated the peace and security that has been brought there by the UPDF. The peace and security in northern Uganda has reached irreversible positions – the people of northern Uganda and the UPDF and the whole country will not allow the insecurity of the past to come back – they will work together.”
A phase of the LRA insurgency may indeed be over, meaning peace for northern Uganda, but the LRA still remains a regional player that may be strategically beneficial to a number of parties who are now competing for its services as an effectively mercenary army. Some analysts have charged that the government of Uganda effectively permitted the war in the north to continue as a means of oppressing northerners who were a potential threat to Museveni’s power. Whether or not this was the case, increased international attention on the conflict in recent years made it politically injurious in the global arena for Museveni not to make a more concerted effort to bring peace to the north of the country.
Despite and perhaps because of the fact that Kony did not sign the agreement, the government of Uganda may be widely perceived to have the moral upper hand, which was once in question. By participating in the talks, regardless of Kony’s involvement or lack thereof, it appears as though the government is committed to peace in northern Uganda. They have largely appeased those who claimed they were neglecting or not adequately addressing massive human rights abuses and have essentially shoved the LRA out of Uganda and into the surrounding countries.
The government of Uganda may now have little interest in further cooperation with the ICC. The Court by itself has little power and depends on its signatories to enforce its mandate. If Uganda does not cooperate in apprehending Kony et al, it is unlikely the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Central African Republic, also signatories, will be successful in capturing them either. Sudan, for its part, would have little interest in dismantling such a useful mercenary army even if it were a signatory. The United States, perhaps the best equipped to do the job in terms of intelligence and military strength, has also unsurprisingly refused to sign the Rome Statute and is not beholden to its mandate.
Kony’s failure to sign the final agreement must therefore be seen in the context of multiple and conflicting interests at play. Peace processes are rarely concluded swiftly, much less so when so many actors have so much at stake. The process is not really confined to the maintenance of peace in northern Uganda, as arranged between the LRA and the government of Uganda. On a broader scale, it is a reorganisation of alliances and consolidation of interests across the entire region.
It is no surprise, then that this “peace” process will take even more time and deliberation, particularly if those involved stand to lose more by concluding rather than prolonging it. A return to violence is the logical outcome of a complete collapse of the process. This may be avoided, however, with a careful reconstruction of alliances that determine what role the LRA will play or not as a regional force.

Melina Platas
The Independent

Is Industrialisation being taken seriously in Uganda?

The library of the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry (MTTI) is hot, and the paltry breeze wafting in from its windows is hardly relief for anyone who has just climbed the six flights of stairs to browse its dusty shelves. On these shelves, if you ever make it to this corner of the ministry, you will find thousands of documents, policies, manuscripts, and reports, which, after the hundreds of thousands of work hours put into creating them, now sit idly collecting dust and are often all but forgotten. One document has not yet made its journey to these shelves. It is hot off the press and fresh in the minds of its creators and President Museveni himself.
“The National Industrialisation Policy: A Framework for Uganda’s Transformation, Competitiveness and Prosperity” is the latest in a string of industrialisation policy plans for the country, and was recently approved by Parliament. Is it, like so many others, destined to end its short life in the policy document morgue that is the ministry library? Or will it play a more central role in the making of the future of Uganda? “Transformation of Uganda’s economy is one of the fundamental goals and commitment of the National Resistance Movement Government,” writes President Yoweri Museveni in the policy’s forward. “Uganda’s economic transformation will critically hinge upon industrialisation, and the application of Science, Technology, and Innovation, as the main driver and prime agent.” But what kind transformation is really being envisaged here? And what evidence is there that the NRM is committed to this transformation, whatever it may be?
A transformation involves both a starting and ending point. The starting point is Uganda’s economy as it stands today. Uganda’s economic growth performance is generally strong, with an average growth rate around 6 percent for the past 20 years. But the population has also been growing at a rate of between 3 and 4 percent, meaning that GDP per capita is not increasing as fast as overall GDP growth. Uganda’s labour force was 10.9 million in 2005/6 and is projected to be around 12 million today. Approximately 65 percent of this force works in agriculture, 25 percent in manufacturing, and 10 percent in industry. Contribution of industry to GDP increased slightly from 2001/2 to 2005/6 from 18.9 percent to 20.5 percent, but the contribution of industry to GDP growth rate actually declined from 2.1 percent to 0.9 percent between 2004/5 and 2005/6.
Though agriculture has long contributed the most to Uganda’s GDP, as a percentage of GDP it has been decreasing for the past few years. However, 88 percent of the population resides rurally, the majority of whom engage in some form of agriculture. Moreover, these agriculturally based rural populations have a much higher population growth rate than urban populations. In rural populations, women in Uganda have an average of 7.1 children, while in urban populations the average is 4.4 children per woman, according to the 2006 Demographic and Health Survey. What will this rapidly growing and primarily rural population mean for the economy?

Although the industrialisation policy sets a goal of 25 percent of total GDP to come from manufactured products within 10 years, it does not address how the millions of children who will enter the labour force during that time will be able to meaningfully contribute to that goal. What kind of education will they have access to and what skills will they have acquired? Nearly 25 percent of Uganda’s population is currently in primary school – how will they be not just surviving, but actively contributing to the country’s industrial development? None of this is clear from the policy. Agro-processing will be a principle focus of the policy, but what impact will the growing population have on the country’s ability to export agricultural products that its citizens also need to survive?

Other target indicator goals by the tenth year of policy implementation include a 30 percent contribution of manufactured exports to total exports and 30 percent value added in industry as a percentage of GDP. Along with these come a long list of policy actions – everything from infrastructure development to skills and human resource development to gender balanced and sensitive industrial transformation. But amidst all the ideas, it becomes easy to lose focus and “prioritisation” ceases to retain meaning. For all the policy rhetoric, what evidence is there of commitment to industrialisation, as it has been defined by certain target indicators, which may or may not be adequate or attainable?

The policy itself notes that “Government is yet to invest adequately in Industry and Technology and meet the AU set target of allocating at least 1% of GDP to this sector.” Granted, foreign investors will be critical to the so-called economic transformation of the country, but the government will likely need to take a more active role as well and not rely solely on foreign direct investment. The Ministry for Tourism, Trade and Industry, chiefly responsible for coordinating the industrialisation effort, receives a budget of less than Shs 40 billion, even including donor assistance. This, when compared to the budget for Defense for example, over Shs 400 billion, is simply laughable. Collaboration with better financed ministries like that of Works and Energy, with budgets of around Shs 570 billion and Shs 330 billion respectively, will help, but it does not excuse the fact that MTTI works on a budget similar to that of the Office of the President.
Heartening, however, is Uganda’s recent Export Performance Analysis, which indicates increasing investment in the re-export sector and increasing industrial output. Formal merchandise exports in the country grew by 39 percent in 2007, from US$962 million to $1.34 billion. The largest share of total exports, 39 percent, went to COMESA. Trading with COMESA grew 78.9 percent between 2006 and 2007, from US$283 million to $500 million. This suggests that so-called economic transformation may lie in further developing regional trade, a point which is noted though not particularly emphasized in this most recent industrialisation policy.
Uganda’s economic success, especially when compared to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, is impressive, but it does not in and of itself indicate a commitment to industrialisation on the part of the government. Neither does the production of this latest industrial policy. As it stands there is not yet a comprehensive implementation guide and it is hard to see how MTTI, with its scant budget, will be able to effectively implement the policy even with a guide. Economic growth is likely to continue with or without this industrialisation policy document. The real question is not whether these pieces of paper will sit collecting dust in a few years time, but how the country will address the issues that may ultimately threaten continued economic growth like food security, population growth, and an increasingly competitive market.

Melina Platas
The Independent

Elections get dicey for African Strongmen

Two weeks after elections were held in Zimbabwe, the South African Development Community (SADC) held an all-night meeting to discuss the country’s uncertain political future. Among the chief concerns were the timing of the release of the election results and the acceptance of the outcome of these results. It is still not clear why the results have been held or what the outcome will be. But how and when did elections come to play such a vital role in African politics? What benefit, after all, do they provide to the power-hungry incumbent?

Though it is not at all surprising that Mugabe has lost support over the years, what is quite surprising is that elections were held at all. It is not hard for even a national hero to lose friends when wheelbarrows of money would not buy bread even if there were bread to be bought – but then why would this man subject himself to a popular vote given apparently widespread discontent? In recent years we have become so accustomed to the regular holding of elections (rigged though they may be) that it is easy to forget that a decision was made to hold them in the first place, and that that decision had potentially costly outcomes. No one is calling Zimbabwe a democracy for holding elections, but neither is it an entirely authoritarian state. It is what some have termed a “hybrid regime,” or more specifically, a “competitive autocracy.” Zimbabwe is just one of the many such hybrid regimes somewhere on the continuum between democracy and autocracy.

For leaders like Mugabe, who does not appear particularly keen to pass on the torch, the question is why he has chosen to adopt certain characteristically democratic institutions that actually pose a significant threat to his hold on power. Why allow the existence of multiple political parties, giving your opponents a platform and enabling them to organize and mobilize? Why hold elections if you know you will have to rig them anyway? The decision to adopt these institutions was not made in an off-hand or arbitrary manner, but was actually a carefully made political calculation.

What are the benefits of holding an election? In some cases, elections may demonstrate the power of the ruling regime. This may have been the case in the 2000 and 2002 elections in Zimbabwe. Tactics of widespread violence and intimidation of the opposition were employed, possibly with the hope of dispelling future threats to Mugabe’s power. Though this tactic may work in certain circumstances, it can also backfire, especially as in this case when coupled with economic collapse. The combination of human rights abuses and widespread and prolonged economic hardship may have been enough to finally cause elections to bring more costs than benefits to Mugabe’s political survival strategy.

Mugabe was likely able to fight off the opposition for so long largely because of his reputation as a freedom fighter, which largely isolated him from criticism by other African leaders. Mugabe was instrumental in wrenching Zimbabwe from the grips of Ian Smith, who had hijacked the country in the 1970s as Prime Minister of Rhodesia, against the will of the people and the international community at large. Mugabe’s role as a revolutionary in black Africa has largely shielded him from criticism by African leaders, even in the midst of blatant wrongdoing, even today. South African president Thabo Mbeki has been criticised most recently in this regard. Tendai Biti, a party leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has said that Mbeki should demonstrate “more vigour, more openness and a complete abandonment of the policy of quiet diplomacy.” Nevertheless, the urgent meeting held last weekend by SADC may suggest that even Mugabe’s elite support in neighbouring countries may be slipping quickly away.

There may not be a crisis as yet, but this could easily change when election results are finally announced. Already a government sponsored newspaper announced a recount would be held for the some of the seats in Parliament, where Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, lost its majority in the elections a few weeks ago. The MDC is not likely to take kindly to this. They continue to insist as well that they have won the presidential election by more than the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff election.

Mugabe now finds himself in a tight spot, not unlike the position Kibaki was in just a few months ago. The institutions that have been allowed to develop and take root in society may ultimately pull the rug from under the feet of strongmen like Mugabe. In fact, this appears to be the trend throughout Africa. Recent research by political scientists Daniel has shown that while from the 1960s to the 1980s the majority of African leaders left by way of a coup, assassination or other violent means, in recent years the majority have left power as dictated by formal institutional rules. They specifically note that this non-violent departure is typically the result of a “voluntary resignation at the end of a constitutionally defined term or by losing an election.”

Such may be the case for Mugabe in a few weeks time. Whether a Kenya-like scenario will ensue remains to be seen. It is not yet clear what the outcome of Zimbabwe’s election will be, but the fact that an election has so threatened the power of a long time African “big man” is perhaps a sign of the changing times. What this will mean for other long-time leaders in Africa and elsewhere remains to be seen.

Melina Platas
The Independent

Preventing child deaths in Uganda

Dr. Addy Kekitiinwa’s phone will not stop ringing. And as the executive director of Baylor College Medicine Children’s Foundation in Uganda and seated at the Paediatric Infectious Disease Institute at Mulago, it is no wonder. Five minutes and as many interruptions into our interview she gets up to close the door to her office, takes her desk phone off the hook, silences her mobile phone, and sits down again with a smile and at full attention. “Now which study did you want to talk about?” she asks. Her question is indicative of the scale and scope of her work. She is an author of a study recently published by the World Health Organization (WHO) that found the Hib bacteria (Haemophilis influenzae type b) has been virtually eliminated in Uganda thanks to the introduction of the Hib vaccine in 2002. But the study was completed in 2006 and Dr. Kekitiinwa now has numerous other projects on her plate, all devoted to improving the health of children in Uganda.
Though now relatively old news, the findings from the WHO report are impressive. Widespread use of the Hib vaccine in Uganda now prevents over 30,000 cases of severe meningitis and pneumonia and over 5,000 child deaths each year. The study also found that the Hib vaccine, added to the standard DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) vaccine recommended for all children in 2002, is over 90 per cent effective after just two of the required three injections. Uganda’s successful immunization campaign is a promising sign for other countries hoping to reduce the prevalence of this deadly bacterium.
The elimination of Hib is good news, but bacterial meningitis and pneumonia are just two of the many preventable diseases children face in Uganda, explains Dr. Kekitiinwa. Other major threats include malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoeal disease, and malnutrition — the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in Ugandan children. Vaccine coverage for common childhood illnesses in Uganda is generally high, but there is room for improvement. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistic’s 2006 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), approximately 90 percent of children in Uganda receive the tuberculosis (BCG), DPT (which now includes Hib), and polio vaccines. However, only about 70 percent of children receive the measles vaccine, and only about 46 percent receive and complete all four of the recommended vaccinations.
What accounts for lack of immunization in these cases? “It is not about access,” says Dr. Adeodata Kekitiinwa, as all vaccines are free of charge and paid for by the government of Uganda. “I think people don’t see the immediate incentive even when the vaccines are readily available.” Therefore, she says, “It is upon us health workers to really show them, to really educate them to appreciate that it is an investment – look at it as an investment to health.” Dr. Kekitiinwa also hopes to educate the government on the benefits of preventative care. One of the goals of the WHO surveillance study, she says, was to provide evidence-based facts to the government of Uganda that it is actually cheaper to invest in preventative care of diseases like meningitis than to pay for treatment after the disease has spread.
Diarrhoeal disease is another major threat to children’s health that can often be prevented. Rotavirus, for which there now exists a vaccine, is the most common cause of severe diarrhoea in children and is responsible for around 600,000 child deaths worldwide each year. According to the 2006 DHS, the incidence of diarrhoea in children is lowest in Kampala (approximately 17 percent) and highest in IDP camps in the north (approximately 44 percent). Rotavirus vaccines have been developed and tested in the west and have been found to provide 90 to 100 percent protection against severe rotavirus disease. Current research in Africa and Asia is being used to determine the vaccines’ efficacy in these regions and results are expected by 2009, according to a recent report by the Rotavirus Vaccine Program. Dr Kekitiinwa is hopeful that the rotavirus vaccine will be readily available in Uganda in less than two years.
In the meantime her phone is unlikely to stop ringing. Her most recent research has shown the positive effects on growth of antiretroviral treatment in paediatric HIV/AIDS patients and the decrease in incidence of malaria for HIV/AIDS patients who use insecticide-treated bed nets. While she is keeping busy, Dr. Kekitiinwa says the government of Uganda should keep up the good work in the area of vaccine coverage and provision. “They are doing well,” she says, “and they need to be encouraged to do even better.” Parents, who are ultimately responsible for their children’s health, must also recognize the value of preventative care. It will take the resolve and coordination of all players – researchers, doctors, government and parents – to reduce the childhood morbidity and mortality from the preventable diseases that claim thousands of lives each year.

Melina Platas
The Independent

Flooded with cash, Uganda’s roads just drown

The government recently announced that incompetent construction companies will be blacklisted, prohibited from being contracted for public works projects in Uganda. This following years of negligent, inefficient, and careless work, evidenced throughout Uganda by roads dotted with potholes that may be more aptly described as craters. But will the creation of this blacklist have any effect on the quality of road construction in the near future? Will punishing incompetence build the capacity that will translate into quality infrastructure?
Approximately Shs 626 billion (about $370 million) will be spent on roads in Uganda during the 2007/2008 fiscal year, according to this year’s Budget Speech and the Medium Term Expenditure Framework for 2007/2008-2012/2013. With such a large budget (over three times that of agriculture), why do Uganda’s roads continue to be a nuisance at best and deadly at worst? Why are roads built over 10 years ago, like Mubende-Mityana, in better condition than some built recently, like Mubende-Fort Portal? Where is all the money going?
The perception that Uganda’s roads are particularly poor is not unfounded.While Kampala’s central business district roads look in decent shape following their Chogm refurbishment, many of the rest of the country’s roads are falling apart, or else simply inadequate and unable to handle Uganda’s growing population and economy.
A 2006 study conducted by the World Bank found that in terms of road quality, Uganda’s roads are some of the worst in sub-Saharan Africa. The grading of the roads took into account three factors: the percent of paved roads in the country, the GDP per capita (an index of capacity to maintain roads), and the World Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Capacity (CPIA) index. According to this measure, Uganda scored 10.7 out of 100, just above Sierra Leone (at 9.6) and worst performer Chad (at 1.8). Botswana received 87.5 and Zimbabwe 50. Though Uganda faired only slightly worse than its neighbours Kenya and Rwanda (and slightly better than Tanzania), these countries also spend less per capita on roads than Uganda. So why does Uganda fail to get value for the money spent on roads?
It seems there are primarily two answers to this question – the first is a lack of capacity, and the second is a lack of supervision of contractors. On the first point, Keith Muhakanizi, Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, explains that a world boom in construction has meant that many large and experienced construction companies have ended up in bigger markets, often in Asia. “These markets may have more and larger projects, which allows for contractors to take advantage of economies of scale,” said Muhakanizi.
Muhakanizi says he has also heard that some contractors shy away from Uganda due to the perception of widespread corruption. “Quality contractors may decide to keep away upon hearing rumours of corruption, or may decide to leave after they face it head on. Among contractors who do decide to work in Uganda, oligopolistic behaviour and some level of collusion appear to drive up contracting bids in many cases.”
Local contractors have yet to fully step up to the plate, largely because they lack experience, but also because there is simply a dearth of skilled workers at every level of the process. Dr. Jackson Mwakali, Head of the Civil Engineering Department at Makerere University and Chairman of the Engineers Registration Board, explains that there are not enough technicians and engineers being trained in Uganda. Many of those who do receive adequate training are lured away to greener and more lucrative pastures. “Brain drain has reached an alarming point,” he says. “We are not building capacity, we are losing people.”Dan Alinange, Public Relations Officer for the Road Agency Formation Unit (RAFU), has also noted the problem of capacity. “Local companies are just getting into the business of road construction,” he says, “and many just don’t have the capacity.”
There is broad consensus on the second explanation as well – lack of supervision of contractors is widely cited as the cause of poor quality roads. Alinange explains that poor supervision of contractors results in the violation of contracts regarding basic procedures, such as control of dust. Supervisors may also be “compromised,” or bribed to overlook shoddy work or contract violations. There are very specific guidelines for road construction, according to Mugisa Obyero, the Commissioner for Roads in the Ministry of Works and Transport, and failure to follow these guidelines does seem to stem from limited or lack of supervision of contractors, he says.
In addition to inadequate supervision of contractors and a lack of capacity, Dr. Mwakali also cites a poor maintenance culture and a lack of adequate drainage. On most roads outside Kampala central business district, “The main problem appears to be drainage,” he says, “If you don’t have that, you have wasted time.” Road maintenance is also critical to road quality and very cost-effective, though often overlooked. According to a 2005 presentation at Makerere University given by Henry Kerali, transport program team leader of the World Bank, “For every 1 km of road built, 3 kms of existing roads are ‘lost’ due to lack of maintenance, road transportation costs increase exponentially on poor roads, and for each $1 diverted from road maintenance, vehicle operating costs increase by $2 to $3.” Patching up potholes and cracks as soon as they appear and unblocking drains would help preserve roads for longer, but these measures are often neglected, explains Dr. Mwakali.
Other factors are also undoubtedly at play in driving up costs and delaying the progress of road works. Take the Jinja-Bugiri road, for example. Work started in 2006, by Basil Read Bouygues. According to Alinange of RAFU, the contract fell through over a disagreement on the waiver of the Value Added Tax (VAT). “The contractors requested that government waive VAT on their purchases. The government viewed that as giving subsidy to the contractors. When government refused to honour their request, the contractors flew their equipment out of the country,” Alinange explains. Poor weather conditions in parts of 2006, including heavy rain and flooding, caused further delays in the construction.
Ugandans are not only not getting value for the millions invested in their roads, they also fall victim to dangerous driving conditions daily. A 2006 World Health Organization (WHO) study found that Uganda has one of the highest rates of death due to road traffic accidents in all of Africa – nearly 160 deaths per 10,000 vehicles. In 2004, road traffic injuries cost the Ugandan economy approximately $101 million, according to one study. These figures represent about a third of what is spent on roads.
The issue of adequate planning for a rapidly growing economy must also be addressed. The recently constructed Northern Bypass, for example, remains far too narrow for the amount of traffic it must carry. Commissioner Mugisa insists that this will change. “In the next phase, we are going to construct another double-lane carriageway,” which could happen in two years’ time, he says.
Roads like the Northern Bypass are critical to the economy as they are the main thoroughfare for goods being imported and exported. Although Uganda boasts an impressive rate of economic growth (over eight percent for the first half of this financial year), this rate could be even higher with an improvement of infrastructure and decreased transport costs. One World Bank study in 2000 found that poor infrastructure in landlocked countries such as Uganda accounts for up to 60 percent of transport costs. With so much at stake, both lives and livelihoods, what can and should be done to improve road quality in Uganda?
Dr. Mwakali says local contractors should be awarded more contracts to help build their capacity. He also stresses that more research should be conducted on appropriate engineering standards for roads in sub-Saharan Africa. “I think we need to use standards developed in developed countries with some caution,” he says, “Their roads last but ours don’t. We should work on our own standards based on research.” Differences in climate, soil, and other environmental factors may play in the deterioration of Ugandan roads even when they are built to the standards that are adequate in other countries.
Muhakanizi wants to put pressure on everyone involved in the process, emphasizing the need to protect the budget for roads. “Work plans and the procurement process should be upfront so everything can be transparent,” he says. Changes in the bureaucratic structure overseeing the construction and maintenance of roads may also improve the situation. Both Dr. Mwakali and Mr Muhakanizi believe that the incorporation of RAFU into the Uganda Roads Authority may eliminate some of the bureaucratic red tape and help streamline project implementation. Over half of this year’s budget for roads is donor funded, about Ush 150 million more than last year. But no matter whose pockets it comes from, the government of Uganda remains responsible for ensuring that Uganda gets value for this money.

Asuman Bisiika and Melina Platas
The Independent

Q&A on Roads in Uganda with Dr. Mwakali

Q & A: Dr. Jackson Mwakali on Road Infrastructure in Uganda

Faculty of Technology, Civil Engineering, Makerere University
March 20, 2008

What is your assessment of the current condition of Uganda’s urban roads? Rural roads?

You have to isolate Kampala from the rest of the urban areas. The central business district (CBD) roads are good following Chogm (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting). They did a good job resurfacing, the quality of resurfacing is good. They did careful drainage, which is very important when it comes to preservation.

What are the primary factors that account for [poor] road conditions in Uganda?

As you get outside Kampala, where drainage is poor, the roads are also bad. The main problem appears to be drainage. The pavements are done according to available standards, so I suspect drainage is the culprit. If you don’t have that [proper drainage] you have wasted time. There is also a poor maintenance culture, and you need to maintain roads – patch up potholes and cracks as soon as they appear, unblock drains, etc. Quality is also substandard, there is poor workmanship. There are two reasons for this – first, there is inadequate supervision of contractors, and second, some of the contractors are incompetent. Things go wrong in the procurement process. Supervisors get compromised, contractors tempt supervisors with money. The contracts are in the billions of shillings so a Ush 50 million bribe is just peanuts to the contractor.

What safety standards [if any] do Uganda roads fail to meet?

My own observation is that we don’t provide enough road furniture (sign posting). When signs get damaged they are not replaced. There is also inadequate marking of lanes. In many Western European countries you drive with the lights on all the time. Drivers in Uganda should also turn their lights on in the early morning and earlier in the evening. Many drivers should not be on the road because of the way they overtake, hoot, and ignore pedestrian crossings. They need to do something about the drivers, to make sure the right drivers are using the road. The boda bodas are especially bad.

What can be done to improve the quality of road construction and increase the number of skilled workers?

I think we need to use standards developed in the developed world with a bit of caution. Their roads last but ours don’t. Climate and soil could be partly responsible. We need to work on our own standards based on research and give research at universities the importance it deserves. Most research is funded by donors, but donors don’t always fund what is good for us. The incoming head of civil engineering has done research on roads, and we are currently piloting a road within Makerere campus built based on his research.
We also need to build the capacity of local contractors. We need to give them more jobs, and bias awards in favour of local contractors (both constructors and consultants). They are not earning anything and not building capacity as it is. It is extremely urgent that the proposed Local Construction Industry bill is made into law. We need to train more technicians. The current government policy to give more emphasis to the sciences is good. Most government sponsored students are sponsored to do sciences – engineering and other applied sciences. About 40 students come to do engineering – that’s not enough. A student loan scheme should be available – it’s done in Tanzania and Kenya and we think they are training more engineers as a result.
Brain drain has reached an alarming point. We are not building capacity, we are losing people. Many people are going to South Africa, the UK, and the US. It’s as if we are training for them! It’s very easy to get a work permit in these countries, and many people are taking advantage of that.
We need to make the engineering practice more attractive. Pay them well, provide them with good working conditions. We also need to regulate the engineering practice. The engineering registration board and others need to execute their mandate to the full, so that they keep out the bad ones, the pretenders. One way is to punish the errant engineers in courts and also to fight for a fair share of the cake.
Regarding the quality of road construction and cost-effectiveness of road maintenance – according to a presentation given at Makerere in 2005 by Henry Kerali of the World Bank, “For every new 1 km built, 3 km or existing roads are “lost” due to lack of maintenance. Road transport costs increase exponentially on poor roads. For each $1 diverted from road maintenance, vehicle operating costs increase by $2 to $3.”

Do you think Uganda’s current road network is sufficient to handle current and future levels of traffic/transport?

It is not able and it is not adequate for current traffic volumes. This is very evident from traffic jams. We still don’t have sufficient road infrastructure. Roads are narrow, poorly maintained, and they are often badly designed. For example, in general, there is no provision for pedestrians. They are forced to walk on the carriageway and shoulders. Crossing of roads can be very hazardous. On Entebbe road, for example, it is so glaringly obvious that something is wrong. We need overhead bridges or tunnels. Non-motorized traffic is also a problem, as they fight for narrow roads. We can do better in our poverty I’m sure.
Also, traffic management is very poor by traffic wardens and police. They often override traffic lights where they are, they interfere and mess up the whole system. Instead they should apprehend those who jump the lights, they should be punished and receive fines. Lastly, axel load requirements are not enforced, and this is also doing a lot of damage to our roads.

In your opinion, is the annual budget for roads (this year approximately Ush 626 billion) sufficient for construction and upkeep of the road network?

There is a lot of construction that needs to be done; lots of areas are still inaccessible. But the budget doesn’t appear to be bad for this small economy. The problem is that much of it is lost to shoddy work. It is also lost to corruption, bribes and so on. Most goes to the large backlog of unmaintained roads and roads to construct.

Dr. Jackson Mwakali is a civil and structural engineer and has been the Head of the Civil Engineering Department at Makerere for over eight years. He is the first Ugandan to receive a PhD in structural engineering and is currently the Chairman of the Engineer Registration Board in Uganda, a position appointed by the Minister of Works.

Interview by Melina Platas

If Kenya has a fever what happens to Uganda?

As the saying goes, when Kenya sneezes, Uganda catches a cold. So what happens to Uganda when Kenya has a fever? That frightening scenario is now playing out before the eyes of Uganda’s business community.
Mr Godfrey Hategyeka, Transport Manager for Katraco Uganda Ltd, was beeped by a mysterious number at 12:30pm on January 31. When he returned the call a stranger answered, a Kenyan who informed him that the Katraco drivers had abandoned three of their trucks in Kericho, just outside of Kisumu, and were running to safety. The trucks were bound for Nakuru to load petrol, but they never made it to their destination. A group of over 200 rioters used petrol bombs to burn the trucks, one of which had a Ugandan licence plate. Right before the trucks were burned, one of the rioters himself called Mr. Hategyeka from the driver’s phone. “Why would you want to burn the trucks?” Hategyeka asked the rioter.
“We are aware Museveni supports Kibaki,” the rioter explained, “We have heard that he is sending in troops. For that matter we are going to burn…for us we have to burn the trucks.” Most insurance companies will not cover the losses of Katraco and dozens of other affected companies, since they categorize the damage as the result of war or civil disorder.
Transport companies such as Katraco may not even be the hardest hit. Hategyeka estimated his losses to be USh 200-250 million per burnt truck, but Ugandan importers and exporters are facing even greater costs the lack of secure transportation has caused a backlog of containers at the Port of Mombasa. According to Mr Dennis Rukundo, the Operations Manager for a transport company based in Mombasa, traders are allowed 14 days to remove their goods from the port. On the fifteenth day they begin paying demurrage fees — $40 per day for a 20 foot container and $80 per day for a 40 foot container. Rukundo says the Kenyan government waived demurrage fees from December 25, 2007, to January 3, 2008, but if containers were not cleared by the 3rd, traders were required to pay the fee for the days included in the waiver and any additional days.
Many traders were unable to remove their goods from the port in January due to the lack of safe transport. While Rukundo says the congestion at the port is improving, as of last week no Ugandan registered vehicles were moving on the road for fear of being attacked and burned. The shortage of transport has also increased the cost. Previously, traders paid $3000 per truck travelling from Mombasa to Kampala. They now pay $3900 per truck and Rukundo says the cost may rise even higher. In addition, some transporters are charging up to $480 per truck in extra surcharges to cover the risk of transport.
But if traders think their costs are high now, wait until March comes. Rukundo says the Kenya Revenue Authority is increasing their port fees from $200 to $600 per truck. And that’s not all – traders will have to pay an application fee of $1000 and buy a bond of $3000 before they are even allowed to pay the $600 fee. These fees, however, only apply to trucks carrying transit cargo, not to local trucks, which means Ugandan traders are at a disadvantage.
With Kenya’s future uncertain and with rising costs at the Port of Mombasa, will Ugandans take their business to the Port of Dar es Salaam? “We tried,” explained Ssekiito, Chairman of the Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA), “The minimum cost there per container was $4000. It was not practical.” The road from the Port of Dar es Salaam to Kampala is also much longer than from Kenya’s coast, nearly 2000km compared to about 1250km from Mombasa, and can be nearly impassable at times according to Hategyeka.
As traders face high costs and risks, Ugandans will no doubt be feeling the pain in their pocketbooks, if they are lucky enough to find the goods they are looking for at all. “If you go to Nakasero market,” says Ssekiito, “you find that some of the stores are empty.” Grain, consumables, and construction materials are all harder to come by and increasing in price. Ssekiito cannot say whether the situation will get better before it gets worse. “All this will depend on the involved stakeholders, the involved politicians. If they are promising good news, the prices will automatically start coming down. Most of the problems we suffer are a result of perception…In a market structure where the forces of demand and supply are dictating the price it is hard for us to say whether they are coming down or up. It all depends on the perception.”
In the meantime, traders like Hategyeka and others are growing impatient and seeking the assistance of the government of Uganda. Katraco has appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for assistance in retrieving its trucks. Yet as of last week, ministry official and Head of East African Affairs, Julius Kagamba, could not guarantee the safe retrieval of the trucks. Hategyeka and others feel the government should be taking more decisive steps to protect Ugandan businesses.
As a landlocked country, Uganda is necessarily dependent on its neighbours for the import and export of goods. Unfortunately, the current crisis Ugandan businesses now face appears to be a case of placing too many eggs in one basket – the Northern Corridor. “For some time government has not minded about putting in place infrastructure for the Central Corridor,” says Ssekiito. “We even had a place provided for us at the Port of Dar es Salaam for Uganda particularly, but we didn’t use it because this [Northern Corridor] was shorter…We only forgot that you can’t take things for granted. You need to have options…Every avenue must be developed ahead of time such that we are prepared.”
A large part of this abovementioned necessary infrastructure is the road network. According to the Road Agency Formation Unit (RAFU), there are a number of projects underway to widen and improve roads throughout Uganda. Unfortunately, current funding does not allow for roads to be widened to double carriage capacity. In addition, according to Dan Alinange of RAFU, there is no coordinating body orchestrating road construction across countries in the East African community.
Kenya’s fever may have subsided in recent weeks, but Ugandan businesses will likely be in their sick beds for some time longer. Perhaps this should be a lesson in the value of preventative care. Immunization – that is, investing now in alternative routes and working together with the larger East African Community to improve infrastructure in the region — may prove far less costly than the inevitable treatment that will be required after the next outbreak of political upheaval.

Melina Platas
The Independent

Bush in Africa

Uganda’s absence on President Bush’s itinerary last month came as a shock to few. While the U.S. president’s first trip to Africa in 2003 highlighted his commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS, primarily through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), his most recent trip appeared to serve to highlight a wider array of his programs, particularly the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The MCC, established in 2004, provides grants to countries with the goal of reducing poverty by promoting good governance and economic growth. Uganda was widely heralded a “success story” in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and an example of the success of PEPFAR, but it has been less of an example for the MCC.
The MCC, for which Bush has requested $2.22 billion in the 2009 budget, is operating in several African countries, including four of the five countries Bush visited on his most recent visit. Benin, Tanzania, and Ghana already hold MCC compacts, for which Uganda has not yet qualified. Uganda signed an agreement for a two-year, $10.4 million MCC Threshold Program last March, focusing primarily on decreasing public-sector corruption. The MCC also issues a scorecard that is a major factor in determining if a country is awarded a compact. Uganda received a failing score on two out of the 17 measures – Political Rights and Girl’s Primary Education Completion. Uganda will likely become eligible for a much larger grant through an MCC compact only if the threshold program is successful and if improvement is seen in the two failing indicators. Liberia is the one country on Bush’s itinerary that does not hold either an MCC threshold or compact agreement. It is, however, also the only African nation that has offered to host Africa Command (AFRICOM), a body headed by the US Department of Defense and currently based in Germany.
While in Tanzania, Presidents Bush and Kikwete signed a compact for the largest project in the history of the MCC, nearly $700 million over five years to improve rural roads and the Mafia Island airport. Another major deal was made in Rwanda, where President Bush and President Kagame signed the United States-Rwanda Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), which provides legal protections for American and Rwandan investors. It has been nearly ten years since the U.S. last signed such a treaty with an African nation. According to President Bush, “It reflects our shared commitment to systems of fair and open investment. It will bring more capital to Rwanda’s dynamic and growing economy.”
The trip was also an opportunity to announce the addition of five investment funds, mobilizing $875 in capital by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Other involvement on the continent by the Bush administration includes securing the international agreement on the Multilateral Debt Initiative, which has reduced $34 billion in debt to African countries; extending of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA); the Africa Education Initiative (AEI), which provides $600 million to increase access to basic education; and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), which provides $1.2 billion to reduce malaria deaths by 50 percent in 15 African countries.
Though Uganda is no longer the poster-child for U.S. development projects (or good governance) in Africa, the shifting nature of U.S. interests on the continent may mean that the country remains a significant player, corruption scandals and poor governance ratings notwithstanding. In public the U.S.’s strategic interest in Africa often takes a backseat to self-congratulation on American contributions to humanitarian causes. This was perhaps most obvious in Bush’s Washington send-off speech, “I’m going to witness the generosity of the American people firsthand,” he said, “It will give me a chance to remind our fellow citizens about what a compassionate people we are.” Although this is undoubtedly the pat-on-the-back some Americans want to hear, cutting through the compassionate conservative pontificating also reveals the increasing emphasis of US involvement in Africa for the purposes of American national security.
“We’re treating African leaders as equal partners,” Bush stated upon his return to the US. “We expect them to fight corruption, and invest in the health and education of their people, and pursue market-based economic policies. This mission serves our security interests – people who live in chaos and despair are more likely to fall under the sway of violent ideologies.” The transition away from primarily humanitarian-based assistance may be likely in the coming years. A 2007 independent task force report, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, stated that under a “business-as-usual” approach to US-African relations, “The ability of Africa to resist terrorist infiltration and extremist appeals will be weak; stability and corruption in the energy-producing states will be a cause for public concern, as well as a threat to predictable production; and U.S. influence will decline.”
If the U.S. does indeed move away from primarily humanitarian involvement and adopt a new approach to U.S.-African affairs how will Uganda be affected? If the government of Uganda continues to be viewed internationally as increasingly undemocratic, it is unlikely the incoming U.S. President will be eager to make high profile visits to the country, but more tacit relationships may remain. However, if the U.S. can find a more reliable regional partner, Washington-Kampala relations may be more seriously compromised in the days to come.

Melina Platas
The Independent

So you think you can tell a Muganda from a Munyoro?

Tribalism is the hot topic of the day, from who has which land rights to who controls the budget. Is Museveni favoring Westerners? Have Northerners or Easterners been left with mere crumbs of the national cake? One’s ethnicity may play a role in determining one’s opportunities for advancement or economic prosperity, but do you really know who is from where and belongs to which tribe?
It is often assumed, both on the street and in the Ivory Towers of academia, that ethnicity is clear-cut and ethnic groups are easily identifiable. But how true is this assumption? If you see a man on the street, with how much certainty could you guess which “tribe” or ethnic group he is from? What if he spoke a sentence in Luganda? A sentence in his native tongue? Told you his family name? Would you be able to correctly identify the part of the country from which he originated? If he were pretending to be from another group, would you be able to call his bluff? These are precisely the sorts of questions a team of political scientists from universities across the U.S. set out to answer here in Kampala in 2005.
The study, carried out by Professors James Habyarimana, Macartan Humphreys, Daniel Posner, and Jeremy Weinstein, involved 300 subjects from the Mulago-Kyebando area of Kampala. The demographic distribution of the subjects roughly mirrored the distribution found in the population of Mulago-Kyebando, with the largest groups represented being the Baganda, Banyankole, and Bafumira. Subjects participating in the study were shown either a photo or a video of another subject and provided with varying levels of information about the person. At the lowest level of information, only a headshot was provided; at the highest level, the person greeted the camera in their primary language and also revealed their family name. The subject then tried to correctly identify the ethnic group from the individual came. In some cases, the subjects being filmed were asked to pretend to “pass” as a member of another group.
What were the results? It seems identifying one’s tribe may not be as simple as it seems. On the whole, subjects from a given ethnic group would miscategorize someone from their same ethnic group 33 percent of the time. They would miscategorize someone from a different group 65 percent of the time. Additionally, those from certain groups, such as the Baganda, were nearly always correctly identified while others, such as the Bakiga, were frequently confused with another group (namely the Banyankole in this case). There were varying levels of the extent of errors of exclusion across groups, with Baganda subjects failing to identify fellow Baganda 30 percent of the time, while Banyarwanda failed to recognize fellow Banyarwanda 76 percent of the time. There were also significant errors of inclusion – Banyankole subjects thought Bakiga were actually fellow Banyankole 44 percent of the time, and Baganda subjects thought Bunyoro were fellow Baganda 35 percent of the time.
The authors note that the variation of people in ability to correctly identify or “pass” as someone from a different ethnic group “has substantive implications for collective action within and between groups. It suggests one reason why collective action may be easier for some ethnic groups than for others. If identifiability is imperfect, then the ability of groups to police their members will be weakened and the advantage that ethnic groups have for collective action…will disappear.” Could this partly explain why some groups have coalesced and succeeded in promoting their own interests while others have failed?
In any case, the study calls into question the meaning of ethnicity. What role does ethnicity or “tribalism” play in society if one cannot reliably identify the ethnic background of others? What does it mean for a society if some groups can more readily identify their own members than can other groups? Could the failure of minority groups to identify co-ethnics place them at an even greater disadvantage than they already face by limiting their possibilities for collective action? The answers to these questions, while elusive, may prove enlightening in explaining the development and predicting the future of Ugandan society. In the meantime, think twice before you are sure you can tell a Muganda from a Munyoro.

Melina Platas
The Independent

Kenya as an example

“For all its flaws, an example to others,” announced the headline on Kenya in a December 2007 issue of The Economist. Less than two months later, the Kenya it depicted as “a haven of stability and prosperity in eastern Africa,” no longer exists. In its place is a country where ethnic conflict has taken on a life of its own, with violence increasingly detached from the political strife with which it began. The speed at which Kenya’s social fiber has come unraveled has both Kenyans and the international community scrambling to de-escalate tensions that have become primarily ethnic in nature.
As we are inundated with images of men sharpening pangas in the street, of the bloody limbs they have hacked, of bodies strewn about, we are reminded of recent ethnic conflicts such as that of Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. What explains this so-called ethnic violence, what are its ramifications, and what can be done to prevent it? On the face of it, defining ethnic violence seems fairly straightforward – it is violence that occurs between ethnic groups. What is less clear is explaining how and why these ethnic groups come to be defined as such and where and when violence will occur.
In some cases, ethnic groups are fabricated for political purposes, as was arguably the case in Rwanda during and post-colonialism. In others, like Kenya, groups of people are in fact distinct. But the cohabitation of culturally distinct peoples is not a necessary and sufficient condition for ethnic conflict. Observers often argue is that historical animosity or “ancient hatreds” explains violence between ethnic groups. Such primordial explanations, however, have little predictive power. Furthermore, they do not explain how or when people choose to organize themselves according to ethnicity as opposed to another aspect of their identity.
In Kenya, as in many countries, ethnicity has been used in recent history for political and economic leverage. Under presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, certain groups were favored in the distribution of the national cake. Professors of Economics Paul Collier of Oxford and Stephen O’Connell of Swarthmore College cite Moi’s Kenya as a classic example of ethno-regional redistribution. Under Moi, the telecommunication and other industries were used for the economic benefit of the Kalenjin, the core of Moi’s political base. Kibaki, for his part, appointed members of the Kikuyu, Meru, and Embu ethnic groups to top ministerial positions within the ministries of finance, justice, and internal security. Despite Kenya’s impressive economic growth under Kibaki, many non-Kikuyu feel the Kibaki government has favored its Kikuyu political base.
Even given this history, however, one could not have predicted with any certainty when or where ethnic conflict would occur in Kenya. It is not the existence of distinct ethnic groups as such that results in ethnic violence. It is, I would argue, politicians or elites’ manipulation of these ethnicities to wield political power that has the potential to throw a stable country into genocidal chaos. It appears that Kibaki and Odinga used ethnicity as a political tool, one that has caused a domino effect over which they now have little control.
While violence began primarily as a means to express legitimate anger over a fraudulent election, there are now other factors also at play, including opportunistic thuggery. Stanford University professors James Fearon and David Laitin explain that if thugs or gangs engage in ethnic violence with ulterior motives unrelated or only indirectly related to ethnicity, such as looting or land grabbing, “processes begin that leave moderates in the group little choice but to follow a similar path. By initiating tit-for-tat sequences, thugs bring about the construction of more antagonistic group identities, making it rational to fear the other group and see its members as dangerous threats.” It is in this way, perhaps, that Kenya has now spiraled widely out of control. The looting and gang violence have now created a legitimate threat to the Kikuyu, who have responded violently in kind. In short order thousands of ordinary Kenyans are fleeing for their lives. How then to stop Kenya from slipping further down the path toward its own destruction – social, economic, and political?
Unfortunately, the more time that passes means not only more loss of life, but also more difficulty in returning to normalcy. Lehigh University professor Chaim Kaufmann argues that, “in ethnic wars both hypernationalist mobilization rhetoric and real atrocities harden ethnic identities to the point that cross-ethnic political appeals are unlikely to be made and even less likely to be heard…restoring civil politics in multi-ethnic states shattered by war is impossible because the war itself destroys the possibilities for ethnic cooperation.” Kenya is has not yet reached this point of no return, but it is drawing closer by the day.
It is crucial that both Kibaki and Odinga openly criticize and actively prevent further ethnic violence from occurring. In addition, both men must reach across ethnic lines and avoid the further polarization of a country already deeply fractured. Without the mutual commitment of Kibaki and Odinga to stabilize the country first and foremost, neither man can hope to run the state. Odinga’s promise of federalism, or majimbo, may be useful in easing tensions between the Kikuyu and Kenya’s historically less fortunate groups, but only if the Kikuyu are not alienated in the process.
The Kenya of today is not the Rwanda of yesterday – it does not appear ethnic violence was either orchestrated or inevitable. Nevertheless, the country has reached a critical juncture, and with each passing day of violence, a resolution becomes increasingly difficult and the societal wounds deeper. The December Economist headline remains the same, though Kenya has changed. Not only despite its flaws, but because of its flaws, Kenya should be an example to its neighbors and others around the world. Ethnicity as a political tool has a mind and heart of its own. To wield this tool, despite potential pay-offs, is to gamble with the stability of a country and the lives its citizens. Those who have taken and who continue take this gamble must be prepared to take responsibility for its consequences.

Melina Platas
The Independent

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