Kenya’s new constitution

The grand ceremony to usher in Kenya’s new constitution, the result of the August 4 referendum, is taking place at this very moment. Live text of the ceremony from the Daily Nation here. NTV Kenya and NTV Uganda are airing the footage live. In attendance are former president of Kenya Daniel arap Moi, former president of Ghana John Kufuor, former president of Nigeria Olesegun Obasanjo, former president of Tanzania Benjamin Mkapa, former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir (ICC warrant notwithstanding), president of the Comoros, Rwandan president Paul Kagame, Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and others continue arriving…


Unsurprisingly, the ICC is less than thrilled about Bashir’s appearance in Nairobi, and Kenya’s subsequent failure to arrest him, as per their obligations as signatories of the Rome Statute. But really, what did they expect after the AU chairman’s condemnation of the arrest at the July Summit?

Sedition is no more!

Time to break out the champagne! Uganda’s archaic sedition law has finally been scrapped, in a much awaited decision made today by the Constitutional Court. This means that a number of Uganda’s journalists will have court cases and charges dropped (though many other charges still remain). Among them include those who have been charged with sedition for likening the Museveni regime to that of Ferdinand Marcos, for discussing Uganda’s role in  the death of John Garang, and for discussing Uganda’s role in the July 11 Kampala bomb attacks, among many others.

The petition to the Constitutional Court on the issue was originally filed in 2005 by the Independent’s Andrew Mwenda (formerly of the Daily Monitor), who was quoted today by AFP saying of the ruling, “Today is not just a good day for journalists. It is a good day for all Ugandans.”


campaign fever

Campaign season has already begun in Uganda for next year’s general elections, and the race is HOT. This is the first election in which the NRM will hold primaries where candidates are elected by the general public (party members anyway) instead of having NRM candidates chosen by the party leadership alone. This means the race for parliament is heating up way ahead of schedule, and the candidates are out in droves. In Arua, there are at least 15 candidates contesting for the municipality parliamentary seat.

Campaign posters in Arua, Uganda.

Democracy has no shortage of benefits, but elections have not infrequently turned violent in Uganda, Kenya, and elsewhere. The Independent asks whether elections breed violence rather than democracy. Well, at least campaign slogans are reassuring.

on the road again

I’m off to Arua, Uganda, for a couple of days. I will try to send updates along the way.

Arua District in a few figures (from the 2002 census):

Population: 833,928

Religion: 57.1% Catholic, 26.9% Anglican, 14.8% Muslim

Literacy: Male 80.2%, Female 51%, Total 64.7%

Livelihood: Subsistence farming 78.5%, earned income 12.7%, property income 0.6%, other 8.2%

free and fair elections…or else?

“Uganda’s past elections have been marred by reports of fraud, intimidation, and politically motivated prosecutions of opposition candidates. If these upcoming elections follow that same pattern or worse, it will put the United States and our relationship with Kampala in a very difficult position. We might have to consider restrictions to our assistance and limiting our engagement with Uganda’s security forces.”

That is U.S. Senator Russ Feingold writing in today’s Daily Monitor. While the political process is by no means completely free or fair, and while journalists regularly report to the Orwellian titled Media Crimes Department of CID (Criminal Investigations Department), I find Mr. Feingold’s op-ed pretentious.

“Divisions and upheaval surrounding February’s elections could undermine the country’s unity and potentially its stability. It could also weaken the government’s international reputation and partnerships. Therefore, it is critical that the government take steps now to build public trust in the election process and the country’s democratic institutions. As a true friend to Uganda, [USA] should press them to take these steps and provide support as appropriate. The stakes are too high to ignore these issues.”

I think many Ugandans are quite aware of the high stakes. Living through decades of political upheaval and violence, which occasionally still rears its ugly head, leaves memories and losses that are not easily forgotten. In any case, people certainly do not need a U.S. senator to tell them how high the stakes are in their own country. Feingold’s thinly veiled threat to pull back U.S. military support of the UPDF is more likely to annoy the country’s leaders than send them running for political reforms. I do not disagree with the substantive points he raises, but his words come across as those of a parent warning his rebellious teenager that bad behavior will result in an a reduction of pocket money. And that’s annoying.

Kagame on NPR

In case you missed it, listen/read Kagame’s short interview on NPR here. It sounded to me like Montagne asked the same question about five times. I’m not sure what she was hoping he would say, “yes I am a dictator”? Instead of asking how oppressive/repressive he is, I think she would have been much better off asking about the greatest challenges the RPF faces in the coming years, what he considers the greatest failure to date (as well as plans to rectify it in the next 7 years), and an assessment of his personal role in state and nation building. All of these would have led, I think, to far more reflective and useful answers, rather than the more combative and/or defensive ones we have all heard before.

Goodluck on Friday the 13th

It seems Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has some good luck on this Friday the 13th — he will be allowed to contest in the January 2011 presidential elections. BBC reports that he has not yet announced whether he will indeed run for president, but I for one would be shocked if he did not. After all, wouldn’t you if you had just bought 3 new jets? I somehow can’t shake my skepticism of leaders who wear the same head attire everyday. From Mobutu to Museveni to Goodluck, why can’t these guys part with their headgear?

Kigali Grenade Attack

Soon after reaching Kampala last night I heard of another grenade attack in Kigali, apparently near the bus park from which I had left that morning. The BBC reports the attack injured 7 people, and that three people have just been arrested in connection with the explosion. Josh Kron of the NYT also reports here.

Thankfully the explosion appears to have been small and casualties few; there were many opportunities for far greater damage to be done amongst the huge crowds that turned up at RPF campaign and post-election rallies, which fortunately did not take place.

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