Succession politics has become a cross border issue in East Africa

Sunday June 19 2022
Uhuru, Museveni

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta shakes hands with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2014. PHOTO | COURTESY

By Erick Mwakibete

Kenya is in the midst of election campaigns. There are many who are losing sleep over what happens when the country goes to poll in August. In neighbouring Uganda, there are those who are also losing sleep over what happens next even though the country has no elections anytime soon for its president or parliamentarians but the guessing games, the conjectures, what ifs are flying around about political succession as if there is an impending political change anytime soon.

Of particular interest to those with a political eye has been the activities of Uganda’s ‘first son’, Muhoozi Kainerugaba. Almost everything one reads about him points to him being groomed to inherit the presidency from his father Yoweri Museveni. He recently tweeted about receiving what he called “unofficial invitation” from CCM’s youth wing (UVCCM), to address them and that once the “official invitation” reaches him he will be in Dar.

He was born in Dar and even some of his education was received in Tanzania, and from time to time, he tweets about the country or some of his acquaintances. In that regard, it is understandable that he will pay attention about the country to which he is no stranger. However, nothing about this is about someone paying a courtesy call to a country where he once lived.

Regardless of whether that “official invitation” finally lands in Kampala for him to visit Dar, that tweet could be more about his would-be hosts than him. To borrow a question from a friend, “who is courting who?” Most importantly though, why this courtship now?

This will not be the only invitation from Dar to Kampala. Tanzania’s opposition party, Chadema, invited Uganda’s leading opposition figure, Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine to address them. That means they threw their lot with their colleagues across the border.

The regional political terrain has its peculiarities. After all, it is not only Uganda whose succession question is a dicey affair. There is Rwanda too. There is also South Sudan. But these two countries are not mentioned in the same breath as Uganda’s succession question.

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With Uganda there is this creeping feeling that, to borrow a phrase from a BBC journalist, there has been a transition underway for some years now though it is “undeclared, unwritten and unspoken of”. Crucially, no one seems to know exactly who is leading the proverbial line of succession but almost everyone is paying very little attention to those closest to the throne as far as the constitution is concerned.

When it comes to transition in the region, constitutional provisions come second after political and security calculations and realities. There is a reason why those constitutionally closest to the thrones in the regional capitals, somehow find themselves furthest from inheriting them after their bosses call it time.

That “unofficial invitation” would never have made it to him without the blessings of some influential and powerful individuals within CCM and the government even though UVCCM has played some cards and produced political fireworks in the past within CCM’s succession politics, but those were internal matters. This would mean that some political actors in the long ruling party are testing the political waters beyond the border. Are they confident about the direction of political winds in Uganda? UVCCM provides the political cover necessary for any fallout.

There have been awkward moments in the past. William Ruto’s visits to Uganda led to questions in Kenya about Uganda’s long time ruler playing favourites in Kenya’s succession politics. There was the question of a longtime friendship between Tanzania’s former President John Magufuli and Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga leading to all sorts of questions about the intentions of those in power with their friends across the borders.

Even when flipped and seen from the invited guest, the answers lead to the succession street. Tanzania has a place in President Museveni’s war in the 1980s. Could the son be following in the same footsteps? Is it about learning how to navigate tricky succession plans from a party that has handled its fair share of them?

Should it come to pass with him receiving the “official invitation”, what he says will provide the clearest signs of where all this is headed. However, unofficially or otherwise, the invitation was no accident. The dizzying and confusing plots in succession politics are cross-border issues.

Perhaps, we are more East Africans than we realize.