Raila’s enigmatic visit to Uganda

POLITICS; No permanent friends or enermies

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s visit to Uganda for his Easter holiday was not only a gesture of salvaging relations between him and President Yoweri Museveni after a diplomatic chill of over two years, but also breathed fresh impetus into the pursuit for regional integration.

Political analysts had warned that if relations between the influential leaders in the region are left to deteriorate further, it will reflect in their country-to-country relations accordingly, and boil down to failing the East African Community. For instance Uganda has just discovered oil and vast presence of minerals and will need a transport corridor through Kenya to the sea to commercialise her wealth, something that could be difficult if the two countries’ leaders do not click. On the other hand, Uganda is an important market for Kenyan products, and transit hub for goods that come from the Mombasa coast to other countries in the region, meaning that not cooperating could adversely affect nationals and regional economic welfare.

Mr. Odinga had a one-on-one full hour meeting with President Museveni at the Entebbe State House before heading to the countryside in Soroti district, eastern Uganda where he told a rally that he had a ‘frank discussion’ with the President on issues including; intra-regional trade, cross-border cattle-rustling, and the Migingo territorial question. It was the first time Mr. Odinga and President Museveni were meeting since Kenya’s general elections in December 2007 that culminated into bloody civil unrest.

None of the leaders ridiculed each other in public, but neither of them dispelled the notion that they were at loggerheads when observers accused President Museveni for meddling in Kenyan politics during the campaigns and hastily congratulating President Kibaki on declaring him winner of a vehemently contested election. On the other hand, some legislators from Uganda’s ruling party accused Mr. Odinga for dinning with the opposition here, partly why his campaign visit to Uganda in 2007 when he addressed students at Makerere University had minimal participation from officials of the NRM party.

Relations between the two men reached the bottom when Raila Odinga’s State visit to Uganda last year was canceled at the last minute because of a territorial dispute between Kenya and Uganda over the Migingo Island. Later, President Museveni was reported to have been abusive to the Jaluo community during his address to students at Dar es Salaam University, reports that provoked Kenyan youth to uproot the railway line that transports goods from the Mombasa coast to Kampala, and other dstinations in the region.

I learnt that certain politicians have been working behind the scenes to improve the leaders’ relations, and their meeting over Easter is just the beginning of clearing mistrust and building confidence. “I had a frank discussion with President Museveni about many bilateral and regional issues and I can assure that we have good working relations. Some things might have happened during the elections, but that is behind us now,” Mr. Odinga said.

When I personally talked to Odinga, and when he addressed a rally in Soroti, he pointed to the Migingo issue, cross-border cattle rustling and intra-regional trade as some of the things he discussed with President Museveni. “I told President Museveni that we can not be talking regional integration, then we quarrel over a piece of rock, and we agreed to quickly settle that,” Mr. Odinga said.

He also said that Kenya will arrest any people who come and raid cattle in Uganda, and return the animals. “Any one who comes from Kenya and raids cattle here is not a true Kenyan, and anyone who comes from Uganda and raids cattle in Kenya is not a true Kenyan,” he said. Mr. Odinga also said that Kenya is going to begin buying drugs from the new factory that is making life-prolonging drugs for people living with the virus that causes Aids.

I was told by a friend that on the Uganda side, Cpt. Mike Mukula a former junior minister for health, one of President Museveni’s chief mobilisers, and personal friend to Mr. Odinga who hosted him during his campaign tour in Kampala has been the mule behind repairing these relations. I visited Cpt. Mike at his country home in Soroti to verify some of these things; he told me, “It is very important that these leaders work together because of the influence they hold in the region, any problem between them will affect the regional integration we all looking for, so far we are on course to dispel mistrust and build confidence.”

Mr. Odinga used his visit to also cultivate some political capital at a regional scale when he visited and mingled with ordinary Teso people in Soroti district to drum up support for regional integration.

In Raila’s word
For the few minutes I personally talked to Raila he said; “It is our ordinary people who are the key to this integration, that is why we must engage them across the region and show that we are one.” Mr. Odinga’s address to a rally of hundreds of people in Soroti was a reminder of how things used to be in past, and why it is important to integrate. “When I first came to Soroti in 1958 with my father when he was fundraising for a memorial hall to be built in Kisumu, all we needed to show at the border in Busia was a driving permit. Business people, students and laborers used to cross freely. Why should I go and buy malaria drugs elsewhere when Uganda is now manufacturing them? We should invest here, and trade among each other before we think of the outside world,” he said.

The entourage
His entourage was indeed a statement of reaching out to the communities that exit in both Kenya and Uganda; Assistant Minister for Labour Odeke Ojaamongson, Minister for Fisheries Development Dr. Paul Otuoma, Minister for Medical services Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o, and a legislator Justus Kizito, whose name is common among Ugandans, all have ancestry ties with Ugandan tribes including Teso people and Samias.

The Teso people who historically reside in Teso district in the western part of Kenya, and eight districts in eastern Uganda including; Amuria, Soroti, Kumi, Katakwi, Pallisa, Bukedea, Kaberamaido and Tororo are silently building a movement to reckon with in not only social, cultural, economic, but also political aspects under a joint apex body dubbed; Teso Development Forum (TDF). The ethnic group also has a cultural leader bearing the title Emorimori who receives allegiance from Teso people in both countries.

I found out that the scramble for new districts that has showcased rare political maneuvering in Uganda for the Teso region is being led by a joint task force that includes Ugandans and Kenyan Itesots. After getting two new districts in Uganda’s Teso sub-region, the taskforce is now in Nairobi lobbying politicians there for new constituencies in western Kenya where Teso people reside so that they can increase their numbers in Parliament. Analysts think that if this is also true for other ethnic lineages that extend beyond national borders in East Africa, then it will be clever for politicians especially those with regional ambitions to look for political capital there.



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