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Friday, June 12, 2009

Raila and Museveni cold war

President Yoweri Museveni’s "Wajaruo are mad" sneer has drawn attention to his attitude towards this populous community across East Africa.

His exact words were: "Wajaruo are mad, they have been rioting. I have been telling them that if you continue like that no Mjaruo will be allowed to fish there," he said.

The pejorative remark, which he later claimed referred only to those who incessantly cut off his landlocked country by uprooting a section of the Kenya-Uganda railway line at Kibera Slums, also stirred interest on his perceived "cold war" with prominent Luos. It turned the radar onto the occasions he has occasionally, albeit subtly, sniped at each other before camera with Prime Minister Raila Odinga — a national political icon and a dominant figure among the Luo.

Museveni’s press conference in Entebbe a few days later, which he called to restate his claim on Migingo Island, unmasked the different ideological strands the two former allies occupy today. It came just weeks after Raila recounted how he fled to Uganda, on the way to political asylum abroad, disguised as a woman. Not once at the press conference to which Museveni invited local journalists did he refer to Raila by his title, Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition Government. But Museveni, who was among the handful of world leaders who rushed to congratulate Kibaki after he was declared winner of the discredited presidential election on December 29, 2007, was profuse in his reference to his Kenyan counterpart as ‘President’ and Kalonzo Musyoka as Vice-President.

He spoke of Raila coldly — and did not sound like he had in mind the man with whom he cut teeth as fierce Marxists-Leninists ideologues. Then, it was Raila against retired President Moi, and Museveni hotly on the heels of the late Ugandan leader Milton Obote — the weapon of choice was a gun, and the object armed coup. Both ended up in exile, with Raila detained for about nine years, before their fortunes changed.

Asked to put into perspective President Museveni’s resentment of Raila and the Luo, two historians and authors — Kenya’s Wanyiri Kihoro and Uganda’s Obonyo Olweny — said the remark during a lecture at the University of Dar-es-Salaam exposed Museveni’s paranoia as Raila’s clout spreads across East Africa.

Kihoro, a lawyer and former Nyeri Town MP who lived with Museveni in London between 1981—1986, says the Uganda leader nurtured a dream of uniting East Africa under one flag, but history has pitted him against the Nilotes in Uganda, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan and Kenya. The former guerrilla leader, who shot his way to Kampala’s seat of power in Kampala, is an Ankole, a Bantu group distinguished by their love for long-horned cattle. "Museveni’s loathing of the Nilotic communities became more complicated when Barack Obama (son of a Kenyan father) was elected President of the United States. Uganda’s and Kenya’s presidents are perceived in the US as obstacles to democracy and it is possible Museveni fears losing the clout of a progressive leader," said Kihoro.

The view is shared by Olweny who argues: "The emergence of Raila as a dynamic and progressive democrat with massive following in East Africa has changed perception in the West about Museveni. The Ugandan leader fears Raila is a challenge to his ambition to be first president of the proposed East African Federation. Museveni would never have contemplated Raila ascending to power through the ballot. When this looked possible in 2007, he panicked and allied himself to President Kibaki."

Olweny, a member of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, is exiled in Kenya and recently published a book, Eclipse of The Pearl: Contract Command, which he says chronicles Museveni’s divisive presidency. Kony speaks Dholuo.

The book chronicles the decades old rebellion in northern Uganda and Museveni’s territorial expansionist philosophy that has seen his army make forays into neighbouring Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan. There are also claims his army has tried moving border along Kenya’s West Pokot and the Central African Republic. Raila and Museveni, Olweny argues, share a common past: They flirted with socialism before the former transformed into social democratic. Museveni dropped socialism for free market capitalism, which drew him closer to Western donors, including the World Bank, and International Monetary Fund.

The slur on the Luo has rekindled discourse on Kampala’s alleged involvement in Kenya’s 2007 presidential election fiasco that brought Uganda’s neighbour to the brink of a civil war. Olweny argues that Museveni has always harboured a "morbid fear" of Raila. Olweny also recalls that Museveni forced journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo into exile in Kenya and had a strained relationship with the late Southern Sudan president John Garang.

Ironically, when Museveni made the slur, Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir was the guest of the Kisumu based Great Lakes University, which bestowed on him an honorary doctorate degree. Garang and Kiir are leaders of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, which Olweny says the Ugandan president tried to sabotage during its struggle for autonomy from the north.

Garang and Kiir also share a bloodline with East African Luo, whose migratory path historians trace to Sudan. Garang died in Museveni’s presidential helicopter in 2005. The cause of the death is still controversial. Kampala is yet to clear allegations of foul play.

At the height of post-election violence, the Orange Democratic Movement accused Kampala of deploying soldiers to help Kibaki put down resistance to a second term the party claimed he stole. Museveni’s congratulation to Kibaki as the rest of the world adopted a wait-and-see strategy, worsened matters. Museveni followed up the congratulatory message with a quick flight to Nairobi to persuade Raila to accept the outcome or form a coalition with Kibaki. Raila curtly termed the agenda "stupid" and declined meeting the Uganda leader.

In November 2007, while campaigning for the National Resistance Movement candidate Sarah Wasike Mugeni in a by-election in Busia-Bugwe North parliamentary seat, Museveni also talked of "Wajaruo". He told off a section of the crowd chanting "ODM!" during his rally to "desist from importing political slogans from Wajaruo of Kenya". The ODM! ODM! chants by Ugandans were in support of the party of choice of their cousins across the border.

When he landed in Nairobi in April last year for the swearing-in ceremony of Grand Coalition Cabinet, Museveni feigned ignorance over which party had signed power-sharing deal with Kibaki. He talked of PNU as the "only party that is popular and known to the Ugandans". Raila, probably as payback, referred to him as the "President of Tanzania."

"Five years ago, Museveni was the blue-eyed boy of the West. The United States and the European Union competed for his attention and at that time Uganda received massive financial and military support from the West. This perception changed dramatically with the emergence of ODM," argues Olweny.

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