Jumuiya Dithers, Stumbles, But Won’t Die Yet

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool East African recent developments in the region will have left you feeling quite distraught. “It would take a lot of bravery to assert that all is well,” says the regional publication The East African in its November 23 editorial. 

The union, now in its 20th year, will look back at 2019 as a year it would rather forget. What with the ongoing crises in its two newest members, South Sudan and Burundi. The latter continues to shun regional summits citing all kinds of reasons, including its tiff with neighbour and fellow EAC member state Rwanda; while there’s no peace on the horizon yet for the former, also Africa’s youngest nation. Warlords Kiir and Machar seem hell bent on pushing that jewel of a country back into the dark ages.

Then there’s the bigger tiff between Uganda and Rwanda. Since the border closure by Rwanda in February relations between the two governments have ebbed to perhaps their lowest point in two decades. There are no signs a “friendship” agreement signed in Luanda, Angola will hold and few rule out the possibility of an all-out confrontation between the two if tensions continue.

That two champions of regional integration, in Kagame and Museveni, chose Luanda to be an arbiter in their disagreement, overlooking Arusha, almost sums up the crisis the regional body finds itself. The closest to a nudge from neighbours Kenya and Tanzania came in remarks by Kenyan deputy president William Ruto who while speaking at a summit in Kampala in March described the border closure as “retrogressive”. Otherwise, presidents Magufuli and Uhuru Kenyatta have preferred public silence on the matter.

This is the state the community finds itself going on to its 20th birthday.

Yet, where the cynics may see looming disaster and a bloc hurtling towards an eventual breakup, the optimist will see an opportunity for stock-taking of the gains since the regional bloc’s revival in 2000.

The community has achieved two major pillars to the integration project since 2000, the customs union and common market. While we have toyed with a monetary union, and later, a political federation these two will be difficult to attain in the near future without a significant re-imagination of the EAC’s founding ideals.

In what you would call the EAC 2.0 (the version of the community that came into being in 2000), the biggest achievements have been in the area of trade and (to a great extent) free movement of East Africans within the community. While Kenya and Tanzania have taken turns at confiscating one another’s cattle; burned chickens destined to another’s market; and Uganda has had its sugar wars with Kenya; Rwanda its on-and-off border closures with Burundi and Uganda, intra-regional trade has improved greatly in the last two decades.

Take for example, the recent report on intra-regional trade that showed intra-regional trade in the region in 2018 stood at US$ 6 billion from about US$1.4 billion in 2000, and was growing despite setbacks like non-tariff barriers that still exist .

Rather interesting is that some of the biggest winners of the intra-EAC trade, Uganda and Rwanda, are the ones stocking the flames that threaten to reverse the gains of the last few decades.

On the social front, Tanzania’s bongo music has brought the region somewhat of a unique cultural identity and made Kiswahili cool for a number of young Africans. It will be hard for artistes in other parts of the region to avoid gravitating towards this form of expression, and we are already seeing signs in the likes of Eddy Kenzo, Sheeba and Jose Chameleone (who for ages has been a true embodiment of what you would call an East African). In the same way, Kampala’s parte contagion and care-free lifestyle have all but attained enviable status among our East African peers. Weekends in Kampala are very much an East African affair and lately festivals like Nyege nyege attract more Kenyans and Rwandans combined than Ugandans.

Which brings us to EAC 3.0.

Heading into its third decade, the challenges the region faces will be slightly different from the kind the UTAKE founder generation of Museveni, Moi and Mkapa had to grapple with. With the union expanding to accommodate more members we will soon run out of a sensible acronym for the membership, but that will be a small matter.

With trade firmly locking together the union’s 220 million strong market in 2030, next will be questions of identity. Who is an East African? What rights should they enjoy? Will the union stick to Kiswahili as the lingua franca?

All these are quite complicated matters that the current leadership in the region is not (and will not be, should they live to see 2030) competent enough to address, partly because of their historical baggage and worldview imposed on them by their experience. In short, the kind of bold thinking that triggered Museveni’s regional integration ambition (even proposing, some time in 1996, a union of East and Central Africa!) that eventually birthed the EAC in 2000; or Kagame’s pragmatism in pulling Rwanda into the union in 2007, is what, ironically, will hamper their ability to peer into the future East Africa 3.0 and take the leap of faith.

Both old men find themselves too risk averse to stare into 2030 with the kind of boldness and zeal as they did 20 years ago.

East Africa 3.0 will be driven by shared mentalities about being (East African) and less by the brick and mortar of physical borders, personal armies or a knack to jailing opponents. East Africans living in 2030 will find titles like Supreme Eternal Guide, for presidents, not only a relic from the stone age but quite disgusting as well. Joining the long list of relics, one hopes, will be the small Kenyan matter of tribal politics too.

Hongera Jumuiya!


Mr. Eazi looking for new African Changemakers with emPawa

Nigerian musician Oluwatosin Ajibade alias Mr. Eazi recently launched the emPawa initiative, a talent incubator for rising African artistes in collaboration with YouTube and BetPawa.

emPawa Africa aims to discover Africa’s emerging talented musical artistes and equip them with the skills to make it to the global music scene.

The goal of this initiative is to find the continent’s next global superstars by discovering independent, emerging talented artists and provide them with resources and exposure to accelerate their success.

By partnering up with iconic figures in the music scene, the artists will be equipped with the tools, in-depth industry knowledge, network and investment.

The music industry in Africa can be a daunting place for new artists, with very little information available online about how to turn music into a business, or how to navigate deals with the different industry players.

Once selected, these change makers are mentored to shape the narrative about Africa through music.

The first emPawa Master class took place in Stellenbosch, South Africa in February 2019. Ten artistes were selected from over 20,000 submissions from Africa. Mentors like Diplo, Raye, Kwesta, and DSK, spent time listening to the artists, providing feedback on their tracks, style, and giving them access to original beats to work from.

During the project, other industry experts provide insights – like approaching radio hosts, dealing with labels, music contracts and common practices, strategies for streaming services, how to segment the market using audience insights, distribution, publishing, branding, social media, PR and marketing.

Further in collaboration with emPawa, YouTube will focus on bringing more African artists to the global stage.

It will support ten emerging Nigerian music artists chosen by emPawa to build their craft, increase their fan base and connect with the world through the video platform.

Mr. Eazi’s music has generated more than 900 million streams worldwide, including over 226 million plays on YouTube.

The afropop star has collaborated with global music icons such as Beyoncé, Kranium, J Balvin and Major Lazer. He has also had successful performances at Coachella and the London 02 Arena among others.

Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei sets world record at Diamond League

The ‘Golden Boy’ Joshua Cheptegei has done it again for Uganda. He becomes the first Ugandan athlete to clinch the record title for 5000m at the Diamond League.

Cheptegei had a spectacular finish at the IAAF Diamond League, setting a new world class personal best of 12.57.41 in Zurich and leaving behind jaw dropping moments of his victory lap. Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet came in second at 12.58.15.

This new title also comes with a hefty prize tag of $50,000 (sh185m). More is yet to come for the young and vibrant athlete who has had to endure worse terrain most times training in high altitude ranges in Kapchorwa, Eastern Uganda to perfect his signature enduring pace.

In the Zurich race, the 22 year old was in the company of a formidable Ethiopian contingent comprising last season’s winner and record holder Selemon Barega, 2016 champion Hagos Gebrhiwet Berhe and 2015 winner Yomif Kejelcha Atomsa.

Watched by a 25,000-strong audience inside the Letzigrund, the Ugandan sensation put up a scintillating display of sprinting finesse against a seasoned cast of world-class racers.

As the reigning World Cross Country champion, Cheptegei now has his sights set on next month’s World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.

DRC finally announces new cabinet

After assuming the reins of power in a hotly contested general election, President Felix Tshisekedi is faced with an uphill task of maintaining the legitimacy of his government.

In January 2019, Tshisekedi took office, despite critics claiming the election he won was rigged. Now opposition voices are accusing the new president of being Joseph Kabila’s puppet. Critics add that he is unproven, inexperienced and lacks the charisma of his father.

Both in the region and beyond, many argue that, whatever its flaws, the presidential election at least produced a transition from the long presidency of Joseph Kabila, and offers the best bet to preserving stability in DRC and the wider Great Lakes region. They may well be wrong on both counts.

Tshisekedi inherits a weakened government battered and consumed by decades of political turmoil and economic paralysis.

The state is weak while unemployment is rife and modest health care and education are inaccessible for most people.

Social security is at an all-time low which is escalating discontent among the masses that are agitating for robust reforms such as improved service delivery, managing insecurity and health emergencies such as Ebola.

Is Tshisekedi the right man for this  job?

Many political analysts believe that calming the storm in Kinshasha and the entire DRC will require consolidating the interests of the coalition led by former President Joseph Kabila and the opposition led by Martin Fayulu’s political front among other warring parties.

Fayulu who was runner up in the presidential election continues to drum up resistance from his political allies Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi and the electorate, a key constituency whose support Tshisekedi needs to drive his development agenda.

However, despite the ongoing troubles in the east, the DRC is more stable today than it was five years ago. Several militants groups have laid down their arms or integrated into the national army.

Tshisekedi must also reform the judiciary and give it the means to prosecute crimes at all levels – from those committed in war, to violence against women as well as those related to corruption.

With assistance from the European Union and China, access to health care and infrastructure are improving. It remains to be seen if Tshisekedi can seize this existing goodwill and embark on nation building.


Storm in the tea cup: Will the Uganda-Rwanda peace deal last?

A new dawn awakens for the citizens of Uganda and Rwanda who anxiously await to reap the fruits of the recent peace deal that was brokered in Luanda on August 21.

Many hope that the “Friendship Agreement” signed by President Yoweri Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame will help defuse the tensions that have paralyzed many aspects of their citizen’s lives for two years.

The tensions, which surfaced in 2017, have caused a political and diplomatic crisis, developments that have affected the movement of goods and people between the two countries especially after February this year, when the busiest mainland border post between Uganda and Rwanda, Gatuna, was closed by Rwanda.

The standoff escalated when both governments traded counter-accusations of meddling in the internal affairs of one another, espionage, assassinations and economic sabotage.

If not resolved, the row between the two leaders risks dragging in East African neighbors, threatening economic integration and regional stability in an already conflict-prone swathe of the continent.

The restoration of diplomatic channels is being seen as a positive development in the effort to resolve this crisis. However, political observers remain skeptical – cautioning that it may take time before relations between the two countries are restored.

Analysts say a strong political will is needed on both sides to enforce the agreement as it will require a lot of compromises and restraint.

For example, despite the signing of the agreement, there was no immediate indication of smoothing relations as the propaganda war and misinformation remained throughout the week after the pact.

On Thursday August 22, a day after the peace pact, Uganda blocked pro-Rwandan government media websites for allegedly publishing content that is “harmful and detrimental to national security.”

Rwanda responded on Friday by blocking media sites such as New Vision, the Daily Monitor and The Observer in a move that seemed to scuttle whatever progress had been achieved in Luanda days earlier.

To many observers, the solution to the tensions resides in the political will of President Museveni and Kagame to exercise full commitment and respect to the pact they signed.


Uganda’s Winnie Byanyima appointed new UNAIDS Head

The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has appointed Winnie  Byanyima as the new Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Byanyima fills the post left by Michel Sidibe (UNAIDS ED, 2009-19) who is now minister of health in his native Mali.

In her new role, the 60-year-old Ugandan career diplomat will lead a robust team in an expanded response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic around the world.

Ms Byanyima has more than 30 years of experience in political leadership, diplomacy and humanitarian engagement.

In her acceptance message, Byanyima, who describes herself as being passionate about justice and human dignity, said she looks forward to joining the UNAIDS team and to “working closely with co-sponsors and partners to remove barriers to prevention, treatment and care”.

“I am honoured to be joining UNAIDS as the Executive Director at such a critical time in the response to HIV,” said Byanyima. “The end of AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 is a goal that is within the world’s reach, but I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead. Working with all its partners, UNAIDS must continue to speak up for the people left behind and champion human rights as the only way to end the epidemic.”

“Byanyima brings a wealth of experience and commitment in harnessing the power of government, multilateral agencies, the private sector and civil society to end the HIV and AIDS crisis for communities around the world” the UNAIDS said in a statement.

Ms Byanyima has been the Executive Director of Oxfam International since 2013. Prior to that, she served for seven years as the Director of Gender and Development at the United Nations Development Programme.