By Daniel Orogo
In a 21st November 2020 interview with Mail & Guardian, Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu while urging the world to pay close attention to the state of democracy in Tanzania, asserts that dictators must be fought not just in their country, but also internationally. They will not allow themselves to lose in an election, he states.
Mr. Lissu’s statement turns the spotlight on Tanzania, but even bigger, the state of affairs in Kenya’s neighboring east African countries, who are facing dark days due to the sudden upsurge in political violence, gross violation of human rights, and conflicts.
To the west, in Uganda, media reports attributed to police spokesperson Fred Enanga reported 45 civilians killed and over 836 arrested on November 18th 2020 by Ugandan police and military, after riots following the arrest of opposition leader and presidential candidate Kyagulanyi Sssentamu Robert alias Bobby Wine.
He was arrested for allegedly contravening Uganda’s COVID- 19 regulations by holding a rally in Luuka district. Interestingly, a rally by President Yoweri Museveni on the same day in Moroto, northeastern Uganda, was allowed to continue uninterrupted.
To the north west of Kenya, the tension between Ethiopia’s national government led by Prime Minister Abbey Ahmed and federal government of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) has escalated into civil war. There are scanty updates on the current events on the war frontlines due to media censorship and communication blackout.
On the other side, Tanzania’s recently concluded election was marred with claims of vote rigging and repression by the government and the ruling CCM party. Tanzania’s Electoral Commission declared the incumbent John Pombe Magufuli, the winner with 84% of the votes. More worrying is the mounting crackdown on opposition leaders who have since sought political asylum in neighboring Kenya and Europe.
A conflict in any east African country has far-reaching effects in the whole region. Conflicts in Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia transcend ethnic and physical borders.
Why Kenya must intervene
Foremost, a conflict in any east African country has far-reaching effects in the whole region. Conflicts in Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia transcend ethnic and physical borders. The regional dynamics of disputes and cross border nature of insecurity poses the threat of human mobility and proliferation of illegal weapons across Kenya’s porous borders.
This, coming at a time that Kenya has heightened the war against illegal firearms by confiscating unregistered guns especially in areas associated with banditry. In November 2019, over 8,000 firearms and 300,000 rounds of assorted ammunition were burnt. This is also in line with the AU’s Master Roadmap for Practical Steps to silence the Guns in Africa by 2020. The country must embark on an international diplomatic mission to restore calm in the neighboring countries while at the same time securing the porous borders.
COVID -19 situation
Secondly, due to the upsurge of COVID -19 in the country, refugees and asylum seekers have becomes a health threat. By their mobile nature, refugees pose community and regional risks. With the escalating second wave of the pandemic, the camps’ seclusion might be a potential breeding ground for infections and transmissions.
It is critical to note that Kenya’s health facilities are already strained, with many counties reporting inadequate bed capacities for patients and rising mortality. Additional cross-border infections and transmissions will further weaken and make the situation dire in the country.
Of concern is that some neighboring countries have not complied with the World Health Organization’s requirement of providing regular updates on the COVID – 19 situations in their countries. Tanzania and lately Uganda have sanctioned any local or international media outlet from providing a timely COVID- 19 updates.
Kenya should prioritize constructing more tents for COVID- 19 outpatient care, rather than tents to host refugees fleeing from violence in their countries of origin.
Kenya’s role in regional bodies
Third, Kenya’s position at the Africa Union (AU) and the United Nations Security Council obligates her to champion regional peace and security, good governance, and respect for human rights. The ongoing political violence in Uganda and the ethnic related civil war in the Tigray region in Ethiopia points at the state party’s failure to adhere to the African Union’s charter on democracy, elections, and governance.
With the AU headquarters hosted in a country already plunged into war, Kenya remains the only hope in the region to further the agenda for peace and security in the Horn of Africa. Additionally, Kenya’s position at the United Nations Security Council permits her to speak on behalf of the African continent and contribute to critical global peace and security resolutions.
Indeed, the emergence of political violence and conflicts that threatens stability and economic development in the region, the upsurge of cases of COVID 19 and the influx of refugees, and the risks of weapons and arms smuggled across borders, is an urgent clarion call for Kenya’s intervention in securing the region.
Mr. Orogo is a governance and political expert