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“No one can replace Afande Museveni” The Ugandan Dictator Keeps Going and Going and Going…

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On February 9, 2014 Evelyn Anite, a former journalist and then a youth Member of Parliament for Northern Uganda, took to her knees and asked the National Resistance Movement (NRM) caucus to pass a resolution ring fencing the party chairmanship— and subsequent candidature for President— for Mr Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.

Word had gone round that Mr John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, Mr Museveni’s long-time political ally and then Prime minister, the party’s Secretary General and Museveni’s de facto number two, had had a strange dream that time had come for him to lead the Party and had therefore hatched a plan to contest against the septuagenarian leader for the Party Chairmanship and win a slot on the national ballot paper as the NRM Flag bearer.

Being a Machiavellian politician and inherently scared of internal competition Mr Museveni chose to pull a fast one and chose to use a youthful legislator to crash the political intentions of his long time comrade. In using her, he also intended to send a message that the revolution, as he is fond of calling his leadership, is now in the hands of the young people.

“I welcomed the Kyankwanzi resolution in the context of party cohesion because of rumours that there were `wanters’ and ‘wanters’ who were conducting themselves in a bad way and also using subversive ways,” Mr Museveni said after winning the Party ticket unopposed.

It immediately became sacrilegious to be associated with Mr Amama Mbabazi. Although he went ahead and contested for President as an independent, he became a political outcast in the party.  For her work, Ms Anite was awarded a ministerial position as State Minister for Youth first and now for investment.

How the ring fencing quashed Political hope

Although Mr Mbabazi was not a trusted politician per se— because of his long relationship with Mr Museveni and his fingerprints being all over the repressive legislations and policies in the country—the opposition, weak and divided, had hoped that a challenge from within NRM would be chance at weakening, and probably putting an end to Museveni’s three decade rule. Or at least it would divide a Party so entrenched that there’s a thin line between it and the state.

Being a Machiavellian politician and inherently scared of internal competition Mr Museveni chose to pull a fast one and chose to use a youthful legislator to crash the political intentions of his long time comrade.

Ms Anite’s motion therefore, ensured the maintenance of the political status quo in the lead up to the 2016 General elections: an incumbent with priestly control over the Party and an opposition without any new force other than the usual FDC’s Dr Kizza Besigye.

With the contest for the presidency poised to be with the usual candidates especially after proposals for political reforms before elections were rejected by the majority ruling [party?], in particular the creation of an independent electoral commission, hope for political change was quashed even before the elections.

Just after President Museveni was announced winner, with 5,617,503 votes, or 60.7 per cent, the opposition and the majority youth who had lined up in droves to vote rejected the result.

The voting had been conducted with its fair share of controversies:  blocked social media platforms, delayed voting material in most parts of the country like Kampala and Wakiso which had the highest number of voters believed to be opposition.

The opposition declined an invite to the presidential swearing in ceremony. Calls for an international audit of the votes fell on deaf ears. Mr Mbabazi’s election Petition had just been defeated in the Supreme Court and so the ruling party felt they had cemented the win and there was no need for further scrutiny. Frustrated, the youth formed a social media brigade and declared Kizza Besigye, who got 3,270,290 votes (35.37 per cent of the ten million voters that cast ballots)  the people’s president. As a nod, the FDC leadership videotaped a mock swearing in ceremony of the ‘people’s president’ and supplied it across social media platforms.

 A politically rudderless youth leadership

Shout and quarrelling on social media is seemingly what the youth can do.

Sometime time back in the ninth Parliament, this writer had short conversation with then Health Minister, now Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, on what the former UPC youth winger and President Milton Obote’s protégé thought about the political situation in the country.

Straight up, Ndugu Rugunda, as he is fondly called, responded: “When I was a young man like you, I was politically active. I rose up and spoke against what was wrong with government and we ensured that things changed. Do you expect me to speak against a government I worked to bring in power?”

Unlike in the sixties when then young men like Premier Rugunda benefited from vibrant and powerful students’ associations like the Uganda National Students Association and powerful political party youth leagues, today’s politically aware youth has been denied a platform for political expression—barazas were banned but students associations, especially at universities, which used to be the centers for free political discourse, have largely been monetized.

It used to be lucrative to be an opposition Guild President at Makerere University for one would use the platform to speak to power and push the political youth agenda. Now, it is lucrative because one can easily be identified and taken into NRM fold to eat. Ms Suzan Abbo, who was a vocal Democratic Party member while Makerere University Guild President, crossed to work in State House immediately after graduation.

Ms Anite’s motion therefore, ensured the maintenance of the political status quo in the lead up to the 2016 General elections: an incumbent with priestly control over the Party

Political party Youth Leagues are dead. They hardly issue a statement on the political on goings in the country but become active toward General elections to offer their support for sale to the highest bidder. It is in that period that you see groups like the poor youth coming up demanding money for youth projects then disappear after the elections.

Most of the leaders work to tow their party leaders’ line in anticipation of favours. Once, this writer challenged the then NRM Youth League Secretary General, Robert Rutaro (a former Makerere University Guild President) on why the NRM youth league was not as vibrant as that of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress’ youth league under Julius Malema. His response was to blame poor funding from the party leadership; for a team of young leaders who are not in gainful employment, the focus was on convincing the party chairman to get them jobs.

Little wonder that whenever youth leaders [meet?] from across the country, the fights that are reported in the media are not about ideas but transport refund.

With more than 60 per cent of the population being youth, the lack of a strong youth leadership means that the young people may not have a strong say in the big political transition question, unless their youth representatives in Parliament choose to step forward.

 A shot at an inclusive government and a weak opposition

After being sworn in, President Museveni appointed over 80 ministers, among them his wife Janet Kataha Museveni, whom he gave the education docket. He also however, appointed army officers, like former Commanders, Katumba Wamala and Abubaker Jeje Odongo to head works and internal affairs respectively.

A retired army general himself, President Museveni believes in deploying soldiers to do assignments he wants to impact people. He, for instance, disbanded National Agriculture Advisory Services (Naads) a lead agriculture project and renamed it Operation Wealth Creation to supply seedlings and supervise agriculture development. It is now being implemented by soldiers under the leadership of his brother Caleb Akandwanaho, also a retired army general.

However, as if to calm the political pressures and public resentment of an election exercise some saw as unfair and influenced, Mr Museveni, when constituting his government, also appointed individuals from the opposition into ministerial positions and others were appointed by the Government Chief Whip to sit on Parliament committees.

Uganda People’s Congress’ Ms Betty Amongi, wife to UPC’s contested president, James Akena (himself a son to Uganda’s first President and UPC founder, the late Apollo Milton Obote), was given the influential Lands Housing & Urban Development Ministry.

Former FDC member and one time presidential candidate under the little known Uganda Federal Alliance, Betty Kamya, was given the Kampala City Council docket.

Democratic Party’s Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi was given State Minister for Youth and Children Affairs.

In Parliament, FDC’s Beatrice Anywar was announced, by the Government (and NRM’s Chief Whip) as vice Chairperson of the House committee on Gender, Labour and Social Development.

After being declared winner of the 2016 elections, Mr Museveni announced from his Rwakitura country home and announced that he will “wipe out the opposition completely in the next five years”.

Although there are several registered political parties, there are only three pronounced opposition political parties in Uganda: The Uganda People’s Congress (founded in 1960 and party to the country’s founding father the late Apollo Milton Obote), the Democratic Party (the oldest party in Uganda founded in 1954) and the Forum for Democratic Change, the home of Mr Museveni’s main challenger, Kizza Besigye.

Apart from the FDC which, thanks to Dr Besigye, manages to keep itself in the news with anti-establishment rallies and is therefore a darling to many youth especially in the city and townships around the country, UPC and DP are shadows of their former selves: dogged in internal political bickering.

In UPC, the Party President, James Akena is accused of trading his father’s party to President Museveni in return for political favours. Many in the party see the appointment of his wife as one such favour. Prior to the 2016 General Elections, Mr Akena announced a “party decision” to work with President.  By that time, he had already been branded an NRM mole by a UPC faction led by Joseph Bbosa, a long time UPC member, who accused Mr Akena of having received UShs1 billion to hand over the party to Mr Museveni.

The opposition is weak and uninspiring to the young—many of its former Young Turks and high ranking cadres like former DP’s vice chairman, Mohammad Kezaala have openly looked for financial help from the President Museveni and willingly crossed the political line to be appointed deputy ambassadors without a substantive station.

In the Democratic Party, the president, Nobert Mao has also faced opposition from within, with many accusing him of being Mr Museveni’s project.  The Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago, a strong DP member, for instance shows more loyalty to FDC’s Besigye than to his party President.

The opposition is weak and uninspiring to the young—many of its former Young Turks and high ranking cadres like former DP’s vice chairman, Mohammad Kezaala have openly looked for financial help from the President Museveni and willingly crossed the political line to be appointed deputy ambassadors without a substantive station.

The passing of the Public order management bill has continuously made it difficult for the opposition to mobilize or even sit under a tree in a group without the permission of the police chief. Many in the opposition, therefore, have resorted to being vocal at funerals and those who are more daring try to organize rallies around the city but those are usually easily dispersed by a ruthless, usually trigger-happy, anti-riot police.

Therefore, President Museveni’s appointment of opposition members in his cabinet, Dr Frederick Kisekka-Ntale, a Kampala based political scientist, argues is not a move to create an all-inclusive government but a move to weaken the opposition more and keep himself in power.

 The age limit question      

 In 2005, when he wanted to prolong his stay in power, President Museveni, just as he was to do with Ms Anite twelve years later, picked a then less known Kabula County representative, James Kakooza, to move a motion in Parliament for the removal of term limits. In what was popularized as Kisanja (term limit) project, Members of Parliament were each given shs5 million to “facilitate” their decision making.

Article 102 (b) of the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda, as then amended, says that “A person is not qualified for election as President unless that person is not less than Thirty five years and not more than seventy five years of age.” Now 71 years old, this should ideally be president Museveni’s last term. However, there is already a popular push among NRM legislators to have the constitution amended to remove the age limit clause. That will essentially mean that without term and age limits, president Museveni could stay in power until the grim reaper decides.

“No one can replace Afande Museveni. He has been our leader from during the war and he has to continue leading us until he dies. The constitution was made by men and we can change it any tine we want,” Mr Ibrahim Abiriga, the Arua Municipality member of Parliament told this writer in a recent interview at Parliament. Mr Abiriga, a retired soldier, dresses in all yellow, the NRM party colour seven days a week—he even drives a yellow beetle Volkswagen. He says he would jump on the earliest opportunity to move the motion to remove term limits.

All through the years, President Museveni has always said that the decision to remain in power is not for him to make but for the people through their representatives, the MPs. About the age limit debate, he said in March that he is only concerned about the future of Africa but not “small things like age limit”. This was weeks after his son-in-law, Odrek Rwabogo, wrote a missive calling upon the country to start debating issues of political transition, economic reforms and internal democracy in the ruling party.

President Museveni has a penchant for distancing himself from projects that make him look like he wants to stay in power. He likes the I’m-here-because-you-asked-me-to-and-it’s-for-your-own-good line. However, word in the corridors of Parliament is that he has already given deputy Attorney General, Mwesigwa Rukutana the nod to lead the constitution review team that will eventually deliver an age limit free constitution.

“No one can replace Afande Museveni. He has been our leader from during the war and he has to continue leading us until he dies. The constitution was made by men and we can change it any tine we want,” Mr Ibrahim Abiriga, the Arua Municipality member of Parliament told this writer in a recent interview at Parliament.

Coming from the Western part of the country like the President, Mr Rukutana is one of his trusted lieutenants. He has served in cabinet for over 10 years and was part of the legal team that represented him in the Mbabazi Presidential election petition. With a largely NRM dominated Parliament (298 out of the 388 directly seats), the biggest fear by those opposed to the removal of age limits is that the ruling party could easily use the tyranny of numbers to have their way. A number of ruling party legislators this writer has spoken to however say they would have to be paid by Mr Museveni to allow the removal of the age caveat.

An insecure worried population

One mid-morning early this year, Andrew Felix Kaweesi, the Assistant Inspector General of Police and the force’s spokesperson was assassinated by unknown gunmen.  It was in a similar way that several other Ugandans had been killed. Two people show up on a bike, shoot at the target and ride off.

Suspects are usually arrested, tortured to confess but none is yet to be placed at any scene of crime.

Hit men continue to kill people and general robbery is on the increase across the country, yet the President has continued to renew the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura’s contract. He has served since 2005.

In the wake of the much publicised police torture of Kaweesi’s murder suspects, the police leadership has continued to give contradicting statements referring to the visibly deep wounds on the suspects as “mild”

Instead of working together to address the security situation and reform the police, Gen Kayihura and cabinet Minister for security, General Henry Tumukunde, are instead engaged in endless catfights, each accusing the other of incompetence.

It is allegedly said that the genesis of this conflict is over the security budget, who should own it and decide on its expenditure. President Museveni feeds off the bickering. He usually sets different agencies against each other by separately asking them to do the same job and have them try to outcompete each other as they fight to win his favour.

In the country side the population is suffering with issues like prolonged drought, army worm and nodding disease in the north; with increasing market prices for house hold necessities like sugar and food stuff. The common man has increasing become apprehensive and worried about the future. The only hope sometimes lies in Parliament where on almost a weekly basis, speaker Rebecca Kadaga is petitioned at least thrice on issues ranging from a deroofed school in a village far away from Kampala to issues like torture in police cells.

The Speaker has always been responsive, using her seat to give directives to government officials and ministers to put things right.

Sometimes she has succeeded, like in when she ordered for an extension of the phone sim card registration deadline to allow for time for people up country to register, sometimes she simply gets winding stories and excuses from government like in the case of torture of people in police cells.

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Isaac Imaka is a journalist based in Uganda.

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A Dictator’s Guide: How Museveni Wins Elections and Reproduces Power in Uganda

Caricatures aside, how do President Yoweri Museveni and the National Revolutionary Movement state reproduce power? It’s been 31 years.

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Recent weeks have seen increased global media attention to Uganda following the incidents surrounding the arrest of popular musician and legislator, Bobi Wine; emblematic events that have marked the shrinking democratic space in Uganda and the growing popular struggles for political change in the country.

The spotlight is also informed by wider trends across the continent over the past few years—particularly the unanticipated fall of veteran autocrats Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Yaya Jammeh in Gambia, and most recently Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe—which led to speculation about whether Yoweri Museveni, in power in Uganda since 1986, might be the next to exit this shrinking club of Africa’s strongmen.

Yet the Museveni state, and the immense presidential power that is its defining characteristic, has received far less attention, thus obscuring some of the issues at hand. Comprehending its dynamics requires paying attention to at-least three turning points in the National Resistance Movement’s history, which resulted in a gradual weeding-out of Museveni’s contemporaries and potential opponents from the NRM, then the mobilisation of military conflict to shore up regime legitimacy, and the policing of urban spaces to contain the increasingly frequent signals of potential revolution. Together, these dynamics crystallised presidential power in Uganda, run down key state institutions, and set the stage for the recent tensions and likely many more to come.

The purge

From the late 1990s, there has been a gradual weeding out the old guard in the NRM, which through an informal “succession queue,” had posed an internal challenge to the continuity of Museveni’s rule. It all started amidst the heated debates in the late 1990s over the reform of the then decaying Movement system; debates that pitted a younger club of reformists against an older group. The resultant split led to the exit of many critical voices from the NRM’s ranks, and began to bolster Museveni’s grip on power in a manner that was unprecedented. It also opened the lid on official corruption and the abuse of public offices.

Over the years, the purge also got rid of many political and military elites—the so-called “historicals”—many of whom shared Museveni’s sense of entitlement to political office rooted in their contribution to the 1980-1985 liberation war, and some of whom probably had an eye on his seat.

By 2005 the purge was at its peak; that year the constitutional amendment that removed presidential term limits—passed after a bribe to every legislator—saw almost all insiders that were opposed to it, summarily dismissed. As many of them joined the ranks of the opposition, Museveni’s inner circle was left with mainly sycophants whose loyalty was more hinged on patronage than anything else. Questioning the president or harboring presidential ambitions within the NRM had become tantamount to a crime.

By 2011 the process was almost complete, with the dismissal of Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, whose growing popularity among rural farmers was interpreted as a nascent presidential bid, resulting in his firing.

One man remained standing, Museveni’s long-time friend Amama Mbabazi. His friendship with Museveni had long fueled rumors that he would succeed “the big man” at some point. In 2015, however, his attempt to run against Museveni in the ruling party primaries also earned him an expulsion from both the secretary general position of the ruling party as well as the prime ministerial office.

The departure of Mbabazi marked the end of any pretensions to a succession plan within the NRM. He was unpopular, with a record tainted by corruption scandals and complicity in Museveni’s authoritarianism, but his status as a “president-in-waiting” had given the NRM at least the semblance of an institution that could survive beyond Museveni’s tenure, which his firing effectively ended.

What is left now is perhaps only the “Muhoozi project,” a supposed plan by Museveni to have his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba succeed him. Lately it has been given credence by the son’s rapid rise to commanding positions in elite sections of the Ugandan military. But with an increasingly insecure Museveni heavily reliant on familial relationships and patronage networks, even the Muhoozi project appears very unlikely. What is clear, though, is that the over time, the presidency has essentially become Museveni’s property.

Exporting peace?

Fundamental to Museveni’s personalisation of power also has been the role of military conflict, both local and regional. First was the rebellion by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, which over its two-decade span enabled a continuation of the military ethos of the NRM. The war’s dynamics were indeed complex, and rooted in a longer history that predated even the NRM government, but undoubtedly it provided a ready excuse for the various shades of authoritarianism that came to define Museveni’s rule.

With war ongoing in the north, any challenge to Museveni’s rule was easily constructed as a threat to the peace already secured in the rest of the country, providing an absurd logic for clamping down on political opposition. More importantly, the emergency state born of it, frequently provided a justification for the president to side-step democratic institutions and processes, while at the same time rationalising the government’s disproportionate expenditure on the military. It also fed into Museveni’s self-perception as a “freedom fighter,” buttressed the personality cult around him, and empowered him to further undermine any checks on his power.

By the late 2000s the LRA war was coming to an end—but another war had taken over its function just in time. From the early 2000s, Uganda’s participation in a regional security project in the context of the War on Terror, particularly in the Somalian conflict, rehabilitated the regime’s international image and provided cover for the narrowing political space at home, as well as facilitating a further entrenchment of Museveni’s rule.

As post-9/11 Western foreign policy began to prioritise stability over political reform, Museveni increasingly postured as the regional peacemaker, endearing himself to donors while further sweeping the calls for democratic change at home under the carpet—and earning big from it.

It is easy to overlook the impact of these military engagements, but the point is that together they accentuated the role of the military in Ugandan politics and further entrenched Museveni’s power to degrees that perhaps even the NRM’s own roots in a guerrilla movement could never have reached.

Policing protest

The expulsion of powerful elites from the ruling circles and the politicisation of military conflict had just started to cement Musevenism, when a new threat emerged on the horizon. It involved not the usual antagonists—gun-toting rebels or ruling party elites—but ordinary protesters. And they were challenging the NRM on an unfamiliar battleground—not in the jungles, but on the streets: the 2011 “Walk-to-Work” protests, rejecting the rising fuel and food prices, were unprecedented.

But there is another reason the protests constituted a new threat. For long the NRM had mastered the art of winning elections. The majority constituencies were rural, and allegedly strongholds of the regime. The electoral commission itself was largely answerable to Museveni. With rural constituencies in one hand and the electoral body in the other, the NRM could safely ignore the minority opposition-dominated urban constituencies. Electoral defeat thus never constituted a threat to the NRM, at least at parliamentary and presidential levels.

But now the protesters had turned the tables, and were challenging the regime immediately after one of its landslide victories. The streets could not be rigged. In a moment, they had shifted the locus of Ugandan politics from the rural to the urban, and from institutional to informal spaces. And they were picking lessons from a strange source: North Africa. There, where Museveni’s old friend Gaddafi, among others, was facing a sudden exit under pressure from similar struggles. Things could quickly get out of hand. A strategic response was urgent.

The regime went into overdrive. The 2011 protests were snuffed out, and from then, the policing of urban spaces became central to the logic and working of the Museveni state. Draconian laws on public assembly and free speech came into effect, enacted by a rubber-stamp parliament that was already firmly in Museveni’s hands. Police partnered with criminal gangs, notably the Boda Boda 2010, to curb what was called “public disorder”—really the official name for peaceful protest. As police’s mandate expanded to include the pursuit of regime critics, its budget ballooned, and its chief, General Kale Kayihura, became the most powerful person after Museveni—before his recent dismissal.

For a while, the regime seemed triumphant. Organising and protest became virtually impossible, as urban areas came under 24/7 surveillance. Moreover, key state institutions—the parliament, electoral commission, judiciary, military and now the police—were all in the service of the NRM, and all voices of dissent had been effectively silenced. In time, the constitution would be amended again, by the NRM-dominated house, this time to remove the presidential age limit—the last obstacle to Museveni’s life presidency—followed by a new tax on social media, to curb “gossip.” Museveni was now truly invincible. Or so it seemed.

But the dreams of “walk-to-work”—the nightmare for the Museveni state—had never really disappeared, and behind the tightly-patrolled streets always lay the simmering quest for change. That is how we arrived at the present moment, with a popstar representing the widespread aspiration for better government, and a seemingly all-powerful president suddenly struggling for legitimacy. Whatever direction the current popular struggles ultimately take, what is certain is that they are learning well from history, and are a harbinger of many more to come.

This post is from a new partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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The Enduring Blind Spots of America’s Africa Policy

America should move way from making the military the face of its engagement with Africa and instead invest in deepening democracy as a principled approach rather than a convenient choice.

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The Enduring Blind Spots of America's Africa Policy
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While Donald Trump’s administration completely neglected America-Africa relations, the blind spots bedeviling America’s Africa policy preceded his 2016 election. Correcting the systemic flaws of the past 30 years will require a complete rethink after the controversial President’s departure.

To remedy America’s Africa policy, President Joseph Biden’s administration should pivot away from counterterrorism to supporting democratic governance as a principal rather than as mere convenience, and cooperate with China on climate change, peace, and security on the continent.

America’s Africa policy 

America’s post-Cold War Africa policy has had three distinct and discernible phases. The first phase was an expansionist outlook undergirded by humanitarian intervention. The second was nonintervention, a stance triggered by the experience of the first phase. The third is the use of “smart” military interventions using military allies.  

The turning point for the first phase was in 1989 when a victorious America pursued an expansive foreign policy approach predicated on humanitarian intervention. Somalia became the first African test case of this policy when, in 1992, America sent almost 30,000 troops to support Operation Restore Hope’s humanitarian mission which took place against the background of the collapse of the Somalia government in 1991.

On 3-4 October 1993, during the Battle of Mogadishu, 18 US servicemen were killed in a fight with warlords who controlled Mogadishu then, and the bodies of the marines dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. The media coverage increased pressure on the politicians and six months later America withdrew from Somalia — a case of the New World Order meeting the harsh reality of civil conflict.

The chastening experience resulted in America scaling back its involvement in internal conflicts in far-flung places. The result was the emergence of the second phase — non-engagement when Rwanda’s Genocide erupted in 1994 and almost a million people died in 100 days revealed the limitations of over-correcting the Somalia experience. This “non-interference” phase lasted until the twin Nairobi and Dar es Salaam US embassy bombings by Al Qaeda in 1998.

This gave way to the third phase with the realisation that the new threat to America was no longer primarily from state actors, but from transnational non-state actors using failing states as safe havens. The 2002 National Security Strategy states: “the events of September 11, 2001, taught us that weak states . . . can pose as a great danger to our national interests as strong states.”

Counterterrorism training and equipping of African militaries is the central plank of this new security policy. As a result, counterterrorism funding has skyrocketed as has America’s military footprint in Africa. As a result, Africa has become the theatre in which the Global forever War on Terror is fought.

The counterterrorism traps 

The reflexive reaction to the events of September 11 2001 spawned an interlocking web of covert and overt military and non-military operations. These efforts, initially deemed necessary and temporary, have since morphed into a self-sustaining system complete with agencies, institutions and a specialised lingo that pervades every realm of America’s engagement with Africa.

The United States Africa Command (Africom) is the vehicle of America’s engagement with the continent. Counterterrorism blurred the line between security, development, and humanitarian assistance with a host of implications including unrelenting militarisation which America’s policy establishment embraced uncritically as the sine qua non of America’s diplomacy, their obvious flaws notwithstanding. The securitisation of problems became self-fulfilling and self-sustaining.

The embrace of counterterrorism could not have come at a worse time for Africa’s efforts at democratization. In many African countries, political and military elites have now developed a predictable rule-based compact governing accession to power via elections rather than the coups of the past.

“Smart” African leaders exploited the securitised approach in two main ways: closing the political space and criminalising dissent as “terrorism” and as a source of free money. In Ethiopia, Yonatan Tesfaye, a former spokesman of the Semayawi (Blue) Party, was detained in December 2015 on charges under Article 4 of Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation ((EATP), arguably one of the the country’s most severe pieces of legislation. But Ethiopia has received millions of dollars from the United States.

The Department of Defense hardly says anything in public but gives out plenty of money without asking questions about human rights and good governance. Being a counterterrorism hub has become insurance policy against any form of criticism regardless of state malfeasance.

Egypt is one such hub. According to the Congressional Research Service, for the 2021 financial year, the Trump Administration has requested a total of US$1.4 billion in bilateral assistance for Egypt, which Congress approved in 2018 and 2019. Nearly all US funding for Egypt comes from the Foreign Military Finance (FMF) account and is in turn used to purchase military equipment of US origin, spare parts, training, and maintenance from US firms.

Another country that is a counterterrorism hub in the Horn of Africa is Ethiopia. For the few months they were in charge, the Union of Islamic Courts (ICU) brought order and stability to the country.  Although they were linked to only a few of Mogadishu’s local courts, on 24 December 2006, Ethiopia’s military intervened in Somalia to contain the rise of Al Shabaab’s political and military influence.

The ouster of the ICU by Ethiopia aggravated the deep historical enmity between Somalia and Ethiopia, something Al Shabaab — initially the youth wing of the ICU — subsequently exploited through a mix of Somali nationalism, Islamist ideology, and Western anti-imperialism. Al Shabaab presented themselves as the vanguard against Ethiopia and other external aggressors, providing the group with an opportunity to translate their rhetoric into action.

Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia could not have taken place without America’s blessing. The intervention took place three weeks after General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces from the Middle East to Afghanistan, met with the then Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.  The intervention generated a vicious self-sustaining loop. Ethiopians are in Somalia because of Al Shabaab, and Al Shabaab says they will continue fighting as long as foreign troops are inside Somalia.

America has rewarded Ethiopia handsomely for its role as the Horn of Africa’s policeman. In both Ethiopia’s and Egypt’s case, on the score of human rights and good governance, the net losers are the citizens.

Drone attacks 

In keeping with the War on Terror being for forever, and despite departing Somalia in 1993, America outsourced a massive chunk of the fight against Al Shabaab to Ethiopia primarily, and later, to AMISOM. America is still engaged in Somalia where it has approximately 800 troops, including special forces that help train Somalia’s army to fight against Al Shabaab.

America carried out its first drone strike in Somalia in 2011 during President Barack Obama’s tenure. Under the Trump administration, however, the US has dramatically increased the frequency of drone attacks and loosened the oversight required to approve strike targets in Somalia. In March 2017, President Trump secretly designated parts of Somalia “areas of active hostilities”, meaning that the high-level inter-agency vetting of proposed strikes and the need to demonstrate with near certainty that civilians would not be injured or killed no longer applied. Last year, the US acknowledged conducting 63 airstrikes in the country, and in late August last year, the US admitted that it had carried out 46 strikes in 2020.

A lack of transparency regarding civilian casualties and the absence of empirical evidence that the strikes lead to a reduction in terrorism in Somalia suggest that expanding to Kenya would be ill-advised. The US has only acknowledged having caused civilian casualties in Somalia three times. Between 2016 and 2019, AFRICOM failed to conduct a single interview with civilian witnesses of its airstrikes in Somalia.

Despite this level of engagement, defeating Al Shabaab remains a remote possibility.

Containing the Chinese takeover 

The Trump Administration did not have an Africa policy. The closest approximation of a policy during Trump’s tenure was stated in a speech delivered by John Bolton at a Conservative think tank decrying  China’s nefarious activities in Africa.  Even with a policy, where the counterterrorism framework views Africa as a problem to be solved by military means, the containing China policy views African countries as lacking the agency to act in their own interests. The problem with this argument is that it is patronising; Africans cannot decide what is right for them.

Over the last decades, while America was busy creating the interlocking counterterrorism infrastructure in Africa, China was building large-scale infrastructure across the continent. Where America sees Africa as a problem to be solved, China sees Africa as an opportunity to be seized.

Almost two years into the Trump administration, there were no US ambassadors deployed in 20 of Africa’s 54 countries even while America was maintaining a network of 29 military bases.  By comparison China, has 50 embassies spread across Africa.

For three consecutive years America’s administration has proposed deep and disproportionate cuts to diplomacy and development while China has doubled its foreign affairs budget since 2011. In 2018, China increased its funding for diplomacy by nearly 16 per cent and its funding for foreign aid by almost 7 per cent.

As a show of how engagement with Africa is low on the list of US priorities, Trump appointed a luxury handbag designer as America’s ambassador to South Africa on 14 November 2018. Kenya’s ambassador is a political appointee who, when he is not sparring with Kenyans on Twitter, is supporting a discredited coal mining project.

The US anti-China arguments emphasize that China does not believe in human rights and good governance, and that China’s funding of large infrastructure projects is essentially debt-trap diplomacy. The anti-China rhetoric coming from American officials is not driven by altruism but by the realisation that they have fallen behind China in Africa.

By the middle of this century Africa’s population is expected to double to roughly two billion. Nigeria will become the second most populous country globally by 2100, behind only India. The 24-country African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) entered into force on 30 May 2019. AfCFTA will ultimately bring together all 55 member states of the African Union covering a market of more than 1.2 billion people — including a growing middle class — and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$3.4 trillion.

While Chinese infrastructure projects grab the headlines, China has moved into diversifying its engagement with Africa. The country has increased its investments in Africa by more than 520 per cent over the last 15 years, surpassing the US as the largest trading partner for Africa in 2009 and becoming the top exporter to 19 out of 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Some of the legacy Chinese investments have come at a steep environmental price and with an unsustainable debt. Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway is bleeding money and is economically unviable.

A fresh start

Supporting democratic governance and learning to cooperate with China are two areas that will make America part of Africa’s future rather than its past.

America should pivot way from making the military the most visible face of its engagement with Africa and instead invest in deepening democracy as a principled approach rather than a convenient choice.

Despite the elegy about its retreat in Africa, democracy enjoys tremendous support. According to an Afro barometer poll, almost 70 per cent of Africans say democracy is their preferred form of government. Large majorities also reject alternative authoritarian regimes such as presidential dictatorships, military rule, and one-party governments. Democracy, while still fledgling, remains a positive trend; since 2015, there have been 34 peaceful transfers of power.

However, such positive metrics go hand in hand with a worrying inclination by presidents to change constitutions to extend their terms in office. Since 2015, leaders of 13 countries have evaded or overseen the weakening of term limit restrictions that had been in place. Democracy might be less sexy, but ignoring it is perilous. There are no apps or switches to flip to arrest this slide. It requires hard work that America is well equipped to support but has chosen not to in a range of countries in recent years There is a difference between interfering in the internal affairs of a country and complete abdication or (in some cases) supporting leaders who engage in activities that are inimical to deepening democracy.

The damage wrought by the Trump presidency and neo-liberal counterterrorism policies will take time to undo, but symbolic efforts can go a long way to bridging the gap.

America must also contend with China being an indispensable player in Africa and learn to cooperate rather than compete in order to achieve optimal outcomes.

China has 2,458 military and police personnel serving in eight missions around the globe, far more than the combined contribution of personnel by the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia, the US, France and Britain. China had more than 2,400 Chinese troops take part in seven UN peacekeeping missions across the continent — most notably in Mali and South Sudan. Of the 14 current UN peacekeeping missions, seven are in Africa, consuming two-thirds of the budget.

Climate change and conflict resolution provide opportunities for cooperation. Disproportionate reliance on rain-fed agriculture and low adaptation to the adverse impact of climate change make Africa vulnerable to the damaging effects of climate change, the consequences of which will transcend Africa. Through a combination of research, development, technological transfer and multilateral investment, America and China could stave off the impact of climate change in Africa.

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Hijacking Kenya’s Health Spending: Companies Linked to Powerful MP Received Suspicious Procurement Contracts

Two obscure companies linked to Kitui South MP Rachael Kaki Nyamai were paid at least KSh24.2 million to deliver medical supplies under single-source agreements at the time the MP was chair of the National Assembly’s Health Committee.

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Hijacking Kenya’s Health Spending: Companies Linked to Powerful MP Received Suspicious Procurement Contracts
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Two obscure companies linked to Kitui South MP Rachael Kaki Nyamai were paid at least KSh24.2 million to deliver medical supplies under single-source agreements at the time the MP was chair of the National Assembly’s Health Committee, an investigation by Africa Uncensored and The Elephant has uncovered.

One of the companies was also awarded a mysterious Ksh 4.3 billion agreement to supply 8 million bottles of hand sanitizer, according to the government’s procurement system.

The contracts were awarded in 2015 as authorities moved to contain the threat from the Ebola outbreak that was ravaging West Africa and threatening to spread across the continent as well as from flooding related to the El-Nino weather phenomenon.

The investigation found that between 2014 and 2016, the Ministry of Health handed out hundreds of questionable non-compete tenders related to impending disasters, with a total value of KSh176 billion including three no-bid contracts to two firms, Tira Southshore Holdings Limited and Ameken Minewest Company Limited, linked to Mrs Nyamai, whose committee oversaw the ministry’s funding – a clear conflict of interest.

Number of Suppliers Allocated BPAAlthough authorities have since scrutinized some of the suspicious contracts and misappropriated health funds, the investigation revealed a handful of contracts that were not made public, nor questioned by the health committee.

Mrs Nyamai declined to comment for the story.

Nyamai has been accused by fellow members of parliament of thwarting an investigation of a separate alleged fraud. In 2016, a leaked internal audit report accused the Ministry of Health — colloquially referred to for its location at Afya House — of misappropriating funds in excess of nearly $60 million during the 2015/2016 financial year. Media stories described unauthorized suppliers, fraudulent transactions, and duplicate payments, citing the leaked document.

Members of the National Assembly’s Health Committee threatened to investigate by bringing the suppliers in for questioning, and then accused Nyamai, the committee chairperson, of blocking their probe. Members of the committee signed a petition calling for the removal of Nyamai and her deputy, but the petition reportedly went missing. Nyamai now heads the National Assembly’s Committee on Lands.

Transactions for companies owned by Mrs Nyamai’s relatives were among 25,727 leaked procurement records reviewed by reporters from Africa Uncensored, Finance Uncovered, The Elephant, and OCCRP. The data includes transactions by eight government agencies between August 2014 and January 2018, and reveals both questionable contracts as well as problems that continue to plague the government’s accounting tool, IFMIS.

The Integrated Financial Management Information System was adopted to improve efficiency and accountability. Instead, it has been used to fast-track corruption.

Hand sanitizer was an important tool in fighting transmission of Ebola, according to a WHO health expert. In one transaction, the Ministry of Health paid Sh5.4 million for “the supply of Ebola reagents for hand sanitizer” to a company owned by a niece of the MP who chaired the parliamentary health committee. However, it’s unclear what Ebola reagents, which are meant for Ebola testing, have to do with hand sanitizer. Kenya’s Ministry of Health made 84 other transactions to various vendors during this period, earmarked specifically for Ebola-related spending. These included:

  • Public awareness campaigns and adverts paid to print, radio and tv media platforms, totalling at least KSh122 million.
  • Printed materials totalling at least KSh214 million for Ebola prevention and information posters, contact tracing forms, technical guideline and point-of-entry forms, brochures and decision charts, etc. Most of the payments were made to six obscure companies.
  • Ebola-related pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical supplies, including hand sanitizer
  • Ebola-related conferences, catering, and travel expenses
  • At least KSh15 millions paid to a single vendor for isolation beds

Hacking the System

Tira Southshore Holdings Limited and Ameken Minewest Company Limited, appear to have no history of dealing in hygiene or medical supplies. Yet they were awarded three blanket purchase agreements, which are usually reserved for trusted vendors who provide recurring supplies such as newspapers and tea, or services such as office cleaning.

“A blanket agreement is something which should be exceptional, in my view,” says former Auditor-General, Edward Ouko.

But the leaked data show more than 2,000 such agreements, marked as approved by the heads of procurement in various ministries. About KSh176 billion (about $1.7 billion) was committed under such contracts over 42 months.

“Any other method of procurement, there must be competition. And in this one there is no competition,” explained a procurement officer, who spoke generally about blanket purchase agreements on background. “You have avoided sourcing.”

The Ministry of Health did not respond to detailed questions, while Mrs Nyamai declined to comment on the contracts in question.

Procurement experts say blanket purchase agreements are used in Kenya to short-circuit the competitive process. A ministry’s head of procurement can request authority from the National Treasury to create blanket agreements for certain vendors. Those companies can then be asked by procurement employees to deliver supplies and services without competing for a tender.

Once in the system, these single-source contracts are prone to corruption, as orders and payments can simply be made without the detailed documentation required under standard procurements. With limited time and resources, government auditors say they struggle especially with reconciling purchases made under blanket agreements.

The agreements were almost always followed by standard purchase orders that indicated the same vendor and the same amount which is unusual and raises fears of duplication. Some of these transactions were generated days or weeks after the blanket agreements, many with missing or mismatched explanations. It’s unclear whether any of these actually constituted duplicate payments.

For example, the leaked data show two transactions for Ameken Minewest for Sh6.9 million each — a blanket purchase order for El Nino mitigation supplies and a standard order for the supply of chlorine tablets eight days later. Tira Southshore also had two transactions of Sh12 million each — a blanket purchase for the “supply of lab reagents for cholera,” and six days later a standard order for the supply of chlorine powder.

Auditors say both the amounts and the timing of such payments are suspicious because blanket agreements should be paid in installments.

“It could well be a duplicate, using the same information, to get through the process. Because you make a blanket [agreement], then the intention is to do duplicates, so that it can pass through the cash payee phase several times without delivering more,” said Ouko upon reviewing some of the transactions for Tira Southshore. This weakness makes the IFMIS system prone to abuse, he added.

In addition, a KSh4 billion contract for hand sanitizer between the Health Ministry’s Preventive and Promotive Health Department and Tira Southshore was approved as a blanket purchase agreement in April 2015. The following month, a standard purchase order was generated for the same amount but without a description of services — this transaction is marked in the system as incomplete. A third transaction — this one for 0 shillings — was generated 10 days later by the same procurement employee, using the original order description: “please supply hand sanitizers 5oomls as per contract Moh/dpphs/dsru/008/14-15-MTC/17/14-15(min.no.6).

Reporters were unable to confirm whether KSh4 billion was paid by the ministry. The leaked data doesn’t include payment disbursement details, and the MOH has not responded to requests for information.

“I can assure you there’s no 4 billion, not even 1 billion. Not even 10 million that I have ever done, that has ever gone through Tira’s account, through that bank account,” said the co-owner of the company, Abigael Mukeli. She insisted that Tira Southshore never had a contract to deliver hand sanitizer, but declined to answer specific questions. It is unclear how a company without a contract would appear as a vendor in IFMIS, alongside contract details.

It is possible that payments could end up in bank accounts other than the ones associated with the supplier. That is because IFMIS also allowed for the creation of duplicate suppliers, according to a 2016 audit of the procurement system. That audit found almost 50 cases of duplication of the same vendor.

“Presence of active duplicate supplier master records increases the possibility of potential duplicate payments, misuse of bank account information, [and] reconciliation issues,” the auditors warned.

They also found such blatant security vulnerabilities as ghost and duplicate login IDs, deactivated requirements for password resets, and remote access for some procurement employees.

Credit: Edin Pasovic/OCCRP

Credit: Edin Pasovic/OCCRP

IFMIS was promoted as a solution for a faster procurement process and more transparent management of public funds. But the way the system was installed and used in Kenya compromised its extolled safeguards, according to auditors.

“There is a human element in the system,” said Ouko. “So if the human element is also not working as expected then the system cannot be perfect.”

The former head of the internal audit unit at the health ministry, Bernard Muchere, confirmed in an interview that IFMIS can be manipulated.

Masking the Setup

Ms Mukeli, the co-owner of Tira Southshore and Ameken Minewest, is the niece of Mrs Nyamai, according to local sources and social media investigation, although she denied the relationship to reporters. According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms Mukeli works at Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, a medical logistics agency under the Ministry of Health, now embroiled in a COVID procurement scandal.

Ms Mukeli’s mother, who is the MP’s elder sister, co-owns Icpher Consultants Company Ltd., which shares a post office box with Tira Southshore and Mematira Holdings Limited, which was opened in 2018, is co-owned by Mrs Nyamai’s husband and daughter, and is currently the majority shareholder of Ameken Minewest. Documents also show that a company called Icpher Consultants was originally registered to the MP, who was listed as the beneficial owner.

Co-owner of Tira Southshore Holdings Limited, Abigael Mukeli, described the company to reporters as a health consulting firm. However Tira Southshore also holds an active exploration license for the industrial mining in a 27-square-kilometer area in Kitui County, including in the restricted South Kitui National Reserve. According to government records, the application for mining limestone in Mutomo sub-county — Nyamai’s hometown — was initiated in 2015 and granted in 2018.

Mukeli is also a minority owner of Ameken Minewest Company Limited, which also holds an active mining license in Mutomo sub-county of Kitui, in an area covering 135.5 square kilometers. Government records show that the application for the mining of limestone, magnesite, and manganese was initiated in 2015 and granted in 2018. Two weeks after the license was granted, Mematira Holdings Limited was incorporated, with Nyamai’s husband and daughter as directors. Today, Mematira Holdings is the majority shareholder of Ameken Minewest, which is now in the process of obtaining another mining license in Kitui County.

According to public documents, Ameken also dabbles in road works and the transport of liquefied petroleum gas. And it’s been named by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations in a fuel fraud scheme.

Yet another company, Wet Blue Proprietors Logistics Ltd., shares a phone number with Tira Southshore and another post office box with Icpher Consultants Company Ltd., according to a Kenya National Highway Authority list of pre-qualified vendors.

Family LinksMrs Nyamai and her husband co-own Wet Blue. The consulting company was opened in 2010, the same year that the lawmaker completed her PhD work in HIV/AIDS education in Denmark.

Wet Blue was licenced in 2014 as a dam contractor and supplier of water, sewerage, irrigation and electromechanical works. It’s also listed by KENHA as a vetted consultant for HIV/AIDS mitigation services, together with Icpher Consultants.

It is unclear why these companies are qualified to deliver all these services simultaneously.

“Shell companies receiving contracts in the public sector in Kenya have enabled corruption, fraud and tax evasion in the country. They are literally special purpose vehicles to conduct ‘heists’ and with no track record to deliver the public goods, works or services procured,” said Sheila Masinde, executive director of Transparency International-Kenya.

Both MOH and Ms Mukeli refused to confirm whether the ordered supplies were delivered.

Mrs Nyamai also co-owns Ameken Petroleum Limited together with Alfred Agoi Masadia and Allan Sila Kithome.

Mr Agoi is an ANC Party MP for Sabatia Constituency in Vihiga County, and was on the same Health Committee as Mrs Nyamai, a Jubilee Party legislator. Mr Sila is a philanthropist who is campaigning for the Kitui County senate seat in the 2022 election.

Juliet Atellah at The Elephant and Finance Uncovered in the UK contributed reporting.

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