As Kenya’s elections get ever closer, here are some lessons from Uganda
As the Kenya election draws ever closer, I am struck by the number of reports and stories popping up everywhere predicting “even worse tribal violence than in 2008”.
All this derives from the view that Kenya might have the leading economy in East Africa, but it also has its most “tribally divisive” politics. Perhaps then, it can learn a few tricks from its neighbours, Tanzania and Uganda.
To stick to Uganda, last week, the main opposition group, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), had its leadership election, and something happened that probably wouldn’t take place in Kenya.
First, the exiting president of FDC is Dr Kizza Besigye, who was President Yoweri Museveni physician during their bush war. He is from western Uganda, like Museveni.
Thus for the three elections in which he faced off with Museveni (2001, 2006, 2011) the battle for power was between two people from the same small corner of the country. That would have been like Kibaki’s main rival in the December 2007 elections coming from Nyeri!
The winner was Mugisha Muntu, who was also a fighter in Museveni’s guerrilla war, and later the longest serving Army Commander of the Museveni presidency. He beat MP Nandala Mafabi from Mbale in Eastern Uganda, into second place.
Muntu’s home district is even closer to Museveni’s than Besigye’s — just two or so ridges away.
The interesting thing about Besigye’s party leadership and now Muntu’s, is that FDC gets the least votes from the West. The East, from where Mafabi hails, gives FDC almost 10 times more votes than the west.
Part of this difference between Kenya and Uganda is that the religious divide is stronger in Uganda than the tribal one. Although Catholics are the majority in Uganda, they have never had a President.
All Uganda Presidents, except Field Marshal Idi Amin, who was a Muslim, have been Protestants. However, all elected Protestant presidents have had one thing in common — Catholic vice-presidents. It would be nearly impossible for a Protestant president to govern without co-opting a large section of the Catholics.
Not that tribe doesn’t matter at all. It comes into play when a president has to choose a VP. A shrewd operator like Museveni always chooses his Catholic VP from one of the bigger tribes, to secure sufficient political support.
Uganda politics can teach Kenya several lessons: I choose these three:
1. Like Kenya, elections in Uganda are rigged. However, in Uganda, Museveni and before him Milton Obote, do not steal electoral victory. They steal political legitimacy. There were accusations that in 2007, Raila Odinga’s ODM and President Kibaki’s PNU stole votes in their strongholds.
There is actually little use in stealing elections where you are strong. Steal them where you are not popular, because that allows you to present yourself as a “national leader”, which is important for legitimacy.
2. Again, in both countries, politicians bribe voters. However, my sense is that political bribes in Kenya don’t get the results they do in Uganda. The reason is that it is inefficient to bribe voters who don't own land.
Because land ownership is higher in Uganda than Kenya, many poor voters use the election period to raise cheap capital to invest on land. This means that a presidential candidate with lots of money can beat a poor rival in his own backyard, as Museveni did to the competition in northern Uganda in 2011.
Thus the surest way to detribalise future Kenyan politics is to be aggressive on land reform.
3. Uganda teaches us that the women’s vote can be powerful. Museveni used to win over 60 per cent of it. This is not because he is tall and handsome. Rather, he understood that giving women jobs in government was important, but didn’t translate into too many votes.
So how do you win over women? For example, women pay the highest price for insecurity. They can’t walk to the market early because they will be attacked, robbed, and possibly raped, or walk back home late for the same reasons.
Museveni fixed security, and tightened anti-rape laws, allowing women to be less afraid, and to prosper. They rewarded him generously.
Fixing our politics isn’t as difficult as it often looks.