Last week I spent a few days in the charming coastal city of Dare salaam. It was one of those hotel-cations where one rarely leaves the pristine environment of the big hotel where big themes are discussed about the little people.
The drive from the airport was different from the last time I visited the city.
Though we touched down at about 2 pm we arrived at the hotel after nearly two hours in one of the worst traffic jams I have experienced. Ugandan politicians often cite the sheer number of cars on the road as signs of progress. Evidence of the so-called “emerging middle class”.
Along the way sleek new cars mixed with large trucks yes but as the gated houses lining the coastline showed off the future of Tanzania’s “eating” class so did the motorized tri-cycles, fruit stands and lines of children from school. East Africa is on the move these days. It is not uncommon to hear Kenyans say Ugandans are slow, Ugandans say Tanzanians are slow, Rwandans say well Burundians are slower and all of us complain about new neighbors.
East Africa’s countries are each undergoing transitional pressures – perhaps the most severe being Uganda where street protests have mixed with a bad economy to cast an uncertain future. Just as my party was leaving town, Ugandan politicians headed to Dar for talks about working together. It is in Tanzania as well that the new East African parliament will settle in a few weeks time. Looking to the larger community and its institutions has been of interest to me for many years now. I hope to return to Dar sometime soon.
One of Uganda’s unique politicians is Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda who like many young men in the 70’s spent a bit of time in Dar as political refugees. He is now Minister for ICT having just finished a stint as Uganda’s UN envoy. His son Kwame Rugunda (named after Nkrumah) is sort of getting into politics. In 2007 or thereabouts when I was covering the Northern Uganda peace talks I wrote a small story about Kwame then and his father. While he was heading the Ugandan delegation in talks with the rebels Rugunda took some time off to attend his son’s wedding. I remember coming to meet him at his Jinja road offices (he was then Internal Affairs minister) to talk about some aspect of the peace talks. He had a stack of wedding invitations he was signing. He wanted to give me one but they were all taken. Luckily for me an invitation addressed to Yoweri Museveni was deemed to be available because there was something about the President’s schedule that suggested he may not make the wedding and if he did he did not require a written invitation.
Rugunda called his secretary on the phone and asked her to white out the President’s name and give me the invitation. I took it though I myself did not attend the wedding later. Kwame’s wedding was interesting because his wife Roberta is from Atiak and as the peace talks were going on in Juba, Rugunda’s new in-laws included relatives of Vincent Otti (deceased), the Lord’s Resistance Army deputy who was a paternal uncle to Roberta. Most people will say these circumstances suited “Ndugu” Rugunda whose political reputation rests on building bridges. Kwame recently announced he too was going into politics to run for one of the few seats of the East African Legislative Assembly. I obtained a letter written by Rugunda on 5th of this month (he is Chairman of the NRM elections commission) to the NRM Chairman President Yoweri Museveni about his son’s candidature.
“Your Excellency, I wish to inform you that one of the aspiring candidates intending to contest during the primaries on the NRM ticket is my son Kwame. As such your Excellency, in the interests of fairness and justice and in accordance with the methods of work of NRM politics and transparency, I declare my interest”, he writes. He then offers to resign during the elections in the cause of fairness. I called up Kwame because I could not reach his father on the phone.
It turns out that the talks between Uganda’s political parties in Dare salaam where I had just left were being led in part by Ndugu Rugunda. East Africa will be interesting to watch. Not all political successions will unfold the way of the Rugunda’s that is for sure.