Why President Kibaki’s departure next year will be like a happy divorce

Wednesday October 17 2012

President Kibaki is stepping down in March next year after serving his two terms.

However, there is something unusual to his departure if you compare it to what is happening in Tanzania and Uganda.

In Tanzania, President Jakaya Kikwete is due to leave office in 2015 when his two terms expire. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni can choose to die in office at the age of 100 because term limits were scrapped in 2005.

In Kenya, President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU), on which he rode to power in 2008, is not making waves. The last we heard of it was that it was negotiating to be taken in by Deputy Prime Minister’s Uhuru Kenyatta’s party, The National Alliance.

Kibaki is, therefore, like a man who is leaving a marriage without children, and in which the couple didn’t own any substantial property jointly. Such separations or divorces are usually not messy, because there are no bitter custody fights over the children and who should keep the house.

He can, therefore, afford not to get involved in a succession fight. In fact, the optimal option is for him to keep his nose clean and not publicly indicate his preferred successor.


Putting together a campaign contribution for his favourite candidate and sending a trusted aide to deliver the envelope quietly at night would suffice for Kibaki.

Not so in Tanzania, where the long-ruling Chama Mapinduzi (CCM — or Party of Revolution) fully expects not only to provide the next President when Kikwete leaves, but also to retain control of Parliament.

It would be a disgrace for Kikwete if the resurgent Tanzanian opposition beat his party at the next election. To complicate matters for him, former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, a man he sacked in a cloud of controversy over corruption, is playing strongly in the succession.

Depending on whether the two men are friends, Kikwete might have to get deeply involved in the party fight to pick a presidential candidate, just in case a Lowassa protégé, who could delay his pension cheques, wins.

In Uganda, there is furious jostling for position in the Museveni succession. The signs are that Museveni is planning to take a seventh bite at the presidential apple in 2016 (he will be going for a seventh term, two of them unelected).

But then again, he might surprise and step down. Either way, there is a scramble to get at the head of the queue, as they say in Uganda. If Museveni is leaving in 2016, then he will do so late, and none of the pretenders to his throne want to be caught unprepared.

If he is going to stand and win (he always wins, because in Uganda, the President’s men and women count the votes), and possibly leave in 2021, then his successors need to be in the limelight over the next few years to consolidate their place in the queue.

The result is that things are very noisy in the ruling National Resistance Movement in Kampala, and the long knives are out.

For those who study political transitions, therefore, East Africa is a gold mine. You can start on a bus ride in Kampala in the evening and within 24 hours pass through Nairobi, end up in Dar es Salaam, and experience three different political set-ups (and we aren’t counting Rwanda in yet).

In the Kenyan variety, the President serves two fixed terms, but his party usually dies with his departure. In Tanzania, the President also serves two fixed terms, but the ruling party believes it has a birth right to both provide the next President and continue enjoying a parliamentary majority.

In Uganda, a previous Museveni election slogan sums it well — No Change. There are no fixed terms and the Big Man can decide to be president-for-life if he chooses, and the ruling party expects to remain in power. It is happy to lose a parliamentary majority at the elections because it is confident of buying the majority afterwards.

Kenyans now also have this “nonsense” of the party chairman being different from the party’s presidential candidate. No such thing in Uganda or Tanzania. Museveni is chairman of NRM. And Kikwete is chairman of CCM.

All this is the beauty of East Africa. We are so similar, yet so different.

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