East Africa is a region that has made significant strides towards peace and security. However, the truth is that the region is still a very fragile ecosystem. With just one wrong move, we could be plunged into chaos. This is evident in the political landscape of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Kenya stands out as the main democracy among the three. However, even being a democracy doesn’t protect Kenya from political instability and threats to national unity. Most recently, the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) jointly sponsored by President Uhuru Kenyatta and former prime minister Raila Odinga has ironically contributed to increased political friction. This is a stark reminder that no matter how democratic a country may be, it is not immune to political instability.
Uganda and Tanzania are semi-democracies/anocracies, meaning that they mix democratic with autocratic features. This makes them vulnerable to political instability, as we have seen in Uganda’s recent general election, marred by widespread abuses, and Tanzania’s highly contested 2020 presidential election.
The situation in Uganda is equally concerning. The country’s general election was marred by clashes between the government and its people, highlighting the delicate political situation in the region. The ongoing conflicts in Somalia and South Sudan also continue to pose a threat to peace and stability in East Africa, with both countries ranking among the 10 worst affected by the economic cost of violence as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).
When wars happen within our countries or outside the three nations, they affect us directly. As a region, we become part and parcel of the aftermath of the conflict. We help in many ways, such as hosting refugees from Somalia in Kenya and sending troops to the DRC. However, we also become targets of terrorist groups, who see us as vulnerable and easy targets.
Anything could trigger an eruption of war in these nations, and this was demonstrated recently by a social media exchange between the leaders of Kenya and Uganda. While the conversation may have been harmless, it was concerning that it caused a surge of adrenaline among the youth from both countries.
The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a prime example of how conflicts can quickly escalate and spread to neighboring countries. Recently, the conflict extended to Kigali and Kampala of Rwanda and Uganda, respectively. The dispute between Uganda and Rwanda highlights the complex political and security interests of neighboring countries in the DRC. Rwanda’s concerns are primarily focused on stabilizing the eastern DRC, while Uganda’s interests lie in influencing the DRC’s political trajectory.
The conflict has led to the closure of border posts, affecting trade and movement between Rwanda and Uganda, and threatening the livelihoods of individuals directly affected by the trade. While the border was reopened at the beginning of 2022, tensions remain high, with both nations still playing the blame game. Rwanda has accused Uganda of actively supporting the Rwanda National Congress(RNC), an armed opposition movement led by former Rwandan intelligence and military officials who fell out with President Kagame. The DRC war is said to have a lot of relationships with the Rwanda government, and one vigilante group, M23, is rumored to have been supported by the Rwanda government, as indicated by a global Conflict Tracker published by the Conflict on Foreign Relations.
The conflict in the DRC has significant implications for the East African region, with neighboring countries like Burundi, Tanzania, and Kenya potentially being affected. With the shaky economy of East Africa, Kenya recently dropped a troop of army men to back up the United Nations forces to curb the war, estimated to cost at least Ksh4.5 billion ($37 million) in the first six months. If the troops were not deployed, it could have led to an even greater cost and loss for Kenya if the war in DRC spills over.
The East African countries remain the medical land for the war in DRC, with refugees escaping to all three nations, thereby forcing the countries to include them in budgetary allocations. Furthermore, constant fears engulf the region, even as DRC intends to go to elections in 2023. With the DRC joining the East African Community, it becomes the duty of the community to ensure that peace and security issues do not interfere with the community’s goal and intent. It is imperative for neighboring countries to work together to find lasting solutions to the conflict in the DRC and promote peace and security in the region.
It is clear that the conflicts and wars in the region have far-reaching effects on the East African countries, both economically and politically. The region has experienced instability, loss of lives, and massive displacement of people due to the ongoing conflicts in countries like Somalia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The involvement of countries like Kenya and Uganda in the war against terrorist groups like al-Shabaab has also exposed them to security threats, as seen in the Garissa attack and the Westgate mall attacks in Kenya.
Moreover, the political tensions and border disputes between countries like Uganda and Rwanda, and Kenya and Somalia, have the potential to escalate into full-blown conflicts that could destabilize the entire region. These disputes also have economic implications, as trade and movement of people are affected, leading to losses for traders and disruption of livelihoods.
It is unfortunate that election and political instability continue to be a challenge in Uganda, with human rights abuses being reported. Additionally, the conflicts between pastoralist communities and cattle rustlers in Uganda’s Karamoja region, as well as in the Kuria areas of Kenya and Tanzania, have led to deaths and injuries. This issue is exacerbated by corruption and weak cross-border coordination between governments in the region. Despite the adoption of the 2008 Protocol on the Prevention, Combating and Eradication of Cattle Rustling in Eastern Africa by the Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (EAPCCO), responses to the problem have been ineffective so far. It is crucial that governments in the region take concrete steps to address this issue and ensure the safety of their citizens.
In conclusion, East Africa is a fragile ecosystem facing internal and external conflicts that threaten peace and security. While efforts have been made to address these issues, more work is needed to ensure stability and prosperity in the region. Governments, civil society, and the people of East Africa must work together to address the root causes of conflict and promote lasting peace and stability. Additionally, a collective approach is needed to address the refugee crisis and its economic and social implications for the host countries. It is crucial that we remain vigilant and continue to pursue nation-building efforts with more vigor to address threats to national unity and state stability. Ultimately, we must not take peace and security in East Africa for granted and must work together to build a brighter future for the region.