By Aggrey Mutambo
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday made an unusual step in congratulating his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni for his election victory, a move that led to criticism on social media.
Mr Kenyatta’s congratulatory message was followed immediately by that of Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, whose own third term has led to violence and bloodshed.
Mr Nkurunziza sent “warmest congratulations” to President Museveni’s for a “well-deserved re-election”.
It was the first time President Kenyatta had been that quick in acknowledging election results, even as other leaders in the region kept off Ugandan politics.
“I am very pleased to congratulate His Excellency Yoweri Museveni on his re-election as President of the Republic of Uganda. The people of Uganda have spoken, and they have spoken very clearly. We respect their choice of President Museveni,” Mr Kenyatta wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday evening, hours after the Ugandan Electoral Commission announced results of the controversial elections.
President Kenyatta’s message that was also replicated on his Twitter page immediately became a topic for condemnation as Kenyans ganged up on social media to dissociate themselves from it.
One Kenyan wrote: “I regret on behalf of people of Kenya. The views (President) Kenyatta has expressed here are personal and do not reflect wishes of Kenyans. We stand with our brothers in Uganda in these trying moments of their democracy when election is rigged and people are intimidated.”
Since Mr Kenyatta is the Head of State, he legally represents the views of Kenyans.
The problem though was that the statement was made as other East African leaders remained silent and election observers in Kampala could not agree on whether the polls had been free and fair.
Some Kenyans were quick to point out that Mr Kenyatta was quick to praise Uganda, but slow on Tanzania, another EAC member that held elections in October 2015.
When Mr John Pombe Magufuli beat Mr Edward Lowassa, President Kenyatta sent a congratulatory note a week after the results were announced.
There was a similar delay when Nigeria held peaceful elections and power changed hands from Mr Goodluck Jonathan to opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari.
On her Twitter page, Foreign Affairs CS Amina Mohamed instead congratulated Mr Sam Kutesa, Uganda’s Foreign Minister, for retaining his parliamentary seat.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, who is an ally of Museveni from the bush days, spent most of the weekend in a row with officials in neighbouring Burundi over accusations that his country was sponsoring rebels ‘hiding’ among Burundian refugees in Rwanda.
“Whomever (sic) advised and assisted the leaders of Burundi in this, even from afar, has only added misery to the tragedy. One can only wonder why?” Kagame wrote, accusing Burundi’s leadership of being irresponsible.
“No amount of provocation against Rwanda is going to draw us into this … and not any solution is going to come from it!”