East Africa has seen a rare flurry of high-level shuttle diplomacy over the past couple of weeks as presidents move to protect their country’s strategic interests in the face of leadership changes and simmering tensions.
But while some meet-and-greet tours were expected following the installation of Ethiopia’s first female President Sahle-Work Zewde last year and Felix Tshisekedi in the Democratic Republic of Congo in January, threats to long-term interests have left the presidents ill at ease.
That is with the possible exception of Tanzanian President John Magufuli, who appears to be on a watching brief, and Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, who appears to be increasingly isolated after he ran and won a controversial third term in office in May 2015.
Over the past month alone, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has made state visits to Kenya whose President, Uhuru Kenyatta, has been to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Uganda and Namibia.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has been to Tanzania, Morocco and Angola. President Tshisekedi has been to Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda while President Zewde has been to Rwanda.
The intentions of the visits are usually couched in diplospeak but at the Africa CEO Forum held in Kigali this past week, three of the region’s presidents who attended — Kagame, Tshisekedi and Zewde — proffered there was more to the visits than bilateral relations and regional integration.
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The diplomatic tiff between Rwanda and Uganda, instability in South Sudan and trade have been at the core of the shuttle diplomacy. On the tiff between Kigali and Kampala, President Tshisekedi came close to revealing what the mediation had achieved so far.
“I have discussed with the two presidents but I will not go into detail. What I can report is that there will be no escalation to war,” he said.
But President Tshisekedi is not bringing just mediation to the table. He seeks support from neighbouring countries against militia in his country that he has vowed to disarm.
As has happened in the case of Rwanda, militia tend to regroup across the border of a sympathetic country.
President Tshisekedi does not want the groups — which he describes as petty business people — to find accommodation outside the country.
He is also seeking regional assurances that they would buy electricity from the country once the potential of River Congo is fully harnessed. And that would put DRC in direct competition with Ethiopia for the region’s bulk power market.
Back to the basics
President Zewde said Ethiopia had decided to go back to basics in relations with neighbouring countries, challenging all countries in the region to do more for stability.
“We are seeking better relations with the north. That is what our peace deal with Eritrea signified,” said President Zewde.
Other areas in which Ethiopia is seeking input from the region include bringing stability to South Sudan and Somalia, expediting of cross-border infrastructure such as interconnection of power systems and support in its long-standing dispute with Egypt over Nile waters.
The dispute between Rwanda and Uganda puts Kenya and DRC in a delicate position as far as logistics are concerned. A long-term blockade would make it difficult for goods imported through the Mombasa port to reach Rwanda and eastern DRC, which Kenya is targeting together with Zambia to reverse its falling trade in the region.
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Publish date : 2019-03-31 08:42:13