27 January 2013

Rwanda: Forget About Football - I Can't Even See a Foreign Policy


The Orange-sponsored African Cup of Nations kicked off once again and it as has become the norm the tournament comes with much less hype thanks in part to the super marketing of the English Premier League that has eaten all other football allegiances.

That is why countries like Ivory Coast get to earn some supporters simply because they have enough players in the English Premier League that fans in East Africa can recognise. Obviously, it is a shame that the whole EAC, even after expanding to include Rwanda and Burundi, still has no one at the continent's biggest football tournament.

As if missing out on the tournament was not bad enough, in Rwanda the national broadcaster, Rwanda Television, whose slogan is - ironically - "Your Network of Choice" once again failed to relay live matches to the Rwandan people.

According to the station's boss, failure to raise the required 200,000 Euros for broadcasting rights will explain why Rwandans will have to rely on Uganda's UBC, RNTC and Supersport among others to follow the games.

Each time East African countries fail to make it to the African Cup of nations my mind quickly races back to that time almost 10 years ago when Uganda and Rwanda failed to make it to the same tournament. That time, celebrated Ugandan columnist Charles Onyango Obbo wondered how the two countries could put mighty armies but fail to find 11 good footballers to take on the continent's best teams.

Now the closest East Africa has come to being at the tournament is watching neighbours Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo partaking in the tournament. Maybe we should ask our mighty armies to invest more in football so as to come up with a competitive and disciplined team.

Away from football, I got to finally sit down for a chat with my Burundian friend, Kris Nsabiyumva, who told me so much about Burundi, further renewing my guilt for the endless promises to visit.

Nsabiyumva, being a UK-educated Burundian, and having lived in Nairobi, had me paying a lot of attention to his interesting perspectives about Burundi on several topics like politics, media and regional integration. I now know I have to plan for my Bujumbura trip more seriously if only to taste the Mukeke that Nsabiyumva keeps promising me once I make it to 'Buja', as the locals there prefer to refer to their capital.

The doubts about the pace and viability of full integration of East African countries are best amplified by the silence you get when you try to listen to politicians hoping to hear something on foreign policy.

With the nomination circus slowly coming to an end, politicians in Kenya are now talking about some of the things they will do if they get the mandate of the people. Some have talked of offering free education all the way to university level while one even went as far as stretching the boundaries of ambiguity when he (William Ruto) promised the youth free technology.

However, there is a deafening silence on foreign policy beyond the rhetoric that Kenya can survive without the president often coming from the Jubilee Coalition. Personally I would have expected that anyone aspiring to take charge of East Africa's largest economy should have something to say about the East African Community.

By the time of writing this, the official party manifestos were not yet out but my concerns on the EAC have been around for a long time. It is amazing that even with the populism trend, no one has thought about wooing the votes of those Kenyans who attend Ugandan universities whose qualifications are not recognised.

My question to Kenyan politicians would include: How come there is no talk about thawing the business tensions between Kenya and Tanzania, or the lobbying for teaching jobs in Rwanda. Maybe Raila would say something about his friend Mike Mukula being jailed for corruption although that would be expecting too much from one who turned a blind eye on the Siaya voting chaos.

The closest that Kenyan politicians have come to show a foreign policy remains Uhuru Kenyatta's chattered flights to Tanzania and Burundi where he had gone to seek assurance and support from the leaders there on the matter of his Hague trials.

In the general scheme of things, the talk of the army taking over power in Uganda also passed unnoticed by the neighbours, further cementing the mantra that all politics is local.

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