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Last Updated: 11/04/2003
The Year 2003: A Beacon of Hope in Eastern Africa
Ferdinand Katendeko

With the year 2003 drawing to an end in less than two months, Ferdinand Katendeko, despite the history of conflict and simmering violence in many parts of the region, looks at the countries that compose the Inter Government Authority on Development (IGAD), and finds much to be hopeful about.



Eastern Africa, which is under the umbrella of the socio-economic and political organization, the Inter Government Authority on Development {IGAD, has shown some almost miraculous progress in the past year.


The region is composed of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea which have, in way one or the other, tasted the bitter pill of conflicts since the colonial era.  Though Tanzania is close to this region, it is not a member, but it has been an ‘island’ of peace despite some limited conflict from Zanzibaris and Pembas in the 2000 Presidential elections. Thanks to Presidents Ben Mkapa of Tanzania and Karume of Zanzibar Island for the settling the matter amicably.


As to the IGAD countries, on 25th September 2003, the long time ‘rebel’ leader John Garang  and the Sudan government First Vice President, Ali Osman Mohammed Taha  signed a peace agreement in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, agreeing on the security arrangement for 6 year transitional period, allowing Garang to retain soldiers in southern Sudan awaiting the transitional period to end the Sudan conflict . This surely has shown a change of heart for both the government and Garang forces that have been in the bush for decades. With such spirit continued, the Sudan conflict will hopefully pass into history.


Another ‘forgotten’ country, which had never signed and ratified the Convention of Rights of the Child, is Somalia. This country was a ‘great power’ in the 1970s when it was led by “strong-man” the late President Said Barre. Many Ugandans will recall that President Said Barre was a good friend of the late president Idi Amin of Uganda to the extent that Amin named a street after him in the capital. After these two presidents were toppled both countries were plunged into chaos. Dictators never leave their countries in peace! While Uganda has seen considerable recovery despite the war in the north, Somalia is now a clear case of what happens in a country with a failed state.. It has fought wars, including one with USA to the extent of humiliating USA soldiers when the latter tried to intervene in their aftermath wars following the demise of Said Barre. Somalia has not seen any grain of peace since then. But in 2003, the Somalia leader, Abdi Kassin Hassan Salad attended the IGAD conference on 24th October 2003 to look for guidance in restoring peace in Somalia. He actually requested the newly elected Chairman of IGAD, Mr. Museveni to look for ways of helping the Somali people. Maybe all is not lost for Somalia!


The current Chairman of IGAD, Yoswen Museveni has not had total peace in his country either. His government has been fighting a variety of rebel groups. First, it was the Holy Spirit of Alice Lakwena which fought the NRM in the late 1980s, then the West Nile Bank front, the Allied Democratic Forces in the Rwenzori, who were neutralized by his fierce Uganda Peoples Democratic Forces (UPDF). The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of one Joseph Kony, with no known bases in Uganda, has been fighting the ruling National Resistance Government for the last 15 years but with no success of taking state power. Instead, the LRA embarked on torturing and killing people suspected to be government collaborators and has been taking on the UPDF in several skirmishes but with no success. Mr. Museveni has explored all avenues of defeating Joseph Kony through military action as well as peace talks. This year 2003, the president appointed a high powered peace negotiating team including his former bush man and former First deputy Primer Minister, Mr. Eriya Kategaya and his brother, Lt.Gen. Salim Saleh to meet Kony for peace talks. Mutual mistrust however doomed the talks to failure. The year has also seen Kony escape from Sudan and areas of Acholi to launch attacks in Tesoland where he found the Arrow Group ready for him. Kony might now be thinking of peace talks more seriously given his lack of military success.


On the political front, the year 2003 has seen Mr. Museveni open up political discussion on the return of political parties that have been absent since 1986 when he came to power. The heads of political parties are now having meetings in every part of the country strategizing for the next elections. Great for the multi party agitators! What is interesting is that the Uganda Peoples’ Congress which had vowed never to participate in any NRM activities has also opened up and its leader Dr. Rwanyarare is massing support to talk to NRM team. This is really memorable and I hope they will bear fruitful deliberations for the country since all multiparty agitators will have to express all their grievances.


In Kenya, one of Uganda’s neighbours, the new parliament was sworn in January 2003. Kenya had concluded the year 2002 with presidential and parliamentary elections. The opposition party National Rainbow Coalition had swept to victory. Great for democracy in Kenya! The defeated candidate conceded without a fight and welcomed the new President Mwai Kibaki and his new cabinet. Kenyans embraced the new blood in their government, which is now one of the pillars of democracy. Currently Kenya is haven of peace in the region. Even children and frogs can no longer cry! It has actually become a United Nations Headquarters of peace talks within the region. Ugandans will recall that at one time, the reigning president of Uganda had peace talks with late Tito Okello in Nairobi in 1985. The Sudan government and Col. Garang’s group of Sudan peoples Liberation Movement/Army have been holding peace talks in Nairobi since they started fighting. The Somali factions have been having rounds of peace talks in this United Nations headquarters of Peace talks.


Thanks to the UN Commission on Ethiopia and Eritrea, the border wars have subsided, though, the two countries have not agreed on the border demarcation. On 30th October 2003, the spokeswoman for the UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, Ms Gail Taylor Sainte is quoted to have said that “we don’t see tensions on the border; militarily the situation remains stable, though the political is tense.” The people of both countries no longer want war, which destroyed their lives and property in the 1998-2000 era and at the same the international community is calling for the end of political tension, which has been simmering to explode once again. In the year 2003, Ethiopia and Eritrea have laid down their arms at least for the time being  and allowed the UN to monitor the border. Two ‘brothers’ seem to be realizing that quarrels can always be there but they need amicable settlement.


Djibouti the tiniets of countries hosts the HQ of IGAD. Parliamentary elections took place there on the 10th January 2003. More important and interesting was the election of seven women members of Parliament for the first time in the history of the country. President Ismail Omar Guelleh and people of Djibouti are hailed for promoting the basic human right of equality on the political front. Though, the women have a long way to go with persistence of female genital mutilation, discrimination in areas of inheritance, domestic violence and divorce, the year 2003 has opened their way to political emancipation which will act as a curtain raiser for other interests.


In another initiative, the truck drivers who had been suspected to be spreading Aids/HIV in Djibouti and neighbouring countries, were given condoms and drugs for Aids prevention.


On the other hand, democracy is still some way away with restrictions on the freedom of the press as one of the worst current trangressions.


Overall, 2003 is beginning to seem like a turning point with real progress having been made. Rome was not built in a day nor can peace in Africa come overnight, but at least in East Africa we can see the torch of peace flickering more strongly than in the 1990s.

Ferdinand Katendeko, a former investigations officer for the Uganda Human Rights Commission, is currently studying for a MA in International Law and the Settlement of Disputes at the University for Peace. He can be contacted at