Tanzania's Kikwete Represents Africa's Future, While Gen. Kagame's and Gen. Museveni's Militarism Belong To Ugly Past
A strong wind of change has blown across East Africa recently and today Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete is the most important regional leader.
Tanzania is a functioning democracy with President Kikwete into his second and final term. The country has enjoyed political stability since independence in 1961.
Founding father, the late Julius Nyerere, a gentleman scholar, translated Shakespeare's Merchants of Venus into Kiswahili (Mabepari Wa Venisi). He was a visionary who belonged to the generation that emerged when there was much excitement and hope for Africa.
Young bright leaders like Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Milton Apollo Obote and Gamal Abdel Nasser had a dream of a United States of Africa with a continental currency and centralized military command.
A United Africa that could protect its resources and use the continent's immense wealth to develop the economy and lift millions of Africans out of the scourge of poverty, diseases, and illiteracy.
In Congo, young Patrice Lumumba, largely self taught, was inspired by these African visionaries, especially Nkrumah. He hoped that they would embrace his country, newly liberated from ugly Belgian colonial rule, and help protect its wealth. He was murdered with the help of the CIA.
The Pan-Africanists also inspired Diaspora Africans, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Harry Belafonte, and Malcolm X.
There was disagreement on the path towards unity. Nkrumah believed immediate union was the best way forward. Nyerere belonged to the group that advocated for a gradual and incremental approach. African countries did not effectively pursue either strategy.
Still, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which preceded the African Union (AU), helped minimize conflicts between African countries over territorial disputes.
Today Africa remains perhaps the richest continent; yet it has the lowest average income; high rates of illiteracy; lack of adequate healthcare; lack of adequate housing; and inadequate nutrition.
Still, there has been a march towards democratization across Africa. The days of outright murderous dictators such as Gen. Idi Amin Dada have faded, even though there are a few holdouts, such as Uganda's Gen. Yoweri K. Museveni and Rwanda's Gen. Paul Kagame.
That's why it was important that President Barack Obama chose Tanzania, as one of the three African countries he visited --in addition to Senegal and South Africa-- when he traveled to Africa from June 26 to July 3.
Obama wanted to show appreciation to Tanzania's leadership for building on the foundation Nyerere helped create. By shunning Gen. Museveni and Gen. Kagame, he made it clear that the U.S. will support countries that have embarked on building institutions of democratic governance. In both Uganda and Rwanda power is concentrated with each country's autocrat and their immediate family.
As a result in the shift of the wind, there is also hope that Congo's years of nightmare as victims of genocidal wars-for-resource-plunder and profit, engineered by Uganda and Rwanda, with involvement of Western corporations and countries, may be coming to an end.
This means both Gen. Museveni and Gen. Kagame would become dispensable.
In December 2012, Obama called Gen. Kagame and warned him to call off M23, Rwanda's proxy army, which had escalated bloodshed in Eastern Congo, when it seized Goma with the assistance of Uganda.
Rwanda at the time had support within some U.S. intellectual circles for its plan to annex resource-rich eastern Congo to set up a rump state that would be dominated by Rwanda and then eventually swallowed by Kigali.
Following strong protests by Congolese, including by Diaspora groups like FriendsOfCongo, Obama's phone call derailed the annexation plans,which at the time was being promoted by The New York Times and pro-Kagame commentators.
The center of gravity has shifted to Tanzania. This means the reigns of both Gen. Museveni and Gen. Kagame have reached crossroads.
Gen. Museveni, increasingly paranoid after one of his top generals, David Sejusa, recently defected, has been shifting army commanders and effectively handed command to his son, Brigadier Muhozi Kainerugaba, whom he reportedly wants to elevate to succeed him.
Gen. Kagame, envious of Tanzania, has become bellicose and recently threatened to "slap" President Kikwete.
Kikwete, after a period of silence, recently reminded Kagame that when Gen. Amin invaded Tanzania in 1978, the counter attack by Tanzania People's Defense Forces (TPDF) led to the dictator's ouster.
Kikwete prefers to focus on the trade and investment opportunities opened up by Obama's visit. But he means what he says about defending Tanzania. Kikwete, after all, was a soldier on the same TPDF that demolished Amin's army and regime in 1979.
Africa has a bright future. Leaders such as Kikwete are determined to make their legacy by building institutions that outlive them. This will allow a younger crop of leadership to emerge who will once again explore another path to Pan-African unity.
Africa will eventually get it right.
The dream of Pan-African unity that eluded Nyerere's and Nkrumah's generation will be achieved.