Transparency International’s latest edition of its annual Corruption Perceptions Index came out a few days ago, and there were no surprises.
Rwanda was the most honest country in the East African Community, as it has been for some time now, placing fourth in Africa after Seychelles, Botswana, and Cape Verde.
Tanzania was the second cleanest EAC nation. It actually improved, rising four positions globally to 99th in 2018, from 103rd in 2017.
Kenya dropped one position to 144th, but that was still good enough to put it third.
Uganda came in fourth, after improving marginally from 151st to 149th in the global rankings.
By now you have guessed how the rest of this story ends.
Troubled Burundi dropped a significant 13 positions to 170th out of 180, from 157th.
Still, it was better than bottom feeder South Sudan, which was 178th. If Somalia had been in the EAC, South Sudan would have escaped, because Somalia took the world trophy for corruption, coming last in Africa and globally at 180th.
There is some sympathy for the Burundi and South Sudan – war, the usual fragile state conditions.
The way EAC steals, however, is a good guide to where countries stand on a whole range of other issues. The Rwandese steal the least, making their country an outlier in the bloc – in keeping with its being the only “developmental state” in the Community, the cleanest (the rest are largely dirty), a distinct history of the 20th century’s worst post-World War II genocide.
Tanzania remains in the middle alone, the region’s only seriously (pseudo)socialist state, with the longest ruling party in Chama cha Mapinduzi.
Burundi and South Sudan are like the EAC’s unloved stepchildren, who only get embraced by a cruel stepmother when they succeed later in life.
What has always fascinated many is Kenya and Uganda. The opportunism and cynicism that marks their politics is almost the same. The way the two countries steal is also the same.
Their land politics, and an elite that has over the years accumulated a lot of it, with the rest having little to nothing, are carbon copies of each other.
They have a long common intellectual history tied to Makerere University’s old days as the first university in East Africa.
But it’s the nature of their borders and the Kenya-Uganda Railways that nearly homogenised the two countries. The Kenya-Uganda border, though not the longest, splits more people than any other in the EAC.
It both makes it complicated, but also offers more intricate linkages.
The railway, when it was founded in 1895, was the first transnational infrastructure in 19th century Africa. It created a common hedonism and amoral market culture along its corridor, which also formed the prosperity belt in the two countries – and bred the contest over access to economic opportunities that still plagues their politics.
Which is why the decision in 2016 by President Yoweri Museveni’s government to route its oil pipeline through Tanzania was a surprise from a historical point of view.
We have rustled cattle from each other at the border, cheated one another, smuggled goods for so long, that while the bigger economic argument for running the pipeline through Tanzania was understandable, it still went against a 100 year-old “eating tradition.”
Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]