Book chapter

East Africa: Regional Politics and Dynamics (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

The East African region historically has comprised Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The politics of these countries have been shaped by the colonial heritage bequeathed at independence and its impact continues to reverberate on politics and administration of the region five decades after independence. While the three countries inherited similar systems of governance that sought to decentralize power, they all reverted to the centralized governance systems that predated independence, to not serve the leaders' own power interests but to also secure effective control of the localities. According to the said system, all governance institutions at the subterritorial level operated in line with centrally determined guidelines. This centralization of power has impacted on the evolution, character, and nature of the state in the region as well as on the governance of the individual states. Even with constitutional and legislative changes to check on the excess powers of the executive—which in all three cases means the president and his key allies— it continues to seek means of controlling the processes of democratization and decentralization in a manner that defeats the logic of introducing checks and balances. While Tanzania and Kenya have experimented with democratization since the 1990s and Uganda since the 2000s, consolidation remains a challenge due to the reluctance of those in charge of central government to let go of power and its attendant benefits. In addition, the various experiences with decentralization have suffered from the desire of the center to use them not as platforms for participatory governance but rather as tools for control and domination. At the regional level, the issues of national interest and mistrust have continued to constrain endeavors toward deeper integration.