Thursday, 10 January 2008

KENYA’S DOUBLE DESTINY

By Gershom Ndhlovu

Today Kenya is facing two distinct destinies. One is the possibility of someone with Kenyan blood in his veins on the brink of becoming president of the world’s only super power, the US. The other real possibility is that the country of Barack Obama’s paternal ancestors is on the brink of breaking up.
The reason why today Obama faces the possibility of making history as the first black American president is because of the democracy that has evolved over the last 300 years in that country. On the contrary, Kenya risks breaking up because of the failure of democracy in that country in the less than 50 years it has been independent.
On at least two occasions Obama has been to Kenya to visit his paternal grandmother who is still alive, on one occasion he was an anonymous traveller whose suitcases even ended up in South Africa, but on the other occasion as a US senator, everything went like clock-work. Even trees in the village he went to were given a coat of paint.
There is a possibility still that when he will be travelling on Airforce One as the most powerful man in the world, Obama may want to go back to that Kenyan village to eat nyamachoma and kachumbari prepared not by White House chefs, but by his grandmother, drink not triple filtered water from White House, but water from the stream near his grandmother’s village.
But at the rate things are going, this may not be possible if Kenya does not heal the rift tearing it apart because the Muthaiga Country Club (a club just outside Nairobi where the rich and powerful gather) gang of Mwai Kibaki has no respect for the democratic process. Kibaki, an old school politician wants, by hook or crook, to cling to power like his predecessors, Jomo Kenyatta who died in1978 after ruling his country from independence in 1963, and Daniel arap Moi who ruled for nearly 25 years. Kibaki was vice president from 1978 – 1988.
One fails to understand the rationale of African leaders who want to grow roots in the positions once they ascend to the top of the pile and this is one facet of Africa that the rest of the world does not understand. This is a total contrast with western leaders who are elected into office and willingly vacate when it is time to go. In Britain, former prime minister Tony Blair left even before his term ended.
It is only in Africa that there are record-holding presidents like Gabon’s Omar Bongo who now holds the dubious accolade of being the fourth longest serving head of state in the world. He ascended to the presidency in 1967. Power anywhere in the world is sweet, but it is definitely sweeter in Africa. It is the only reason that Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and others are welded into their positions.
This lack of respect for democracy by African leaders coupled with massive corruption that goes with power, does not endear the continent to the rest of the world, but particularly the west from where Africa gets most of its development aid for it cannot even manage an election.
It is only in Africa that leaders want to rig elections for them to remain in power or, in rare circumstances, to ensure that their “anointees” take over. Sadly, Zambia has not been immune from this madness and it has been on the brink of the very things going on in Kenya today. Memories of the events following the 2001 elections when the UPND disputed the results that denied their leader, Anderson Mazoka, the presidency are still fresh in people’s minds. Even fresher is the violence that almost erupted when the PF was convinced that it was robbed of victory.
Even though they should not continue to be taken for granted in such matters, Zambians should be praised for the manner they have conducted themselves in similar circumstances

6 comments:

Zedian said...

I see the following fundamental issues:

1) Ethnicity, tribe, (throw in race in there) and Democracy require very delicate handling and sometimes balancing. By the way, the issue of ethnicity may well come to affect Obama's bid in the US, where democracy is supposed to be unquestionably mature. Where tribal identity is strong, such as Kenya, and indeed many parts of the world, I think that ethnic/tribal balancing is not a bad idea after all. It may sound archaic, but observations around the world seem to suggest that it works! For those who remember, Zambia's former President Kaunda believed in and practised this concept and actually managed to keep a lid on tribalism, which I now think may well be one of the few successes of his regime. At the peak of this Kenyan upheaval, I had a chat with an Indian colleague who wondered why Kenya doesn't have ethnic/tribal balancing and regional representation because as he said, it is the method that India, which has countless ethnic groups and tribes, has used to create a fairly harmonious democratic system by all standards.

2) Perhaps Democracy is too much of a foreign concept to Africa?? As you have pointed out, it's mainly in Africa where people are struggling with the democratic principle of changing leadership. However, looking at it from another angle, it may well be that changing leadership regularly is not an African concept after all! Take the case of Zambia for instance, where the vast majority of it's citizens live in rural areas under chiefdoms, which traditionally do not conform to democratic principles. How are these people then expected to take part in national democratic processes such as elections, and appreciate that a leader can be removed from office? The rural people are also more likely to vote on tribal or ethnic grounds (or can easily be manipulated to). So perhaps democracy needs to be localised, or adapted to the local way of life. The current democratic system being pursued departs fundamentally from the traditional way of life which may result in unexpected results.

Gershom said...

Zedian,

Unfortunately, the issue of race is a fact that we have to live with in the Diaspora. The caucasians who are in the majority in these parts will not easily accept an Obama to lead them.

Tribal balancing as regards African politics is somewhat difficult to appreciate unless you are directly related to your supposedly tribes people in government.

Some people from certain tribes/areas have been in government for ages but look at how un(der)developed the areas have been over time.

What is needed in Africa is changing the mindset and eliminating corruption which leaders use to get to the top, the Kenyan issue not withstanding.

As it is, politicians will keep on playing the people in their hands presenting themselves as the only capable men (and women) to lead them (in perpertuity).

Brenda Zulu said...

Gershom,

Hello and Happy New year! I am thinking of publishing in our daily papers what is happening in the Zambian blogosphere. This is just to let you know that you should keep up with the good work.

I am still discusing the matter with the relevant Newspapers here in Zambia and i will let you know when am succesful.

MrK said...

Zedian,

1) Ethnicity, tribe, (throw in race in there) and Democracy require very delicate handling and sometimes balancing.

Cho has made the point before, but if there was better representation on a local (non-national/central government) level, balancing at the central level would be a lot less important.

In most countries, there is a fiscal transfer from central to local government, and as a result, it has a lot more powers and responsibilities, allowing local people to be represented locally.

This would of course require the giving up of a lot of power by central government. However, we have already seen some movements in this direction, through decentralisation of current central government functions - however, budgetary decentralisation still has to follow.

Where tribal identity is strong, such as Kenya, and indeed many parts of the world, I think that ethnic/tribal balancing is not a bad idea after all. It may sound archaic, but observations around the world seem to suggest that it works!

Compared to some neighboring countries, I think it did work.

However, looking at it from another angle, it may well be that changing leadership regularly is not an African concept after all!

I think that is a unifying theme looking at African politics and elections - the people always want a government of national unity. I think a big reason in the artificial nature of colonial states and borders.

What do you think, should there be more power to ethnically based provinces, or should we do away with the very notion, and focus on local government, so people of all tribal/ethnic groups are represented at a local level. I think provinces have the possibility to become minor countries on their own. The problem I have with that, is what about the representation and rights of people who do not belong to the dominant group? A bad example of this would be Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The rural people are also more likely to vote on tribal or ethnic grounds (or can easily be manipulated to). So perhaps democracy needs to be localised, or adapted to the local way of life. The current democratic system being pursued departs fundamentally from the traditional way of life which may result in unexpected results.

I think that is why fully supported and funded local government would be the way to go. There may be a need to increase the number of councils to bring government even closer to the people.

- fiscal transfer of 50% of national revenues to the councils
- transferring education, healthcare, policing/security, public utilities and administrative issues to local government
-

And while we're at it,

- agrarian and land reform
- continuing to increase the contribution of the mines to national revenues

Patriotic Zambian said...

I have been researching on whether there is an article or book written on former President Kaunda concerning how he managed tribalism in Zambia. I feel he did a good work and such a heritage should be honored. If there isn't one ,would somebody in Zambia interview him and write a book or article on how he managed tribalism which would result in being very useful and beneficial for other African countries and for our future generations.

MrK said...

Patriotic Zambian,

Check out:

Electoral Systems and Democratization in Southern Africa (Oxford Studies in Democratization) (Hardcover)
by Andrew Reynolds (Author)

Not specifically dedicated to Kenneth Kaunda and tribal balancing, but perhaps close enough.