Saturday, January 26, 2008


by James Lutaaya

27/12/07 occasioned a landmark in the history of African politics. It made judicial notice of the illusion called democracy in Africa. Violence erupted in Kenya after the purported rigged re-election of President Mwai Kibaki. His main challenger Raila Odinga Amolo disputed the results and the rest is what is becoming the obvious in African politics, violence. Since then several thousands have fled Kenya seeking refuge in neighboring countries especially Uganda.

Amazingly and unsurprisingly; the focus is turning from rigged elections to fighting for land ownership and tribal conflicts. Over 700 people have been killed and 250,000 displaced and this number is increasing with further calls for more protests by the opposition. The Chairman of the African Union John Kufuor and Washington Diplomat Jendayi Frazer has tried to intervene and resolve this dispute in vain. Recently, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan and the Ugandan President have been to Kenya to try and bring about national reconciliation and political dialog with a view to stopping the violence and political upheaval in Kenya. The latter's presence has not helped much since he was criticized for congratulating Mwai Kibaki despite the opposition disputing his re-election. Needless to say, this is not going to be achieved in the short run as the underlying factors that brought about this are very deep rooted and need a complete re-evaluation of the political and social culture of Kenya and Africa as a whole.

Some of the salient historical features of Kenya's inevitable conflict dates back to independence when after the British gave the rule of law to the Kenyans. The Rift Valley, the largest and most fertile area in Kenya that had been occupied by the colonial settlers was offered to the Kikuyu mainly by the then Kikuyu president Kenyatta. The Kalenjins and Masai believed that that was their land before colonialism and have since believed they have to fight for it. When President Moi was defeated in the 2002 elections by a coalition of the Luos and Kalenjins supporting Raila Odinga and Kikuyus supporting Mwai Kibaki, the latter made promises to Raila he did not fulfill and there in lies the hatred and distrust between these two political heavy weights that have put Kenya in a political decadence. Come the 2007 elections. Raila Odinga stood against his former ally Mwai Kibaki and as expected lost to the incumbent through what many believe was a rigged election.

The issue surrounding Kenya now has nothing to do with rigged elections however. I do believe whatever the result, there was bound to be a battle to settle old scores between these two. Raila Odinga's Luos have allied with Kalenjins (whose leader Moi was defeated in the 2002 elections) to try and re-establish themselves in to the political fold and enjoy its benefits. However, they are going about it the wrong way by indulging in what is close to a tribal genocide trying to eradicate the Kikuyus in the process. They have killed and displaced several of them. The Kikuyus who have held on to power through Mwai Kibaki's re-election' are fighting back. The Mungiki (radical Kikuyus) who were at one time locked up by Mwai Kibaki for their atrocious killings of any body have mysteriously re-surfaced and are engaged in a battle killing Luos and Kalenjins in retaliation.

Most of this as I said earlier is focused on which tribe occupies which land and the feared consequences of a Kikuyu leader would do to pre-election perceived plans. Most of the other tribes are caught up in this battle of the bigger tribes and depending on what the rival believes is their allegiance, are also being killed or displaced.

The former American President Abraham Lincoln in describing democracy as a government of the people, by the people, for the people was thinking of a virtual world. In the real world democracy has become a myth and its definition has been what the people in power want it to be. The people's view has been in the politicians least interest as they pursue personal ambitions. We have on several occasions had international observers at African elections declaring them rigged. It has become such a re-occurrence that some organizations do not see the need to continue monitoring African elections.

We, however, need to understand why African leaders never want to relinquish their positions, why there has to often be blood shed before stability is established, why some presidents disregard two presidential terms and want to rule indefinitely and what is perceived as democracy in Africa? One of the main reasons is high levels of corruption of regimes in power that fear the arm of the law catching up with them on standing down. Most African countries are also multi-tribal with an average of over 15 tribes each seeking a chance at leadership which they can achieve by their tribes man being in power. There is also an assumption that the privileges, pomp and opportunities for personal wealth that come with the Presidency in most Africa nations are too addictive that most Presidents want to stay for life. This often leads to their disregard to the rule of law that often brings about political upheaval and discontentment.

However, if the truth is told, democracy in Africa cannot be a model of the Western democracy because our circumstances are very different. Africa is very multi-tribal and each tribe having its own cultures, beliefs and expectations. Western Democracy as such should be replaced sooner than later by a kind of Democracy that fits in Africa's social, cultural and economic setting. The West should have realized by now that they can never assimilate Africa totally. With uncountable different ethnic factions, Africa cannot conform to the standard of western democracies. These are predominantly capitalist democracies and everything functions on money and on political tradition with a very tested and long precedent historically. It is a result of several wars and long journeys of political and economic reforms.

African countries, most still Third World Countries cannot be asked to evolve to First World political ideologies overnight. Even with advancement over the years, the need to protect their financial interest other than their cultural settings will help achieve this level of democracy. Until then, the sad reality is that Africa has little or nothing to work with! The little that's available is fought over by several people and often the minority in power and positions of wealth share most of it with in themselves.

However, when all is said and done, there is still hope for Africa. It is a continent in transition and soon will find their own identity and what works for them. With development and economic advancement, there will be a lot to protect and compromise will be the new form of leadership. There are countries that are already standing out as yardsticks for democracy in Africa and a case in point is Tanzania. Needless to say, until Africa reaches that level of development, crimes against humanity, genocide, warfare, tribal conflicts and abuse of the rule of law' will continue to be associated with our governments.

On hindsight, if the white settlers had not displaced the Masai and Kalenjin from the Rift Valley during colonization and if Kenyatta had not re-offered the vacated land to Kikuyus mainly, after independence, Kenya would not be in this situation. Furthermore, the genocide in Rwanda would have been avoided too if the Belgian did not create a distinction between Rwandans based on their looks and physical appearance. There are several other examples I can quote. Western occupation of Africa for the selfish motives seems to have laid a foundation for its problems. Ironically developed nations look on in amusement and still try to impose their idea of democracy on us. They forget that their forefathers witnessed similar discrepancies in their rule of law when their nations were evolving and would identify with where Africa is coming from. It is arguable that Africa needs a dictatorship at this point in time, as compromise often will bring about political turmoil? I am certain that it is by making mistakes that the consequences will bring about change.

February 2008.

Ruud Elmendorp of Wikiboom has an excellent chronology of the events that led to all these. You can see them at: http://rocketboom.wikia.com/wiki/Kenya

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