Kenya Woes Blight Africa

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[Africa News Update: Kenya Comment]


Africa opened 2008 with post-election violence in Kenya hitting world headlines exposing the continent’s fragile democratic process to a barrage of criticism.

Despite registering a number of successes on the economic and social front in certain parts, Africa opened 2008 fairing badly on the political front.

Latest figures indicate that more 600 people have been killed and more than 250, 000 made homeless in Kenya which has been wracked by violence since presidential elections last month which opposition leader Raila Odinga says were rigged by Mwai Kibaki who was declared victor in the tightly contested race.

The spotlight of the prying lenses of the international media shifted away from the Darfur
crisis, the Democratic Republic of Congo conflict and preoccupation with Zimbabwe and its economic woes and perched in Kenya widely seen as an emerging democracy and economic hub of east Africa.

The disappointment and despair on the failure of the democratic process, the escalation of political violence and the resultant chaos cast a bad light on the continent’s hopes and dreams.

The Kenyan experience piled on the junk yard of chaotic and violent elections in Africa. In the first half of 2007, the national elections in Nigeria led to the death of more than 200 people amid allegations of rigging by the new President Yar’Adua who took over from Olusegun Obasanjo.

There was heavy criticism of the polls and the international media feted on the pain, misery and despair of the people. The opposition was silenced and President Yar’Adua appeared for the better part of 2007 to be firmly in control of power.

Western countries glossed over this Nigerian case and now its business as usually with oil producing Nigeria. At the close of 2007, the Kenya polls turned into murder and mayhem sending western diplomats scurrying for cover with shame. Double standards by the West were exposed again. Wrote the editor of the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail in an opinion:
“Let’s just imagine what has happened in Kenya, where hundreds of people were slaughtered following the disputed results had been in Zimbabwe, what would have
been the reaction of Britain and America? We know what we see on the faces of these
imperialists are crocodile tears. Their interests are superior to the lives of Kenyan blacks. One word which would definitely not be flying around is ‘diplomacy’. If a handful of Zimbabweans were to die during the post-election violence words and phrases like
‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ would be the order of the day.”

A similar political scri pt played out in Pakistan, but the United States still supports unashamedly, the military dictatorship in that country. The political story in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Pakistan all present the complexities of global
politics today.

“Nigeria is a major economic power, being the biggest oil producer in Africa housing Africa’s largest population. The previous eight years, commencing with a major election that ushered transition from military dictatorship to civilian rule had seemingly brought
much hope for democracy,” said Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean political commentator.

“But the disputed election in Africa’s most populous country has blighted its democratic credentials. Yet, perhaps, because this is a great source of oil, electoral irregularities have not affected the ‘international community’s’ view on the legitimacy of Nigeria’s new government. It is the inconsistencies that blight the West’s interventions in African
politics when it attempts to lecture on democracy and human rights.”

South Africa showed a different picture; another brand of African democracy that saw Jacob Zuma winning a bitterly fought race for the ANC’s top job. Political analysts touted the ANC polls as inspiring and as showing Africa the way to go.

Magaisa said the ANC poll at least demonstrated some measure of internal democracy.
“South Africa’s ANC, at its congress in Polokwane, presented the continent with its own scintillating version of democracy brewed in the African pot: it voted out Thabo Mbeki as president,” wrote Bill Saidi, an editor at the Zimbabwe Standard in an opinion titled: “Politics brewed in an African Pot.”

“He is the president of the country, but that didn’t faze the delegates. He was not good enough to lead their party. In Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki, seeking a second term in office, ran into trouble with Raila Odinga, the son of a hero of Kenyan politics, Oginga
Odinga, Jomo Kenyatta’s early ally.

“Kibaki claimed victory on the basis of fuzzy legitimacy provided by a carefully handpicked electoral commission, another political ingredient brewed in the Africa pot. Unfortunately for him, most of the world, including many Kenyans, decided this claim was anchored in quicksand,” Saidi wrote further.

“A number of commentators focused on the indecent haste with which he was crowned president, as the most eloquent testimony of political tomfoolery.”

Coverage of the Kenyan post-election violence has been extensive with commentators giving mixed views.

“In the case of the Kenyan elections it seems as if the state permitted a free and fair election and campaign but when the final count was taking place and it became clear that Kibaki would lose the election, the state stepped in and the vote was stolen from the people. A great shame as a normal democratic transfer of power would have been first prize,” Eddie Cross, a Zimbabwe opposition politician said.

Said Mutumwa Mawere, a South African-based Zimbabwean political commentator: “The people of Kenya thought they had spoken when they joined long queues to express their choice about what kind of future they wanted but alas the change they sought is not what
they have been given resulting in the current confusion and chaos that only served to undermine the hope that through democratic means people can get the change they can believe in.

“Many of us would agree that the Africa we have today that can produce the kind of outcome that Kenyans have after the recent elections is not the kind of Africa we want to see.”

Others saw the crisis differently.

“For almost 50 years now, imperialism has treated and held up Kenya as one of a handful of exceptions to African politics,” wrote Dr Tafataona Mahoso in his column African Focus in the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail.

“Yet that same imperialism and its media have been the first to improperly compare Kenya in December 2007 with Rwanda in 1994. These contradictory characterizations of Kenya make it difficult for Africans in other countries such as Zimbabwe, to learn from what has happened in Kenya.

“There are both similarities and contrasts between Kenya and Zimbabwe, for instance. Like Zimbabwe, Kenya is a former British colony. The settler racist idea of appropriating and naming the best land ‘white Highlands’ originated in Kenya but was practiced in
Zimbabwe as well…..

“In the current Kenyan conflict, we see that it is Britain and the United States whose views of the elections have been overvalued and who may have helped whip up emotions through megaphone election observation. This is so because the opposition is saying the Kenyan parties can no longer sit together as brothers and sisters to find a solution unless
there is foreign mediation,” Dr. Mahoso said.

“What is shocking is the silent assumption that foreign mediators will be totally disinterested and therefore won’t insert their own agenda into the negotiations. We have gone through similar calls for foreign intervention and mediation, so that the
current Sadc mediation is seen in some countries as illegitimate because it involves only Africans.”

The editor of the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail wrote: “Democracy as defined by the West is very different from our concept of the same ideology. To the West democratic elections are those in which the party which seeks to promote the interests of imperialism wins.”

Other Kenyan analysts blamed their own politicians for the crisis. “Politicians have stifled logical reasoning and instead resorted to thriving and trading with these hardened feelings,” said Ndung’u Wainana of the International Centre for Policy and conflict.

Adds Njuguna Mutonya: “The rise in pitch and venom among politicians as they seek to win the people’s minds and souls is phenomenal, unprecedented and scaring. Concerns have been expressed about the content of some of the more brazen and crude broadcasts aired by people of dubious journalistic backgrounds.

“Most Kenyans know how powerful a weapon the media are and what kind of anarchy they can cause when in the wrong hands. Kangura and Radio Milles Collins of Rwanda and the way they fanned genocide come to mind. Their bosses are today languishing in prison.”

Zimbabwe goes to the polls in March. The Kenyan example should serve as a reminder of what could happen if elections are not properly managed to show the will of the people.

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