Wednesday, January 2, 2008


The past 4 days have seen Kenya, the darling of East Africa, propelled into post-election violence, which some are now referring to as "genocide". The name, "Rwanda" keeps coming up in reports of this "unrest", which pits the majority Kikuyu (who make up ~22% of the Kenyan population) supporters of Kibaki against the 3rd largest ethnic group, the Luo (who make up ~13%), who support the opposition (Odinga). About 300 people are estimated to have died and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes. The military has been deployed to assist in averting a humanitarian crisis but from CNN footage on the turmoil, they don't seem to be having much success in stopping the violence. According to a source in this article, "Ordinary Kenyans who are dying never participated in the irregularities being cited in the electoral process. They only exercised their democratic right to vote."
The US and UK are "calling for compromise," African Union Chairman, President Kufuor, and Desmond Tutu are scheduled to visit Nairobi, as well as Condoleeza Rice and David Miliband.

This situation is more shocking specifically because Kenya has always been viewed as a stable democracy. No one would have been too surprised if our dearest "troubled giant" had found herself in this sort of mess after our 2007 elections but thankfully we didn't. Now it is up to the international powers-that-be AS WELL AS our own African leaders to put pressure on President Kibaki to put the people of Kenya first, even if it means stepping down while a full recount of the votes (under international supervision) is conducted. Unfortunately, the US and UK have stopped short of calling for this although they have noted that there have been serious irregularities in the vote-counting process (on both sides).

Why can't we get democracy RIGHT in Africa? Could it be because it wasn't MEANT for us? Then again, democracy hasn't always existed, and the democratic powers-that-be didn't get it right in one day/decade/century. Maybe it's time to start developing a theory of "Democracy LITE", that would account for our failure to get elections (government OF and BY the people) and power transitions right. All eyes on Ghana in '08 & South Africa in '09 to show us how it's done, mayhaps.


Ms Sula said...

I was having this conversation with friends last night... about how it seems impossible for Africans to get "democracy" right... We ended up concluding that we must probably create (or at the very least think of creating) a type of governance that takes into consideration our African sensibilities. Ethnic/ tribal affiliations will not go away, it is part of our (beautiful) fabric and it should actually not go away. Unfortunately, it is often exploited by greedy politicians and transformed into this ugly thing.

I don't know what that type of governance should be, I don't know how we'll come to implement it, but I do know that we really need to think hard and long about it... The Kenya debacle just proves that Democracy as peddled to us by the West just will not work.

Great post!

Misan said...

Welcome to the Afro Beat Ms Sula!

I think you're rght about western textbook democracy not working for us. It's barely working for them!! But i wonder, are we more "power hungry" than they are? Is it that the stakes in Africa are higher? (I mean, we're not world powers or anything but the amounts of wealth that can potentially accrue to a shady politician in a developing nation far outweighs that in the developed world). Could it be the accountability systems, which would then boil down to our constitutions and electoral systems? Why our own go different, is basically what i'm trying to understand?


This is the third time I have attempted to comment. Each time, something comes up to distract me.

Anyway, I don't think that there is much about African culture that conflicts with democracy as a concept or practice. That said, why are many African countries unable to achieve internationally accepted standards of democracy? I think that the reasons are numerous and complex. From poverty, lack of education, intense corruption and a lack of entrenched systems that foster accountability and civic duty.

Now, I am not talking about all African countries, after all some countries have managed to have stable democracies for a while now - Senegal, Ghana and many southern African countries. Unfortunately, many other countries simply face a quagmire of issues that make democracy hard to attain. Anyway, all we can do is hope for the best for the continent and its peoples. There are some doing good things and all we can do is try to encourage them when we come across them.

Anyway, another good post! Thanks fr forcing me to think harder about these issues.

Anonymous said...

Arbitrary post colonial boundaries force ethnic groups with histories of violence to come together to try to make a country work. It is probably the case that there has been assimilation of the different cultures n ting but otherwise a lot of these groups are quite disparate.

For paragons of the democratic process, I do agree that we need to look away from the West and come up with a system that works for us.

There was an interesting exchange a few weeks ago on the Wall Street Journal between a couple of economists about what it is that has prevented the third world (Africa mostly) from having an industrial revolution, the sort that catapults a society out of natural, labor-intensive, resource dependence into an advanced economy. One fellow argued that culture has played the biggest role, while the other dude argued that the lack of solid, legitimate institutions (political, mostly economic, legislative etc) have inhibited growth and destroyed any chance of an economic revolution. The sure handed reply to this is that it's probably somewhere down the middle but it's an interesting debate nonetheless.

Misan said...

Yes it's true that a lack of solid institutions keeps holding us back from reaching those international standards of democracy that Solo mentioned but didn't those other "successful" democracies once start out with none of these institutions in place? THey too had to work hard at it, and deal with corrupt practices (perhaps, less entrenched). It's this accountability issue that keeps tugging at me though. Where are the Checks and Balances in our system? Even if the constitution were to be revamped, would that stop a governor from openly stealing from public coffers and flaunting this reality in the face of his constituents? If we have a "Rule of Law" in place and our leaders know for a fact that they are untouchable, then what good does that do for the people? THE TUGGING CONTINUES...

Ms Sula said...

The system of checks and balances is decidedly lacking in most of our governments. The "concept" of separation and integrity of systems is elusive if non-existent. The judicial system is controlled by the Executive who in turns determines who gets elected (fraudulent/corrupted elections, threats, etc..), thus corrupting the electoral process. We are left with a handful of decision-makers who control the entire socio-political arena.

Defining a better "democracy" for Africa as a whole can help alleviate these problems. Said democracy should take into consideration the things mentionned by Anonymous. Centuries of living under tribal rules can not easily be overriden and replaced by an (artificial) nation laws.

But Solo is right, we are there now so what do we do? How do we improve on what is? Do we just tear everything apart and start from scratch (highly hypothetical and so impractical) or do we just trudge along in hopes that the next (yet again) leader is the right one?

I guess it's the century old question...

Whoa, it just hit me that soon our collective countries will hit the 50 yr old mark as independent, sovereign nations... What do we have to show for it?

Anonymous said...


The culture argument proffered the idea that the ideal culture, attitude, mindset, etc precluded the establishment of solid institutions. Once those institutions, or any semblance of them, were in place, these economies exploded ...

As for the rule of law, accountability issue, I think a country like America succeeded through all the early corruption and struggles because it was unified under a highest code that was generally accepted. Since then, there's been an indoctrination of the infallibility of the constitution and its role in America; the main vehicle, I believe, is/was the educational system. With a country as diverse as Nigeria is, we need to all buy into the 'ideas' of a Nigeria and a Nigerian, understanding what we want that identity to be and then indoctrinate ourselves and the youth into accepting the canon.

In the mean time, it's going to be patch-up, dirty, one-on-one type work that can treat the superficial symptoms of a failed polity while we put the machinery in place to ensure long term development and prosperity.

In the mean time, it's up to a few good men/women.

Sugabelly said...

I am of the opinion that genocide is far easier in a lot of the other African countries than Nigeria. My theory is that because the tribal groups in these countries are so few, it makes other groups an easy target for a dominant one. In Nigeria on the other hand, more than a few ethnic groups are big enough to hold their own, and enjoy support from related tribes, that a genocide would be very difficult to carry out unless all other tribes gang up against one.

It is sad though, what is happening in Kenya. Africans need to STOP KILLING EACH OTHER. If you don't like the way your country is being run or the state of the infrastructure in your country, then do something positive to change it. If that means going into that area of expertise in business or starting an NGO, then do it. Nothing can be gained by shedding human blood. It sickens me.

TheAfroBeat said...

Someone pls call me out on this if i'm wrong, but the civil war in Nigeria can be somewhat classified as "(Genocide is) the deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic, religious or national group."

I agree that there is never any justification for taking another humnan life other than self defense (Which i understand is a blurry concept in itself), so pls see my current post which will sort of state my views on the situation in kenya a bit further.