Better Late than Never
It seems as though African leaders believe in the above saying more than anybody else in the whole wild world. The problem with this position is not that it is a bad policy. Rather, it is that they have invested in the principle at the expense of doing anything on time.
It was commendable that, under the tutelage of former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, negotiation talks in Kenya produced an acceptable outcome. The burning questions that come into the minds of those familiar with the goings-on in Africa are : Why did it take a cataclysm that cost more than a thousand lives as a result of internecine conflicts in Kenya? Why did President Mwai Kibaki not do something to nip chaos in the bud when the specter of trouble began to surface at the very beginning of his administration? Why did the Kenyan leadership and that of the region and the UN not hearken to the loud grouses of the opposition ? Where was the African Union (AU) when the masses in the country complained about election rigging intimidation and, why were international warnings not taken seriously?
Sad to say, there is adequate evidence that pressure from outside world leaders was exerted. This pressure was largely responsible for apparent change of behavior on the part of many Kenyan stakeholders. The US State Department warned that the prolongation of the unpalatable situation would damage mutual relations between Kenya and the US. In fact, there were threats that visas might not be available to certain individuals planning trips to the US. The US and Europe would be unhappy to see the country weaken its strategic position as the East African region`s business, transport and tourism hub. The signing of the accord, coming as late as it did, sends the negative message that Africans have difficulty in finding peaceful resolutions to their conflicts with no assistance from outside. One has only to witness developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Zimbabwe where even outside efforts have ricocheted.
In the case of the latter, civic society is wondering if leaders of South Africa, SADC and the AU are waiting for the repeat of Kenya in Zimbabwe before they can devise a remedy to cure the worsening situation in that former jewel of Southern Africa. The status quo is a prescription for disaster which is avoidable if prompt and appropriate action is taken. The ZANU/PF leadership has decided to bury its head in the sand no matter the dire consequences of such behavior. There is no question that dramatic change needs to occur for the country to become its people’s savior again rather than their torturer. The President and his retinue, after a twenty seven year sojourn, have overstayed their invitation. The truth of the matter is that the administration is using all false excuses in the book to justify their malignant continuation in power in the face of obvious contradictions. This situation prompted Tendai Biti, Secretary General of the main branch of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to state, on Saturday February 23, 2008 that, “ There is no government in this world which can win an election when inflation is over 100,000 %, 80% unemployment and three millions of its people living abroad. Mugabe, you cannot and you will not do the impossible.”
The compromise agreement signed by Kenya’s President, Mwai Kibaki and Opposition leader Raila Odinga this week did not have to come at the expense of more than one thousand lives. Mr. Odinga had broached the idea of the creation of a premiership as a power sharing mechanism as far back as in 2003. In this case, the principle to apply should have been, “Better early than late.” This step was the right direction to end erstwhile violence that had engulfed the nation. The Opposition wanted to make sure that this was not simply a token throw-in. Thus, they demanded that it should include executive powers. The power hungry Government, however, advocated a non- executive Prime Minister for fear it might lose grip.
In conclusion, whereas this is not meant to be a tongue-lashing of African leadership, I would like to echo the sentiment of one, Sabella O. Abide who wrote a blog article titled, ‘ Leadership and Development Problems in Africa’ (July 2005). He complained, “Our leaders find ways to weaken or corrupt our institutions; they manipulate the poor and uneducated; they play regional and sectional politics; they are masters of ethnic and religious politics; they draw no boundary between public and private interests thereby illegally enriching themselves; they have no respect for human life and dignity; and they rely on coercive agencies to do their biddings. And, in so doing, they become masters of survival strategies and those of divide and rule. All of the aforesaid have caused unmitigated sorrow. Dreams are lost and hopes are diminished” In point of fact, in a monograph titled, ‘Africa Making History Also’ I gave credit to certain countries that had exhibited exemplary developments. I pointed out occurrences that the Republic of South Africa celebrated during the nation’s third national elections in April 2004. In contrast to 1999, wide spread violence was not an issue. Voters went to the polls to elect 400 members of the National Assembly who, in turn, picked the next President. The African National Congress (ANC) was slated to win more than 70% of the votes. There was strong enthusiasm among the populace resulting in 75% participation which is a rate that is the envy of even the Western democracies. This demonstrates that there are opportunities to establish democratic practices on the continent absent inveterate autocrats such as Issayas Afewerki of Ethiopia, Omar Al Bashir of Sudan, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Teodoro Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Omar Bongo of Gabon and Dennis Sassou Nguesso of the Congo Republic.
Africans must and will keep hope alive.
Dr. Mfanyana is retired Professor and administrator of the State University of New York (SUNY) and former Resident Director of Syracuse University’s Abroad Study Program in Africa (Zimbabwe). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi / IRIN