‘Negotiated democracy’ the last kick of a dying horse

Monday January 3 2011



It is fitting, yet ironic, that Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga has been appointed by the African Union to assist in ensuring the rightful person assumes the presidency of the Ivory Coast.

Our prime minister, of course, comes from the country that the rest of the continent can justly blame for having ushered in this unacceptable notion of “negotiated democracy.”

First there was us. Then there was Zimbabwe. Then Madagascar. And now Ivory Coast.

It appears that Africans have not yet managed to consolidate the gains we thought we had secured during the 1990s.

We thought we had seen an end to military dictatorships, one-party rule and presidencies essentially for life.

We thought we had accepted, albeit grudgingly among the post-Independence incumbents (both individuals and parties) and at extremely high cost to the rest of us, the idea of free choice expressed in political pluralism.

But we clearly had not. We had merely secured a modicum of breathing room while the incumbents regrouped and re-strategised.

True, in societies where almost all economic progress still flows directly from access to and control over the state, it must be difficult to give up that access and control.

While that access and control no longer provide, as they did at Independence, guarantees of access to lines of credit (unsecured and not intended to be returned), at the base level, the state is still the largest employer — providing endless opportunities for nepotism at all levels, to spread the largesse of state capture around just enough to create the illusion of benefits for those most necessary to the retention of power by the incumbents.

The state is also still the largest purveyor of contracts, for brokers and suppliers of both the simplest of things to the most complicated.

The largesse of state capture here is for both the incumbents and the most favoured of their supporters.

And the state is, finally, also the regulator of all things — meaning that the emerging sectors of the economy provide, yet again, opportunities for:

a) mere cuts and pay-offs (child’s play);

b) identification of new economic opportunities to coercively buy into (more advanced);

c) when buy-offs are resisted, absolute takeover (the strong-arm approach).

A look at the who’s who of business and manufacturing around Africa proves the point.

Nobody who is anybody in our private sectors has been un-associated with power, with the state.

There is a slight shift now with the younger generation of entrepreneurs, often trained abroad and internationally marketable, who are starting to make their mark in the emerging and new sectors of the economy. But, by and large, it is the same old, same old.

And their tactics for economic advancement are also the same old, same old — access to and control over the state is the only leverage they have.

Because, truth be told, most of them have been out of the job market and real entrepreneurship for so long, they would not know what to do without that access.

They would be lost, utterly lost. This explains their determination to hold on to power at all costs.

It doesn’t, however, explain the fact of their self-replication, in the newer crop of politicians entering the political arena — on the backs of the movements for political pluralism.

Here, the problem is perhaps merely limited vision. Because this is how the newer crop see money being made, they think money can only be made this way.

But they are wrong — the children of the older crop have “laundered” their fathers’ ill-gotten gains — purified in their minds as the deserved gains from having seen and seized opportunities where they exist. The deserved gains, in fact, of real entrepreneurship.

This clean-up is taking place because, in fact, the era of the state equalling economic progress is ending.

Not just because of ever more strident calls at home and internationally for an end to corruption.

But because the state’s role in the economy, if still dominant, simply does not fit the ways in which real money, serious money is being made today.

The long story shortened is that “negotiated democracy” is the last kick of a dying horse.

None of the situations referred to above are similar. Kenya went the way it did because everything had been done to ensure that no recount, no re-tally would show us who won — and also to ensure that no independent count or tally was available, not from the media’s crashed electoral databases and not from the independent electoral observation group (which chose to spend its first week following the polls “harmonising” its results with those of the Electoral Commission of Kenya).

Finally, everything done to ensure that the Independent Review Commission grasped the fact that we, having accepted power-sharing, were not yet “ready” to receive the truth about the elections — we are, after all, like children untrained to understand that sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. And that is life.

But that is not life for the dying horse. As with untrained children, loss cannot be entertained.

Even when, in Ivory Coast’s case, the loss is evident to see. Loss can, through “negotiated democracy” be transformed into, at the very least, a semi-gain. Power-sharing.

For that is clearly what Laurent Gbagbo must be expecting to happen. He cannot surely think that he will sit in office, infinitely, when the sub-region, the region and the rest of the world expects him to bow out.

For the Ivorians, this is obviously frightening and painful. Thousands have already crossed the border, expecting an eventual descent into yet another round of chaos.

They deserve more. For the rest of us, temporarily out of that kind of situation, this is, frankly, irritating.

The dying horse and the untrained children are wasting the energies, time and resources of our diplomats, our sub-regional and regional blocs as well as those of the rest of the international community.

Let the dying horse die. If it wants to live, it should grow up, like all children eventually have to do.

And, for the children to grow up, just like cutting the umbilical cord, the correlation between the state and economic progress must end too.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission