‘Negotiated democracy’ the last kick of a dying horse

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Posted  Monday, January 3   2011 at  00:00

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).

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