Fate of African democracy is being determined in Kenya, Ivory Coast

Monday January 3 2011

Inuka Kenya Trust CEO, John Githongo. Photo/REUTERS

Inuka Kenya Trust CEO, John Githongo. Photo/REUTERS 

By JOHN GITHONGO

I was struck in December by a comment reported by a local paper and attributed to a toy vendor in Abidjan named Sailboun Coulibaly.

Said he: “This is the worst Christmas I have experienced so far. Even in 2002, when there was war, was better. The problem now is that people are tired. Two Presidents, two governments, all too much for the people!”

Mr Coulibaly’s sentiments struck me because at the height of the 2007/8 post-election violence, Raila Odinga publicly warned that Kenya risked going Ivory Coast’s way.

A once much heralded, stable and prosperous African country brought to grief by political incompetence, cynicism and corruption sliding into civil war.

Two years later, one may be forgiven for picking out the similarities between Ivory Coast and Kenya once again.

For it is as if we have been living under two governments under the same roof.

I should like to argue that save for the passing of the new Constitution, the results have been terrible and should not be wished upon poor Ivorians.

The “Kenyan model” of serikali ya mseto does not work except for those who loot or aspire to loot and those who believe in peace at any price.

The government of national unity model is one of Kenya’s most insidious exports to the rest of Africa.

Only President Khama — head of state of a “small” country but Africa’s moral giant — has been clear in saying Gbagbo must go. And if necessary by force.

The future of African democracy, ironically, is being played out in two countries at opposite ends of the continent — Kenya and Ivory Coast. The international community cannot afford to blink either.

Kenya’s greatest “success” has been the passing of a new Constitution — the result of the convergence of huge will for change among ordinary Kenyans and tremendous external pressure.

This rare convergence led to a new Constitution being “inflicted” on the country’s political and commercial elite (often the same thing).

The external pressure left the elite no option but to concede. Now the fight back has started and dramatically — with the passing of the motion to pull Kenya out of the Rome Statute on December 23 by parliament.

This confirms the analysis of many pre-referendum observers that the government was full of watermelons whose true colours are only now becoming visible.

This is however countered by something quite special that exemplifies what a majority of Kenyans actually feel.

The total and utter lack of pity expressed publicly by most citizens regarding the fate of the so-called Hague Six.

The attitude is, “Let them fry”; more charitably, “Let the law take its course.”

Thus far, for me the unanticipated result has been the sheer psychological effect of this upon the elite even before the process really gets moving.

The panic was so great a group of them huddled together and decided it would be a good idea, a brilliant unifying communal effort, to hold a harambee to pay for the legal fees of some of the Hague Six.

The howls of outrage were loud and furious even among their supposedly most ardent supporters.

The term “MPigs” was quickly coined and digitally exploded the way things that capture the moment are won’t to do.

The anger was especially intense among those still pained by the unresolved plight of IDPs in Kenya.

Here were ministers, permanent secretaries, businessmen and assorted political types coming together to raise millions for dollars for millionaires with thousands still in IDP camps scattered around the country since the violence of 2007/8.

This anger forced a retreat in disarray. The president cancelled his traditional Christmas/new year bash in Mombasa so those funds could be “spent on the IDPs”.

This pathetic rearguard action, combined with the brazenness of the passing of the motion to pull out of the Rome Statute, indicates that such blunders will be the most sharply defining political realities of the coming months.

The elite will cross the political floor repeatedly seeking banana skins to slip on.

Kenya has always been at the crossroads — since the early 1990s. We were at the crossroads with the introduction of multi-party politics, but underrated the resilience of the old order.

In 2002, we were at the crossroads again, mainly precipitated by the uniting of the political opposition and the prospect of a new Constitution that would reduce presidential powers.

In truth, we were to realise the old order had actually been re-elected, and the Young Turks who had led us to the crossroads had grown old too and been subsumed by the old order.

In 2010, we finally chose our path, setting off for, as politicians put it, “the Promised Land”.

The “promised or “holy land” has always been a place where unholy things happen.

From Biblical times, the Holy Land has been a place of struggle, blood and tears. But for us, there has never been a worthier or more urgent struggle.

John Githongo is CEO of Inuka Kenya Trust