As we have come to expect in many African countries, it’s during the election season that Western diplomats become more vocal and visibly involved in local affairs, engaging the electoral commission, making some declarations and meeting aspiring candidates.
President Paul Kagame, appearing on a talk-show on national television, was asked about what he made of statements some envoys made appearing to tie the credibility of the electoral commission to the confirmation of independent presidential aspirants who had yet to be confirmed.
The president said that while it’s fine for diplomats to meet aspiring candidates, it was wrong “summoning candidates to meet them and give explanations” about what’s happening.
“What’s wrong is that diplomats here are not and should not replace the electoral commission,” he said.
There is nothing wrong with diplomats conferring with candidates; it is through this engagement that they can understand the personalities, beliefs and ideas of aspirants—who may become the next leader.
But when diplomats start attaching the credibility of electoral outcomes on the participation of this or that aspirant, then, it ceases to be diplomacy and becomes political interference.
What’s surprising is why it has persisted and who is to blame for that. For historically, western powers have been interfering in elections in Africa and its governance since the continent gained political independence.
For example, in the 2013 presidential election in Kenya, Johnnie Carson the then US assistant secretary of state for African Affairs attempted to dissuade Kenyans from voting for Uhuru Kenyatta, telling them “choices have consequences.”
As many argued at the time, this was an attempt to swing elections in Raila Odinga’s favour.
Between 1961 and 1973, six African leaders who were judged by former colonial powers to be too independent minded were assassinated: Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Guinea’s Amilcar Cabral, Eduardo Mondlane of Mozambique, Mehdi Ben Barka of Morocco, Sylvanus Olympio of Togo, etc.
A number of coups were effected, including one in Ghana that removed Nkwame Nkrumah.
In Rwanda, the role of Col Guy Logiest of Belgium in the 1959-61 upheavals and subsequent violent change of government that set the stage for the war of 1990 and genocide of 1994 is well documented.
And of course, we know that many African leaders have historically played to the tune of the West.
For example, when in 1990 then French president Francois Mitterrand told 35 African leaders meeting in the country to abandon one party-rule in favour of multi-partyism in exchange for aid, they complied.
Why has Africa continued to put up with this humiliating guardianship? Some claim the West partly pays our bills. Others cite the West’s diplomatic and military power.
Pan-Africanists would add mental slavery and inferiority complex due to our education, which romanticises Western civilization.
Two things remain clear. First, Western diplomats don’t meddle because they are naturally bad but because they can and because it advances their national interests of continued domination and, at a personal level, the prestige of their envoys.
Second, meddling has persisted only because Africans have accepted and participated in legitimising it. From their daily actions, politicians perpetuate this Western guardianship through what they tell diplomats about their opponents; the country and the demands they make to them.
Some individuals do this simply because they are still mentally colonised; some do it because they are harassed and deliberately impoverished by their own governments and have no alternative.
And, of course, while financial, diplomatic and political support given to opposition figures eases their suffering, governments too celebrate when hailed by the same western diplomats.
Thus, since the opposition and governments in some countries celebrate support and crave legitimacy from the West, we can’t blame them.
To be fully liberated, we need not only to reject meddling in our affairs by the West, but also treat fellow citizens in opposition humanely and with respect.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com