I was introduced to the politics of modern day Venezuela by none other than Hugo Rafael Chavez himself.
He had been invited, by his friend Muammar Gaddafi to address African leaders during the 2009 African Heads of State Summit in the then beautiful Libyan city of Sirte. I was at the time serving as the director of public affairs and communication and adviser to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the government of Kenya – making me part of the Kenyan delegation to the summit.
Chavez ruled Venezuela from 1998 to 2013.The charismatic leftist leader was fiery and anti-Western imperialist. He implored African leaders to reject this imperialism in a revolutionary fashion.
While calling upon African nations to unite against modern forms of slavery, he castigated the West for precipitating crises in developing nations of the world. He explained neo-colonialism and why developing nations have to resist it by all means.
I could see from my corner that president Gaddafi was enjoying every word of it. I could also read discomfort on faces of some African leaders. It is after this speech that Gaddafi proposed that African nations form their own army to fight Western imperialism.
I understood from the onset why Gaddafi, the then chairman of the African Union, had invited Chavez. The two shared an ideological position and so he wanted African leaders to hear those views from another authoritative force.
Not long after that summit, the West masterminded regime change in Libya that ended the long rule of Gaddafi. The so-called Arab Spring in Libya was not about the people of that oil-rich nation, but was aimed at getting rid of its ruler, who was finally captured and killed on October 20, 2011.
With the death of Gaddafi, the African Union lost a strong ally and Libya has remained ungovernable since. The West did not have any plan for Libya other than killing Gaddafi and perhaps opening up an easy way of grabbing Libyan wealth.
Herein lies a big lesson for East Africa and Africa in general: The enthusiasm of the West in initiating regime change has nothing to do with the interests of our people. Ever.
Back to Venezuela; there is a crisis. It is foolhardy to say that the crisis was created by President Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro took over as president of Venezuela after Chavez died and continued with his policies. Chavez had initiated what he called the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela to address wealth inequalities through redistribution, land reforms and creation of worker-owned co-operatives.
He initiated housing projects for the poor and started state-owned supermarkets selling food at cheap prices. The products sold in these stores were sourced from small-scale producers.
Chavez instigated the enactment of laws to guarantee food sovereignty and initiated agricultural expansion. He therefore tried to use oil revenue to free Venezuela from dependence on United States and European governments.
In so doing, he managed to reduce poverty drastically. He also forged close ties between Venezuela and other Latin American nations.
The United States was never at peace with such a leftist leader and slapped sanctions on Venezuela.
President Maduro only stepped in to manage a government wedded to social spending without enough savings for anticipated turmoil in view of the hostility from Western nations (and a lot of those savings had been frozen by foreign banks.) And here lies the weakness of Maduro’s leadership.
Venezuela entered a recession in 2014 and is facing hyperinflation and shortages of food.
The country ranks high on global misery index. Oil prices have dropped to an all-time low and Venezuela is on its knees, facing a less favourable global environment and unable to meet its international obligations.
The current social-political fragmentation and tensions present a serious threat to the survival of the nation. Like East African nations, Venezuela is poor in risk management.
So what must Maduro do? Venezuela is endowed with immense oil reserves; the largest in the world, but poorly managed. To survive, it has to evolve better policies for investment and shift from populist investments.
It also has to open up its democratic space. Cuba is doing that without Western-instigated regime change. It has to diversify its investment portfolio and move the economy from overreliance on oil export.
Can Venezuela be saved? Yes, but not with regime change. Juan Guaido, the opposition leader, propped up by Western nations, cannot change the fortunes of the nation singlehandedly.
Venezuela requires a serious internal dialogue that takes into consideration the management of various interests in and outside the country. The United States of America, and President Donald Trump in particular are part of the problem that should be managed.
Egara Kabaji is a professor of literary communication at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. E-mail: egarakabajimail.com