Sunday, January 06, 2008

Looking For a Pan-African Way in Kenya

Looking for a pan-African way in Kenya

AFRICAN FOCUS By Tafataona P Mahoso

THE economy, particularly the financial sector, continued to be the most confused and yet most critical story in Zimbabwe last week but we can return to it next week in order to look at developments on the pan-African front.

For almost 50 years now, imperialism has treated and held up Kenya as one of a handful of exceptions to African politics.

Yet that same imperialism and its media have been the first to improperly compare Kenya in December 2007 with Rwanda in 1994. These contradictory characterisations of Kenya make it difficult for Africans in other countries, such as Zimbabwe, to learn from what has happened in Kenya.

There are both similarities and contrasts between Kenya and Zimbabwe, for instance. Like Zimbabwe, Kenya is a former British colony. The settler racist idea of appropriating and naming the best land "white Highlands" originated in Kenya but was practised in Zimbabwe as well.

Therefore the land problem in Kenya was almost identical with the land problem in Zimbabwe until the latter’s African land reclamation movement of 1992-2002, which gave birth to Zimbabwe’s Third Chimurenga.

In the current Kenyan conflict, we see that it is Britain and the United States whose views of the elections have been overvalued and who may have helped to whip up emotions through megaphone election observation. This is so because the opposition is saying the Kenyan parties can no longer sit together as brothers and sisters to find a solution unless there is foreign mediation.

What is shocking is the silent assumption that foreign mediators will be totally disinterested and therefore won’t insert their own agenda into the negotiations. We have gone through similar calls for foreign intervention and mediation, so that the current Sadc mediation is seen in some quarters as illegitimate because it involves only Africans.

There are many similarities indeed.

In terms of contrasts, Kenya’s armed liberation movement, the Mau Mau, came much earlier than Zimbabwe’s, so that by the time Kenya obtained its political independence in 1963, the Mau Mau had been defeated, suppressed and put out of the way by the British for a whole four years.

As can be appreciated, the year Kenya obtained political independence, 1963, was the same year Zanu was formed in Zimbabwe. This means that Zimbabwe’s liberation politics and armed struggle took shape much later than Kenya’s, and did so at a very different political moments, which enabled Zimbabwe to develop a liberation heritage and legacy unlike that of Kenya.

My recent encounters with disturbing indicators of Kenyan politics happened by chance, but what I learned, did not come by chance. In 2004 I was part of the Zimbabwe delegation to the African Development Forum (ADF) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca).

The ADF was about to table a report on "Governance in Africa" which contained a fraudulently rushed chapter on Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe delegation successfully demonstrated to the ADF plenary that Uneca had not followed its own avowed procedure and methodology for creating and tabling such a report.

Therefore, the report was invalid, incorrect and therefore unworthy of the ADF plenary. As a result, the report was set aside. Several ministers from Kenya’s Rainbow Coalition government then attended the same ADF. They had been in power for almost two years, that is, since December 30 2002.

The Kenyan ministers took a position on the ADF Governance Report which was opposed to that of Zimbabwe and they did not appreciate that the latter’s criticism of the donor-driven document was in the interest of Africa.

Other African countries did support Zimbabwe and eventually voiced their own complaints against the same document resulting in its being set aside.

I remember remarking to my Zimbabwean colleagues that the Kenyan Rainbow Coalition ministers were still behaving like programme officers of donor-funded NGOs.

The Kenyan ministers also held views on the so-called African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) which the Zimbabweans felt were rather na├»ve.

The second indirect encounter with East African politics in general and Kenyan politics in particular happened in Venezuela a year after the ADF in Addis Ababa.

On the sidelines of the Intellectuals’ Forum at the Festival for the Peoples of Africa in Caracas, Venezuela, Professor Mararike and I had discussions with two men, one from Kenya and another from Somalia. The Somali brother told us that the people of Somalia made a mistake when they thought in order to get rid of President Siad Barre in 1991 they needed to dismantle the entire Somali state and all its institutions.

Somehow the people had been subjected to such an intense personalisation of the national question that they could no longer tell the difference between the tree and the forest.

They burned down an entire forest in order to get rid of one tree. The brother from Kenya, on the other hand, was preoccupied with the constitutional referendum in his country which was only a week or so ahead. So, Professor Mararike and I were fascinated by this brother’s concern about issues at stake in the Kenyan referendum, with Kenya so close to Somalia and Kenya being accused of sponsoring one of the factions in Somalia.

Sure enough, the one concern the Kenyan brother voiced was that the draft constitution in the upcoming referendum of 2005 should be rejected because it gave too much power to the president, who today is Mwai Kibaki. To some extent therefore the conflict we see in the aftermath of the 2007 elections is a continuation of the mobilisation which began during the 2005 referendum.

We therefore bombarded the Kenyan brother with several questions: First of all, why do Africans allow so many externally-funded organisations to spearhead constitutional reform in their countries when, in fact, the states financing the NGOs either do not have written constitutions (as in the UK) or use constitutionalism only as a doctrine and an ideology (as in the US?)

For example, the authors of Power Incorporated concluded in 1974 that the US constitution serves mainly as a propaganda smokescreen for "constitutionalism" when, in fact, it is now irrelevant to the way the US is actually run on a day-to-day basis.

Second, why does the written constitution become such a consuming issue only on the eve of independence and not before? Why should the British be happy to run an entire empire with no constitution for centuries and yet panic on the eve of Zimbabwe’s or Ghana’s independence that there is no constitution for Ghana or Zimbabwe?

Why do these powers make judgments about Kenya’s elections, which they never make about their own? Neither George W. Bush nor Gordon Brown has yet been democratically elected. But they are in the forefront of criticism against Kenya.

Third, whose perspective is represented in the allegation that a constitution gives an African president too much power?

This question must be asked because almost every African president is accused of having too much power regardless of whether there is a constitutional referendum or not. One of the reasons given by the oppositional forces in rejecting the Draft Constitution for Zimbabwe in 2000 was that it would have given President Robert Mugabe too much power!

Why should such an allegation become so routine? What was the reason for such predictable criticism in situations which are so different?

Finally, have the African peoples themselves ever sat down to ask whether it is their presidents who have too much power or it is the people who are so disempowered that they think the mere title of president means a lot of or too much power? If so, too much power to do what with? Too much power in relation to whom?

Is it our aim to empower the African people or to cut down the powers of African leaders? Is it our assumption that if we pull down every African leader the people become really powerful automatically?

What we were trying to say to our brother from Kenya was that the people who were made to believe that the emotional rejection of the Draft Constitution for Zimbabwe in 2000 was their victory over somebody at that time do not think so now. So, whose "victory" was it? In other words, whose agenda was it to have us fight over theoretical clauses on paper?

Whose interests do the riots in Kenya in 2008 serve? In contrast to the elaborate Draft Constitution for Zimbabwe in 2000, we pointed out that the Parliament of Zimbabwe, after listening to the majority of the people, passed the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of Zimbabwe at 1 percent of the cost of the 2000 draft.

But that 17th Amendment was more valuable to the people than the constitutional tome rejected in 2000, why?

Because the 17th Amendment was intended to settle a seething fundamental political and legal conflict going back 120 years. It was meant to settle a true national question: Who owns the land space called Zimbabwe and the assets therein?

How should this land space be allocated to those who own it and by what means? It was the legal conclusion to the First and Second Chimurenga which had mobilised the entire people.

That one amendment dispensed with a colonial and constitutional fiction under which the Africans dispossessed of their land by Cecil John Rhodes had become "willing buyers" of that stolen land while the white settlers as heirs of Rhodes had become "willing sellers" of the same land, even though they actually did not even sell the land back to its rightful owners.

The beauty of such an amendment is that it is not difficult to explain to the people and it is not difficult for the people to defend it.

When we look at African realities from a pan-African perspective, we see no objective evidence proving that African presidents wield too much power nor do we see any evidence that the African peoples become more powerful in the world and in their own lives by pulling down African leaders.

Just look at Somalia, Rwanda, DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia and so on. The prominence given to foreign observers in the Kenyan elections in late 2007 suggests that perhaps the Kenyan president is not as all-powerful as we were told in 2005!

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