Sharing spoils among leaders will only buy time

February 18, 2008 at 1:39 pm 2 comments

Source:  The East African

      John Githongo, senior associate , St Antony’s College, Oxford, UK

Does the mediation process have a future? What factors can influence its success or failure? 

I think we need to define success more clearly. What are we mediating? A common elite has been temporarily split by a flawed election. Both sides say they won. 

In the short term, the success of the mediation efforts will depend on whether the current political protagonists put national interests ahead of their own political ones and reach some accommodation. 

To many, this means perhaps joining a government of national unity, a transitional government or some other such arrangement that sees a “sharing of the spoils.” 

In all probability, this will produce a temporary calm led by a dysfunctional government in which there are parallel lines of political accountability. 

Perhaps, although this is unlikely, in this Daliesque environment, Kenya can begin to address some of the key fundamentals underlying the present crisis. 

The elections were merely a trigger for the crisis, with the subsequent mayhem simply symptomatic of a wider leadership failure. 

This will not change and we should not pretend it will. Putting all the belligerents into one government, merely buys time. We need to be prepared to think outside the box. 

If power was contested to bring about genuine change, then perhaps that is what should be the subject of the current mediation: the big issues — constitutional powers of the president; past corruption that has exacerbated inequalities along regional and ethnic lines; increasing parliamentary oversight over the presidency; greater parliamentary accountability in itself; land reform and wider institutional reform to repair the civil service, judiciary and the ECK, among others. 

So I would be cautious about seeing the current mediation serving as some sort of silver bullet. We are at the beginning of a process, not approaching the end.

People are still in a state of shock, intimidation and terror are being used to “cleanse” more and more people, leaflets keep popping up. National reconciliation appears almost impossible from the current perspective. Yet societies have learned to live together again after really horrible bloodletting in the past. Is there hope?

This is perhaps the most important challenge arising from the current crisis. Even as leaders meet in Nairobi, significant population movements are underway physically and emotionally. Kenya continues to polarise along ethnic lines. 

This will devastate many of our institutions. Our schools, research organisations, institutions of higher learning, even our hospitals are feeling it already. 

The breakdown in interpersonal trust implies a terrible fraying of the social fabric. This will take a generation if not more of committed leadership to repair. 

If it is not dealt with as a specific issue it will make a mockery of all the other reconstruction initiatives that may be put in place. 

As Kenyans we will have to ask ourselves some tough questions. I would ask members of the Kikuyu elite: Why is it so frightening an idea to have, say, a Luo as president of Kenya; to the Luo elite I would ask for a careful listing of the mountain of grievances they feel against the Kikuyu elite; I would ask the Kalenjin leaders why they are so angry with the Kikuyu presence in the Rift Valley and so on. 

There is a lot of anger and resentment out there. What is it? Why is it? When we start grappling with these issues then we will be dealing with the underlying realities. 

Right now, it is being expressed violently, creating a cycle of fear, violence and reprisals. No one comes out the winner in such a situation.

Kenyans appear to have quickly forgotten that the Kibaki administration was ostensibly doing very well economically, at least the urban middle class and donors thought so, and yet ODM was able to mobilise tremendously and erase this advantage despite the billions of extra shillings being collected by KRA, the millions of extra tourists with their hundreds of millions of dollars; resurrection of key agricultural sectors, etc.

The underlying reasons why this happened are at the heart of why this crisis has happened. 

I’m convinced even if the economy had been growing at 10 per cent the sheer power of these simmering unaddressed resentment and parochialism would have led to similar voting patterns. The last elections showed us — “it’s the politics, stupid!” For now anyway.

On the face of it, the economy has been systematically dismantled. Can Humpty Dumpty be put together again? Going back to the Gunder Franck concept of external articulation/internal disarticulation, shouldn’t there be a complete rethink of infrastructure, now we have seen how vulnerable the “export orientation” of the “iron snake” makes it to having its back broken?

Humpty dumpty will not be put together again. Humpty dumpty clearly wasn’t doing that well before. 

Indeed, a rethink is in order and Kenyans are up to it. But this should not be seen as an acknowledgement, especially in light of the violence, that this is an exclusively internal problem; Africa turning on itself. No continent has been as “helplessly globalised” as Africa so Gunder’s thesis holds to that extent. 

But at the same time, our shot-gun insertion into the global economy in the late 1980s, when we were structurally adjusted, did allow liberation from a useless state service delivery sector — from telecommunications to the marketing of produce. We liberalised our politics in the 1990s with similar haste. The combination led — particularly in Kenya’s recent case — to rapid economic growth and a burgeoning service sector. 

But it also caused a deepening of political contradictions because too often growth did not mean development, it did not mean jobs, especially for the urban male youth who are now knocking on doors at night dropping scare leaflets and manning de facto roadblocks. 

The emergence of grand corruption merely exacerbated this, not just in the amounts of money stolen but rather because graft was perceived to be the preserve of a small group mostly from one ethnic community. 

Perceptions of ethnicised inequality typically take hold and find very potent political expression in a situation where there are no institutions capable of mediating them. That’s what happened in December. 

The business community was caught napping, although I think it has quickly woken up — in shock. For the World Bank in particular, Kenya’s current crisis should force a total rethink of the way they do business in Africa. 

They should ask themselves whether they contributed to this crisis by shovelling out the cash despite political warning signs (some of them very direct) and thus strengthening the hand of counter-reformers. What is clear is that the entire model will be rethought — by force of circumstance. 

Kenya has the brain power at home and abroad to make this important leap and will be relevant to colleagues across the African continent. 

Still we cannot escape the fact that we are globalised, and this has created pockets of extraordinary dynamism hampered by political elite who cannot make up their minds whether they want to lead or enrich themselves.

How does one address the inequality and unemployment that presumably have fuelled the rage? 

First by acknowledging it and doing so in a manner that acknowledges the dignity of all Kenyans. There is a snide attitude that Luos, some of the Coastals etc, are poor because they are lazy or good for nothing. These stereotypes should have no place in the mouths of those that pretend to be leaders. 

Second, by coming to the harsh realisation that there shall have to be a transfer of resources that helps to, as it were, demarginalise the marginalised. 

I think this principle informed former president Daniel arap Moi’s District Focus for Rural Development programme, but it was derailed by the seemingly unstoppable impulse to steal. 

Still, there is absolutely no way anyone born in Nairobi is born with the same opportunities as someone born in Mandera, or Kitui, or Bondo. Kenya’s stability and unity is dependent on those people born into different circumstances and realities feeling that they enjoy equality of hope and opportunity; equality of access to justice and economic opportunity. 

You can’t make people equal by passing a law. Even affirmative action measures do not necessarily solve these problems overnight. But we can craft institutions that deal with these issues very specifically, especially after the kind of horror we have just seen. 

It won’t be popular with the laissez fairists, but we need African solutions to African problems. 

If that means kicking out the agents of “growth-at-all-costs,” so be it.

How much can we retrieve of the Old Kenya, its dynamism and diversity-fuelled innovation? Are there any useful comparisons to make with post-1982?

Why bother? The First Republic is dead. Normal service will not be resumed as soon as possible. 

The period of normalcy accompanied by good gross domestic product statistics and other indicators that lent comfort to the middle class and donors determined to shove money down the throats of African governments between 2004 and 2007, was a period of growth without governance — growth while the politics was actually deteriorating. 

I was stunned to hear a businessman in London tell me gleefully that Kenya was great because the politicians were a bunch of useless crooks, “but they didn’t matter” — the economy was chugging away at full pelt and the elections were merely a blip on the profit curve. 

This grand illusion has ended rudely. But I believe this reality check should help us to confront our demons more realistically. Out of this we shall build a new Kenya. Sadly it is happening in blood. 

There is a fundamental resilience in Kenya. What has happened will wake us all up. 

It will also consume some of the most truculent troublemakers — perhaps sooner than they anticipate, but certainly for the better. 

I would hesitate to compare the current situation to the aftermath of the August 1982 coup attempt. Back then those events were followed by a dramatic shrinking of democratic space; increasing use of the security services to perform political functions; paranoia among the ruling elite transformed into policy; non-conformists intimidated, bribed, exiled or killed. 

Times have changed.

Entry filed under: 2007 General Elections in Kenya, Africa, Crime, Culture, Economics, Jesse Masai, Kenya, Literature, Media, Personals, Politics, Society, World.


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