Friday, November 28, 2008

POLITICS: An east africa perspective

Jerry Okungu

BEING dominant economically and numerically is not the same as having the ability to rule a country. If that were the case, the Baganda would have ruled Uganda from independence to this day. If that were so, the economically powerful Chaga tribe of Tanganyika would have ruled Tanganyika and subsequently Tanzania rather than Julius Nyerere.

Political leadership requires more than numbers. If it were not so, Barack Obama would today not be the president-elect of the United States of America despite his coming from the minority African-Americans.

These examples should warn William Ruto of Kenya and the Rift Valley tribe to tread carefully. Let him remember that the reason Kenyans accepted Moi in 1978 and tolerated him for 24 years, was partly because he was from a minority tribe. Had he posed a threat to the Kenyatta regime due to his tribe’s numerical strength, the cabal around the old man would not have allowed him near the seat of power.

Because of this apparent ineffectiveness, the powers that be preferred him to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who hailed from the second-largest tribe after the Kikuyus at that time. In Kenyan politics, the system is capable of isolating a political leader for as long as it takes until he burns out.

In 1966, Jomo Kenyatta began a systematic process of isolating Jaramogi Oginga Odinga while at the same time used a few sycophants from the community to placate the region.

When it did not work three years later, he banned the community’s political party, detained its leaders and boycotted the region for the rest of his life. He died nine years later without setting foot in Nyanza. With that decision, all physical development in the region came to a halt.

Between 1978 and 2002 when Moi ruled Kenya with an iron hand, he isolated two of the most populous regions; Nyanza and Central Province due to their opposition politics. For all those years, Moi could pick sycophants from those regions and rule Kenya. Even during the multiparty era between 1992 when Nyanza and the Central Province repeatedly voted against Moi; he still managed a majority.

One would argue that Kenyatta and Moi did what they did due to the one-party state that existed for the better part of the first 30 years of independence. However, there is a possibility that banking too much on numerical strength in a society where ideological politics is rare; chances are that firebrand oppositionists such as Mrema of Tanzania tend to burn out sooner rather than later.

Politics in Africa is the politics of cunning, intrigue and bribery. It is the politics that is akin to urban guerrilla warfare. You never see the enemy yet you feel his might.

In Africa, more so in Kenya; we practise the politics of the stomach. When our neighbour is appointed a minister in the cabinet; outwardly we congratulate her for her appointment yet when we go home; we pray for her demise.

The truth comes out when she actually dies and neighbours see us fighting for her vacant position! That is how genuine our grief is when our important neighbour dies.

Right now, the rumbles in the Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) would, under normal circumstances, call for a reshuffle in the government bearing in mind that a quarrelling government cannot deliver services to the people no matter how much they shout about it at public rallies.

If it were in a disciplined political system like Israel, Britain, France or the United States, ministers that have differed with their parties would have quit their offices and possibly triggered fresh elections.

However, in Kenya, belligerent members of the government would eat their cake and want to have it at the same time until they are pushed out. When finally they are shown the door, they retreat to their tribal cocoons claiming that their communities are being finished.

They are blind even to the recent examples set in South Africa when cabinet ministers resigned when they differed with the African National Congress over Mbeki’s sacking.

One may argue that the era of Moi and Kenyatta is long gone. That may be so, but the reality is that the current crop of politicians were also schooled in the art of politics by the same presidents. They may not today detain or murder like during the past regime, but the truth is; the art of warfare is still intact.

Political leadership in Africa requires more than numbers
New Vision, Uganda