The Democratic Wind Of Change In Kenya
Any Lesson For Failed African Leaders And PoliticalAspirants?

By James M. Fromayan

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 31, 2002

History was made on Friday December 27, 2002 when Kenyans went to the polls in their millions to elect a core of leadership that according to the electorates, would deliver them from corruption, stagnant economy, mass unemployment, and appalling standard of education. That the vote of each citizen in a democracy is useful cannot be overemphasized. The politicians know that only too well. That is the reason why when the people of a particular society in Africa are given the chance to determine their leaders free of intimidation and coercion, they can most often make the right decision.

The Kenyan African National Union (KANU) grip on power for the past 39 years is typical of most African political parties that are built around personalities who see themselves as being above the ordinary citizens. Consequently, when the big man is out of the party either through electoral defeat or death in office, the party goes into oblivion. The True Whig Party of Liberia founded in the late 1860s has for all practical purposes been a dead institution since it lost power in a 1980 military coup. The Convention People's Party of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah suffered similar faith after the overthrow of the Osageyfo in 1966. A very good example of a political party that is grounded in the rank and file of its members is the African National Congress of South Africa. We can vividly see that with Mr. Nelson Mandela out of the lame light of South African politics, that party is still a potent force to reckon with.

Jomo Kenyatta who became the founding father of Kenya was at the same time an embodiment of KANU. Like a typical African dictator, he never permitted multi-party democracy to gain root in that country. When his first vice president, Oginga Odinga resigned from KANU in 1966 and formed the Kenya People's Union to oppose Kenyatta, KPU was banned. Thus the seed for the suppression of decent in Kenya was planted. It was this one party government that Daniel arap Moi inherited after the death of Kenyatta in 1978.

While it's true that president Moi yielded to pressure from within and without for the establishment of a multi-party democracy in Kenya, the political climate in that country was still fraught with numerous problems. Kenya virtually obtained a pariah status among the comity of nations due to persistent human rights violations and the disrespect for the rule of law under Moi's leadership. The Kenyan strong man attempt to have his protégée in the person of Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the first president to succeed him by circumventing the democratic process was the beginning of the end of the KANU dynasty.

The overwhelming defections of KANU stalwarts such as Mwai Kibaki (former vice president to Moi), Raila Odinga, etc. to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) was a direct response to Moi's failure to adhere to the principle of democracy by not allowing his successor to be elected at the party convention. The determination of members of NARC to put Kenya first and foremost above individual interest became a source of hope for ordinary Kenyans who desperately needed change for the good of the country. Mwai Kibaki thus became the rallying point his age notwithstanding.

It is also important to note that Kenya with all her problems, is still one of few countries on our continent that has not experienced a military take over. That is a major achievement for the people of that country. It was no wonder that the transfer of power was very smooth especially when president Moi received the last guard of honor. He deserves some commendation for the peaceful and orderly transfer of power. Uhuru Kenyatta on the other hand should be thanked for behaving in a democrat fashion by conceding defeat and pledging to rebuild his party. This tells us that democracy is maturing in some parts of Africa.

Mwai Kibaki's first move according to his pronouncement on the BBC is to ensure that he and his officials declare their assets before taking their respective offices. That is important because some of our leaders who come to power either through force or elections do not declare their assets. In most instances those who ascend to power in Africa come from poor background. Due to the lack of accountability and transparency in most African countries, unscrupulous leaders become mere parasites on national coffers for their personal aggrandizement. Kibaki promised to give education and health care delivery a priority. The European Union and Washington have already expressed their willingness to give assistance to the new government.

The past decade and the current one have ushered in democratic transformations in a number of African countries. Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Nigeria, and Zambia all had smooth democratic transfer of power without hindrance. To what extent will this democratic wind of change go through out Africa without interruption? There are few elections pending for the coming year. Notably, Nigeria and Liberia are expected to hold elections in 2003. In Nigeria, President Obasanjo is seeking re-election in a contest that promises to be very competitive. Former Biafrian leader, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu has declared his intention to vie for the presidency on the All Progressive Grand Alliance. With former military leaders Buhari and Babaginda tipped to be in the race to capture Aso Rock, students of politics will have much on their plates during the electioneering period.

Back home in Liberia, elections are slated for October 2003 assuming that every mechanism is put in place to ensure that those elections are held. The stakes especially in the pending Liberian elections are very high. There are lots of lessons for Liberian political leaders and the electorates to learn from what transpired in Kenya on 27th December 2002. I consider the forth-coming general and presidential elections to be the toughest challenge that Liberians will confront in the entire existence of our history as a nation-state. It is more than when Liberia declared her independence in 1847. What are the issues at stake?

First, there has been the LURD rebellion that has to come to an end if there is to be any meaningful elections in Liberia. Entering the electoral process without an end to the rebellion will be tantamount to committing suicide. I am personally glad that the Americans have developed interest in helping to bring about an end to the war. The LURD should see reason to discontinue the use of force in effecting political change. The consequences of the protracted fighting in which there seem to be no winner is glaring. Our people deserve better life than living in displaced camps. Government on the other hand has to show sign of reconciliation by granting freedom to people in prison on account of LURD. That will in my view be an encouragement to the rebels to disengage from the sporadic fighting.

The second sets of issues that will be decisive in determining the outcome of the elections in 2003 have to do with the following : investing in the education and health sectors of the country; the resurrection of the dead economy; restoration of all ruined public corporations; protection of the environment from unscrupulous business people, and, lastly, bringing Liberia into the fold of the international community. That Liberians are worst off today than they were prior to the July 1997 general and presidential elections is a fact that no one can dispute. In short, the NPP led government has failed the people of Liberia on all of its promises made during the 1977 elections.

There comes a time in a specific historical epoch of a country when genuine patriots stand up to rescue their country in trying times such as this. In doing so, personal interest have to be placed at the back burner in the promotion of the national interest. Leaders of political parties have to first of all accept the fact that Liberia has fallen down and she needs men and women who are nationalists to come together to save the motherland by lifting her up. It is obvious that over ambitious politicians in this country will seek their narrow interests above that of the state. They will begin to scramble for the presidency and nothing else. From time in memorial, the presidency has been the domineering aspect of our political life. While on paper we have "separation of power" with "checks and balances" among the three branches of government, the executive is still all too powerful. Few years ago, a prominent political figure was urged to accept certain amount of money for business purpose as a trade-off for not vying for the presidency. That politician flatly refused arguing that there is no business that is bigger than the presidency. I believe he was right because in the absence of a real institution that will ensure that there is checks and balances in government, with accountability in place, greedy politicians see the presidency as the easiest way of becoming rich over night.

Finally, the thought of Liberia having an election in 2003 is a constitutional requirement which is a given. However, as we have said on many occasions, the security condition for the holding of elections is important more than government providing money to ECOM for the electoral process. The NPP has told us that it still has popular support among the people of Liberia. Let's take that for granted. Will the NPP be willing to confront other political parties in a contest free of intimidation and coercion to defend its successes over the past five years before the electorates? Is the NPP prepared to give account of her stewardship for the past six years at public forum? On the other hand, the other political parties should also be scrutinized by the electorates so that at the end of the day, the mandate of the people will prevail. There can be no short cut to receiving the people's mandate for the leadership of this country. Like the Kenyans, it is useful to put the proper mechanism in place before going to the polls in 2003. Liberia at 156 years by 2003 should not have any excuse for not having free, fair, and transparent elections like Kenya at 39. The Kenyan experience should be instructive to the opposition as well as the ruling party of Liberia. May God bless Africa.

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