True democracy impossible in Africa

Its often been asked whether multiparty, competitive yet patriotic democracy is practical in the African context. Afro-pessimists, including many Africans themselves, believe that pure democracy is impossible. On the other hand, human rights campaigners believe that Africans are just as human as the Swiss, the Americans and the Scandinavians. Therefore, if democracy can work in Switzerland, then it can work equally well in Swaziland.

Africa is a difficult land, much more complex than people imagine. There are social, political and economic currents cutting through and across nations. There are the forces of modernity versus traditionalism. Forces of rural against the urban, rich against poor, ethnicities against each other. At the national level, you have competition between different factions and alliances for control over instruments of state.

At the continental level, world powers use Africa as a chessboard for geo-political strategy. The United States, France, China, Libya and the Arab world are competing for influence in Africa.

Perfect democracies of this world are not subjected to the same tensions that continuously threaten the existence of the African state.

Look at Switzerland as an example. Switzerland has just about four ethnic groups: the Germans, French, Italians and maybe one other obscure grouping that has survived the turmoils of European history. Most of Switzerland’s population is very much 21st century and urbanized. They do not have ethnic warlords using the state’s power to crush rivals.

At the international level, few foreign powers are fighting for control of Switzerland. If anything, the fact that all countries on earth have money in Swiss bank accounts means that everybody has a stake in a peaceful Switzerland. Not so with Africa. Competition for oil, gold, diamonds, timber and fisheries is the cause of an unrestricted struggle where human life means nothing to the protagonists.

Between 2002 and the present day, war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has killed over 2 million people. The war is fed by global commerce, as foreign elements sponsor rebel groups to take over territory rich in minerals. Rebel forces take a cut of the profits for their services in keeping out rivals, usually sponsored by other foreigners. Many of the countries that intervened in the Congo war, such as Uganda, Rwanda, Angola and Namibia did so on behalf of external interests.

Multipartyism has been hijacked by world powers vying for influence in the continent. Major political parties within African countries are supported by foreign countries, either secretly or openly. When a party gets into power, it must reciprocate by assigning mineral rights, defense contracts and construction tenders to its benefactor. That explains why battles between political parties can assume such antagonistic levels beyond what would be expected from purely domestic competition. The stakes are usually much higher than what is visible to ordinary people.

Lets take another democracy: Japan. This is a mono-ethnic, mono-religious island state. Of course, you are going to say that Somalia is a mono-ethnic, mono-religious state that has succumbed to the worst of Africa’s failings. Unlike Somalia, Japan has been under occupation very few times, most notably after World War 2. In contrast, Somalia suffered the divide and conquer ravages of colonialism. To this day, the major reason why Somalia cannot get peace is because the respective warloads are sponsored by foreign powers.

When the United States occupied Japan after World War 2, the Americans left behind a solid foundation for a capitalist economy that propelled Japan into becoming the world’s second largest economy – after America. Which European colonialists empowered the African into achieving industrialized status? African countries were mere producers of food, minerals and cheap labor. By independence in the 1960s, some African countries had just a dozen graduates.

Without putting too much blame on foreigners, Africa is still a continent caught up in two worlds: the modern and the traditional. Majority of Africans do not know where to belong, and therefore try to fit into both worlds. That explains why politicians clamor for multiparty democracy but run the parties like a tribal fiefdom. A leader will encourage people to speak freely but when the criticism comes, condemns it, saying that it is disrespectful to challenge an elder. People talk about gender equality but refuse to elect a woman as village elder, let alone as president.

Africa is urbanizing very fast, but rural influences permeate the environment. The late Julius Nyerere of Tanzania said that multiparty democracy is useless because, “everybody in Africa is a peasant.” According to Nyerere, multipartyism developed in the West in order to reconcile the interests of aristocrats, industrialists, industrial workers and peasants. In Africa though, the fact that most people are peasants means that multipartyism can only exist by exploiting ethnic differences. Nyerere made this statement in the 1960s but it carries relevance to this day. Perhaps more so, in the case of Kenya.

The quest to survive in a hostile environment does not help democratic development. Africa is the world’s poorest continent, yet its expected to practice the same political systems as the world’s richest countries. The economy of Belgium is bigger than the combined output of black Africa. A typical Belgian voter can afford to vote on the basis of principles. An African voter will use the vote as a tool for getting basic needs and many actually go ahead to sell voter identification cards.

In Kenya’s 2007 elections, large numbers of people voted out of the influence of cash handouts. Very promising political candidates failed to get into parliament because they could not afford to spend lavishly. Handouts of Shs50 (US$0.75) were enough to do the trick. For a rural family, Shs50 is the difference between getting dinner or sleeping hungry.

Compare this with a country like Sweden, where the average annual income is in the tens of thousands of dollars. How do you give 75 cents to someone like that? If you want to bribe Swedish voters, you had better be a billionaire!

To summarize, lack of democracy in Africa can be blamed on:
– competition by foreign powers for influence in Africa,
– ethnic rivalries,
– colonialism,
– traditional belief system in a 21st century world,
– rural upbringing versus urbanized reality,
– poverty

Does it mean that African democracy is an elusive dream? Not at all. Democracy is a viable form of governance for Africa but it should be adapted to prevailing circumstances. It will need time and patience to nurture. It requires the strengthening of institutions. It also requires for international powers to stop taking Africa as a global chessboard. Africans must be entrusted with the making of crucial decisions affecting the continent.

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Written by Stanley M. Mjomba, Coast Affairs correspondent for the Nairobi Chronicle.
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Violence in Western against foreigners on the rise

Excessively violent attacks against foreign aid workers in Western Kenya could result in the closure of charity projects, and completely crush the hopes of thousands of poor families in the area.

John Bergen, a Canadian missionary with children from displaced families. John was hacked so badly that doctors, lost count of the stitches they did on his face.

John Bergen, a Canadian missionary with children from displaced families. John was hacked so badly that doctors, "lost count" of the stitches they did on his face. Picture by the National Post.

On the night of 24th July, 12 Dutch nationals were attacked, robbed and three of them gang-raped in Kakamega. According to the Standard newspaper, the gangsters took off with Shs185,000 (US$2,800), 650 Euros, among other valuables. The 12 were visiting an orphanage, which they have been funding, and were hosted by a Kenyan couple.

Just three weeks earlier, a Canadian missionary couple was brutally attacked at their home in Kitale. John Bergen, aged 70 was hacked with machetes and clubs and left for dead. The 5-man gang then proceeded to gang-rape his 66 year old wife, Eloise, and savagely beat her as well. Luckily, both survived, but John needed so many stitches to his face that doctors “lost count,” Eloise told reporters.

There is little information on the Kakamega incident concerning the Dutch nationals. In Kitale, police arrested 7 people linked to the attack on the Canadians. Two of the suspects are women. Police have also seized the couple’s two night guards, who had been hired less than a month earlier. However, it is common for Kenyan police to arrest security guards whenever a crime is reported. The arrest of the night guards may not necessarily imply guilt.

John Bergen, has since undergone multiple surgeries to repair a shattered jaw, a broken wrist, two broken arms, damaged knee and multiple lacerations and bruises. Eloise, was released from hospital after receiving 35 stitches for multiple cuts and bruises. The couple told their family that they plan on visiting the local prison to confront and forgive the men accused of attacking them before they board the plane home.

Western Province and neighbouring Kitale are a densely populated area adjacent to Kenya’s border with Uganda. Rapid population growth is exacting massive pressure on land, water and forestry resources. Meanwhile, a high rate of youth unemployment has worsened the poverty situation, resulting in school dropouts, broken homes, alcoholism and rising crime. The erosion of traditional cultural values due to urbanization has removed the taboos that placed moral restrictions in the past.

Western Province and the Rift Valley province where Kitale is located experienced political and ethnic clashes following disputed elections in December 2007. Tens of thousands of people were evicted from homes, farms and businesses due to ethnic prejudice and political affiliation. Roads were blocked, shops looted and farms set ablaze in an orgy of violence that devastated the area’s economy. Government offices were ransacked. Rumours about the entry of Ugandan soldiers into Kenya resulted in mobs of youth blocking transport at border areas for weeks.

An insurgency in Mount Elgon by the Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF) drew the wrath of Kenya’s security forces, especially from March this year. Both the SLDF and the government have been implicated in torture, killings and the disappearance of hundreds of people in Mt Elgon District.

Meanwhile, the violence against the Canadian and Dutch aid workers has received scant attention from Kenya’s media. The Standard reported the Kakamega attack through a tiny news brief. Its possible that political leaders from the region fear that continued negative publicity could deter tourists and investors.

Details of the Kitale attack on Canada’s National Post.

Police killings continue in Mungiki war

As Kenya’s police maintain a policy of targeted assassinations in its war against Mungiki, the mutilated bodies of abducted victims continue to be uncovered in forests and morgues around Nairobi.

According to the Daily Nation, a bus driver whose arrest was filmed by the paper’s staff has been found dead. Mr Peter Maina Wachira was found strangled alongside his tout Peter Mwangi less than 24 hours after they were arrested at the Muthurwa bus terminus in Nairobi.

Records at Nairobi’s City Mortuary show the two bodies were delivered in a police vehicle and booked as those of, “unknown persons.” Further investigations by the Daily Nation led reporters to a settlement near Ngong town. Apparently, the bodies were found by children as they walked to school one morning.

The police admit arresting the two men but deny involvement in their deaths. Polices spokesman, Eric Kiraithe, said relatives of the men could institute an inquest by making a formal request to the police.

According to human rights organizations, close to 1,000 young men have been tortured, killed and dumped in bushes by the Kenya Police for alleged involvement with the Mungiki sect. Police say the use of force is justified because they are fighting an illegal, criminal organization.

The Mungiki, popular with disillusioned young people from the Kikuyu ethnic group, calls for a return to traditional African culture. It despises Christianity as a colonial religion. In the slums of Kenya’s cities and in rural squatter settlements, Mungiki has grown by providing casual jobs, protection, housing and other social services. Since it began in the mid 1980s, the group’s membership is now estimated at the lower millions. It has become a formidable political and quasi-militia force that has drawn the wrath of the State security machinery.

Kenya’s government declared war against the group in mid 2007. Since then, dozens of police and government administrators have been killed by suspected Mungiki. On its part, the Kenyan police have been accused of abducting and killing thousands of youths. Many other young people have simply been made to disappear.

The Kenya Police force, however, faces little condemnation for its actions. Because Mungiki is largely drawn from the Kikuyu ethnic group, inter-ethnic rivalry in Kenya means that the rest of Kenya has no sympathy for the suffering of Kikuyu youth.

Mungiki’s leader, Maina Njenga, is serving a five year jail term on weapons and drugs charges. Mr Maina says the police falsified the charges against him. Earlier this year, his wife, Virginia Nyakio, was abducted, raped and beheaded by persons believed to be working for the security services. Mr Njenga has vowed not to allow the funeral of his murdered wife until the government drops all charges against him.

Incest in Dagoretti becomes “normal”

Sexual relationships between family members have become common in Dagoretti, assuming a semblance of normalcy that threatens the moral fibre of Kenyan society.

Fathers are having consensual sex with their daughters. Brothers and sisters willingly go to bed with each other. Meanwhile, mothers are using their feminity to seduce their own sons as part of daily life in Dagoretti. Located just west of the city of Nairobi, the Dagoretti area is showing acute characteristics of a population ravaged by poverty, crime, high population growth and the collapse of traditional taboos due to urbanization.

Across the world, incest is associated with broken homes, worsened by alcoholism, drug abuse, joblessness and abuse spanning several generations. In Dagoretti most homesteads appear to suffer from these vices all at the same time, hence the incest phenomenon.

“When people in Dagoretti discover that the girl next door is having sex with her father, nobody makes a big deal out of it because its a common occurence,” says Mwaura, a young man born and bred in the area. “If my friend tells me that he slept with his sister, I wouldn’t be surprised because this is Dago,” adds Mwaura. Dago is slang for Dagoretti.

So prevalent is the curse of incest that Dagoretti’s notoriety has spread far and wide. Many people are reluctant to marry from this area for fear of what they will discover about their partners. Societal values are upside down. Single parenthood in Dagoretti is at alarming levels, and children from such households suffer increased rates of abuse from parents or persons dating their parents.

As though that wasn’t enough, parents in Dagoretti plot how to solicit funds from foreign donors in order to educate their children. As expected, the “donors” will occasionally want to visit their beneficiaries and there’s no telling what happens during such encounters. Mwaura attributes the “sponsorship” mania to laziness among area residents. “People here don’t want to work; they would rather spend the day drinking. So they must look for churches, non-governmental organizations and foreigners to sponsor their children’s education. I know of several families where each child has a different sponsor.”

At the same time, widespread incest is worsening the scourges of alcoholism and drug abuse. Or maybe it is the other way round?

This is an incredible story narrated to the Nairobi Chronicle by a Dagoretti resident who we shall call Onesmus:

ONESMUS: “A couple of years ago, a young man in Dagoretti consumed a drug reputed to increase sexual libido. Which would be alright if the young man were married, or if he had a girlfriend. Unfortunately, he was single and living at home with his parents. On getting home and with a raging sexual appetite, the guy went berserk around the homestead, breaking things. When the mother was told what her son had taken, she decided to quench his sexual desire by sleeping with him. ‘I can’t let my son continue suffering like this, I must do something as his mother,’ the woman is quoted as saying.

Nairobi Chronicle: “That is really sick. If this woman really wanted to help her son, why didn’t she just go to the nearest pub and get a commercial sex worker?”

ONESMUS: “Well, maybe she didn’t know where or how to talk to one.”

Cases of fathers having sex with their own daughters in exchange for cash, property and jobs are very common in Dagoretti. Some men are said to force their daughters into sex by threatening not to pay school fees. The hapless girl, eager to continue with her education succumbs to the demands and eventually, the relationship becomes a normal affair. However, the phenomenon of father – daughter sex is not unique to Dagoretti as many cases continue getting reported from across Kenya.

But why is Dagoretti so afflicted with incestuous relationships compared to other parts of Nairobi? In the whole of Kenya, the only other area that comes close to Dagoretti in the recorded and observable cases of incest is Naivasha. Both areas have certain features in common.

They are semi-urban, semi-rural settlements with a multi-cultural population attracted by low-skill but low-wage labour. Many of these people grew up elsewhere but their relocation to a new, harsher environment has meant that the traditional taboos that governed their lives are no longer applicable. Add to that the effects of poverty and an oppressive work environment with no prospects for personal growth. The prevailing social and political climate in Kenya doesn’t do much to cultivate optimism either. High crime rates have made people feel vulnerable to the vagaries of fellow man.

The result is a population of people who have no feelings left for fellow human beings, not even their own family. In this bleak, Darwinian setting, money, sex and alcohol become the means to existence. Not only are they the means of livelihood, but money sex and alcohol are the ends that keep people going.

If sex is a tool and a means, then it does not matter how one gets it and with whom. It could be your next door neighbor just as much as it could be your wife or husband. It could be with your daughter, brother or uncle. It could even be with your daughter’s best friend, or your son’s fiancée. It doesn’t matter who you hurt as long as you get sex.

With this kind of moral vacuum, the future for the young people of Dagoretti is not very promising. It can be concluded with reasonable certainty that cases of incest in Dagoretti will get worse in future. Unless somebody takes the initiative to change the moral landscape of the area, the young people of Dagoretti will abuse their children just as much as they have been abused. An initiative to combat incest could be from government, it could be from religious bodies or from non-governmental organizations. Perhaps, such a programme could originate from politicians. Any initiative towards tackling the shadow of incest in Dagoretti would be welcome.

Regardless of the moral ambivalence of the residents of Dagoretti what is happening there just ain’t right.

Email captures national frustration

An email forward circulated among office workers and internet users in Kenya has used Senator Barrack Obama’s presidential candidacy to articulate frustration with Kenya’s aging leaders.

Though the originator of the email is unidentified, the email has grown in popularity. Many people report receiving the email several times in their inboxes from friends, work colleagues and family.

Here’s a reproduction of the email forward below:

KENYA vs USA

Interesting!!!!

45 years ago, Kibaki and Michuki were in Cabinet and Kennedy was running for President. Obama was 1 year old. 45 years later, Kibaki and Michuki are still in cabinet, and Obama is a candidate for the same seat Kennedy was running for. In 45 years, Obama’s father is dead, we have had Johnson, Carter, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 1 and Bush 2 in USA in between as presidents but in Kenya the same guys in their 70’s and 80’s are still trying to tell Kenyans they can make development models that work?

Makes u think??

Something wrong with Kenya!!!!!

American executive charged with child sex

An American executive charged with child sex was yesterday granted bail by a Nairobi court.

According to the Daily Nation, Mr John Cardon Wagner was accused of defiling two girls, one aged 13 years old and the other 14 on June 5 and 7. Mr Wagner is the owner of the popular Java chain of coffee houses.

While granting bail, the judge ordered that Mr Wagner deposit his passport with the police, to prevent him from fleeing the country.

Cases of child sex abuse have reached alarming levels in Kenya, fuelled by an erosion in traditional values, the growth of urban slums and poverty. Rich locals and foreigners often take advantage of the circumstances of poor families to prey on their children in exchange for money.

Smoking ban an elitist agenda

A COMMENTARY

From July, Kenya will be among a few countries in the world to place a total ban on cigarette smoking and tobacco advertising. The ban, however, will hurt the poor more than the health benefits it seeks to bring to Kenyan society.

The tobacco ban was announced last week by Health Minister, Beth Mugo. The ban criminalizes the smoking of tobacco in restaurants, bars, offices, bus shelters and even on roadsides. Cigarettes will only be sold in packets, unlike the popular practise all over the developing world where cigarettes can be bought in sticks. Cigarette packs will carry prominent warnings. Mrs Mugo also encouraged wives and children to, “report men who endanger family health by smoking at home.”

If there ever was a lingering doubt that Kenya has an elitist government, then this should be enough evidence to clear such doubts. The ban is decidedly anti-poor and smacks of paternalistic attitudes that assume that ordinary people do not know what is in their own good interest. The ban is likely to negatively impact on the lives of tobacco farmers, cigarette distributors and vendors at a time when jobs are scarce. The tobacco ban is likely to divert attention from much more important issues such as ethnic relations, infrastructure development and primary health care, among others.

Previous experience has shown that the poor living in the slums and villages are likely to be arrested by police for smoking in their own backyards. Of course, freedom can be bought for a few hundred shillings (sometimes less) but you can be sure that the rich man in Muthaiga and Karen will smoke in his large compound completely unmolested. Besides, over 50% of men in the lower income segments are regular smokers and the ban clearly infringes on their individual rights.

The health minister’s suggestion that wives and children should report on men smoking at home is callous, to say the least. Such a suggestion is likely to lead to the break up of families by undermining traditional family structures. Well, we are living in a world where men and women are equal. But telling women to report their husbands to police for smoking is the height of demagoguery. What happens to such women when their husbands get jailed?

Which is worse: to have a breadwinner that smokes after a hard day’s work? Or to have women turning to prostitution because their men are in jail? The unfortunate reality is that majority of women in rural areas and the slums do not have much professional qualifications. Without husbands, their lives become extremely bleak. But then, isn’t Beth Mugo a niece of the late Jomo Kenyatta? Because of her family background that enables her gain financial independence, it is easy for her to imagine walking out on a husband that smokes.

The tobacco industry supports thousands of farmers across the country. The government ban on smoking is likely to impact severely on the meager fortunes of those who depend on the tobacco crop for survival. At the moment, most tobacco is grown under contract farming between farmers and tobacco companies such as the British American Tobacco (BAT) and Mastermind. Sales of tobacco after the ban will plunge forcing the tobacco companies to reduce the acreage of tobacco. Its been argued that tobacco farmers should seek alternative crops to grow, such as maize, beans, potatoes, coffee, among others. However, market for food crops in Kenya is pretty dicey and unlikely to offer the predictable incomes that tobacco provides.

By forcing the poor to buy cigarettes in packets, the government ban is displaying extreme insensitivity at a time of 21% inflation caused by rising oil and food prices. It is easier for a cigarette smoker to buy ten sticks for Shs30 [US$0.48] than to buy a packet for at least Shs60 [US$1]. The retail economy is moving towards smaller portions due to entrenched poverty. Forcing smokers to buy a packet of cigarettes is like forcing a housewife to buy a whole tin of cooking fact when she only needs a spoonful. Majority of Kenyans get their consumer products in small quantities due to the nature of informal sector jobs that pay in daily bits, if at all.

The ban on tobacco will push tobacco retailing and consumption into the underworld. There will be an increase in tobacco smuggling (similar to what happened in Europe) that will spawn vicious cartels struggling to control the trade. Indeed, one of the major sources of funds for the Russian mafia in Europe is the smuggling of tobacco. Illegal groups in Kenya will gain a fresh source of finances that will enable them buy sophisticated weapons. There will be an increase in organized crime in the form of prostitution, gambling dens, human trafficking and money laundering. Some of the proceeds of organized crime will be used to undermine the integrity of the state.

Again, when an economic and social activity is taken over by underworld forces, it becomes very difficult for the government to monitor standards. Most tobacco production, distribution and consumption will be through underground channels. The ensuing lack of quality assurance will expose the Kenyan public to poor quality, poorly prepared tobacco mixed with toxic substances.

Kenyans have a tendency of attempting world records in all the wrong things. The Kenyan government definitely has a responsibility to ensure the good health of its people. The banning of smoking in offices and the banning of smoking on the road side are two different things. The former is pragmatic, taking cognizance of the needs of none smokers. The other is plain nonsensical.