Thursday, February 21, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

The first two decades of independence for most African states were extremely chaotic. The new found political freedom that brought with it sudden power, glory and wealth became difficult to handle for political activists otherwise known as freedom heroes that agitated for freedom from colonialists.

In just a couple of years, there were coupes and counter coupes everywhere across the African continent. Soldiers came out of their barracks and took over governments in Ghana, Nigeria, Algeria, Zanzibar, Togo, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Congo and Central African Republic. Congo Brazzaville, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and Uganda were not spared either in the turmoil. The most chaotic and bloodiest of these military regimes were later to be witnessed in Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Congo and Somalia where millions of human lives were lost.

Because of the Cold War that raged during the period between Communism and Western democracies, most of the atrocities that took place in these countries attracted no attention from the Western. Dictators and despots like Idi Amin, Siad Barre, Emperor Bokassa, Haile Mariam Mengitsu and Joseph Mobutu emerged from the continent and had their way as long as they purported to support either the Soviet Union or the United States of America.

Jerry Rawlings could stage a coupe in Ghana twice and publicly execute perceived corrupt government officials without human rights groups raising a finger. Haile Mariam Mengitsu of Ethiopia could use scarce tax payers’ funds to build a Kremlin-like square complete with Lenin’s statute in the middle of Addis Ababa when millions of Ethiopians were starving to death. That era saw Sani Abacha of Nigeria rule that vast oil rich country with an iron fist and stash away billions of dollars in foreign accounts at the expense of malnourished Nigerian children.

However, as the wind of change blew over Eastern Europe in the late 1980s that culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crash of the Soviet Union, Western democracies began to pay attention to atrocities committed by despots in our continent. They began talking of political reforms and democratization of authoritarian regimes if their allies in the continent were to continue receiving financial and military aid.

Due to this sudden change of attitude, Africa has witnessed significant growth in democratic practices. Ethiopia’s Mengitsu was forced out. Jerry Rawlings transformed into a democrat. Moi conceded to multiparty system. Abacha’s sudden death ushered in democratic elections for the first time in Nigeria since independence. Life Presidents Kamuzu Banda of Malawi and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia were defeated in their first multiparty elections after they liberalized politics.

As Mozambique and Angola stabilize after years of freedom struggle that were followed by fierce civil wars; as Liberia, Sierra Leone, DRC and Sudan struggle to return to normalcy, and as Rwanda and South Africa go through the healing process after genocide and apartheid repression; Africa must be weary of new signs of turmoil such as Kenya. Africa and the international community must look with distain and actually act to stop a handful of misguided individuals to derail our democratic process.

Kenyans fought for their freedom fifty years ago and paid the ultimate prize with their blood and lives. They fought again for the second liberation for twenty years to regain their country from black dictators that also had their share of killings, murders and tortures of innocent human rights activists.

When they finally had the most democratic elections in 2002 that saw President Moi go home in disgrace, they thought they were finally out of the woods. They became the most optimistic people on earth. The whole of Africa and the rest of the world showered them with praise. The country became a shining example of democracy in the entire continent.

However, this glory was to be cut short in 2004 when the new regime of Mwai Kibaki reneged on its promises to Kenyans. Instead of fighting corruption, he abetted it. Instead of eradicating tribalism he practiced it. Instead of reforming the constitution in a hundred days as he promised, he vandalized the people’s Bomas Draft. Instead of uniting the country, he divided it into tribal enclaves. Instead of devolving political and economic power as he had promised, he consolidated it.

When Kenyans finally held the next elections in 2007, he chose to steal the results after losing the most hotly contested elections. Now because of that single fact of choosing to short change Kenyans at the ballot box, he has plunged Kenya into a crisis that has reverberated across the entire continent.

The reason Africa and the world cannot allow a handful of myopic and selfish individuals to destroy Kenya is because if Kenya goes down, the entire Eastern Africa will go down with it. Kenya is not a leg or an arm of the region that can be amputated and the body still survives. It is the heart of the region that cannot be allowed to stop beating. If it stops, the whole body is dead. These individuals have become the cancer on our body that we must remove from our midst lest the whole body decays.