Tuesday, March 3, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
March 3, 2009

I read a story on the Zimbabwe’s fragile coalition government in a South African newspaper and wondered aloud how that country’s political destiny dangerously resembles Kenya. Save for Zimbabwean names, one would have been excused for thinking that the story was about Kenya.

The similarity between Kenya and Zimbabwe goes many decades even a century ago when both were ruled by the British. Both were for decades colonies of the British Empire and both fought bloody independence wars. Incidentally when the British could no longer sustain the uprising in both colonies, the empire negotiated political settlement with both colonies at the Lancaster House in London.

And the similarities do not end there. The reason Zimbabweans fought the British was because of land. White settlers had alienated natives from their ancestral lands just like they had grabbed fertile native lands in Kenya.

So, when finally the colonial master negotiated independence for the colonies, very ambiguous land deals were entered into where the British would provide funds for the newly independent states to purchase land from White settlers and distribute to the natives. And as usual, such arrangements benefitted the new Black ruling class.

After decades of independence in both countries, land problems in both countries remain thorny. As Mugabe’s regime decided to forcibly acquire White farms 20 years later, the Kenyan elite decided to sit pretty despite peasant unrest.

Now, in 2007 and 2008, both countries conducted elections whose outcomes were disputed resulting in widespread civil unrest. And to quell the uprising, international mediators negotiated national accords that allowed winners and losers to share power.

Interesting when both governments formed coalition governments, each one of them formed a bloated cabinet of 41 ministers despite having economies that can hardly sustain such number of ministries.

Whereas in Zimbabwe, it was the coalition partner that complained of a large cabinet; in Kenya, both partners welcomed it as a necessary evil; never mind that most Kenyans opposed it.

However, as in Kenya, despite Zimbabwean MDC complaining to the press about the size of the cabinet; it was conspicuously silent about what it would do about it.
In Kenya, once the Peace Accord was signed, the ODM Party embarked on a campaign to release from custody all those people that the police were holding on suspicion that they had caused violence immediately Kibaki was declared the winner.

Whereas the ODM brigade maintained that such people had the right to demonstrate against their stolen election, PNU ministers under Kibaki maintained that such criminals would face the full force of the law.

Now Zimbabwe is facing a similar scenario.

As Morgan Tsvangirai agitates for all MDC activists to be released unconditionally as per the September 2008 Accord, Mugabe has denied that he agreed to free political prisoners saying instead that accused persons must go through the court process to determine their fate!

The other area of contention similar to the Kenyan accord is in the appointment of the cabinet and top civil servants. Whereas Morgan Tsvangirai held out long enough to acquire the powerful Treasury, Raila Odinga was in a hurry to enter the cabinet and therefore lost out on all key ministries like Finance, Foreign Affairs, National Security, Defense, Justice and Constitutional Affairs while it split ministries of Roads, Works, Housing, Health and Agriculture with PNU to accommodate its 20 plus portfolios.

However, where the ODM lost badly just like Zimbabwe’s MDC was in the appointment of civil servants, constitutional office holders and the Attorney General. Like Mugabe, Kibaki retained the Governor of Central Bank, Attorney General, Head of the Civil Service, the bulk of Permanent Secretaries and all ambassadorial appointments except three that went to ODM.

Like in Kenya, Mugabe has dismissed Tsvangirai’s complaint as an "emotional outburst" prompted by the urge to "hear one’s own voice".

Mugabe has made it clear he was not prepared to sack his bank governor or attorney general just like Kibaki has maintained studious silence regarding ODM complaint against the Head of the Civil Service, Central Bank Governor and his Attorney General whom the UN envoy has described as the epitome of impunity.

With these parallels, one would be forgiven for thinking that before the British departed from both former colonies; the empire bequeathed to them a legacy that would bind them together for better or for worse to the end of time.

Will Kenya and Zimbabwe resolve their land problem in our lifetime now that they have failed to deal with it in the last half a century? May be the two former colonies need to go back to Lancaster House for another round of negotiations.