Followers

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Mugabe Is Gone; Mugabeism Remains

Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe
I'n'I a-liberate Zimbabwe.

So sang the late, great, Jamaican reggae star, Bob Marley in 1979, just a year before the country was finally won its independence from white rule. Today, with Robert Mugabe forced to resign as President after being fired by his party and with Zimbabwe inaugurating a new leader, the questions many will ask is whether this is another moment of liberation – only this time liberation from the erstwhile liberator of 1980- and what a post-Mugabe future might look like.

Soon we’ll find out who is
The real revolutionary

For the last 37 years, under Mugabe’s Presidency - who at 93 was the world’s oldest head of state and second only to Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea as its longest serving non-royal ruler- Zimbabwe has gone from being southern Africa’s bread basket to the region’s basket case. Mugabe himself, once an icon of anticolonialism and, with his seven degrees, great hope of African renaissance, has become the butt of continental jokes.

The path the country and its former ruler have trod is depressingly familiar. An independence hero who proceeds to govern his country as a personal fiefdom, enriching himself and his family, destroying all internal opposition, impoverishing the population and committing many of the same abuses the anti-colonial struggle was meant to put an end to.

In his early years in power, initially as Prime Minister, Mugabe was widely praised for expanding social services, including building schools and hospitals. However, like others across the continent, his government failed early on to deal with the legacy of the country’s colonial past and the issue of whether to reform the state they inherited or whether, as Panashe Chigumadzi put it in her article for the New York Times, “conform to the historic compromises that brought them into power”.

Again, like his counterparts, Mugabe opted to shelve the issue and concentrate on consolidating his own grip on power. Facing internal dissent, he launched a brutal crackdown in the predominantly Ndebele speaking region of Matabeleland, most of whom were supporters of his rival Joshua Nkomo, in which according to some estimates more than 20,000 people were killed.

The unresolved colonial legacy - especially over the starkly unequal distribution of land - would prove a useful tool in later years. In the 1990s, he would successfully divide the opposition by offering veteran of the independence war tracts of land and demonizing civil society and labor unions, as tools of the West.

It was a strategy he employed again in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s to buff up his revolutionary credentials by launching a disastrous land redistribution programme which targeted the country’s tiny land-owning white minority. Officially sanctioned land invasions, violence and continued government threats forced most large scale white farmers off the land and agricultural production plummeted. The country went from being a net food exporter to requiring food aid.

As the average Zimbabwean has continued to suffer the effects of economic decline, there has been continued splurging on a small coterie of officials and ruling party loyalists. Last year, the government reportedly spent $800,000 on festivities to mark Mugabe’s 92 birthday and his family has done very well for itself over the years. His wife, 40 years his junior and who has earned the nickname “Gucci Grace” for her lavish shopping sprees, made no secret of her desire to keep the presidency within the family when he eventually passed on.

And I don't want my people to be tricked
By mercenaries.

Will the intervention by the Zimbabwean military -the coup that was no coup- change this? Not likely, despite the military’s declaring its intention is to “pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation”. It claimed to target, and has been rounding up “criminals around [Mugabe] who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice”. Yet the same army was solidly behind Mugabe throughout his years of abuse - it was the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade that was responsible for the massacres in Matabeleland locally referred to as “Gukurahundi” (a Shona term that loosely translates to "the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains").

In fact, this was largely an internal struggle within the ruling party, ZANU-PF, over who is to succeed the aging dictator. the immediate spark for the current crisis was Mugabe’s decision to fire his long-time ally and now replacement as President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, from the vice presidency, to pave the way for his wife to succeed him. The military seemed reluctant to openly intervene, its head, Gen Constantino Chiwenga, and 90 senior officers initially only demanding a halt to the purge of Mnagangwa’s allies within the party. Mnangagwa himself is no angelic figure, attracting the moniker "The Crocodile" for his actions during the independence struggle and as a reminder of his alleged role -which he denies- in the Gukurahundi massacres, as Minister for State Security and Chairman of the Joint High Command, and in masterminding attacks on opposition supporters after 2008 election.

This then is a dispute, not over how Zimbabwe is run, but over who runs it. In June, University of Zimbabwe Political Science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, when asked about the possibility of military coup if Mnangagwa did not succeed Mugabe. He responded thus: “It will be restricted to the elite level. This level does not involve you or me or the 13 million Zimbabweans. It is an elite struggle.”

The people now jostling to replace Mugabe have been more than content to benefit from the policies he has pursued, even when those came at the expense of long-suffering Zimbabweans.

It is instructive too that the record of military takeovers in Africa and across the world gives little cause for hope that this particular one will quickly lead to a restoration of genuine democracy in Zimbabwe. From Nigeria to Egypt to Burma, the record shows that once military generals get a taste of power, they are loathe to give it up. Further, they tend to govern as badly, or even worse, than the civilian despots they overthrow.

Amid talk of the military setting up a transitional government to return the country to civilian rule and prepare fresh elections, one senior opposition politician told CNN that “this takeover was planned a long time ago by Emmerson Mnangagwa and secret discussions did take place with opposition about a succession plan including forcing out Mugabe… What you saw yesterday at State House [published images of Mugabe speaking with military chiefs] was acting."

This ties in with a Reuters investigation in September that found that Mnangagwa and other political players, including former prime minister Morgan Tzivangirai, with had already been positioning themselves for this possibility.

The report, which cites “politicians, diplomats and a trove of hundreds of documents from inside Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization (CIO)” says that in the event of Mugabe’s leaving office, “Mnangagwa… envisages cooperating with Tsvangirai to lead a transitional government for five years with the tacit backing of some of Zimbabwe’s military and Britain. These sources leave open the possibility that the government could be unelected.”

“This unity government would pursue a new relationship with thousands of white farmers who were chased off in violent seizures of land approved by Mugabe in the early 2000s. The farmers would be compensated and reintegrated, according to senior politicians, farmers and diplomats. The aim would be to revive the agricultural sector, a linchpin of the nation’s economy that collapsed catastrophically after the land seizures,” it continues.

Once again, the focus would appear to be on appeasing the country’s former colonial rulers at the expense of its citizenry. Rather than seek to comprehensively restructure the state so it works for all its people, Zimbabwe’s would-be rulers seem bent on resuscitating the same “historic compromises” that have been at the root of the country’s malaise.

We'll 'ave to fight (we gon' fight), we gonna fight (we gon' fight),
We'll 'ave to fight (we gon' fight), fighting for our rights!

Rather than an agreement to restore the power of elites, any transitional government should pursue a genuine broad-based national reflection on the nature of the Zimbabwean state and force the country to face up to the demons of its past, rather than hide from them. For all his many faults, it must be acknowledged that Mugabe’s attempts at redressing historical injustice, though pursued for less than noble reasons, struck a chord with many ordinary Zimbabweans (and many ordinary Africans beyond).

Apart from restructuring the state, Zimbabwe will also need to build the necessary infrastructure to keep it accountable to the people. This includes a free and independent media -it has been great to see international networks allowed to report openly once again- and a vibrant civil society.

The current situation, while not ideal, thus still offers a valuable opportunity for Zimbabwean leaders to do right by their people. Whether they will take it remains to be seen.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

The 55-year Fight For Kenya

Two elections in two months has not settled Kenya’s political crisis. But the impasse is not really about who will sit in State House. It’s a deeper question: it’s about who owns Kenya – its citizens or a historically entrenched political elite.

President, Uhuru Kenyatta, won the second edition easily after his main opponent, Raila Odinga, withdrew from the race citing the inability of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to carry out a credible poll. In fact, the reason the election was being done afresh was that the Supreme Court had annulled the August 8 version, accusing the IEBC of acting as if the Elections Act and the Constitution did not exist. His refusal to participate in last Thursday’s contest has now precipitated a deep political crisis.

Some have proposed that it is nothing more than a dispute between two of Kenya’s famously gluttonous and power-hungry politicians, each accusing the other of trying to get power through fraudulent means. Others blame the ethnicization of Kenya’s politics and the deep tribal faults within Kenyan society. Still others maintain that the country’s winner-take-all political system, which does not allow those rejected by voters a cushy and safe landing. In all this, the fate of individual politicians and of the country’s constitution takes on huge importance.

And yet all these diagnoses fail to identify the central conflict that lies at the heart of and connects all these issues – and that is the struggle to bend the country’s colonial and extractive state to the whims of a new and progressive constitution.

It is a war that has been silently waged for at least 55 years. In the run up to Independence in 1963, the two main African parties, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) premiered the main themes and power conflicts that were to dominate Kenya’s attempts to deal with the colonial state. According to the late Prof Hastings Okoth-Ogendo, KANU, the more popular of the two, prioritized the transfer of power over reform of the state, while KADU, which had already lost an election to its rival, was more focused in the limitation of that power in the interests of ethnic minorities.

In 1962, at the second Lancaster House constitutional conference, KADU insisted on a constitution that was broadly similar to the one the country was to adopt 48 years later. It established a Bill of Rights, created regional assemblies and government in an effort to devolve power from the center. KANU, on the other hand, reluctantly acquiesced, reasoning that when the party inevitably won power through the ballot box, it would be free to change the constitution.

And that’s what indeed happened. In less than a decade after independence, the constitution would be so mangled through amendments that in 1969, it was officially recognized as a different constitution.

Writing in 1992, current Attorney General, Prof Githu Muigai, explains:

“The colonial order had been one monolithic edifice of power that did not rely on any set of rules for legitimization. When the Independence constitution was put into place it was completely at variance with the authoritarian administrative structures that were still kept in place by the entire corpus of public law. Part of the initial amendments therefore involved an attempt - albeit misguided - to harmonise the operations of a democratic constitution with an undemocratic and authoritarian administrative structure. Unhappily instead of the latter being amended to fit the former, the former was altered to fit the latter with the result that the constitution was effectively downgraded.”

In short, under KANU, the colonial state and its logic of extraction of resources from the many to enrich the few -initially British colonials, but now a similarly tiny African political elite -prevailed and undid the constitution. What followed was an “eating” binge as politicians and senior officials and their families and friends grabbed whatever they could lay their hands on.

By the late 1980s, the looting and oppression had sparked a reaction from citizen groups, media and churchmen which featured a persistent push for a new constitution, even in the face of violent government crackdowns as well as state-led attempts to co-opt and hollow out their demands. The popular agitation came to fruition in August 2010 when the current constitution was promulgated which essentially was a reset to 1962.

Yet the colonial state did not just fade away. It had to contend with this new challenge and, at least initially, the political elite was happy to pretend to play along for as long as their position at the top was not seriously challenged. The more egregious aspects of the state that the constitution now abolished, were simply renamed and allowed to hide in plain sight: the hated provincial administration rather than being abolished, simply changed titles but was retained intact; the police, though nominally declared to be operationally independent, never actually behaved like they were -they still remained “a citizen containment squad” as the Ransley report had described them.

Though cloaking itself in the cloth of the constitution, the state refused to reform. Under Uhuru Kenyatta, it retained its authoritarian character but with a fresh, likable face. But all through, its violence was never far below the surface as was witnessed in the aftermath of its bungled responses to terrorist attacks such as the on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in September 2013, when the government scapegoated entire communities to cover up its failures. and, more recently, in the brutal crackdown on people protesting the two elections in which nearly 70 people have died.

On August 8, the elite embarked on what they assumed would be another coronation of their chosen one. Everything was in place, including 180,000 policemen to take care of troublemakers in opposition strongholds as well as a carefully constructed plot and narrative. It wasn’t the first time they were doing this. As Stanley Macharia, proprietor of the largest broadcast media network in the region, told the Kenyan Senate last year, in all five elections held since the return of multiparty competition, in only one -in 2002- had the presidency gone to the person with the most votes.

The Supreme Court annulment of the August election, therefore, came as a real shock to the elite and was the first real attempt to use the 2010 constitution to challenge the power and status of the elite as the ultimate owners of the state. The response was quick and effective: legislative changes to virtually make it impossible for the Court to nullify another election, threats to the judges, and a sham election to sanitize what the Supreme Court had impugned. Soon Uhuru Kenyatta’s supporters were extolling the benefits of a “benevolent dictator”.

It is within the context of this historically frustrated effort to bring the colonial state to heel that we must locate the current political impasse. It must not be made out to be about the Luo vs the Kikuyu (although there is an aspect of that) or Kenyatta vs Raila (although that matters too) or election winners vs election losers (a much less convincing argument).

The real question is whether the wenyenchi (the owners of the nations) will give up their control of the state to the wananchi (the people of the nation); whether they will allow the constitution to dismantle and remake the colonial state into one that works for all Kenyans.

History does not offer much encouragement. However, as the low turnout (even the highest estimates come in at under 40%) for the repeat election suggested, there is broad agreement across the country on the need for elections to adhere to constitutional standards of being free, fair, simple, verifiable, transparent and credible. One poll showed that even in Kenyatta’s heartland, more than half of the people were happy with the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the poll.

The politicians are out of touch with the people. Their brinksmanship demonstrates that they are yet to learn the lessons of the 60s and that they cannot be trusted not to repeat the same mistakes their fathers’ made.

Which leads us to the question of what should happen now. There is undoubtedly a need to resolve the immediate political crisis and generate consensus on how to address the longer term issues. Talks, as have been proposed, between Kenyatta and Odinga would be critical to this but, as noted above, cannot be left solely to them. the involvement of other sectors of society such as civil society, the media and the religious establishment both as mediators and participants in their own right would help lay a framework that is not solely dictated by the interests of the two main protagonists.

The goal should be to establish a roadmap to a resolution of the crisis including an agreed forum for a comprehensive national dialogue which would address not just the immediate manifestations of the crisis but, more importantly, deal with the unfinished business of reforming the colonial state and addressing its legacy of abuse, marginalisation and impoverishment.

Kenya faces much more than an electoral crisis. For over half a century, the contestation over who controls the state has been allowed to take precedence over the need to reform that state so it works for not just a few, but for all its citizens. That must now change.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Why Kenyans Must Keep Their Feet Firmly On The Ground

Kenyans are given to bouts of euphoria. Once ranked as the most optimistic people in the world, it is a society almost congenitally programmed to look on the bright side of life and to seek out silver linings on even the darkest of clouds. It is famously the land of “Hakuna Matata”, which for anyone who’s watched Disney’s The Lion King can recite, is “a problem-free philosophy”.

Our irrational exuberance is once again bubbling up to surface in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict that annulled President Uhuru Kenyatta’s barely three-week old re-election. In a sense, it is understandable. It has been a tense time, filled with trepidation, after yet another rapturous voting day, invested with all the hope for better days the country could muster. This is despite the knowledge that although the country has held regular elections throughout its 50 years of independence, they have never resulted in truly meaningful, lasting change.

Even the 2002 election – perhaps the most ecstatic of them all, given it was bringing the curtain down on the 24-year despotic and kleptocratic reign of Daniel arap Moi – only inaugurated Mwai Kibaki’s turn to eat. Pretty soon, the Kenyans who had been going around effecting citizen arrests on corrupt cops in the belief all had changed, were treated to a rude shock when reports of grand corruption at the highest level began to surface with increasing regularity. So much so, that the President’s own anti-graft czar had to flee the country. Corrupt ministers are "eating like gluttons" and "vomiting on the shoes" of donors, declared the British High Commissioner, Edward Clay.

Anyway, back to the Supreme Court ruling. Similarly to the 2002 poll, the election that the court has just voided was manifestly full of irregularities. However, 15 years ago it did not much matter. The vote against Moi’s handpicked successor – ironically the current incumbent – was so overwhelming that the regime had little choice other than to concede. In any case, electoral reform at the time had mainly consisted of a “gentleman’s agreement” that allowed the opposition to nominate some of the members of the electoral commission.

The integrity of the process today matters much more than it did a decade and a half ago. Elections are much more closely fought and the electoral infrastructure is much more elaborate. Methods for stealing them have also become more intricate and difficult to detect.

After a dispute over the 2007 presidential election led to violence that killed over 1300 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more, a commission led by South African judge Johann Kriegler proposed a raft of reforms to the electoral system, including the electronic transmission of results from polling stations.

Five years later, despite a new constitution, few of those reforms had actually been implemented. During the election, a hastily and dubiously procured system for biometrically identifying voters and electronically transmitting results failed (or was made to fail) across the country. Further, there were allegations that the election had been hacked. If that sounds familiar, it’s because pretty much the same thing happened this year.

However, by the time Kenyans went to the polls nearly a month ago, laws governing the electoral process had been passed and largely clarified by the courts. On voting day, the biometric systems seemed to have worked but not the electronic transmission. As counting proceeded, figures started scrolling across our TV screens courtesy of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) headquarters. Figures seemed to show a constant and consistent lead by President Kenyatta over his closest rival, Raila Odinga. 

The figures, which the IEBC would disown as mere "statistics" when their validity was questioned, were the first sign that something had gone seriously wrong. Thereafter, despite the verdicts of international observers, led by former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, when the IEBC could not produce the scanned forms on which the results were based, it became clear that the election was far from credible.

The appeal to the Supreme Court in 2013 had been dismissed in its entirety, with the court establishing an impossibly high standard of proof which seemed to ensure a presidential election would never be reversed. Four of the six judges who issued the widely-rubbished, unanimous judgment, are still on the court. Perhaps this is why the opposition initially said that although it wasn't accepting the results, it would not be taking its case to the court. Following a change of heart, they did file a petition, which to everyone's surprise, was upheld.

The annulment is a very big deal and definitely worth celebrating. Along with overturning an injustice and reinforcing Kenya’s democratic credentials, by cementing the Supreme Court’s credibility, it has made future 2008-type post-presidential-poll violence much less likely. For once, Kenya the state has stood up for Kenyans, and that is huge. But we should be careful not to get carried away.

First, there were problems with the court declaration itself. One of the allegations that had been put forward by the petitioners was that the incumbent had abused his office by using public resources and officials to campaign. The judges seemed to gloss over this when they found no evidence of wrongdoing despite glaring proof.

Further, the pronouncements of Kenya’s accession to the league of mature democracies were not only premature when the now disgraced Chair of the IEBC made them as he declared Kenyatta the president-elect; they are premature today. The judgement is a giant leap forward but one decision does not a democracy make. It just creates possibilities for a better, more accountable electoral system. However, Kenyans have a tendency to want to persist in these giddy moments of possibility rather than to do the hard work of translating them into reality.  Sadly, as we have seen with the 2003 election of Kibaki, can, if not seized, also inaugurate a much less desirable state of affairs.
  
Of immediate concern is the potential for a backlash from an Executive stung by what it considers to be a judicial uprising. "If you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it," the late authoritarian Cabinet Minister, John Michuki, warned us, after the government raided the country’s second-largest media group in 2006. Kenyans cannot afford to be complacent. President Kenyatta has just been rattled and he is threatening to bite. Already, he has taken to calling the Supreme Court judges "wakora" or bandits and his lawyer has described the ruling as a judicial coup. "[Chief Justice David] Maraga and his thugs have decided to cancel the election. Now I am no longer the president-elect. I am the serving president... Maraga should know that he is now dealing with the serving president," he reportedly threatened on Friday. “We have a problem with our judiciary but regardless we respect [their decision]. But we shall revisit,” he declared ominously a day later.

Whether it’s Kenyatta or Odinga who gets elected in two-months’ time, the independent judiciary will probably itself be the target of an Executive branch used to getting its way. However, with his Jubilee party in control of both houses of Parliament, Kenyatta will pose a particularly grave threat. History has taught us that great gains can be quickly reversed. Kenya still has a long way to go before it can get rid of its entrenched culture of impunity and become a society that truly caters for the needs of all its people, not the desires of a few at the very top.

Finally, another election has to be held within two months. Kenya is only the third country in the world, after the Ukraine and Austria, to have the courts annul a presidential election. In the other two repeat elections, the incumbent won. Now, that itself is not a problem. The Supreme Court has rightly said, who wins matters less than how that win is secured. There is little time to make significant changes to the electoral infrastructure which means there are few guarantees that the same illegalities and irregularities that led to the annulment won't crop up again. Ensuring that Kenya does not end up where it started will require vigilance from all players, including any egg-faced internationals returning to observe and report on the election. The media should set up independent tallying centres and be prepared to call the election, rather than simply regurgitate the numbers and "statistics" coming from the IEBC.

Kenya is not out of the woods yet. The passions and terror that have been on display over the last few months have not gone away. They continue to simmer away just below the surface. While the Supreme Court has reduced the risk of a violent explosion, it has not completely eliminated it. That can only be accomplished through honestly addressing the the problems of our past and finishing the task of implementing the constitution. 

The judgement shows what that constitution makes possible but it would be grossly unfair to heap the burden of actuating it on the shoulders of seven judges. Kenyans must demand that the other independent state agencies, from the National Police Service to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, start to behave and conduct themselves in the manner envisaged by the constitution, not as lackeys of the Executive. Kenyans must realize that the people are the ultimate custodians of the supreme law and even as they celebrate, they should be rolling up their sleeves.