The duplicity of the West at election time in Africa is evident. In Kenya’s recent election there were threats such as that made by Johnny Carson, former official in the Obama administration who warned Kenyans that voting for particular leaders will ‘have consequences’
Elections in Africa are taken far seriously by citizens than previously thought. Academics may dismiss these as inconsequential, but Western powers do not, as they seek to use elections to promote their strategic interests. But as this article argues, what matters to Africans are local issues – justice, bread, freedom and African solutions to African problems. That is the legacy of Thomas Sankara and other African patriots.
It is the argument of this article that future historians will wonder the extent to which the ICC indictments of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, Hon. William Ruto, then leading contenders for political high office in Kenya at the time, failed to influence the outcome of the elections in favour of western favoured political alliances in Kenya. In the end, what was supposed to be the biggest trump card in their interventionist policy became the West’s Achilles heel.
REFLECTING ON POPULAR CHOICES AT AFRICAN ELECTIONS
The year 2013 will define the nature of elections on the continent. In 2013, Mali had a non-contested Presidential elect in the midst of a civil war. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe beat the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and returned to state house for five more years. In Kenya, HE President Uhuru Kenyatta beat his near rival, ex-Prime Minster, Hon. Raila Odinga’s Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) to clinch a victory and become Kenya’s 4th President since independence. If this trend is repeated, opposition parties in Africa are in for more loses.
Election losers will always scream foul play without examining the reasons for their monumental failures at the ballot box. One factor which is already emerging is that political parties, especially, those deemed to be allied to the West, are performing badly at the ballot box (Ghana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Angola are a few examples). The extent to which political parties use elections and electioneering to deal with social issues relating to shelter, food and social justice, instead of as a process of appeasement of the West, and the national ruling elites largely determines the outcomes. In fact, it is a widely acknowledged fact that political parties and groups allied to the West, will continue to lose elections at every juncture.
Commenting on Zimbabwe, Professor David Moore attributes ZANU PF’s victory to a ‘Gramscian combination of forceful power and sly persuasion-the dialectics of coercion and consent’ (African Arguments, Royal African Society, August 15, 2013). Election losers also claim that incumbency is to blame, that an incumbent like HE President Mugabe is always likely to win elections in his country. The incumbency theory is weak, almost to a fault. It ignores recent examples in African history where incumbents have lost elections (e.g. Zambia under President Kaunda and Ghana under President Jerry Rawlings).
More than incumbency, a more compelling factor worth examining, especially the cases of Kenya and Zimbabwe, is the ‘coalition’ arrangement forced on both countries and favoured by the West as a back door arrangement to get their supporters a piece of the cake. Coalition governments have now become a discredited phenomenon in today’s Africa, and politicians who seek power through a Western-led ‘coalition’ arrangement are setting themselves up for failure. In both Zimbabwe and Kenya, the lesser of the two principals took their eyes off the ball, as they sought political power and the advantages that come with occupying a high office in Africa. Writing about the elections in Zimbabwe, and reasons for the overwhelming victory of President Robert Mugabe, Blessing-Miles Tendy noted that ‘Tsvangirai’s party lost sight of the need for rapid and comprehensive institutional reforms in the early years of power sharing’ (Guardian, 5th August, 2013).
Kenya points to a different but disturbing direction for old colonial loyalties. How did HE President Uhuru Kenyatta manage, to emerge winner in spite of attempts by powerful Western nations and elites in Kenyan civil society to block him from power by ‘all means necessary’? Prior to the election, almost all the opinion polls had all along predicted a Prime Minster Raila Odinga victory. Unlike other countries where Western Ambassadors operate below the radar, silent and circumspect, in the case of Kenya, Western Ambassadors were loud, abrasive, patronising and emboldened enough to openly state their preference for a particular Presidential candidate. They huffed, puffed and threatened sanctions against individuals and organisations which did not follow their neo liberal narrative of Kenyan history and the possible outcomes of the march 4th elections.
THE WEST AND THREATS TO DEMOCRATIC CHOICES IN AFRICA
The end of colonialism did not necessarily end Western thirst for African resources. African politicians and academics have long argued that to keep African countries underdeveloped, secure and ripe for exploitation, the West supported political dynasties, one party rulers, and dictators (e.g. Mobutu Sese Seiko) and undermined those who failed to fall under their spell. For the West, democratic elections are used to guarantee a perpetuation of their neocolonial interests; and the perpetuation of a society polarized into a privileged minority, and an impoverished majority – weak, underdeveloped, undermined and racked by civil wars. (Not any more).
In his acclaimed essay, ‘The Struggle for Democracy’, Isa Shivji pointed points out that ‘the struggle for democracy is ultimately rooted in the life conditions of the people’, and not by the agendas of foreign funded NGOs and their foreign acolytes. Yet, elections are being used as times for which Ambassadors of Western nations in Africa can leverage economic and political advantages for their countries, times in which the popular classes stand in long queues to vote for parties and candidates representing the interest of the West. As enticing as this may seem, the exact opposite is beginning to manifest itself on the continent.
As pointed out earlier, recent African history points to the fact that pro-western political parties hardly win elections on their own, except when they are part of a broader coalition for democratic change. However, it is important to point out that being pro-west alone does not guarantee defeat at the polls. Several other factors must come into play.
The Western alliance in Kenya led a sustained campaign of intimidation, innuendo and blackmail from junior diplomats in Western Embassies and High Commissions. They recruited willing Kenyan and African accomplices in this mission. Firstly, the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who was then head of the AU Panel of Eminent Persons, jetted into Nairobi, with the usual fanfare, to ‘warn’ Kenyans that it was ‘not in their interest to elect politicians indicated by the ICC’. The former UN Secretary General was closely followed by former US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton with a similar threat. They were closely followed by Johnny Carson, a former deputy Minister in the Obama administration, who warned Kenyans that electing people facing charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) will ‘have consequences’. These threats were closely linked to the West’s obsession with indicting African leaders at their court called the International Criminal Court (ICC). Hence, the ICC did not only become a gigantic distraction, but an electioneering issue in the case of Kenya.
The pro-ICC lobby in Kenya, led by Western Embassies and some foreign funded and directed civil society supporters, did all they could to make the ICC an election issue, thinking it would weaken the Uhuru-Ruto Jubilee coalition. There was the feeling in some sections of Kenyan society, that the indictments had been engineered by a combination of civil society and some political interests opposed to the Uhuru- Ruto candidacy.
Some Western Embassies took umbrage at any attempt to question the role of the ICC process. The desperadoes in Western Embassies, having spent their tax payers’ resources on futile, empty and non-effective campaigns about the ICC as a transitional justice mechanism, resorted to threats, intimidation, and blackmail, to achieve their objectives. Such acts of impunity failed to impress the Kenyan electorate. Increasingly, the CORD alliance, led by ex-Prime Minster, Raila Odinga, was seen as ‘proxies’ for the West.
The ICC has become a weapon in the arsenal of the ‘political rehabilitation of imperial hegemony in Africa’, what Isa Shivji refers to as the ‘moral rehabilitation of imperialism’. It is my view that this has to be rejected for its neocolonial intentions, and also as a celebration of the emerging strong judiciaries in Africa. African judicial systems and non-state actors are equal to the task of ensuring justice for victims of unequal development, of violence against women and children, and against colonial abuse on the continent. The Ugandan President, His Excellency, Yoweri Museveni did not mince words, when he congratulated Kenyans during the inauguration of the Uhuru Kenyatta Presidency: ‘I want to salute the Kenyan voters on one other issue – the rejection of the blackmail by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and those who seek to abuse this institution for their own agenda’ (Daily Nation, Thursday, April 11th, 2013).
In effect, Africans can no longer be expected to do the bidding of the West on every single issue. It is a salutary lesson for the West. As the renowned British journalist, Robert Fisk said in relation to the western response to the Syrian crisis: ‘what was amazing was the sheer audacity of our leaders (western) in thinking they could bamboozle their electorates with their lies, trumperies and tomfoolery’. If western leaders cannot do that to their electorates, Western Ambassadors also failed to do that to Kenyans and Zimbabweans.
Another factor in the Kenyan election, and perhaps in the case of Zimbabwe, was the desperate attempts by Ambassadors from western nations overriding interest of Western (Anglo-American) to elections in their ongoing competition for African resources with China. Elections have always been and remain a means through which the West imposes economic, social and cultural conditionalities on African nations.
Closely allied with the ICC is the new donor (western) interest in some African countries. Donor support is usually critical to the effective delivery of elections because of the cost, and the unwillingness of many African governments to commit resources to such important national events. However, the intervention of the western donor nations in African elections goes beyond trade. Western NGOs provide ‘training’ and capacity building to a select number of parties considered ideological soul mates. Western nations align themselves with ‘political’ civil society to pursue anti national, pro-foreign agencies, and unwittingly, become anti-patriotic in their endeavours to please their western financiers.
The leaders of these western led and financed social groups, political parties and individuals, whip their followers in to frenzy, and encourage them to become ethnicised, divisive, and develop a follow the leader mentality, relying solely on age old resentment against the existing order and certain ethnic groups. With encouragement from western donor nations, the leadership develops a dangerous entitlement mentality. Their political parties are founded on shifting sand, with no concrete political or ideological base. In my mind, that explains the situation in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Kenya.
It will not be churlish to suggest that these Western led alliances/parties have an elitist, arrogant, urban based tendency, with no grassroots (rural farmers, urban workers, the informal sector, etc.) support, nor do they pretend to bother about these groups of citizens. As the case of Zimbabwe and Kenya will demonstrate, they also rely on individuals in the ‘political’ civil society who are beneficiaries of donor largesse, but do not necessarily have any following in their own communities. In the case of Zimbabwe, Professor David Moore commented that ‘perhaps excessive reliance on the likes of the International Republican Institute has contributed to the fall of the one-time trade union based party’. The same could be said of the many groups in Kenya which could not marshal enough votes in the March 4th general and Presidential elections in Kenya.
A source close to politics in Kenya put it this way: ‘One weakness of the approach by Western alliance in Nairobi was the use of Nairobi based civil society organizations and individuals worshiped by the donor community, but who lack an ideological affinity with their own citizens, have no foothold in the communities where they come from, they consider civic education mundane, so do not take part in educating the people but spend valuable time in writing pro-ICC articles, while vilifying and pillorying anybody with an alternative viewpoint’. What both Kenya and Zimbabwe clearly demonstrate is the failure of Western Embassies to influence African opinion and thereby dictate the outcomes of elections in Africa.
‘BREAD, FREEDOM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE’
The Egyptian revolution which toppled Hosni Mubarak was founded on the principles of ‘bread, freedom and social justice’. The same underlying principles also influence voting patterns in many African societies. To this we must add ‘sovereignty’. The Western interventionist approach can be viewed as a direct threat to the sovereignty of African Republican interests. In the case of Kenya, Western intervention allowed President elect Uhuru Kenyatta to position himself as pro-Kenyan, defending the Republic’s interest against those ‘who will sell Kenya to the highest bidder’. President Uhuru Kenyatta took up nationalist, anti-neocolonial approach during the contest. Being charismatic and youthful, he was believable, convincing and articulate, presenting himself as the person to take Kenya youth to the next phase of development: a digital heaven. He talked about Kenya being a sovereign state, about allowing Kenyans to choose their own destiny, and reflected the aspirations of the youth of Kenya. These statements resonated with many Kenyan youth.
His opponents in the CORD alliance were left trying to craft a populist approach bordering on land and the ICC. At times, they sounded more like public relations officers of the ICC in Kenya. It is therefore not surprising that some sections of Kenyan society began to regard the CORD alliance as mere protégés of the west, or at best puppets acting on the behest of their western ‘minder’. While these external factors were important, it is the internal dynamics of the nation that determines the winners and the losers.
All said, old colonial-type interventions employed by some western nations to gain advantage in Africa, does not always work. It did not work in Kenya and Zimbabwe, has not worked in Ghana, and is likely to fail elsewhere. Threats of sanctions, withdrawal of aid and donor funds, and threats against individuals who have rejected the western narrative on the ICC will not work either.
A recent commentator in Kenya’s Daily Nation wrote that ‘Africans are a proud people who tend to hold their dignity and destiny when threatened by foreign powers’. I couldn’t agree more. But try saying that to the representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the European Union, cosseted in the leafy suburbs of Nairobi, and for whom poverty is an alien concept.
All said and done, national concerns such as youth unemployment, high cost of living, devolving power to the people, housing, roads, maternal care, milk for school children, women’s empowerment, issues which were discussed at the grassroots level during elections. These issues are more likely to influence voting patterns than which country gets a greater share contracts from African governments. In Kenya, HE President Uhuru Kenyatta showed that the sovereign interest of Kenya, and ‘bread, freedom, and social justice’ were far more important to Kenyan voters than the ICC. All said and done, John Carson’s ‘choices have consequences’ threat galvanized Kenyans.
Political parties need mobilisers with a sense of dedication, purpose, patriotism and discipline to campaign effectively. Mass mobilisation and effective political parties win elections. Nothing more, nothing less. As Ghana’s former leader, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah said in the 1950s, ‘organisation decides everything’.
*sAkosablig Agun Mod
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