Take a look at Kenya, fellow Africans, and tremble.
Take a look at the post-election upheavals, the atavistic violence in what has for long been the so called island of stability in a volatile region and tremble in deepest fear. And tremble not just for our Kenyan brothers and sisters, but for every one of us in this region of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Fear much because that violence you see on TV screens, those mobs you see burning houses and brandishing machetes and cutting up their neighbors and burning them in a church, those desperate people fleeing the violence, the internally displaced living in squalid conditions in stadiums.
That, I hate to say, is exactly the outcome of multi-party elections in Africa as conducted the way our Western friends from America and Europe proscribe.
Granted, every now and then you will hear of a peaceful, free and fair poll in some region of Africa, say Senegal (some years back). Or Ghana. Or Sierra Leone. Or Rwanda in 2003.
But these countries are the exception, the aberration and even there, we should constantly remember, there is no guarantee that the populace will always vote in new leaders peacefully (Mwai Kibaki after all was voted into office peacefully only five years back, but see what has happened the next time a national poll took place in Kenya).
It is high time we realized this: the logical conclusion of a democratic election in a Sub-Saharan country (democratic in that the candidate who wins an election is one the majority voted for) is violence; violence of the kind we have seen in Kenya.
Here I am not tapping into the worst stereotype of Africans as a people prone to mindless barbarity and incapable of conducting their governance matters in orderly ways.
What I mean is that we should revolt against Western-style democracy – something that we should have done the moment we became free of European colonialism those five decades ago – because that kind of democracy clearly cannot work in Africa.
I know, this may sound like a crazy, revolutionary idea, but I request you, do not dismiss it out of hand. It is high time we revolted against polling stations and voting booths and ballot boxes and the whole paraphernalia of the secret vote for a simple reason: these things aren’t home-grown and so cannot work on this continent – as the Banyarwanda pithily observed long ago, ingendo y’undi iravuna (you get crippled when you attenpt another person’s walking style).
To repeat myself, Africa’s leadership at independence should have taken one look at the models of government the departing colonial masters were bequeathing them and jettisoned most of them.
Unfortunately, too often these leaders were only too happy to carry on where the colonialists had left, replacing one form of tyranny with another, with one notable exception: the tyranny of post-independence African leadership was often worse than colonialism.
It all began (in case you’ve missed out on the history) with the Pandora’s box of problems opened with the infamous “scramble for Africa” of the late 19th Century when European powers – Germany, England, France, Portugal – greedily and arbitrarily carved out this continent into colonies with no regard to whether these would ever become viable states on their own, and with totally no consideration of boundaries dividing native ethnic groups.
Africa’s singular misfortune is that – with possible exceptions like the late Julius Nyerere of Tanzania or former Botswana President Ketumire Masire – too many post-independence leaders, to put it mildly, have simply not been up to the task. Actually some were just terrible.
Too often these men, Mobutu Sese Seko and his bosom friends Juvenal Habyarimana, Idi Amin and Jean Bedel Bokassa, Kwame Nkrumah (yes, Kwame Nkrumah), Sangare Tombalbaye, Milton Obote, rebel chiefs like Jonas Savimbi, Odumegwu Ojukwu and many, many others were corrupt, incompetent, barbaric, venal tribal chiefs who rendered the very idea of an African state questionable.
Yes, most of them were products of the colonial system that elevated them to power. They held multi-party elections, but of course rigged the vote at will.
“Institutional checks and balances” such as the judiciary or the electoral commissions most often were staffed by people solely beholden to the executive, not the electorate. So they couldn’t work. Even the forces of law and order were loyal only to state house, because that is where their meal ticket came from – not from the general populace, as is the case in the West.
But we cannot blame colonialism for our problems for ever.
What we can do is take our destiny into our own hands by doing away with the colonial (or neo-colonial) way of doing things. It’s possible. We can reform our institutions to reflect the reality of our societies and to suit our needs.
This is the enormous challenge today’s crop of African leaders faces. In Rwanda one can sense that the leadership is taking this bull by the horns.
There is something new, something original for instance in the idea of a forum of political parties where all political entities are represented, hold discussions and come up with a common position on how to solve social problems (including, in the future, how to choose new leaders).
The Forum of Political Parties is an idea that has faced opposition right from the word go (yes, even this writer added his voice to the opponents).
But upon reflection, you may want to ask yourself:
What better way forward is there for a country like this where the vast majority of citizens are extremely poor people who were for years inculcated with propaganda that all their problems are caused by the other ethnic group? Is it multi party politics like they practice it in Europe or America, or Kenya? Certainly not.
By thinking up the idea of the Forum of Political Parties and instituting it, Rwanda’s leadership may be onto something that most of Africa might as well consider for study, or even emulate, some time from now.