Kenya’s “smooth” election perfects Africa’s underdevelopment

If our problems are access to healthcare, education, women empowerment, infrastructural development, poverty et cetera, a good and smooth election is not the response

As the continent marvels at the apparent smoothness of the Kenyan elections—thus far—it is important to remind the African continent (and this is a difficult reminder to make!) that the lack of smooth elections or failure to smoothly change governments has never been the cause of our underdevelopment. And this is not to pour cold water on what Kenyans have been able to achieve so far, but this point remains as urgent as never before.  If our problems are access to healthcare, education, women empowerment, infrastructural development, poverty et cetera, a good and smooth election is not the response.  We are at the bottom of global development indices not because of the so-called democratic deficit.  But because we are still a colonised continent, looted for sport (in many, many ways) and the pursuit of democracy simply fits into the new technologies of continued colonisation.

I know: innumerable ‘democracy merchandisers’ [Dr Frederick Golooba-Mutebi’s term] are all over the continent producing endless statistics about how democracy delivers development.  These range from folks I have described as the new intellectuals of empire from Europe and North America, to seemingly benign institutions such as the European Union, and European and western diplomatic missions with outfits such as DGF, USAID, and several others.  The people working in these sophisticated colonial outposts are (?) our friends.  Indeed, they have conscripted many of us in the academia, social and mainstream media onto this narrative line—democracy is the best form of leadership—and it presently feels like our own. It feels like an organic movement.

There are hundreds of thousands of democracy-chanting clones in the NGO and CSO world.  We spend entire lifetimes writing proposals—which are generously funded by these rich friends—in an expensive infantilism of “growing democracy” and “defending human rights.” Despite over three decades of academic posturing, myriad NGO and CSO work in these areas of human rights, medical health, and the so-called democracy work on the continent, we remain economically impoverished and abused like in colonial times. And now, we are watching the Kenyan election with bated breath, hoping it goes well, and that its success would set an example for the continent.  But this is actually the trap. It is a colonial trap.

African resources ranging from coffee (Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Ivory Coast), marine resources (Lake Victoria, Indian Ocean), and minerals in DRC, Tanzania, and Zambia (copper, timber, gold and cobalt) are pillaged for weapons not because of the bad leaders in office or because of a failure to democratise. But because of the unequal exchange system enforced by our “former” colonisers.  Interest rates in sub-Saharan Africa—with mostly British and American commercial bank monopolies average 15%, which is literally free money stolen from African businesses.  As the New Political Economy journal showed last year, between 1960 and 2010, Europe and the North stole about $152 trillion from the African continent. To put this figure in perspective, the German economy is estimated at $5 trillion, while the US is $25 trillion. This is why we are lagging behind.

Let me demonstrate the democratic trap more vividly:

Going by the results from the Kenyan elections thus far; that is, the two main presidential contenders—Raila Odinga and William Ruto—running neck and neck in the count, it means these two prominent Kenyans represent major constituencies and ideals in the country. But if democracy privileges the government formed by the majority, the idea of a +1 majority is simply ridiculous in the sense that a small difference marginalises the voices of 49% of the country.  Yes, in the win-takes-it-all approach to governance (which characterises most modern democracies), the general populace is the loser. Let me explain:

Please note that on either side of these camps are Kenya’s most educated and exposed personnel.  Now the deception goes that it does not matter which side holds the reigns—because all sides are independently credentialled enough, and are supposedly numerically sufficient.  But like everywhere on the continent, the Kenyan elite is a very small group of persons.  I do not mean the “corrupt corporate elite,” but the actual people with brains [education and exposure] to do things such as negotiating with the very shady and colonialist international trade organisations, and laying the groundwork for the sustainable and profitable exploitation of the African human and natural resources.  In fact, Kenya actually needs all its brilliant folk on either side of the aisle to whisper together and build Kenya.

I know this sounds like daydreaming on my part.  Because the trickster will ask: how do you get them to select their leadership and work together without going through a competitive electoral process?  This question is at the core of our colonial capture.  The foolish idea that good leadership only emerges from competitive electoral processes with universal adult suffrage is the epitome of colonial manipulation, which many Africa have sadly been infected with.  In truth though, in Africa, competitive electoral processes have only served to divide the few educated compatriots and spend entire lifetimes trying to perfect the imperfectible.  That is how one ends up with dead wood in government [Museveni referred to his government as composed of “fishermen”], with the educated people only either as commentators or forming a largely useless group humoured as “the opposition.” I will not give examples.

To appreciate the dangerousness of this democratic trap—where electoral processes are terribly mixed up with civil liberties—one has to consider countries which do not go through this drama.  And I am not talking about China, which is the world’s manufacturing power, neither am I talking about Russia or Iran (and save me of the human rights malarkey –Julian Assange who is being punished for simply exposing the crimes of our democratic examples comes to mind here).  I am writing about Libya, a country which, while under Muammar Gaddafi, ranked highest on UN Human Development Index on the African continent, above South Africa. Allegedly under an autocratic leadership, Gaddafi’s Libya delivered public goods and services to its people and also extended credit and grants to the rest of the continent. With all its so-called civil liberties problems, Gaddafi’s Libya—specifically its independence from colonial control and superb delivery of public goods and services—should be the dream of all Africans. Libya did not deliver this dream through “smooth elections” because the dream cannot be delivered through smooth elections.  “Smooth elections” are actually one of the distractions.

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One Response

  1. Elections aren’t the only way to get good leadership but you can’t even come up with a good argument for an alternative

    Libya is a petro state with a total population roughly similar in size to that of Nairobi’s metro area. It would have looked good no matter who was in office.

    Algeria next door is also a dictatorial petro state without the same successes as Libya, so why not mention it?

    No “democratic trap” there yet it’s still full of the problems you claim elections distract from

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