Friday, February 29, 2008

Editorial on Kenya's past & future - Thurs 2/28/2008

Kenya: Model Or Myth?

Fahamu (Oxford)

28 February 2008
Posted to the web 28 February 2008
Annar Cassam

The present void as exists in Kenya, says Annar Cassam, is very dangerous for it renders both the elections and the observer missions irrelevant and robs the voters of their democratic rights twice.

Nearly two months after Kenya's rigged elections and Kibaki's "victory" claim set the country on fire, there is one question that has been on everybody's lips and it has still to be answered.

How can it be that this "model" African country,this island of stability, democracy, good governance, economic excellence and humanitarian solidarity in an otherwise chaotic, conflict-ridden and backward part of the continent, can so quickly collapse into tragedy? And this as a result of rigged elections which take place all the time and all over the world, but seldom with such horrendous consequences?

This perception of Kenya being the exception, the model, is widespread, among Kenyans especially and in the outside world but is it really justified, is it not more fiction than fact?

It is difficult to square this image with one simple truth universally acknowledged, that, Kenya is one of Africa's most corrupt countries. Its history of state corruption is not a secret, nor is it complicated to understand, thanks to the country's vibrant and vigilant press and to well-documented investigation reports of major financial scandals, such as the Goldenberg scam (under Moi) and the recent AngloLeasing scam (under Kibaki).

For those who wish to know more about Kenya's endemic culture of corruption at the highest level,a seminar with John Githongo would be useful. Githongo is the former head of the country's anti-corruption unit, now living in exile in London, having fled Kenya in fear for his life in 2005. The myth about Kenya's economic status has long been promoted by representatives of the World Bank and IMF who imagine that Kenya, by virtue of its hosting the "most powerful economy" in East Africa and the UN Office in Nairobi, exists in some other parallel universe, far away from African realities.

However, the people of Kenya are now poorer than ever. According to the Financial Times, in 1990, 48% of the population lived below the poverty line. "Today, four decades after independence, 55% of Kenyans subsist on a couple od dollars a day"(FT.1/1/2008).

Since independence in 1963, the international donor community, led by the UK, has contributed some $16bn in aid. It is also under their watch that Kibera, so-called "the largest slum in Africa" has expanded and festered in the capital city where about 1.2mn people live without clean water and sanitation amenities, many of them without employment or adequate medical care. Vast amounts of Kenya's arable land are owned by the three ruling families,namely, Kenyatta,Moi and Kibaki. Half of the nation's wealth is in the hands of 10% of the population.

Kenyan MPs earn allowances amounting to tax-free salaries of more than $10,000 per month. This is a democratic model very few African countries can afford to emulate. The international community, so massively present in Kenya, has been complicit in fabricating the "model" country myth, to the detriment of the suffering of the Kenyans.

The parallel universe complex referred to earlier afflicts the UN Office in Nairobi, the only UN HQ to be based in a developng country, the others being in New York, Geneva and Vienna.

UNON is also the seat of two Specialised Agencies, UNEP (environmental programme) and HABITAT (human settlement) and to an ever-expanding network of international organisations, NGOs and commercial enterprises providing financial, policy and logistic support for the many conflict ad disaster-prone populations in the region.

But the plight of the ordinary citizens seems not to be in the mandate of the leadership of this privileged group of international experts who live in daily contact with Kenyans who look after their children, drive their cars, provide security for their property, etc. In the last 10 years, Kenya has become a major exporter of fresh vegetables and flowers to European markets. In the Lake Naivasha area, acres of land lie covered under green-houses where a water-intensive, high-tech industry produces millions of fresh roses to be flown to Holland (for very low prices). The environmental damage caused to local water resources and the hardship this means for the local rural population's ability to grow food crops is a case study for our experts.

Myths can take on a life of their own, unaffected by concrete realities which in Kenya are only too visible. The so-called economic success story should be seen in context. For, however impressive may be the gains on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, the tonnes of agricultural exports, the thousand of tourists, the millions of dollars in aid funds and the 6% growth rate since 2006, this cannot hide the misery and the humiliation of over half the population which used to live on $2 a day before the current breakdown.

It is time to re-consider the continued presence of the UN Office in a country whose government holds such a record of mismanagement and corruption ... and now of election fraud. Kenya's Central Bank, the main beneficiary of the money the UN and allied networks spend in the country will feel the loss,(the "UN business" is said to provide 20% of Kenya's annual forex earnings) but the UN's leadership must surely demand some basic standards of ethical behaviour from the host government, both for its own integrity and credibility and for the sake of the millions of Kenyans now in obvious distress and disarray.

As for the spread of democracy, the Kenyan debacle provides an opportunity for a fresh look at the role of observer missions which arrive in developing countries as watchdogs for the godess of free and fair elections. Is it really enough to fly in, observe, declare this or that and then vanish? Some serious attention needs to be paid to a code of ethics and follow-up mechanisms which can apply in situations where a mission's verdict on rigged elections is ignored and power is grabbed by the faudulent party.

The present void as exists in Kenya is very dangerous for it renders both the elections and the observer missions irrelevant and robs the voters of their democratic rights twice.

Finally, a word about the man who would be president for the second time. By having the elections rigged and then clinging to the trappings of power, Kibaki has shown an abysmal lack of moral principle and leadership. While the country self-destructs and his people turn on each other, while children are burnt to death, women and girls raped and many thousands become refugees in their own land, Kibaki has contributed strictly nothing by way of a solution. This is dereliction of duty and reponsibiity which is contemptible and which must be condemned. Kenya, after all is no man's personal property and elections, even when rigged, are not a passport to impunity.

* Annar Cassam is Tanzanian, former Consultant at UNESCO/PEER Nairobi and former Director, UNESCO Office, Geneva

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