Way to go Kenya - Wake up "Failed" Liberia!

By James W. Harris

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 11, 2002

In the last few weeks, the African nation of Kenya, situated on the East coast, and its people, have been bombarded with all sorts of praises, and rightfully so, from all across the globe for their remarkable display of political maturity by changing their government PEACEFULLY through the ballot box rather than senseless violence as is common on the struggling continent.

But I must hasten to say that Kenya is by no means the only African country that has wisely chosen this path, albeit, their very few number! For example, there is Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana; Kenneth Kaunda's Zambia; Siaka Stevens' Sierra Leone; Modibo Keita's Mali; amongst a few others, not to mention Nelson Mandela's South Africa. Before I forget, I must greatly commend the peoples of these various countries for making such smooth transition from dictatorships to democracy or however one chooses to call it - that rare ‘process' that empowers the people - possible in Africa today. Really, they deserve our praise and admiration!

The difference in the Kenyan situation, however, is that theirs was kind of unique for several reasons. (1) The ruling party KANU (Kenya African National Union), had entrenched itself in power for so long and showed no sign of ceding to anyone. (2) The Kenyan state was collapsing gradually right under the nose of the outgoing President, Daniel arap Moi, due mainly to widespread corruption in both the public and private sectors. And (3), There was veteran politician, Mwai Kibaki, ironically a founding member of KANU since independence from Great Britain in 1963, who had abandoned the party (KANU) to rally the seemingly fragile opposition into forming one party, Narc, which stands for National Rainbow Coalition, that took mass action subsequently. So, all of these factors made the elections there very, very interesting and unpredictable.

Moreover, at a time like this when regions all around the world are busy forming partnerships and building coalitions to promote stable and 'good' governments as well as improve the living standards of their peoples, Africa today remains a continent basically torn asunder because of pure greed and utter selfishness on the part of its so-called "BIG MEN"!

As the continent grapples frustratingly with the huge problems of AIDS, mass illiteracy, famines, severe unemployment, entrenched corruption, negative social vices, nepotism and many others, it surely is a big deal when a nation like Kenya rises to the occasion, thereby, setting a good example for the rest of Africa and indeed, the world, to follow hopefully. Now, whoever said that democracy couldn't work in Africa!

That the newly elected president, Mwai Kibaki, could hold together a broad alliance of opposition parties and mobilize the people there to actively participate in the political process is highly encouraging for democracy on the African continent.

But most importantly, the Kenyan people (the masses), on whose behalf Kibaki and others have been fighting tirelessly for many, many years, must be given the most pat on the back for giving the opposition the push, because they (opposition) really needed it.

Indeed, Kenyans were basically fed up with the way that the old guard, KANU, was now running their country and decided to do something about it in a powerful way - a gallant act that history has already recorded on its pages! Nothing will ever be the same again in Kenya, I pray.

Unlike their other African compatriots in places, like war-torn Liberia, where former warlord, Charles Taylor, presently reigns 'supreme' as THE king; Togo, where long-serving President, Gnanssingbe Eyadema, a former ECOWAS chairman, recently launched a successful Constitutional coup to remain in power until eternity; or Somalia, where the institution called 'government' is almost non-existing; among others, the Kenyan people definitely took matters into their own hands, sending arap Moi and his KANU party packing, despite the out-going President's fruitless efforts to install his handpicked successor, the youthful, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the nation's founding father, Jomo Kenyatta.

Since Kibaki was deservedly swept into power by a landslide victory, some pundits have began to ask whether or not other nations in Africa could duplicate exactly what had occurred in Kenya, especially, in countries, like, the "failed" state of Liberia, where the so-called opposition is pathetic to say the least. In fact, the sad irony of the Liberian saga is that many of those juggling for leadership positions today were the same ones that have contributed directly or indirectly to their country's collapse.

Nevertheless, I can say with some degree of confidence that what has taken place in Kenya recently could well be repeated, and mind you, not only in Liberia, but throughout the African continent, thereby, finally bringing about some level of stability there PROVIDED that opposition leaders in the various countries are of the caliber as men like Kibaki, Raila Odinga, (Prof.) George Saitoti, Moody Awori, amongst others, who have been tested by the passage of time; men who certainly didn't run away, leaving their supporters hopeless when things got tough; men who stood by their principles [whatever they are] no matter what; men who could possibly give their own lives just for the sake or progress of their country. These certainly are not leeches, wimps or diehard opportunists like many that currently make up the so-called Liberian opposition. They're REAL leaders that want to quickly move their country forward if given the opportunity!

The fact that each leading member of the Kenyan opposition could put aside his or her personal agendas for the common goal of unseating the KANU government clearly shows how far Kenya has come from the days of colonialism. And another notable thing - key members of the opposition, like, Raila Odinga, has no CREDIBILITY problem amongst their people, because most of them have been in the vanguard from the nation's very birth.

In fact, by winning the elections with a high margin, Narc responded with vengeance to a particular remark that was made a couple of years ago by the outgoing President, arap Moi, to the effect that the opposition should "grow up" and stop whining. Indeed, they did, didn't they!

Now that it has taken over the reigns of power in Kenya, Narc is bound to find out sooner or later that their overwhelming and stunning victory at the polls was really the easy part of their long struggle to lead [hopefully not rule] the country. Obviously, the Kenyan people will expect their government to DELIVER and quickly, because there is so much catching up to do! And of course, the international community will also be watching closely, to look for the correct signals from President Kibaki.

If he and his Narc government fail to deliver, then they'll just have to accept the fact that they too could be booted from power and relegated to the dustbin of history. I'm quite sure that the President will do all he humanly can to avoid this, because he certainly has come a long way.

Putting what has become widely known as the "Kenyan Example" in a broader context, the occurrence there (Kenya) - where power was transferred peacefully from one party to the other amidst the uncertainty preceding the elections which was one of the smoothest yet in any part of the entire world, including, the so-called developed countries - Africa can now be hopeful that if duplicated, it definitely has a good chance of finally joining the other continents, like, Europe and North America, that have enjoyed stability for a long time now. The continent can then begin to grow and take care of all its children, those in the Diaspora and on the mainland!

But just as the Kenyans, Ghanaians, Zambians, Sierra Leoneons, etc., were determined to change their respective governments through the ballot box, other Africans, including, Liberians, will have to do the same. I mean, there's no short cut or any other way to go about it - Liberians will have to do it for themselves, except that there presently is a huge leadership vacuum. In spite of this, they (Liberians) will have to act collectively to remove the "failed" Taylor regime peacefully, if it even boils down to thrusting leadership forcibly on someone of their choice who has a good resume, the credibility and character.

If the practice of changing governments peacefully or "democratically" [as some people would prefer to call it] were to momentarily pick up steam throughout Africa like a hurricane, then the continent could quickly be purged of ruthless dictators, like, Charles Taylor, Eyadema, Conte or whoever - men that seemingly wanted to acquire state power for one main reason: To enrich themselves as well as wickedly deprive the African masses of what they're rightfully entitled to, A REASONABLY DECENT STANDARD OF LIVING for all, irrespective of ethnicity, tribal affiliation, religion, clan, among others.

Significantly, the real possibility that all dictatorial or tyrannical regimes in Africa could be replaced with "democratic" (freely and transparently elected) ones in the not too distant future is refreshing for many reasons, one of which is, that it would get corrupt and repressive governments off the peoples' back. It would also foster stability, peaceful co-existence, progress, and best of all, economic, social and ‘physical' development [as in roads, schools, public buildings, park reserves, etc.] throughout the length and breadth of the continent.

In addition, such wind of change could possibly lead to an alliance or coalition of all genuine democracies in Africa, thereby, uniting it finally as envisioned by men like Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Nyerere, Nasser, et. al.- otherwise mentally strong men who fought relentlessly and unselfishly to bring about such a union on the once "dark" continent. Regrettably, though, there aren't many Africans around today that could fill the void left by them! That's why you have Libya's long-time eccentric dictator, Col. Muammar Ghaddafi, stepping in with his cash in hand to take charge, leading Africa to no where but violence that he personally promotes. What a pity!

But meanwhile, I'd really like to thank the outgoing President, arap Moi for seeing the wisdom in stepping aside and giving his ailing nation a second chance unlike many others who would have preferred to die in office, usually under tremendous stress, rather than being replaced by someone else in a democratic fashion. The same commendation go also to Ghana's former President, Jerry John Rawlings; Mali's Alpha Oumar Konare; or even Zambia's embattled Frederick Chiluba, despite some serious errors they may have made in judgment during their time in office. Their willingness to step aside shows that there's absolutely nothing wrong with one serving his or her country and then allowing others to take the mantle of leadership, moving on. That's one reason why some nations are more advanced than others.

Like some derelict "rulers" in Africa, former Presidents Moi and Rawlings, for example, could have clung on to power using every means necessary, including, violence, but they chose not to - that's the difference. They now have the chance and opportunity to enjoy their lives in peace and quiet somewhere; get back into politics later on down the road; or build their presidential libraries in their hometowns or wherever they want just like former US Presidents, Johnson, Carter and Clinton, amongst others. Or better yet, they could each help their countries or Africa in various ways, like, taking on special worthwhile projects that could improve the basic lives of the people. That's why we should be grateful to them, if not for any other reason. History should be kind to them too for their unselfish decisions, especially, on a continent that's plagued with all sorts of ills, many of them man-made.

And finally, if the historical event that recently took place in Kenya means anything, then it is that the horrible days of Africa's so-called "BIG MEN" are just about numbered, thereby, placing power once and for all in the safe hands of the masses.

Or, could it be that the African people have become so tired of repression that they're finally on the last leg of their long march towards total independence and freedom? I sincerely hope so - "failed" Liberia, please wake up and join the democracy bandwagon and fulfill your mission as the beacon of hope for all of Africa!

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