February 11, 2018
By Isaac Mwangi
East African News Agency, Arusha
Africa is in the throes of a painful regression into authoritarianism – a failure of democracy that is attributable to a number of complex factors but that could have been avoided by the noble initiative of peer review, had this worked.
Indeed, the establishment of a peer review mechanism under the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad) earlier this century was received with much enthusiasm.
It was hoped that this would once for all end the culture of impunity, trampling of rights, and gross violations that had characterised the African continent ever since the colonialists left.
The aim of peer review was to set up a framework through which African leaders would review each other’s performance and point out areas of concern, without the often racist and derogatory attitude of Western powers.
Through this, it was hoped that leaders would avoid excesses that would expose them to quiet rebuke from their peers.
Had it worked, no longer would we hear stories of an Iddi Amin Dada who killed people at will.
Ruinous regimes such as those associated with Mobutu Sese Seko of the former Zaire and Charles Taylor of Liberia would be a thing of the past, tucked far into the pages of history.
Unfortunately, it did not work. The leaders – most of them despots anyway – treated each other with kid gloves.
There would be no sanctions for stealing elections in Zanzibar, Uganda or Kenya. Atrocities in South Sudan and Darfur – attracting the attention of the international community – would be of little interest to the African Union.
Leaders accused of crimes against humanity would find solace and support among their peers – not sanction, condemnation and demands for corrective action as would have been expected.
To be fair, African leaders have not stood by helpless in all situations.
When it came to the rigged election in the Gambia, for instance, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) made a firm stand and even threatened military intervention in order to force the then incumbent Yahya Jammeh to respect the results of the presidential election and hand power to the newly-elected President Adama Barrow.
But even in such cases, the stand taken by African leaders has largely reflected the thinking and wishes of Western powers.
On their own, the continent’s leaders have proved inept, ineffectual and lacking the interest to ensure that justice and stability prevail on the continent.
Even when it comes to election monitoring, this is usually done perfunctorily, without interrogating the intricacies of the process.
This was indeed the case in Kenya, where election monitors appeared to give the August 2017 presidential poll a clean bill of health, only for it to be invalidated by the country’s Supreme Court.
Understandably, this is partly due to issues of funding. Poor African countries have little by way of resources to support expensive external military intervention.
The peacekeeping missions in places such as Sierra Leone, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia are financed through the United Nations and Western resources.
Still, the continent’s leaders have done little even by way of applying pressure upon their wayward peers, or expressing public displeasure.
Instead, they have looked the other way, opting to accommodate the floods of refugees that inevitably result from conflict, than to seek tangible solutions before matters get out of hand.
This is how leaders like President Uhuru Kenyatta have been able to get away.
Suffering from a crisis of legitimacy owing to a stolen election – but which the West is keen to uphold to safeguard their interests in the country – the Kenyan president has resorted to strong-arm tactics aimed at intimidating the media, civil society, the judiciary, opposition leaders, and virtually anyone who the ruling party imagines could be a threat to Kenyatta’s rule.
Meanwhile, other African leaders have taken cue from the West and ignored the new Kenya’s excesses.
But Kenyatta is not alone in the region when it comes to dirty tactics against opponents. Indeed, Kenya was the odd man out when it comes to democratic credential, but that’s all now in the past.
President Yoweri Museveni is another person on the spot. Other leaders in the region are not far behind.
And so, the region and Africa as a whole still lack any working mechanism to ensure transparency and accountability on the continent.
And for as long as this remains the position, Africa will continue to be a playing field for the Western powers – from Libya to Kenya and wherever else they may fancy.