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Nothing has been learnt after chaos

CARTOONS
By | March 3rd 2010

Andrew Kipkemboi

As I raced towards Nakuru, I kept wondering how bad things could get. Taking advantage of a lull during the post-election violence that rocked the country two years ago, I decided to take a trip home. I was last there a few days before the election and I planned to be home for the New Year. That never happened because the country erupted in violence after the contested elections.

I left Nairobi at sunrise. Somehow, I felt safe in the day. I was nervous not knowing if the next kilometre would be the last in my life. I got home safely five hours later. Along the way I saw spots of scorched tarmac and the steel rolls from burnt tyres. I have taken the road many times after and the "scars" are still there for all to see.

Obviously, the question is when those behind the death and destruction will face the law.

Prosperity

By world standards, the campaigns before the contested 2007 election were at the cutting edge. Money was splashed on prime time adverts in the media, while giant billboards were erected on the rutted highways as everyone waited in awe as the next big thing took shape in Africa.

A new beginning beckoned.

"I am the bridge to a future of wealth and prosperity," said Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement.

"Give me five more years so that I can complete the projects I started in my first term," said President Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity.

Though what happened after the guns went silent is water under the bridge, the skirmishes in the Grand Coalition —a product of the tortuous negotiations — still reminds of how bad things could get.

Each of the two sides, PNU for Kibaki, and ODM for Raila, still try to outsmart the other in throwing the mud.

Like much of Africa, a cocktail of bad laws, corruption and bad leadership is to blame for the pervasive rot and malaise.

If there is anything that is obvious about the last two years, it is widening rifts, the astonishing levels of despondency and cynicism of the citizens.

The divisions are wide, the mistrust is deep, the suspicions are rife and the wounds are still raw while fear still stalks villages.

The people still grapple with age-old problems of needless poverty, disease and ignorance. And the leaders display the usual sabre-rattling and the bewildering sense of impunity and corruption is rife. Only that now it is communal theft disrupted momentarily by the spats about whose bite is bigger than the other’s.

Politicians throw up the chaff routinely to divert the attention of the country as they dip their fingers in the till. As we head towards the next elections, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the country is back where it started: In the clutch of power elites who have taken the country as their property.

The problem has often been that the politicians make promises that they cannot deliver.

Megalomania

They believe that they know what is good for their people and their country. Those contaminated by the bug of the Divine Right of Kings often indulge in the feeling that rulers were chosen by God and are therefore answerable for their actions to Him alone. And, therefore, they use sham elections to perpetuate their rule. The leaders’ sense of entitlement reeks of the arrogance and megalomania and stagnation that is blamed for the violence and electoral malpractice that litters Africa.

Oxford University professor Paul Coullier, says in Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places that "elections held in poor countries with weak institutions can do more harm than good by preserving the corrupt elites and retarding the process of accountable government."

Take for example, the Executive leaned on a weak electoral body to get favourable results. People were killed because the killers knew they would dodge justice. Crooked elections held at whatever frequency propagates self-perpetuation and self-preservation. The recipe for misrule and plunder of public resources.

The incentive for a stitch up in elections so that you can get into the gravy train has never been great. Don’t be fooled by the excitement about a new constitution or that 2012 is drawing so you can sling out the miscreants and get saints into leadership positions. You have done that before and it doesn’t work.

Two years later, no one has been punished for the death and the destruction. Two years later, no one has been punished for corruption scandals. Two years later, the acrimony is palpable and the politicians have drawn their knives.

Two years later, it is business as usual as old corruption meets with new corruption and as new political alliances are formed to lessen the inconvenience of being caught out. Two years later, the people are still gullible and wait on the politicians to deliver them to the Promised Land.

The sad reality is that the dreadful levels of frustration and anger about misgovernance and corruption could detonate as it did in 2007 and I dread that eerie trip back home again never knowing what the future holds.

The writer is The Standard’s Foreign News Editor.

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