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Why a ‘Nguema’ can attain power in Kenya

OPINION
By dominic ODIPO | January 13th 2014

By Dominic Odipo

He was a man of limited education and low mental ability who had made his way up the ladder as a result of the support of Spanish administrators who believed he could be turned into a trustworthy collaborator relied upon to do their bidding.

On three occasions, he had failed to pass examinations for a civil service career and emancipado status, succeeding the fourth time only because of overt Spanish favouritism.

Ten of the 12 ministers in the first government were executed. In their place, Nguema installed members of his own family and fellow tribesmen from the small Esangui clan from the Mongomo region. 

Two-thirds of national assembly deputies and most senior civil servants were killed, imprisoned or driven into exile. In 1976, the last remaining senior civil servants, handpicked by Nguema to replace those he had previously murdered, sent him a mass petition asking for a relaxation of the country’s total isolationism, hoping there would be safety in numbers.

Every one of the 114 petitioners was arrested and tortured, many never to be seen again. His nephew, Colonel Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbosogo, became commander of the National Guard, military commander of Fernando Po, secretary-general of the ministry of defence and head of prisons.

Other nephews were appointed to senior security posts; one simultaneously held the portfolios of finance, trade, information, security and state enterprises; a cousin ran foreign affairs. Officers in the security forces were all linked to Nguema by ties of kinship.

 This is not a fictional account from one of Graham Greenee’s post-war novels.

It is an extract from Martin Meredith’s latest narrative of Africa, The Fate of Africa, and it is real enough, though it sounds stranger than fiction. Francisco Macias Nguema somehow made it to the presidency of Equatorial Guinea, on the West African coast, and stayed there for all of 11 years.

Over that period, he ordered the killing of dozens of his countrymen, looted the national treasury and transferred the central bank into his house. At the end, he was indicted for 80,000 murders — an indictment he rejected, saying he was head of state and not director of prisons.

How do men like this one manage to get to the leadership of African countries? Could a man like Francisco Nguema rise to the presidency of Kenya and stay there for eleven years?

Or, to put this differently, what is the difference between Equatorial Guinea and Kenya, if any? Is there something within or political architecture which would make it impossible for a Francisco Nguema to rise to power here?

Or do we run the risk of producing a new version of such a man any day? If we do, what pre-emptive measures can we take to ensure that no Francisco Nguemas arise here?

Truth be told, there is nothing within our political architecture which could yet prevent a Francisco Nguema from emerging here. The ordinary Kenyan stays too much on the periphery of the political game.

He tends to think that politics is not his business until it is too late. This is a great mistake. Politics is the business of every Kenyan every day, and unless Kenyans remain eternally vigilant, they will be unable to keep away the Francisco Nguemas of this world.

So far, Providence appears to have been on our side. We have not yet produced a Nelson Mandela, or a Julius Nyerere, but so too, have we not yet produced a Francisco Nguema. But unless we take great care and watch our steps each inch of the way, we are not yet out of the woods.

What would we do if President Uhuru Kenyatta tomorrow decided to pack the Armed Forces with his cronies or relatives the way Nguema did?

Not much. Life, for most Kenyans, would probably just proceed as usual. Kenyans need to understand very clearly that politics is not just a matter for the politicians. It covers everything, including the air you breathe and the water you drink.

That’s why every citizen needs to get involved, from the grassroots level to the presidential level. If you do not get involved, then you cannot blame anybody if a Francisco Nguema springs up amongst us.

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