African democracies are delicate structures that bend towards money and self-aggrandizement instead of vision and public service. Look at Kenya, for example, government-ignited defections have, within less than a month post general election, turned around an opposition-dominated legislature into a government-dominated one. The reigning government is popular with supporters who are enthusiastic about forgoing fuel and food subsidies because they believe in the leaders they elected.
Governments, especially populist-led, are never known to be people-friendly because governments are money-hungry. The more populist a government, the higher the need for money and hence the more the likelihood of punitive taxes. You will remember that Pablo Escobar used drug money to fund a successful attempt at Colombia’s senate to primarily protect himself. Once in power, however, public scrutiny’s reality could jolt populist leaders into the realization that some things are easier said than done.
Take for example the popular bottom-up economic model that brought the current Kenyan president to power. The country’s history is littered with bottom-up socio-political experiments in various shades and all have proven to be a mirage. Immediately after the 1963 independence, the immediate post-colonial independence government was split between those in favor of devolved units, then called Majimbo in local parlance, and those in favor of a stronger central government.
The emerging stronger central government system that Kenya ultimately adopted after independence is credited for making the country Africa’s economic powerhouse without entirely compromising the bottom. In Africa, Kenya ranks among the developed economies with a World Bank classification of low-middle income countries. Nairobi is an international hub with a direct flight connection to New York through Kenya Airways. Kenyan professionals such as teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, and so on have better working environments and remuneration compared with their east African counterparts.
The current 2010 Constitution was a culmination of a two-decade-long stab at the bottom-up. Unlike the post-independence effort, the 2010 effort was successful. The ensuing jubilation, looking at the electioneering rhetoric that preceded the August 9th, 2022 general election, seems all dead. Watching the events unfold from the east African diaspora was a realization of the Kenyan dilemma: ‘rich government, poor people.’
When Nairobians visit other east African cities, they possess self-importance eerie that seems to say, ‘I come from a richer government than you.’ However, things on the ground could be different. Whereas the Nairobi government is richer than its east African counterparts, more Kenyans suffer hunger, deprivation, or segregation. It does not matter that the Kenyan is likely better educated because that has nothing to do with a social-economic lifeline. Kenyan politicians’ disdain for education is well known for their knack for buying degrees and diplomas from neighboring countries to enable them to qualify for elective positions.
In Nairobi, half of the population resides in slums, the majority built on road reserves and untitled land. The result of post-independence central government-led efforts at fighting ignorance and building capitalist-inspired economic foundations that led to rapid urbanization. The 1980s political upheavals provided an excuse for political power consolidation along the lines of a powerful central government. Government operatives were afforded political power to fight political battles rather than social battles to support public welfare. The resultant political intolerance broke down bottom-up in favor of political patronage.
If the 2010 constitution that came from the need to return power to the people (bottom) has failed so far in doing so, the current bottom-up rhetoric is – to borrow from Kenya’s Chief Justice – hot air. But maybe it is the public perception of bottom-up that is out of touch with the ground. The 2010 constitution, for example, attempted to curb self-aggrandizing public servants by insisting on wealth declaration. However, Kenyan politicians and the electorate are always available to the highest bidder. Any Pablo Escobar is sure of a pass in African politics.
One reply on “In Africa Pablo Escobar Gets a Free Pass, Anytime.”
Great insight. Kenyan masses thrive in hope and change while choosing the leaders but most of the times this hope is deferred and becomes a mirage. Only God will help us.
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