The African continent, as indeed our own Land of the Brave, cannot simply pass on or glance over the recent post-election violence in Kenya that has as yet to subside in real terms, as just a transient incident only peculiar to this East African country.
In fact, it is one big lesson for the continent. A lesson as much for old and relatively established statehoods like Sudan, Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria as it is for new ones such as Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, and indeed Namibia.
I am referring to statehood because despite years of independence we have as yet to establish nationhood and democracy in most of our African polities. To amplify this one needs not look further than at the recent post-election flare-ups in Kenya.
Kenya obtained independence from Britain in 1963, five years short of half-a-century of autonomy this year. Fifty years are a lifetime for a human being.
However, politicians would make us believe that this may not be a long time in the lifetime of a state. I beg to differ that this is ample time, at least to have put in place the necessary democratic foundations. I don’t know whether Kenya has managed to do that within 45 years of its independent existence or not, but certainly the events of the past few days or weeks tell a different story. If not sending us a very important signal.
This signal is that 45 years of work in establishing only the basics in statehood, nation-building and democracy can be undone in just a few days by a mere trigger of an incident, perception, misperception or misunderstanding.
In the case of Kenya it was the perception of electoral fraud, real or imagined. The worst in terms of the body count may have been averted in Kenya but the incident is an interesting pointer that Kenyan citizens as other citizens of the continent can only ignore at their own peril. The reality is that peace, stability and harmony we often think exist in our countries are very fragile and what may seem consolidation can change within the blink of an eyelid.
We often speak of peace, stability, harmony and what-have-you without pausing to grasp the essence and meaning of these attributes mean in real terms. We seem little bothered to interrogate the validity of such assumed attributes and whether when put to the test they can hold the ground. As Kenya is showing us even the slightest disturbance can show the stability we assume for what they really are – fragility.
This does not only apply to Kenya but also to the Land of the Brave. One of the most precious commodities we often sell as a country is peace and stability. Yes, there is no denying that we have been enjoying peace and stability for 17 years or so that we have known Statehood. But the important question that we often fail to address is how deeply anchored such peace and stability is. Is it only within Statehood or within Nationhood? Only when we enjoy such within Nationhood can we talk of real peace and stability.
Peace and stability cannot exist without the necessary nourishment. One such imperative is confidence in public/state institutions and/or Nation if you like. One such institution is the electoral machinery.
In view of the important epoch in our own evolution towards nationhood, I am sure that our own Electoral Commission, and its operative arm, the Directorate of Elections, can take a cue from the latest consternation in Kenya. Not only in terms of the need for the voters to have the necessary confidence in the elections machinery but the management or mismanagement proper of this process can make or break our Nation as the latest Kenyan experience is showing us. The electoral process and management thereof is but only one aspect of the set-up. The conduct of our politicians, both ruling and in opposition, also sometimes leave much to be desired in terms of their role in solidifying the process towards nationhood and democracy. Such lack of statesmanship is often evident in the public pronouncements of our would-be statesman and women, often coughed in political diatribes. Such pronouncements do not help our dispensation as young and fragile as it is. Like the lack of confidence in the Kenyan electoral process has shown the Kenyan people and the continent at large, one never knows what could spark any statehood threatening disturbance. It could be your politically as against statesmanship inspired pronouncements.
As we gear up for Presidential, National and Regional elections next year, we cannot take for granted that our systems are as healthy and ready as they ought to be. It does not only take the systems but also our mental frames, political and otherwise.
In a nutshell, let’s not take peace, stability and harmony for granted. Every one of us has a responsibility and a duty towards steering the ship towards real peace, stability and harmony and eventually nationhood starting with how we ready our systems and ourselves for the first and stepping blocks – the 2009 elections.