October 18th 2017

Top Stories / National

Raila Odinga: In voting out looters, West Africans have cleared the path for us

The transfer of power, especially in West Africa, is sending signals that our citizens, who have seen and endured so much pain and betrayal, are marching ahead, sadder but wiser and will not allow the continent to revert to dictatorship, presidents for life and unconstitutional stays in office.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comMonday, 12 Dec 2016 14:50 EAT

CORD leader Raila Odinga.

When I spoke at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Nigeria last month, I expressed concern that the committed political leadership with long term visions that were characteristic of Africa’s founding fathers like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kwameh Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Sekou Toure, Jomo Kenyatta, Oginga Odinga, Abdel Nasser and, more recently, Nelson Mandela, has either been lost or is rapidly fading.

I said the democratic upsurge of the early 1990s is meeting tremendous resistance as new forms of authoritarian rule emerge and democratic gains stall or get reversed. But I also expressed a well-founded hope that despite these reversals, democracy is taking a firm root in key countries particularly in west Africa, which is a significant development given the region’s long history as the continent’s “coup belt”.

Of interest to me was the fact that citizens rejected a coup in Burkina Faso early this year, Nigeria elected President Muhammadu Buhari, making him the first opposition candidate to defeat a sitting Nigerian president through the ballot, and the defeated incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, conceded defeat.

It was also important that credible elections had taken place in Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. These developments renewed hope for democracy and good governance in Africa. Ghana has done it again. Voters threw out an incumbent after one term, and he has conceded defeat.

A week earlier, voters in the Gambia rejected a president who once said he intended to stay in power for a billion years. Yaya Jammeh had declared in November that “Allah elected me, and only Allah can remove me”. Jammeh conceded defeat, and it is my hope that he will rethink his change of heart and the recanting of his earlier concession and that he will not go ahead with his attempt to stage a coup in his country, because that is what his change of heart amounts to.

Enough is enough

The transfer of power, especially in West Africa in recent years, is sending signals to the rest of Africa that our citizens, who have seen and endured so much pain and betrayal, are marching ahead, sadder but wiser and will not allow the continent to revert to the era of single-party dictatorship, presidents for life, unconstitutional stays in office and, most importantly, the return of kleptocracies.

Africans are tired of their dreams being deferred. Africa’s Second Coming is at hand. The African renaissance is becoming a real experience. The difference between Africa’s Second Coming and the Second Liberation is that, unlike the Second Liberation, Africans themselves drive this Second Coming. It will be our third liberation.

Africa’s first coming was the fight for independence during which Africans were largely on their own against colonial masters. Then came the fight against the one party and military dictatorships, which coincided with the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It relied heavily on external pressure on incumbents to adopt transparency, accountability and good governance. This phase saw suspension of donor aid as the key tool for forcing single party dictatorships to change.

We are entering a third stage in Africa’s transformation. Like the struggle for independence, Africans are spearheading this third struggle, which is why I see it as Africa’s second coming. Africans are not waiting for development partners to approve of what they are doing. It has several elements: Africans seem to be tired of corruption and are looking for leaders who will fight it openly and honestly.

They understand that the key to fighting corruption is a President or a Prime Minister who is genuinely committed to eradicating the vice; who commands the confidence of the people; and is prepared to lead from the top. That is why presidents and prime ministers are being punished at the ballot.

Interesting trends

There is a desire by Africans to complete the democratic transition that started in the 1990s because that period proved that democracy provides an enabling environment to ensure that public goods and resources are put to much better use by the government. It resulted in six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing countries being in Africa which was a monumental leap considering that, from 1974 through the mid-1990s, Africa’s growth was negative, reaching negative 1.5 per cent in the 1990-94 period.

Voters are determined to minimise inequalities between ethnic, racial, religious or regional groups. They are resisting policies that marginalise sections of the population. Voters are realising that, as members of one nation, they rise or fall together and are, therefore, insisting on forging ahead together through equitable access to opportunities and services like education, health care, water, electricity and jobs.

People are demanding that natural resources, including land, water, forests and oil, must be shared fairly by all and must benefit the citizens, not the leaders. Voters are rejecting ethnic division and discrimination and opting to promote nationhood.

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