Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has identified corruption, ethnicism, weak leadership and non-participatory electoral process as the bane of democracy in Africa.
While saying democracy as a form of government is not new to Africa, he said part of the problem of democracy in the continent is the attempt to make it uniform across the continent and at the same time bring it at par with international expectations.
“Often people talk about democracy in Africa as if it is a foreign process, strange and exotic to our customs and an import that has proved a singularly bad fit for the form it must clothe. It should not be so. Democracy has powerful roots in our continent,” Odinga said in a lecture he delivered here Thursday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper Limited, publishers of the leading Guardian titles.
Noting that the basic tenets of democracy are universal, the Kenyan PM maintained that “one of Africa’s challenges is to embrace the entire democratic values of our different cultures and to adopt them to suit both national circumstances and today’s global interdependency.”
Speaking on the theme: “Democracy and the Challenge of Good Governance in Africa,” Odinga took a swipe at the practice of democracy in Africa and condemned the style of practice of democracy by national leaders across the continent.
“It is not that we in Africa wish to be judged by standards different from those that apply elsewhere in the world. That is part of the dismissive patronage we need to leave behind us. The intrinsic values of democracy and good governance and aspiration towards that condition are universal. There is no African democracy. The tenets of democracy are universal,” he said.
Odinga identified corruption as the greatest challenge to the full development of democracy in Africa.
He said corruption “has been and remains the major scourge preventing economic growth and stability in our nation. It is a barrier to national development, infrastructural growth and investment.”
Linked to this is ethnicism, which he described as the “enemy of national unity.”
He said the two factors (corruption and ethnicism) were closely linked in undermining the progress of Africa, noting that while Africans should be proud of their origin and cultural roots, the time has come when Africans must shun “negative ethnicity.”
On leadership, the Kenyan PM said: “At independence, we knew we could not rewrite the past, but we knew we could make a bold commitment to changing the future. We needed inspirational and visionary leadership that would perform effectively and deliver for the people.”
But he said all that hope was dashed when lack of tolerance for the opposition made African leaders to eliminate all the checks and balances required for the flowering of democracy.
“The single party system became the order of the day. Therein lies the beginning of the African problems,” he said, giving rise to corruption, nepotism and tribalism among others.
Odinga also criticised the African Union (AU) for its failure to call African leaders to order, citing especially the failure of African leaders to stand together in sanctioning Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
“Even as Mugabe rigged himself into power, the AU failed to condemn his stance. This is because many of them had skeletons in their cupboards,” he said.
Odinga, who became Prime Minister following the power-sharing deal to end Kenya’s post-election crisis, said the deal was not worthy of emulation because it was a compromise from a disputed election.