Tuesday, February 12, 2008


In Africa a tribe is bigger than the country
The disputed presidential vote tally that sparked mayhem across the border in Kenya has yet again exposed the political meltdown that is being experienced across Africa. The debilitating anger that has seen neighbours pull out machetes to slaughter each other shouldn’t come as a surprise to any informed mind.

It’s now an established fact that a few of the once stable democracies like Kenya and a handful of other would-be emerging democracies are now caught up in the old destructive African politics of ethnicity and, in some extreme cases, dynasty building where self-centered leaders flout the law in pursuit of bequeathing power to their family members or tribesmen.

Our national leaders are no longer elected or appointed to positions of responsibility on merit. Rather they assume political power along tribal consideration or ‘regional’ balancing.

The citizens, many of whom live below the poverty line, are burdened with the cost of big governments presided over by the autocrats who want to please every tribe or, ‘region’ in order to rule for life. Ultimately, you have impoverished countries that literally have to deal with the skewed allocation of scarce national resources.

Experience has also shown, especially in Africa, that politics of ethnicity does not rhyme well with the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers among the different arms of government. African politicians in tandem with their tribesmen will do anything and everything to circumvent the law or national constitutions to consolidate their political tribal base at the expense of the unity of the countries they lead.

They will employ people from the ‘right’ tribe to run government organisations, a situation that breeds resentment and violent opposition due to the erosion of the democratic principles of equity/fairness for all. This behaviour by our leaders also creates another problem– impunity!

The public servants feel obliged to account to only one individual – the man or woman at the top and not the country they are employed to serve.

In the meantime, the rest of the country watches in bitter silence because the citizens are too afraid to question or challenge the illegal actions of those in leadership. They fear to be locked up or ‘eliminated’ for standing up to demand their constitutional rights.

But by entrenching themselves in power, your typical African leader forgets one thing; that the moment you promote ethnic politics, you face a genuine danger of creating insecurity among the competing tribes and their leaders, which ultimately leads to the kind of indiscriminate violence now being witnessed in Kenya.

It’s not in dispute that our country has been relatively stable both in terms of national politics and security for some time now. However, given the Kenya experience and the growing level of intolerance and the emerging politics of tribe among our leaders (both those who are political and apolitical), is it tenable to hold that the country’s stability sustainable?

Isn’t it high time we pulled together as a people (Ugandans) and renew our purpose as a country-three years to the next general elections? Indeed, the next presidential elections may seem a distant future but are our laws adequate to ensure the country doesn’t experience the blood letting that has shattered a once stable democracy in Kenya?

And this is not to spell doom. But if we don’t do something to strengthen our electoral laws, national institutions like the police, electoral commission and inculcate values of a true democracy, rule of law and respect for our divergent political thinking (views and opinions), the country will be in trouble.

In other words, there is a huge moral test for the country to show that our politicians and the voters can steer clear of the politics of ethnicity and destruction. Whatever the outcome of an election (and that’s why we should have strong laws and institutions) there is absolutely no need to incite the masses to engage in mass violence which like in the case of Kenya can degenerate into mass murder.

What Uganda needs now are leaders who will inculcate a spirit of nationalism among the 56 indigenous communities (tribes) as recognisded by our constitution and stamp out the destructive politics of ethnicity.

Next week: We shall look at our electoral laws

The writer is a journalist and advocate


No comments: