Monday, March 31

Death by leadership

James Shikwati, Kenya's most prominent foreign aid critic, has an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, criticizing the international community for putting too much stock in strong African leaders rather than in building up lasting political institutions:
After disputed elections with violence on both sides, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga may become the true founding fathers of Kenya in the power-sharing deal that creates a post of prime minister. We now hear many tributes to strong leadership—but Africans suffer from far too much leadership: What we desperately need are strong institutions.

Foreigners like the idea of African leaders and Africa's ruling political cliques just love it. Tony Blair, while serving as the British prime minister, set up a Commission for Africa, praising "a new generation of African leaders." But a new generation is no guarantee of anything new: Blair's praise for commission member and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi came before his police fired at demonstrations against electoral fraud in 2005, imprisoned thousands and put opposition leaders on trial for "treason and genocide."
Bill Clinton was also a promoter of the "new generation", which in addition to Zenawi, included Rwanda's Paul Kagame, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, and Eritrea's Isaias Afewerki, none of whom have done wonders for democratic political institutions.

In Kenya, Mwai Kibaki's victory in 2002 was widely welcomed abroad as heralding a break from the authoritarianism and bad governance of the Moi area. And despite lingering concerns over corruption, Kenya's economic recovery and vibrant (if chaotic) party politics helped to continue this narrative. But shortcomings in the strength of parliament and the independence of institutions like the courts and the electoral commission were never tackled.

Leaders from both sides have pledged support for wide-ranging institutional reforms, though they've done so before. For now, the stability of Kenya's government continues to rest almost entirely on the goodwill of Kibaki and Odinga.

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