Features

The meanwhile season

Share this.

The realisation that the aspirations for democracy in our region seem to have all run into one kind of very large obstacle or another is increasingly becoming synchronised thought in (opposition) political discourse, civil society and in media commentary. Their silent question is: is this terminal?

Two things seem to be not happening: prosperity, and the ability to choose who may deliver it. In other words, we are not getting the long-promised “development”, and we can’t elect the leaders whose promises on the matter we prefer. At least, not most of the time. And even when we do, there is every chance that they may then not want to leave when their time is up.

We live, and have lived, in the “meanwhile”, as decades of marking time sailed by, taking shattered dreams and stalled careers with them on a cruel sea of broken promises.

The dissatisfaction around election processes and outcomes, employment conditions, education provision and standards, and a few other things seem to be making a permanent migration from the board rooms and meeting halls to the streets and picket lines. Kenya has its nurses’ strike; Uganda has its doctors’ and judicial officers’. And peasants everywhere are in revolt.

Uganda’s election process cannot be said to be broken because it has never worked in the first place. A (now very silent) dissident general who was once a key regime henchman and fixer admitted as much a few years ago, and conceded that, in fact, the current main opposition figure Dr. Kizza Besigye had probably won each election.

The ruling of Kenya’s Supreme Court has rendered into official legal opinion what has long been repeated as a point in a heated political argument, not to mention an excavation of Philosophy’s Law of Identity (that “A thing is what it is, unless it is something else”). Badly organised election-like activity is not actually an election: do it again, please.

We live, and have lived, in the “meanwhile”, as decades of marking time sailed by, taking shattered dreams and stalled careers with them on a cruel sea of broken promises.

Tanzania makes things simpler. By law, any announcement by the elections authorities is final, and not open to legal challenge. Your president is whomever they say you voted for. Activists have been told that this law cannot change.

SEE ALSO:  THE SONKONIZATION OF NAIROBI: How Mike Sonko Is Reshaping City Politics

However, the words “term limits”, and “removal” are beginning to be heard within sentences following closely on one another within Tanzanian political discourse. That law, apparently, may be much more adjustable.

As usual, there is disappointment. Each of the leaders in question was initially touted as a breath of fresh air. Some of them were even pooled together as a “new breed” by some African-American foreign policy official who understandably did not go on into a career breeding valuable livestock.

In Rwanda, one of the candidates who was not even able to get nominated was later charged with insurrection. The intimidating display of the candidate’s co-accused elderly mother being “perp-walked” in handcuffs, flanked by two policewomen holding her in a firm double elbow and wrist grip, was added for good measure.

These leaders follow a classic script: first mesmerise everybody with huge political stunts that “deliver”, then cement your identity as a pro-mwananchi results-oriented machine. President Museveni made some undercover graft-busting hospital visits, and drank his tea from a simple metal mug. Mrs. Magafuli had to make do with getting medical treatment at a hospital within the borders of the very same African country presided over by her husband. President Kenyatta humbled himself and took an ordinary commercial flight to present himself at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Then, just as the wananchi are gagging for more, comes the hook: here’s the deal, they are told: to get more of that, you have to take more of me, and constitutions be damned.

These leaders follow a classic script: first mesmerise everybody with huge political stunts that “deliver”, then cement your identity as a pro-mwananchi results-oriented machine.

Back to the meanwhile. Tourists come and go, plantations harvest and export their crops, and amid a light cocktail of caveats and admonitions, our governors are told by international organisations that despite a few shortcomings, growth is going as it should be. Step forward to the dreams of independence and “move on” instead of griping over elections past.

SEE ALSO:  DON’T PREACH SILENCE TO PRESERVE PEACE: Kenya Election 2017

Why are some people so happy with this state of affairs, and others so depressed by it? Between these two extremes must be an answer.

We need to consider two possibilities: either the states we live in are returning to their core functions, as intended by the great powers of Western Europe who designed them, or the subsequent superimposed idea of independence has simply outlived any usefulness it could ever have offered, making the state just a millstone around the collective African neck. Most worryingly, it could be both.

Consider the facts. Dictatorship, or autocracy, or whatever one may wish to call it, has not prevented Western-style economic “growth” in Africa. Certainly, at the beginning of the colonial era, it was a basic organisational requirement of the entire project. But things were much simpler back then, when the venal objectives were much more honestly organised.

Colonialism ended through the birth of a world were two White empires faced off for the following six decades, prepared to nuke the planet in order to own it. The collapse of one side (to be followed one day soon, of the other) led to the situation we have had until now: fresh attempts to re-work the cogs of colonially-designed states into representative institutions of governance.

We need to consider two possibilities: either the states we live in are returning to their core functions, as intended by the great powers of Western Europe who designed them, or the subsequent superimposed idea of independence has simply outlived any usefulness it could ever have offered, making the state just a millstone around the collective African neck.

But with the recent displays of intransigence at several of our state houses, it is a good time to perhaps accept that this phase too has come to an end. The body politic can no longer accommodate both the economic demands of the increasingly desperate Western paymasters and the natives’ aspirations for greater prosperity (and the choice, therefore, of who delivers it and how). Something has to give way.

As the incumbents fully realise the colonial logic of needing no more than just a few chiefs – The Governor (Security chief); someone to decide who was out of order (“Justice” chief); someone to oversee production (Agriculture, Industries and Fisheries headman); someone to measure the growth and count the money (Finance chief); and someone to create human resource labour (“Education” chief) – it becomes clear just how many of the mass of educated, modern human Africans, along with their customs and habits of expecting democratic representation, civic accountability, affordable social amenities and the freedom to assemble, speak out and have meaningful political careers, are completely surplus to the requirements. This is the root of our crisis: they do not need us here, but we do not belong anywhere else. We therefore fight right where we are standing. The Empire and its agents really still believe they can IMF us into oblivion. They are mistaken. We will not go; they will. There is no choice in this.

SEE ALSO:  NYAYO HOUSE: Unravelling the Architecture and Aesthetics of Torture

Of our post-colonial aspirations, the first on prosperity (as opposed to its Western cousin called Development) and then later, on democracy, we do not seem to have much of either.

This is the root of our crisis: they do not need us here, but we do not belong anywhere else. We therefore fight right where we are standing. The Empire and its agents really still believe they can IMF us into oblivion. They are mistaken. We will not go; they will.

This nearly happened before. “Modern” Africa’s dalliances with notions of democracy were basically a phenomenon of the late colonial period, which did not survive even the first decade of independence in much of the continent. However, back then the Africans remained convinced that revisiting the ghost of democracy would be the panacea to all their ills.

What we are witnessing this time round is a shedding, a disposing-off, of a cloak finally deemed too warm for the new climate.

There is to be no nostalgia, no turning back this time. Unless it is to the time before the time before the time: to the original design and management of the colonial state. Back to basics.

By Kalundi Serumaga
Mr Serumaga is  a social and political commentator based in Kampala.