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Kenya's "Meaningless" Election


It is hard for us to join the chorus of mainstream media editorial pages, African leaders, and even the Bush administration, in the lavish praise and words of promise that they have offered as a result of Kenya's recent election of Mwai Kibaki as its new leader.

Mr. Kibaki at 71 years of age, has already served the Kenyan government as finance minister, economic adviser and health minister periodically over the last three decades. The new leader comes from one of the most influential tribes in Kenya, the Kikuyus - who led the Mau Mau revolution - and is a founder of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) that came to power in the early 1960s.

To say the least, he understands the extent of the very real problems that Kenya faces.

But his campaign pledges, like too many in Africa, read like an attempt to curry favor with the West more than they do an effort to stamp out the legacy of colonialism and the obviously failed policies that cripple African nation after African nation, post-independence.

Ask Western political observers and government leaders what the problem is in Africa and they will give you a one-word answer that soothes their soul, revises history and massages their ego: corruption. It is the only problem that is responsible for everything wrong in Africa, according to them.

Mr. Kibaki made stamping out corruption the centerpiece of his campaign and received an avalanche of kudos from both domestic and international supporters for doing so. In the campaign, he also pledged that he would increase the amount of foreign aid that Kenya receives. These pledges and the mere fact that the elections were relatively peaceful is all the West needed as a pretext to become fully enamored by the recent change of power in the African nation of 29 million.

According to the Washington Post:

The U.S. ambassador, Johnnie Carson, called the election "historic for Africa."

"What is happening here is an example of what can be done in other countries," Carson said. "And it's extraordinarily important."

President Bush said he is looking forward to working with Kibaki. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush also welcomed the fact that the elections were peaceful.

"The people of Kenya have chosen a new leader and all parties have acted responsibly in working to institutionalize democracy in Kenya," McClellan said.


The U.S. State Department issued a statement that said, "We have great hope that this demonstration of Kenyan democracy will lead toward economic reform and greater prosperity for the Kenyan people."

Pledge to end corruption; make changes to your constitution that guarantee nominal democratic reform; have peaceful elections; benefit from Western largesse; and all of Kenya's economic problems are solved. If only things were that simple. While the West can applaud Kenya's election for the most superficial and self-serving of reasons, real change in Kenya, rest assured, will not take place until human capital is developed, financial capital is democratized and physical capital industries are properly cultivated and taxed.

And if there is any "foreign" reaction that Kenya should concern itself with, it should not be the United States, which only wants to use Kenya as an African beach head for the war on terrorism, but rather, the United States of Africa and East African economic partners.

Kenya has an external debt of $7 billion. 30% of all tax revenue it collects goes toward paying down its domestic debt. Unemployment is at 50%. Adult illiteracy is at 20% The country's currency, the shilling, which traded with the U.S. dollar at the rate of 56 to 1 in 1996 now trades at 77 to 1. Per capita annual income in the country is $300. Interest rates in the country are over 15%, stunting economic growth among the country's entrepreneurial class. And taxes on capital, badly needed by the country's entrepreneurs and nascent enterprises, are too high. In a commentary for Kenya's Daily Nation Tom Diju Owuor, executive director of the Federation of Kenya of Employers wrote, " Although the old Government managed to achieve low levels of inflation and, more or less stable exchange rates of the Kenya shilling against foreign currencies, the lending rates are still so high that they are beyond the capacities of small and medium-sized enterprises to borrow from the capital market, and they therefore help slow down of the economy. The new Government should therefore address the effect of high cost of capital on small-and-medium sized enterprises." Good advice but not a priority of the U.S. State Department, Defense Department or international multilateral institutions with whom Mr. Kibaki is seeking to curry favor.

Mr.Kibaki, in typical and tired fashion, has pledged to work with the IMF and World Bank, secure primary education for all and get the economy moving. It is a disingenuous activity in which he is engaging. The mere existence of a Kenyan-IMF-World Bank partnership ensures that the country will not be able to make the investments in human capital necessary to improve the quality of life in Kenya. It also ensures that the country's currency woes will continue. To further shield its own hand in Kenya and Africa's devastation; the IMF actually had the nerve, in 1997 to suspend $220 million in loans until Kenya stiffened its fight against corruption.

From 1969 to 1982, Mr. Kibaki was finance minister. He knows how all of this works. Ending corruption, refining the constitution and seeking foreign aid without executing proper fiscal, monetary and regulatory policies and developing Kenya's human capital is ultimately a recipe for not only increased poverty, but dashed hopes and further dependence upon the West. The worst of all quid-pro-quos.

Mr. Kibaki knows that but in order to secure power, he sugarcoats what Kenyans and the West really need to hear.

Will the real corrupt leader please stand up?

It looks like another false shepherd is misleading the flock in Africa.


correction: Kenya's adult illiteracy rate is 20% not 80% as was originally indicated in this editorial


Thursday, January 2, 2003

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