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COALITIONS HAVE FAILED IN AFRICA BEFORE

Story by JOHN HARBESON
Publication Date: 3/30/2008
Kenyans should know that the country’s friends around the world are anxious to see if the power-sharing agreement negotiated between PNU and ODM will result in the resumption of peace.

President Kibaki (right) shakes hands with ODM Raila Odinga at Harambee House in Nairobi after they signed a power-sharing agreement. Photo/ FILE

One hopes that the friendship and political collaboration Mr Mwai Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga shared a just five years ago will be rekindled as a foundation for making the peace deal work.

Sadly, however, the history of African independence is littered with examples in which pragmatic power-sharing agreements were forged but fell apart.

Many of the pacts were set up at the urging of the departing British colonial rulers. There was power-sharing initially in Zimbabwe between the rival nationalist armies of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, the NCNC-NPC coalition in Nigeria joining the mutually antagonistic Ibo and Hausa-Fulani parties, the granting of independence to Zanzibar on the basis of rule by the Sultan who lacked majority support  and the joining of the Buganda’s Kabaka Yekka party with Milton Obote’s Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC)  even though their antithetical agendas had not been compromised. None of these agreements lasted very long and were preludes to instability, with the possible exception of the Zimbabwe case.

Among the most important reasons for the failed power-sharing agreements was that they created governing regimes without addressing a central underlying issue. What was to be the basis of the state within which these governing regimes were to rule?

What were to be the fundamental rules of the political game on the basis of which all parties would be able to live together under one political roof. Indeed, there were very few opportunities in any of the newly independent countries for leaders and citizens to think together about how they wanted to design their new states, how they would choose to redesign the colonial governance apparatus the leaders of the nationalist movements inherited in order to give expression to their own ideas of what states should look like.

This is one reason why some have referred to the wave of democratisation in post-Cold War Africa as the continent’s  second independence.   National conferences in Benin and Mali,  UN-sponsored roundtables in Malawi, intensive negotiations on basic rules of the game for post-independence polities in Namibia and Mozambique, and a post-apartheid state in South Africa.

The post-Cold War era has been the first opportunity for African leaders and citizens to really consider what states they wish to live together in.   Where these negotiations preceded the first multi-party elections after the end of authoritarian rule, the results have generally been better.

From this perspective, Kenya’s struggles to fashion a new constitution in the post-Cold War era may have resulted in part from the fact that it did not follow this sequence, a point that some prominent civil friends of mine in lobby groups in Kenya have themselves made to me.

But now it appears to me that the problem of restructuring the Kenyan state, in the form of a revised constitution, has become even more difficult than it was in the debate over the Bomas constitution and the alternative design, which Kenyans defeated in a subsequent referendum.

Now it seems to me as though it may be all but impossible to refashion a new constitution without dealing more directly with land issues than they seemed to be in the earlier debate.

That realisation seems to me, in turn, to raise directly and openly for the first time the fundamental issue of the disposition of what a distinguished student of African politics terms the African colonial state.

Crawford Young’s hypothesis has been that colonial patterns of governance in many African countries have in fact been perpetuated well into the independence era.

Only now, he suggests, has the fact that the concept of a colonial state  become an oxymoron visible and apparent to one and all.   In  the case of Kenya,  land issues were at the heart of the Lancaster House conference in London that prepared the way for independence.

Convinced that economic stability must be maintained at all costs to secure post-independence Kenyan political stability, the British, with World Bank assistance, financed land transfers that enabled the African landless and unemployed to claim chunks that Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya Africa Union claimed had been stolen by European settlers.

The settlers wanted the land transfer, and the Kenyatta government urged a rapid implementation before independence as well. Another stipulation concerning land, also deemed essential to post-independence stability was that there be a free market for land purchases throughout much of the country, based on the extension of land consolidation and registration initiated under the Swynnerton Plan before independence.

John Locke argued that the basis of a liberal democracy was the protection of life liberty and property (land).  And so it was in Kenya. But were these Lancaster House agreements the foundation of a Kenyan African state, or did  they, in retrospect, represent a consolidation of a colonial state as an independence foundation?

The agreements of 45 years ago have seem to have exacerbated, possibly even in part caused, the violence and instability that followed the recent elections. That possibility would seem to raise the stakes dramatically on constitutional negotiations yet to take place as part of the present power-sharing agreement.

But to refashion the Kenyan state through a new constitution, how can these land issues not be revisited? Can people who have been forced out of the land they may have occupied since independence return to it even if to do so will be to reopen old wounds?

What new resettlement programme would be fair to all parties and thus be the foundation of a new Kenyan state in the era of Africa’s second independence?

John Harbeson is a professor of political science at City University New York

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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