Friday, January 18, 2008

When in Rome...

Do as the Romans do..., and so goes the old adage. But in the world of international relations and intercultural understanding, it really is just that, an old, overused adage. But it really does ring true. Too often, the combined might of NATO has gone and attempted to instate democracy in places which have fared well enough under admittedly archaic but still perfectly functional governments. For example, Kenya, usually regarded as a pillar of stability in oft-wobbling East Africa, was beset by civil unrest recently. Political commentators blame dust-covered, creaking tribal government for the violence, but until recently had maintained a clean sheet as far as internal conflict goes. Yet now with the rise of Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, tensions have reached a head, with protests and killings erupting after a disputed election. The incumbent, Mwai Kibaki was accused of electoral fraud, the spark that set off raging anger towards his party.
True, the LSE-educated Kibaki may well have rigged the vote. But countries like Kenya, who have been independent only since 1963 lack the established political hierarchy, and thus stability that allows democracy to work. America, which also has used democracy since its independence, has been more successful, but for two primary reasons: strong national unity was required to gain independence. People had fought for independence and were determined to keep it. Secondly, the US also has almost 250 years of experience. Kenya, as a sovereign state is still relatively unestablished, and whats more, independence was more or less defaulted to them. Whereas all of America trusted George Washington, Jomo Kenyatta, whilst a leader in his own right, he lacked the single-mindedness to set down roots for his newborn nation. Whereas Washington fought the British to the coast, Kenyatta was content to reconciliate with British settlers who had previously sent him death threats. Narrow-minded ambition was required, but instead an unhealthy reliance on British aid surfaced. True, stability is necessary at all times in East Africa, but Kenya has found it desperately hard to effectively cut the umbilical chord leading back to London. 2 of 3 Kenyan Presidents are LSE-educated. British troops helped defend against Somalian attack, etc.
For a nation to succeed, it has to go it alone and be able to subsist independently. Amongst former colonies that gained post-war independency, only 1 springs to mind that has really accomplished this, and that is India. It is hard to blame either Kenya or Britain for the country's current state, because the manner in which Kenya gained independence didn't properly unite the country. Instead, fractious divides lay just below the social surface, and now, due to this voting scandal, these divides, particularly between the Luos and Kikuyus have come apart in spectacular fashion. In a chilling reminder of just how quickly things can get bad in this corner of the globe, 30 people lay dead after a mob razed a church to the ground, not dissimilar from the killing of 5000 Tutsis at Ntarama church during the Rwandan Genocide.
So far, we are lucky that atrocities of this scale haven't occurred so far. Because if they had, I would feel mighty uncomfortable knowing that democracy was more or less forced upon them, leaving Kenya without powerful ruler, something that in my view is more important than democratic government. I guess what I'm trying to say, is that when in Kenya, do as the Kenyans do, not at the English do.

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