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Of Iowa, Kenya, and Pakistan ...

Robin Lustig | 11:32 UK time, Friday, 4 January 2008

(this week's newsletter)

I’ve been thinking a lot this week, for all the obvious reasons, about elections. Election caucuses in snowy Iowa; deferred elections in Pakistan; disputed elections in Kenya.

We can leave Iowa for another day. There’ll be plenty more opportunities between now and 4 November to talk about who’s going to be the next US President. In Pakistan and Kenya, however, people have been dying because of elections, or at least because of election-generated anger.

When I lived in Uganda 40 years ago, Nairobi, the capital of neighbouring Kenya, was where we went for weekends of glamour, bright lights and sophistication. It was a long and dusty drive – but worth it. Nairobi was, after Johannesburg, the most modern, vibrant capital city in Africa.

But even then, with independence hero Jomo Kenyatta as President, there was resentment at what was often seen as the domination by the Kikuyu. They may make up only a fifth of the population, but they have long been seen as the most powerful group in the country.

So anti-Kikuyu resentment is an important part of what has fuelled this week’s violence. President Mwai Kibaki is, like Kenyatta, a Kikuyu; the opposition leader Raila Odinga is, like his late father, Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s first vice-president who fell out with Kenyatta, a Luo.

But it’s not the whole story. Many Kenyans thought that last week’s election would mark a watershed in the country’s political history, the moment when leadership passed to a new generation. They feel robbed by the old guard, the elite who have held on to power for so long. And the poorest feel that, once again, they have been robbed by the richest.

In Pakistan, it’s a different story – although dynastic politics play as important a role there as they do in Kenya. My reading of what is happening in Pakistan is that we’re witnessing a particularly brutal power play. On one side, the military and those allied with them (including some Islamist groups); on the other, the Bhutto clan whom the military have never trusted. (I am not suggesting that the military killed Benazir, although many Pakistanis are suggesting precisely that.)

Elections are, of course, an essential part of any democracy. But we must also recognise that they can deepen and sharpen divisions, sometimes, as we have seen over the past two weeks, with violent consequences. And elections alone are not enough: for a democracy to be worthy of the name, it needs to encompass a free media, an independent and impartial judiciary, and guaranteed freedom of association.

I have reported on elections in many different parts of the world over the years: in Iran, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey, Zimbabwe and elsewhere. Usually, but not always, people vote in a spirit of hope: now, they say, perhaps things will get better.

In Kenya, at least for those who voted for opposition candidates, the hopes have been dashed, at least for now. In Pakistan, for Benazir Bhutto’s supporters, the hopes are on hold. In Iowa, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee are, for now, the “hope” candidates. (Mr Huckabee, like Bill Clinton, even comes from a town called Hope.) In all three places, those who want change believe they can, or ought to be able to, achieve it at the ballot box. That’s democracy for you.

Comments

  1. At 05:11 PM on 04 Jan 2008, John Clemo wrote:

    ‘For democracy to be worthy of the name’ in Pakistan (or anywhere else for that matter) it must also be the case that the indigent in society as well its property owners, must have - at the very least - an equal chance in shaping the future of a country and its people. This point of view, although Aristotelian and therefore Western in origin, should remind us that for a state to be headed or ruled by a monarch, or for power to be simply inherited or handed over, is an anathema to democracy itself. That the Bhutto dynasty should consider this an option, so further perpetuating this outdated line of thought, is something to reflect upon.
    The death of Benazir Bhutto, tragic as it is, and the subsequent succession of 19-year-old Bilawal Bhutto, rather than indicating that the baton heralding the advancement of democracy has been handed on, must surely signal its regression in Pakistan. Rather than empowering the citizens of Pakistan, this is their enervation. When anyone considers that they are powerless or that they do not have any right to power, then they have also given up power in the same breath – it will remain beyond them.
    I have no interest in conspiracy theories (hence my continued gratitude for these pages), but could it be that this is what the Western powers seek? Bhutto was the West’s ticket in Pakistan: it was her democracy or none at all - hence her death being reported as analogous to that of democracy itself! (Hype if ever I read it !) Her son and heir is now seen as the next best thing and so it will be interesting to see how the international community responds to this.
    However, much more significantly, I believe that it will be the absence of any other alternatives, of any other citizens of Pakistan to take responsibility for their country’s own destiny, that will be more telling.
    Once again, just like a number of other hotspots around the world, it will be the battle between home made democracy forged out of the vested interests of the people – and the common people at that – verses the instant ready-made brand favoured by the West, that will be definitive. The cooked-up Western imposition of democracy remains ambiguous in nature unless it can be challenged critically and fairly. The people of Pakistan have much more about them than a political elite, Western-backed allies of the cause against the Islamist threat, and a variety of militarists, extremists and fanatics. It would be naïve in the extreme to dismiss the people of a nation and their hopes and aspirations in this way.
    Democracy is more than one individual, more than a dynasty, more than a brand. Therefore, in the ‘spirit of hope’ you mention, it is my hope that the people of Pakistan can find their own democracy, suitable to their own taste, but one where even the most impoverished of its people can contribute their own vital ingredients, or else . . . !

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  2. At 03:11 AM on 05 Jan 2008, Mark wrote:

    Iowa, Kenya, Pakistan. What do they have in common. Very little. All recently had or soon will have elections. All are former colonies of Britain, Iowa only indirectly in that it is a state in a country which was a former colony of Britain. Look around the world at all of the trouble spots and what do you see? Many are the remains of what was once part of one European colonial empire or another. Kenya is typical. Kenya is not really a nation at all, not in the sense of the European nation states. Areas incorporating different tribes were defined on a map by colonial powers and administered as though they were countries. Then after the colonizers left, those "nations" were supposed to pick themselves up and become full fledged nation states. Iraq is another perfect example of the disasterous consequences of this idea. Winston Churchill drew the map himself. Pakistan and Afghanistan are nothing but a collection of tribes, many beyond the control of any central authority. Iowa, as luck would have it was spared all this becuse it didn't exist under colonial rule. The outcome of its caucus "election" to select delegates to the national political conventions will not only be peaceful, it will soon be forgotten. Too bad we can't as easily forget Kenya and Pakistan. They will not be going back to business as usual I'm afraid.

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  3. At 03:53 PM on 07 Jan 2008, Sunil wrote:

    Mark says that Kenya was a Colonial construct, which is surely was, but then so are many European Nations.

    Americans get very confused when told that the UK is a sort of Federation of 4 nations. How about Belgium? Do Catalans really consider themselves Spanish in some 'echt' sense? I think not. I could go on...

    If you're looking for some Pure Nation/State, I suspect only the Inuit or Basque would fit the bill

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  4. At 11:02 PM on 07 Jan 2008, Cathy wrote:

    I have just listened to a Radio 4 interview with the Kenyan Opposition Leader’s spokesperson and just needed to comment as a voter who watched the whole election process live and even voted. He (Salim) is lying without shame. I feel highly aggrieved on behalf of Kenyans and of the 5million who voted against Mr Odinaga and the innocent who have died when I hear such lies on radio such as I heard today. Do you know that there is no evidence whatsoever that Mr Odinga won. Contrary in fact the polls preceding elections showed that Kibaki was leading. It was obvious Kibaki would win because for one Eastern & Central provinces have a combined huge population and Kibaki had a following in western …so obviously he had the numbers.
    There are a lot of rigging claims infact against the opposition that the international media never report. Agents and international observers were violently chased away from the counting halls in Opposition strongholds in particular Nyanza and so the counting there is very suspect. In addition, opposition stronghold results were coming in at the speed of lightning and defied logic. Personally I wondered several times how fast their count was taking place. They had voter turn out of 97% which is also highly suspect and obviously a very high sign of rigging. The Opposition knew they would loose and decided to adopt a strategy of rejecting the elections and claiming rigging well before the election. They are dishonest and disgraceful. I hope that they never get a chance to ever govern Kenya. If they did the country is finished. Look at the genocide that they have directed. No other Kenyan leaders have ever done what they do. They are despicable, dishonest , power hungry , machete wielding thugs trying to force themselves into government so that they can loot. They are not angels you can bet. Some of those key opposition leaders you inadvertently promoted in this interview have serious cases of corruption, that have seriously damaged Kenyans economy. I wondered how they dared run for presidency or parliamentary posts. BBC 4 should actually put a little effort to understand the characters in the Opposition. If you did you would be shocked and would not want to be associated with them moreover promoting their side of the story.
    I sincerely apologize for this long letter; honestly I couldn’t keep quiet; someone needs to speak up against lies; also for the poor innocent Kenyans , women, children, men who are dying because of genocide all from such lies as I heard today.

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  5. At 11:53 PM on 09 Jan 2008, sairab shah wrote:

    what else would you expect from a governmental system that is rotten to the core. With basic services that need to be bribed to be to delivered.

    Just a note the electoral commission in Pakistan should rename the Pakistan People Party, to Pakistan Bhutto Party. In-line with confirmed inheritance of political power.

    In Pakistan over the many year, the NWFP has been mostly left out from development and negotiations. Raising resentment for the ruling parties. In NWFP your guest is your honour, and in religious term more loyally. with the logic in mind no person would really operate with the government if the had "Visitors" who were deemed to be doing a religious act.

    In a nutshell the New Bhutto needs to sit back for 10 years before even considering going into politics. As actions from assumed to be imposed power can have fatal results, as he should understand from what happened to his mother.

    Political Will??? many questions with this, when and where did she decide? How did it happen that her Husband would become chairman and then abdicate to have a longer ruling Son and Heir to Their assumed throne.

    How much more could this turn into a show piece for a H/Bollywood blockbuster.

    people who have an actual interest in helping the country should quickly move and register their interest. Not hang around for a shepherd to come and herd them away, which in Pakistan would lead to a slaughter house.

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