Africa

Letter from Africa: March of change?

  • 5 April 2013
  • From the section Africa
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Nairobi resident read on 31 March 2013 in Nairobi the newspaper with the headline of Kenyan fourth president Uhuru Kenyatta's win, following the supreme court's decision that he was duly elected

In our series of Africa letters, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers the changing tides in African politics.

Pick any year in any decade and we would have been here before, with a month in Africa ending with a disputed election, a new constitution that could keep a man in power until he is 99 and a new rebellion.

Yet look closer at the events of March and it delivers a more hopeful landscape.

A new Kenyatta is at the helm of Kenya, a country that has so often given us cause for concern with her erratic politics and uncertain destiny.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe casts his vote for a referendum on a new constitution that all main political parties have backed in Harare, Saturday 16 March 2013
Robert Mugabe has been in power in Zimbabwe since 1980

Before the vote, we talked of ethnic groups repeating the dreadful events of 2007-2008 when more than one thousand people with divided loyalties died.

After polling there was concern about what the justice police would make of a winning candidate wanted by his people but accused by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and if the loser would take his fight for a recount beyond the courts and back to the streets.

But there was no drama, the courts gave the election victory to Uhuru Kenyatta and declared the fourth Kenyan president since the republic was born nearly 49 years ago to have been "validly elected" in a "free, fair, transparent and credible" manner.

Raila Odinga conceded gracefully despite the chants of "No Raila, No Peace" from those supporters who could not bear to lose. Regardless of his misgivings over the court's verdict, he reaffirmed his faith in the Kenyan constitution and flung his doubt, or sour grapes, on the demanding altar of peace.

Further south, Zimbabwe did not have Kenya's queues but a referendum on a new constitution passed off with overwhelming support from all parties - including President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF - a constitution that will now limit presidential rule to two five-year terms amongst other nuggets of democratic expression.

So with Kenya about to meet her fourth president since independence, Zimbabwe could have the same president until 2023 should Mr Mugabe win the next two elections, because the new document looks eagerly forward, not backwards.

'Multi-thorned rose'

This may not have been the "democracy in action" Western donors wanted.

But Africa's democracy is a multi-thorned rose - it will deliver those wanted by justice for alleged human rights abuses as leaders and cannot always guarantee security against a coup or rebellion.

Supporters of the coup in the CAR, 30 March 2013
The rebels in CAR seized power after a peace deal collapsed

In any case, our history is littered with examples of coup leaders who, once in power, gave more hope than their predecessors.

And the Central African Republic showed us all what the single-minded intentions of one man can do and the flight of President Francois Bozize and the advent of the Moscow-educated Michel Djotodia as a new ruler reminded us of the fluctuating fortunes of those who dare to take up the mantle of leadership.

Leadership extended beyond the political in March with the election of a new pontiff and a new archbishop of Canterbury promising new beginnings.

The African faithful, rising every year in both the Catholic and Anglican flocks, will be hoping for much from these two men, Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby.

With scandals, the role of women and dwindling Western congregations embroiling the churches, Africa hopes the Vatican will look more to the Volta and Lambeth Palace to Lusaka Cathedral for their cues.

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