Thursday, November 19, 2009

Graça Machel returns by L. Muthoni Wanyeki

Graça Machel arrives in Kenya this weekend. Not, this time, in her capacity as a member of the mediation team, but as a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons overseeing the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) responsible for that process in Kenya.

The APRM is the voluntary peer-review process associated with the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). It assesses member states’ progress in four areas, including democratic governance, economic governance, corporate governance and socio-economic development. Kenya submitted to the APRM and, after a lengthy and rigorous self-assessment, its first full report was discussed by African heads of state and government in 2006. Kenya was praised at that time for the candidness of the self-assessment. And questions posed to our then head of state President Mwai Kibaki focused on, among other things, issues of discrimination and inequality on the basis of ethnicity.

With the benefit of hindsight it is always easy, of course, to pinpoint what we could and should have done to avert what happened in 2007–08. We could and should have addressed the imperial presidency through comprehensive constitutional reforms. We could and should have addressed the electoral system – and the governance and management of the same. We could and should have addressed the pressing needs around land – both in terms of recognising and dealing with historical claims to land as well as with illegal allocations of public land. We could and should have addressed discrimination and inequality – on ethnic and other grounds.

We knew what we needed to do. Kenya’s APRM report – and the plan of action that came out of it – spelt out the imperatives clearly. And the APRM report and plan of action merely reiterated what many different pieces of analysis from many different quarters – internally – had said before, in as many words. I am thinking, for example, of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Society for International Development’s scenarios for Kenya, which forecast ultimate doom and gloom unless we pursued the scenario involving both constitutional reform and economic recovery. We knew what we needed to do. But we did not do it.

And so, many of the issues flagged before found themselves reiterated, with new urgency, in the mediation agreements. There is nothing new in any of the four agenda items that make up the mediation agreements, just as there is unlikely to be anything new in the new APRM assessment that is about to begin – that is, to focus exclusively on democratic governance and to follow quite closely the priorities spelt out in the mediation agreements.

Which is not at all, however, to suggest that we should disengage ourselves from this APRM assessment. For it offers us an opportunity to flag, once again, to both our own executive and public service – as well as, ultimately, the AU – that Kenya is by no means out of the woods. The word for us in conflict-speak is ‘fragile’. Many Kenyans are worried, whether they know about that classification or not. Many Africans – particularly our closest neighbours – are worried. And the rest of the world is also worried – which is what lies behind the latest flurry of diplomatic pressure.

The question is whether or not our own political leadership is worried. My sense is that they are – but not necessarily about the same things. The latest series in the Daily Nation on land distribution in the immediate post-independence period is shocking in its confirmation of what we’ve always anecdotally known. The abuse of power and the public interest by those entrusted with leadership of the state for personal self-enrichment shows clearly just how far back the personal economic and political interests that have always impeded real transformation go.

We have become used to window-dressing those personal, economic and political interests with terms such as ‘lack of political will’. The truth is that there is plenty of political will, to protect those interests, to get a piece of the same, to ensure there will never be any accountability for the same, to concede a bone to the hungry public while the feast on public goods and resources remains unchecked.

What we need to do while Machel is here is make the point yet again. The bone that is new laws, new policies, new institutions – or new processes establishing the same (of which there certainly are aplenty) will ultimately mean nothing to the public unless they really truly do effect a drawing of a line in the sand. It stops here. The plunder of the state (which is plunder of us, the public) stops here. The casual contempt of the impoverished stops here. Impunity for that plunder stops here. Impunity for the daily abuses and assaults of the impoverished also stops here.

Our government spokesperson recently gave the executive and public service a high grade for implementation of the mediation agreements. Our police spokesperson, although quiet recently, has continually denied the abuses and assaults on the impoverished. We can be sure that the executive and the public service will trot out the same list of supposed achievements and denials for inspection by Machel’s team. It is for us to say to Machel’s team that motion is not movement. It is for us to say what human rights violations persist – despite the impressive sounding list of laws, policies, institutions and processes to which so many of us have earnestly contributed. It is for us to name the personal, political and economic interests that hide under the cover of a ‘lack of political will’ while continuing to threaten every necessary and possible fundamental step forward – beginning with our new constitution and land reform. We have to move forward and we cannot let 200 or so people stop us – all 40 million or so of us – from doing so.


* L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.

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