DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA: HEADLINES FROM KENYA
By Oluwole Sheriff Olusanya
“The court has made its decision. We respect it. We don’t agree with it. And again, I say peace, that is the nature of democracy.” – Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya (1st September 2017)
International Day of Democracy is celebrated annually on September 15th. In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly resolved to observe 15th September as the International Day of Democracy – with the purpose of promoting and upholding the principles of democracy – and invited all member states and organizations to commemorate the day in an appropriate manner that contributes to raising public awareness. Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally – either directly or through elected representatives – in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.
Democracy contrasts with forms of government where power is either held by one person, as in a monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy. No consensus exists on how to define democracy, but equality, freedom and rule of law have been identified as important characteristics since ancient times. These principles are reflected in all eligible citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to legislative processes. For example, in a representative democracy, every vote has equal weight, and the freedom of its eligible citizens is secured by legitimized rights.
Democracy is a universal value based on the freely spoken and expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems in all aspects of their lives. Evolved over centuries, democracies share many common features but cannot be reduced to a single model. In short, democracy pertains the idea that everyone has the right to have their own beliefs, and to say and write what they think. Every year on the 15th September, the United Nations celebrate these ideas on the International Day of Democracy.
This year’s theme – Democracy and Conflict Prevention focuses on the critical need to strengthen democratic institutions to promote peace and stability. A more integrated approach to foster resilient society calls for effective and inclusive democratic governance with respect for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. Resilient societies can mitigate disputes through mediation, dialogue and a reasonable degree of legitimacy of their institutions. Developing effective conflict prevention mechanisms and infrastructures provides a foundation to resolve grievances and sustain peace. Processes, such as peace agreements, elections and constitutional reforms, can help maintain equilibrium between competing interests and reduce fragility and the likelihood of organized violence. Strong leadership to support democracy, strengthen civil society, empower women and uphold the Rule of Law are conditions that preserve stability and peace.
Around the same time last year, I wrote an article on the same topic, titled; “DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA: HEADLINES FROM SOUTH AFRICA” where I noted that Democracy is gradually taking its deserved position on the African continent. I also beamed the searchlight on South Africa. Excerpts from the article; “Sometimes in April, The South Africa’s highest court ruled unanimously that President Jacob Zuma failed to “uphold, defend and respect the constitution” when he ignored the order of an anti-corruption watchdog to repay some of the millions spent to upgrade his sprawling rural residence at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal. After delivering a stinging rebuke to the President, the Constitutional Court gave the president 105 days to repay the “reasonable cost” of non-security-related upgrades to his private home.” (Oluwole Olusanya, 2016)
Kenya’s Supreme Court on Friday, 1st September 2017 nullified President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election win citing irregularities and ordered a new poll within 60 days, a rare move in Africa where judicial power is often seen as an extension of government. The ruling, broadcast to a stunned nation on national television, sets up a new race for the presidency between Kenyatta, 55, and veteran opponent Raila Odinga, 72. Kenyatta called for calm and respect for the ruling, while Odinga’s cheering supporters paraded in the streets of his western Kenyan heartland. Last month’s election results sparked protests and sporadic violence that killed at least 28 people.
Judge David Maraga announced the Supreme Court’s verdict that was backed by four of the six judges, saying the declaration of Kenyatta’s victory was “invalid, null and void”. The judge said the election board “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution.” Kenya’s judiciary went through sweeping changes after 2007 election violence, on a continent where many Africans complain of judiciaries that rubber stamp government or presidential decisions. “The court has made its decision. We respect it. We don’t agree with it. And again, I say peace, “Kenyatta told the nation in a televised address. “That is the nature of democracy.”
Official results had given Kenyatta 54.3 percent of the vote, compared to Odinga’s 44.7 percent, a lead of 1.4 million votes. Kenyatta’s ruling party also swept the legislature. “For the first time in history of African democratization a ruling has been made by a court nullifying irregular elections for the president,” Odinga said, adding that members of the election board “belong in jail” for their conduct. (Source: Reuters)
Deductively, it is quite apparent that times are changing rapidly with Africans getting more and more involved in the democratic processes of their respective nation states but there is still room for improvement. We need to continue to hold our leaders accountable because we are somehow affected by their actions and inactions and it goes a long way in shaping our future. Democracy promotes good governance which ensures that the people’s opinion, aspirations and will are given adequate attention and utmost consideration. On this note, I congratulate and welcome my fellow Africans to a new dawn where the rule of law and social justice would rule through a just and fair democratic dispensation and would illuminate the will of the African people. (DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA: HEADLINES FROM SOUTH AFRICA) (Oluwole Olusanya, 2016)
President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya