Ethnicity, still Africa’s nemesis

Ernest Moloi - BG reporter
Monday, 20 June 2016
Ethnicity, still Africa’s nemesis

The dark spectre of tribalism looms large over Kenya ahead of the historic first-ever summit of Tokyo International Conference on Africa’s Development (TICAD VI), due 26th to 27th August 2016 in the capital, Nairobi.

While punters are upbeat over the immense economic prospects and benefits that the international meet portends for the country’s hotels, taxis, SMEs, curio shops and food industry- the fly in the ointment is the ethnicity issue abetted, according to a Kenyan delegate at the civil society sensitisation meeting, by “poor governance” and the absence of democracy.TICAD – Japan’s multilateral development framework for Africa incepted in 1993 will gather Africa’s 54 heads of state and government together with the Japanese Prime Minister at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in August for its sixth Summit to sign the Nairobi Declaration, which Africa’s Ministers, were this week (June 16 and 17) busy drafting in the capital of The Gambia, Banjul.
Politics has nevertheless poisoned the atmosphere in the host country as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Coalition faces off with Raila Odinga’s CORD ahead of next year’s general election, which marks the second and last term of office for Uhuru, the son of the country’s founding president – Jomo Kenyatta.

One after the other, the civil society delegates convened at Hotel Royal Orchid in Westlands along the Lantana Road in Nairobi, quivered with emotions of anger and trepidation as they recounted the sob stories of how tribalism has divided Kenya so much that people even fear to openly mention their surnames. They said that to get a job in today’s Kenya, one has to come from one of the dominant tribes, either Kenyatta’s Kikuyu – or his Vice President, William Ruto’s Kalenjin. Excluded and marginalised from national development and state opportunities, other tribes, including the Luto of opposition leader, Odinga, will not be cowed by what they perceive as state-sponsored ethnicity war. “It’s so sad,” said a government delegate at the conference, “Political affiliation is no longer based on support for party policies and ideology but on which tribe the leader belongs to.”

He added for good measure, “In fact, if your tribe has no leader in government, you can kiss rural development initiatives goodbye, you just have to bide your time and await your turn for someone from your tribe to ascend the rungs of the ladder of state power.” And for some like Raila Odinga, whose father, Oginga, was also an opposition leader, the wait is never-ending, says the delegate.“It’s an open secret that Raila commands the largest support base in Kenya, his only undoing is that he belongs to a ‘wrong’ tribe, that’s why people fear to support him openly,” says a banker in Nairobi’s central business district. On this week of the civil society sensitisation meeting, both Jubilee and CORD are navigating a political impasse occasioned by disagreements over the composition, mandate and terms of reference for the appointment of an Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

The stalemate is now being resolved through open demonstrations held twice a week – on Mondays and Thursdays at the instigation of CORD. But these have not been without reprisals and repercussions – some fatal, as trigger-happy security agents respond swiftly – in their bid to restore order and normalcy. Press reports here recount gory stories of police brutality not only in the cities of Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa, but also in the hinterlands.Unemployment, like in other African counties is a serious problem here in Kenya, especially for the youth. President of Africa’s Youth Union says compounding the problem is that government stopped hiring in 2009. “I think they (elite power brokers) want to push us out of the city. Look, it’s hard for me to pay monthly rentals for the house I am renting hardly two years since I left University, now what does that tell you about an unemployed youth?” he asks.

However, it is the vexing subject of tribalism, which according to one of the African diplomats at the meeting will require serious attention from the TICAD process. Some suggested that the issue could be covered under social security, which is one of the three thematic areas identified for development financing in the draft Nairobi Declaration and kits plan of action. The others are Industrialisation and Health, Water and Sanitation. Yet other delegates felt that the problem of ethnicity in Africa, just like terrorism and organised crime, deserves attention under the Yokohama Declaration Plan of Action 2013 -2017, the outcome document of TICAD V, which was held last year in Yokohama from 1 - 3 June under the theme, ‘Hand in Hand with a More Dynamic Africa.’ The Yokohama Declaration envisages among others, inclusive and resilient societies in Africa as well as peace and stability in the region.

According to one of the TICAD co-organisers, the Office of Special Adviser for Africa (OSAA), Japan committed a staggering US$26 million to support the consolidation of peace and stability in the Sahel Region. Information scanned from OSAA website and corroborated by spokespersons of the AU-CIDO, which is the Secretariat for ECOSOC, the department responsible for civil societies at the African Union Commission as well as representatives of the Japanese Citizens Network for TICAD, the Government of Japan pledged US$32 billion at the TICAD-V in Yokohama in 2013, for five years from then to support infrastructure and human resource development.It is said that Japan has disbursed US$3.5 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA) to support the implementation of some 617-development initiatives in Africa. This amount represents 25 percent of the US$14 billion in ODA committed at TICAD V as a part of the overall $32 billion that was pledged.

Given these figures, some of the civil society delegates at the June 9- 10, 2016 meeting in Nairobi while appreciative of Japan’s support, warned Africa against a mounting debt burden, and called instead for mobilisation of domestic resources to finance Africa’s development agenda. They said this can only be achieved if development partners such as TICAD support Africa to build industries that produce finished products in Africa and through promotion of intra-Africa trade and facilitation of technology and skills transfer.
Yet for Africa’s real situation, this is a mirage! As we left Nairobi in east Africa on June 11th for the ministerial meeting, I couldn’t help but notice the two-day journey to Banjul, The Gambia in West Africa via Morocco (north Africa) and what it actually implies for the ability of Africa’s aviation industry to contribute to GDP growth through the holding of international meetings.

Worse still was the open hostility light skinned Arabs at Mohammed V airport in Casablanca displayed towards black Africans. Perhaps this explains why Morocco is not a member of the African Union (AU) but wants to join the European Union. In fact, the countries of north Africa- Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia (which has softened its stance as a result of the Arab Spring) and Morocco- have for a long time deferred to the Arab League instead of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)- the AU’s predecessor. A lingua franca (common language) for Africa has also been yet another divisive factor in Africa’s quest for real and meaningful integration. While KiSwahili and any other African language were mentioned alongside English, French and Portuguese in the founding OAU Treaty, it’s an indictment on Africa’s integration agenda that over five decades later, no African language is recognised as a vehicle for integration in Africa.

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