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January 21, 2019

SAM OMWENGA: Lessons from political history, looking East

President Uhuru Kenyatta sees off Mr. Wang Yang, Chairman of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference moments after holding bilateral meeting at State Nairobi.Photo PSCU
President Uhuru Kenyatta sees off Mr. Wang Yang, Chairman of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference moments after holding bilateral meeting at State Nairobi.Photo PSCU

Wikipedia tells us that the political history of the world is the history of the various political entities and the way these states define their borders. Throughout history, we are told, political entities have expanded from basic systems of self-governance and monarchy to the complex democratic and totalitarian systems that exist today.

A monarchy is a country that is ruled by a monarch, and is a system or form of government. A monarch, such as a king or queen, rules a kingdom or empire. A good example most of us would know is the United Kingdom headed now by Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning British monarchy. She took that distinction from great-great grandmother Queen Victoria, rendering credence to the fact women do, indeed, outlive men by far.

A democracy is a system of government where the citizens exercise power by voting. This is accomplished by either direct representation, where the citizens as whole form a governing body and vote directly on each issue, or representative democracy, where the people elect representatives among themselves to form the governing body or bodies.

Kenya is a representative democracy.

American political scientist Larry Diamond says democracy consists of four key elements — a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; the active participation of the people in politics and civic life; protection of the human rights of all citizens; and a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

Ask yourself and answer, do you think Kenya is a representative democracy in which all four of these elements exist? Obviously not.

For its part, totalitarianism is a mode of government that prohibits opposition parties, restricts individual opposition to the state and its claims, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. It is the opposite of democracy. Totalitarianism is regarded as the most extreme form of authoritarianism, which, for its part, is a form of government characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms.

Before 2016, the US was a shining example of a world democracy all others envied and wanted to emulate. Despite its flaws through history, its leader was seen to lead the world and was accordingly accorded the awe and respect.

That’s obviously not the case anymore and may not be for a while. The country is certainly wading in unchartered waters though not too far from where it has been before, ala circa 1974 and Nixon.

North Korea, on the other hand, represents the worst in totalitarian regimes, with Russia coming in a close second. The People’s Republic of China was initially based on Mao Zedong’s concept of “New Democracy” tailor made for China. However, Mao called for the establishment of the people's “democratic dictatorship” such that starting in the 1980s, in the period of Opening and Reform, the government organised village elections in which several candidates would run but each candidate was chosen or approved by the party. As a result, the highest levels of government have Communist Party members, their United Front allies, or sympathetic independents. Opposition parties are outlawed.

Yet, despite all of that, China is slowly emerging as a world superpower, even as the US starts fading. As one commentator has put it, “because of Trump’s shambolic presidency, a series of disastrous foreign-policy decisions, and Beijing’s concerted push to peel away US allies, it currently seems to be winning the global battle for hearts and minds.”

One of those hearts and minds is Kenya but President Uhuru Kenyatta and his administration must make sure, even as we lay the welcome mat, China does not suffocate us no less as the West has for we know at the end of the day, it’s what is in their interests that matter the most.

Meanwhile, it seems to this writer and others what the country also needs is a good doze of benign dictatorship to rough up and straighten a few in the country, who have come to believe they’re untouchable; they’re not. Let the handshake make that point loud and clear.

Samuel Omwenga is a legal analyst and political commentator in the United States

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