At the end of the Cold War there was excitement as a wind of change blew across the world leading to the reintroduction of multiparty democracies across significant chunks of the world.
Liberalisation of both economies and politics opened up societies that had been stagnating. On September 11, 1990, George Bush triumphantly pronounced the New World Order as the Soviet Union unravelled.
There are those who would argue that with the attack on the Twin Towers by al Qaeda on September 11, 2001, the New World Order ended. In truth, though, huge changes in the way societies in a massive range of countries organised themselves had taken place.
By 2005 though, in Africa the flowering of democracy had been captured by the old elites creating a condition political scientists have described as competitive authoritarianism: a sort of musical chairs by oligarchs.
This has been accompanied by the contradiction of rapid economic growth at the same time as deepening political repression, rampant corruption and impunity.
Gently in some places and in a more heavy-handed manner in others, traditional media has been cowed or bought out; the Church compromised; civil society and opposition parties battered.
Add to this the war on terror combined with the economic crisis that seared the West in 2008; competition for Africa’s natural resources by China and the climate for freedom has deteriorated, especially for the poor.
Except for the Nigerian election that saw Africa’s most powerful country vote out an incumbent president mainly because of unparalleled corruption and utter incompetence on the security front, developments in other parts of the continent have been contradictory.
Former high fliers on the freedom front are flailing. An experienced Nigerian public servant friend at a meeting recently told me: “In the 1990s, West Africa had its governance ‘issues’ – Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria etc. We hope it’s not the turn of you East Africans to embarrass us all.”
On Tuesday, Republic of Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso, 71, announced a referendum on changes to the constitution that would allow him to run for a third term in office at elections next year.
The previous day it had been reported that the ruling party in Uganda had given President Yoweri Museveni, 71, the ‘go ahead’ to vie for another term as head of state.
In June, Ethiopia’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front achieved a result reminiscent of the Cold War, winning all 546 parliamentary seats (including the last remaining one opposition seat) with an improbably high turnout.
In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s efforts at holding on to the top seat despite constitutional limitations have led to bloody convulsions for months in the small country.
Discussing multiparty democracy in regard to Rwanda leads to incoherence. At the start of the month in the Democratic Republic of Congo the country’s highest court asked election authorities to take a fresh look at the country’s voting timetable, raising the prospect of a delay that would enable President Joseph Kabila to stay in office beyond 2016. Critics say Kabila intends to hold on beyond the election set for November 2016, when he is due to step down.
Tanzania is going into elections with an invigorated opposition though the grip of the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi remains tight. In Kenya, the politics is far more vibrant and complex but darkening.
Last week, the government did something no banana republic, as far as I know, has ever done – it sent all students at public and private schools home in an arm-twisting contest over pay with the country’s teachers.
The Kenyan system private schools went to court and halted implementation of this bizarre decision in their regard. This will cause its own issues. It was an appalling mistake. Sadly, it was built on the lie that the government doesn’t have the money to pay the teachers.
A liberal constitution promulgated as part of a peace deal brokered after violence following the rigged elections in December 2007 is struggling valiantly to be implemented, though the devolution provisions have thus far been transformative.
That said, we are living a governance decline. One of the regime’s responses has been troubling. It has taken to outsourcing chunks of the most difficult national challenges we face: counter-terrorism, anti-corruption and security. At best it is a recognition that strong partnerships are required to deal with these issues, at worst it is an abdication.
It all started when in November last year a private company, Safaricom, was handed over an entire bloc of our security and surveillance infrastructure in an utterly opaque process.
Then in July it emerged that President Obama of the US and Kenyatta had signed a Joint Commitment to Promote Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Efforts in Kenya.
It was full of good proposals. None of them new – they’ve been part of debate, proposals, strategic plans and reports in this area since 1999.
What was curious was the implicit Kenyan acknowledgement that this thing has beaten them. It was, as Obama says, ‘a failure of imagination’. As economic realities bite the concern is that we don’t hand over implicit economic management to the IMF!
John Githongo is active in the anti-corruption field regionally and internationally. Email: [email protected]