A Tale of Three Leaders
Johannesburg – The stunning re-election of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF on July 31, 2013 did more than confound his critics – and even his supporters.
The main observer missions, including the United Nations, the AU, SADC, the SADC Parliamentary Forum, and COMESA all gave the poll the nod of approval as did, significantly, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, who was Southern Africa’s facilitator in Zimbabwe’s inter-party dialogue.
The 61 percent portion of the vote that President Mugabe secured was a strong show of confidence in the policies of empowerment that he and his party have championed for well over a decade.
But it is more than just about Zimbabwe: the poll outcome brings back to the fore the centrality of the politics of identity and self-determination that steered Africa to independence some five decades ago.
This is a trend that in recent years has been witnessed in two other significant African countries.
In 2011, Michael Sata – a strong ally of Kenneth Kaunda during the liberation struggle – did it in a Zambia that back in 1990 became one of the first African countries to kick a liberation movement out of office through the ballot.
And earlier this year, Uhuru Kenyatta – son of Kenya’s Founding Father Jomo Kenyatta – won the elections in Kenya on the foundation of an unyielding Pan-African and nationalist platform much to the consternation of the West.
The King Cobra
President Sata, known as the King Cobra, is one of the biggest fans of President Mugabe.
Throughout his long stay in opposition during which time Zambia dabbled with neo-liberalism, Sata was an ardent follower of the politics of identity and self-determination.
Speaking on Zimbabwe’s land reform programme back in 2009, he said: “What Robert Mugabe has done is sensible. He hasn't roasted any white persons. He has just taken back what belongs to them (indigenous Zimbabweans).”
He also said, “Mugabe hasn't done anything wrong. It is the imperialists, the capitalist roaders, who say he is a villain.”
And on becoming President, the King Cobra has sought to tackle the neo-liberal economic model that Frederick Chiluba, Levy Mwanawasa and Rupiah Banda tinkered with for 20 years.
President Sata has ruffled the feathers of monopoly capital by adopting economic nationalism.
This has seen the re-nationalisation of Zamtel without compensation, the reversal of the concession to Railway Systems of Zambia, as well as the decision that the Roads Development Agency be managed from State House, among other measures.
New exchange control regulations, laws that compel foreign firms to bank locally and establishment of a new minimum wage are within the domain of his nationalist approach to politics and the economy.
And in a highly symbolic act, President Sata appointed Dr Kaunda a roving ambassador and has restored the dignity to Zambia’s Founding Father that previous regimes had stripped him of.
Full Circle to Uhuru
Kenya, like Zimbabwe, suffered the worst of British colonialism and settler oppression in Africa.
And After Jomo Kenyatta and company fought long and hard for liberation, the country rapidly gravitated towards the kind of destructive neo-liberalism that has made Nairobi such a great city, but has also spawned mega slums such as Baba Ndogo, Dandora, Fuata Nyayo, Huruma and, of course, Kibera.
So far had Kenya strayed from its heroic roots that in 2007 the two leading Presidential contenders – Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga – were both backed by the US. And what a bloody election that was! The emergence of Uhuru Kenyatta from that chaos was almost miraculous.
Up to today, there are vigorous attempts to have him convicted by the International Criminal Court for the 2007/8 election violence and not a word has been uttered about Kibaki and Odinga’s starring roles in that chaos. March 9, 2013 saw Kenya re-affirm its affinity for the politics of identity and self-determination, with Uhuru (which aptly means “freedom”) beating Odinga by nearly one million votes.
David Goldman has written that President Kenyatta’s position is that Kenya does not need the West as much as the West needs Kenya.
“By failing to work with Kenyatta, the West risks losing vital assets, investments, and funded programmes managed by international NGO’s and the United Nations Development programmes across East and Central Africa. The West will need this man, more than Kenya needs them.”
President Kenyatta’s Kenya is a rich land: oil and gas potential is being mapped, coal exists in abundance, as do titanium and gold. Add the infrastructure and financial sophistication and what you have is East Africa’s biggest economy.
“Kenya no longer leans on the West for development programs; rather, it has set the terms of diplomatic engagement very clear, that, only development partnership makes diplomatic sense,” writes Goldman.
He goes on to say, “The Uhuru Kenyatta win is a big loss to the West since it has lost all its grip on the region to a hardline politician who does not view them as partners anymore than enemies of Kenya.
“The West indeed will have to work with Uhuru Kenyatta or lose to other contenders such as Russia, Japan, and China all who now fund Kenyan security and economic development projects with less ado.”
This is the story of just three countries – Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe – but there is hope that their story heralds a rebirth of the Pan-African agenda.