Sunday, April 5, 2020

We all can learn from Somalia and save Kenya from disaster

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rasnaIn 2012, Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza was forced to resign after it was determined that she had abused her authority when she pinched a security guard’s nose at a shopping mall in Nairobi.

In those days, Kenyans took Chapter Six of the Constitution on leadership and integrity seriously. Baraza’s was a test case on the behaviour Kenyans expected of elected leaders and public officials.

So, because retaining the integrity of the Constitution was still deemed to be important, she had to go.

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Now, four years later, Kalpana Rawal, the judge who replaced Baraza as Deputy Chief Justice, insists on staying in office despite having reached the retirement age stipulated in our new

Constitution.

She wants her employment to be governed by an old constitution that was repealed through a nationwide referendum. Yet she swore to protect the new Constitution when she took the job.

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As constitutional lawyer Wachira Maina so aptly put it, even if Rawal wins her case, any moral authority she might have enjoyed will have evaporated.

Meanwhile, officials of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) who have been implicated in corruption scandals have refused to step down despite public pressure for them to do so.

Ironically, the people who allegedly paid them bribes have been found guilty and are serving jail sentences in the United Kingdom.

In most countries, elected leaders and public officials accused of wrongdoing voluntarily step down until investigations are complete or because it is the honourable thing to do. Not so in Kenya.

Our elected leaders and public officials suffer from a gargantuan sense of entitlement and impunity.

There are lessons we as a country can learn from Somalia, especially now that we are so polarised and at a time when the Supreme Court and the IEBC appear to have lost moral authority and legitimacy.

LEARN FROM HISTORY

The rise and fall of Siad Barre is a case study on how countries can self-destruct when institutions are allowed to fail or when they are deliberately subverted.

Barre came to power in 1969 after leading a bloodless coup following the assassination of President Abdirashid Sharmake.

Soon after, he dissolved parliament and the supreme court, banned all political parties, and suspended the country’s constitution.

He regularly betrayed his promises by hiding behind the banner of “scientific socialism”, which earned him the military and financial support of the Soviet Union.

While he introduced far-reaching and progressive reforms in his early years, his war with Ethiopia in 1977 — a bid to annex Ethiopia’s Ogaden region — cost him the support of the Soviet Union, which switched sides and began supporting Mengistu Haile Mariam’s pseudo-Marxist regime.

The United States filled the void by providing military and economic assistance to Somalia. Barre’s government used the American aid to buy off rivals.

This period was marked by high levels of corruption and cronyism, which distorted the economy.

In the second decade of his regime, Barre became increasingly nepotistic, clannish, and paranoid. He used clan affiliation to perpetuate a divide-and-rule system.

Marginalised clans began demanding their rights, but Barre handled his opponents ruthlessly and decisively.

In 1988 the military dictator carried out a near-genocidal attack on the town of Hargeisa, in the northern part of the country where the Somalia National Movement was fighting his repressive regime.

Resistance to Barre’s clan favouritism eventually led members of aggrieved clans to drive the Somali president out of Mogadishu in 1991.

FAILED STATE

The country unravelled because Barre failed to sense the national mood. He believed he could bomb or bribe people into submission.

When Barre was ousted, clan-based militias and warlords took advantage of an institutional vacuum and went on a looting spree that destroyed cities and devastated entire communities.

It was all downhill from there. The country fragmented along clan lines. Somaliland declared independence from Somalia as south and central Somalia became embroiled in clan-based conflicts.

A United Nations-backed government with little legitimacy or authority was eventually established but it also fed and benefited from the bandit economy.

Somalia has yet to recover from the mayhem that has lasted nearly three decades. Amid all the chaos, Al-Shabaab has emerged and ensured that Somalia remains a failed state.

Failed states do not emerge overnight; they develop slowly and incrementally. Kenyans should look out for the warning signs.

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