, JOHANNESBURG, Sep 26 – Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has warned against ethnic based political coalitions emerging in Africa, saying they could sink the continent into deeper crisis than that witnessed in the era of single party rule.
Odinga said the ethnic based coalitions pose a big threat to the advancement of democracy in Africa.
Addressing the opening session of the Eighth Symposium of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa in Johannesburg, Odinga said ethnic based coalitions have become the biggest threat to stability.
“Today, the threat of violence hangs over almost every election in Africa because as politics has got ever more competitive, a number of leaders have resorted to ethnic, as opposed to ideologically driven alliances and modes of mobilisation in our multi-ethnic societies,” the opposition leader said.
He said ethnic based alliances have emphasised ethnic group sizes in determining one’s value in politics.
“The smaller your ethnic group, the less your chances of being invited to the high table of ethnic share-outs that pass for coalitions,” Odinga said.
He said the politicisation of ethnicity is having deep negative effects on national unity in Africa.
“It determines whether members of different groups within the nation perceive each other as friends or foes. It determines whether a regime stays at the top and whether it succeeds or tumbles down,” the former PM said.
“When people are mobilised as ethnic groups and not as followers of some ideology, it will not matter how well or badly the regime performs in terms of delivering national programs. The nation comes last. This is the latest threat to democracy and stability in Africa.”
Odinga and another CORD leader Moses Wetangula are in South Africa for a two-day conference on coalition politics in Africa. Wetangula is set to address the conference on Causes and Consequences of Coalitions in Africa.
Opening the conference in Sandton, Johannesburg, Odinga said presidential elections are once again becoming zero sum games in which the winners take all while the loser loses everything.
“Winning or losing is about survival, not delivery of services to the nation. In this scenario, ignored groups tend to regroup and fight back as members of ethnic groups. While citizens can easily walk away from the table where they are considered useless because of their dismal ethnic numbers, they will not simply walk away from the table where the national cake is being divided. They will demand their share, somehow,” the former PM said.
Odinga said the rise of ethnic based coalitions has coincided with the re-emergence of “the Big Man in Africa; a species we assumed dead and buried about a decade ago.”
He said Africa’s “Big Men” who were swept out in rapid turns from Zambia, through Malawi, Zaire and Kenya after the fall of the Berlin Wall are being reborn.
“The “Big Men” are being reincarnated, in some cases, in the luminaries of the Second Liberation. They are inventing new tricks of survival; recruiting new converts and revising progressive constitutions to give themselves more power and longer terms while all the time tightening their grip on the nations,” Odinga said.
He said Africa’s new “Big Men” are slightly different from the earlier ones.
“They know times have changed. They know they cannot rule by the gun or by decree anymore. So, they too have changed. Today, they pose as democrats by organising periodic elections, which they must win at all costs. They adhere to constitutions; but only after amending them to suit their intentions.
“They purport to create free and independence Judiciary, then try to pack the courts with their loyalists, just in case some opposition leaders or civil society types decide to try their chances at justice in the courts. In other words, they leave nothing to chance.”
He said Africa’s new Big Men insist that the problems democracy faces are not the results of the roadblocks put on the highway to democratization but the unsuitability of democracy itself to the African society.
Odinga said this theory needs to be rebuffed in view of reasonably successful processes of democratization in such countries as Senegal, South Africa, Mozambique, Ghana and Botswana.
The CORD leader lauded Africa’s opposition leaders, singling out Zimbabwe’s Morgan Tsvangirai and Uganda’s Kizza Besigye saying they represent the lot that enter the ring year in, year out to take on ruling parties, knowing well enough that the odds are hugely against them.
“Think of the job Morgan Tsvangirai is doing in Zimbabwe or the struggles of Kizza Besigye in Uganda or the faith of Alassane Ouattara in Ivory Coast that led to his confirmation to the presidency. These are Africa’s real foot soldiers for democracy,” Odinga said.
He also paid tribute to former Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade for conceding defeat in 2012 without trying to manipulate the system in his favour as many do in Africa.
“In many places on the continent, the opposition, however organised and popular, would not have wrestled power from the ruling party as happened in Senegal. The incumbent ruling party would have survived the electoral onslaught through the manipulation of the electoral process, use of state security organs to intimidate voters and outright cheating in the announcement of results,” the former PM said.
Odinga returns to the country at the weekend.