As 6 million Kenyans cast their votes today, newscast and media has been awry with fears of violence. Rather than focusing on the political concerns that the candidates represent, international news corporations have focussed on fears of violence/peace initiatives, illegitimacy of the candidates or ethnic voting divides – all focusing on the failures of an African nation to abide by the laws of liberal democracy. The image constructed is the same – Africa as unstable, tribalist and incapable of being free of Western protection.
Is it no wonder that when the Financial Times was challenged by one of the Presidential Candidates, Raila Odinga, for misconstruing an interview as a call for post-election violence, many remained unconvinced that it wasn’t? And when voters are expected to wait up to 10 hours in order to vote because of faulty equipment, the Kenyans are blamed rather than Canada which issued the biometric recorders in the first place?
Once again, the repetition of Africa is of the white man’s burden – a continent incapable of being ‘sensible’ without Western civilising mechanisms. A dark continent is perpetuated, without any sign of hope or ideology. Kenyan history is ignored, with this morning’s violence in Mombasa not being seen as part of a greater oppression of Swahili peoples in the postcolonial East African context. Africa, afterall, is a continent without history – its people are continuous depicted as starving and incapable of ruling themselves, while chances of development are considered only possible with Western intervention.
Yet, Kenya is being heralded by the liberal press as a key sign of financial success, despite large rises in inequality and youth unemployment. Despite its “deeply entrenched corruption,” everything is progressing, according to the Economist, which was shocked that no-one asked their correspondent for bribe! In that same patronising voice, we are also told that Africans should be proud – they’re the ones who were able to do this, no-one else…
Sovereignty, it would seem, is still not something entirely possible for Africans though. As much as they are ‘hopeful continent‘ the language of colonialism is not dead. Africans are still being percieved as children who need educating and empowering. This is not only projected through the media, but through International NGOs, and scarily, through African peoples themselves. This is the real meaning of reverse racism – when the ‘native’ is convinced of his/her own inferiority and projects that onto his/her own community. And it’s a recipe to ensuring that African development remains in the hands of those who choose to exploit it.
But change in Africa can only happen by African peoples challenging this view of themselves. Tanzania, despite its faults and desperate poverty, remained stable for much of the 1980s/90s because it resisted Structural Adjustment. Empowerment wasn’t something given to Tanzanians, but one which was an inherent part of their being. And now is the time for all Africans to grasp that strength to fight back. The West is struggling to keep its power hold over the continent, China represents (a poor) alternative, but an alternative nonetheless. The path for equality is possible, it just has to be imagined and believed in.
Liberal peace and liberal democracy are great for countries where these were autochthonous developments, but they should not be used to retain a liberal world order. South America has woken up to this, but their colonial suppression was never quite as bad as Africa’s – with the exception of the indigenous populations who still remain oppressed. The chance is now, but will Africa grasp it? There is only hope.