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Why Kenya is critical to Africa's future

Peace in Africa hinges on regional integration.

By Francis Kornegay / March 7, 2008

Johannesburg, South Africa

The postelection crisis that killed nearly 1,500 people in Kenya is now in remission.

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But before the world turns its attention elsewhere, it's important to realize that the conflict in Kenya that ended as a result of US-reinforced mediation by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is a variation of a greater African political dysfunction, one that happens to be the bane of the continent's development.

There is, in fact, a whole cluster of factors contributing to unstable governance to be considered. And if Africa is to attain sustainable stability, the core challenge, epitomized in different ways by the experiences of many African nations, is the continent's propensity for authoritarian executive dictatorships, or absolute monarchies.

If US and Western policies toward Africa are to have any effect, the West will have to make strengthening regional integration a priority.

African hegemonies are often reinforced by hard-line ruling cliques of a narrowly based ethnic, subethnic, clan, or regional nature. Their approaches to power can only be described as all-or-nothing. Forget about the checks-and-balances of an empowered parliament or internal democratization within a ruling party. These forms of political decentralization that Western countries associate with democracy are generally either absent or insufficiently developed to offset unchecked executive rule, despite the veneer of elections.

Indeed, the tendency of poll rigging across Africa has virtually brought the continent back to square one on the question of democracy. Kenya will have to seriously reengineer its constitution to undo the destabilizing concentrations of power and resources within narrowly based, elite backed, kleptocratic regimes. Amending the presidential system to include a prime minister with executive powers linked to the opposition's majority, is one example of such changes.

Another dimension of the Kenyan power struggle has been the opposition's call for federalism; a demand reflecting the marginalization of regions of the country falling outside the incumbent ruling party's power base. This is a problem resonating across the continent. One example is Northern Uganda, long terrorized by the Lord's Resistance Army.

The discovery of oil has become yet another incentive for Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni to perpetuate his unending presidency while manipulating access to land in order to maximize his power.