Why Kenya is critical to Africa's future

Peace in Africa hinges on regional integration.

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

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.

The stakes are particularly high for East Africa, since its leaders are committed to transforming the five-nation East African Community (consisting of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda) into a political federation by 2015.

Even though Africa's leaders are increasingly preoccupied with a 'United States of Africa,' little attention has been paid to this East African economic federal initiative. The challenge there is that all five countries may have to let federalism, play a central role in managing intra- and inter-state relations.

So all eyes are on Kenya, where that federalizing process can be seen in the beginnings of its recent resolution.

Because Kenya is the economic hub of greater east Africa encompassing southern Sudan, its example is critical to the region. The landlocked east-central African hinterland depends on Kenya's port of Mombasa; a dependency highlighted by the extent to which Kenya's turmoil disrupted economic activity throughout the region, in Uganda especially.

As futuristic as this scenario may seem, east Africa's medium-to long-term security hinges on such a process given the demographic revolution exploding throughout the region.

Uganda is expected to have a population of 103 million by 2050, with 187 million in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There will be 183 million in Ethiopia. The current political map of the entire continent will not manage such an expansion within the confines of current colonially inherited boundaries.

Regional integration is East Africa's – and the continent's – only hope for peace, security, and stability. If US and Western policies toward Africa are to have any relevance in fostering stability, greater emphasis will have to go toward strengthening regional integration as a corollary to effective governance.

This should include encouraging African public policy research and debate on integration options factoring in intra-state democratic reforms. The challenge confronting the continent on this matter is huge: Where are the centers dedicated to studying African integration? Yet Africa's security interest depends on this deficit being redressed sooner rather than later.

Francis Kornegay is a senior researcher at the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesburg.

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