For as long as anyone can remember, it has been the western world dictating the norms of democracy to Africa and the rest of the world. No matter the efforts by these countries, the West’s imposing standards of democracy were nearly impossible to achieve. Especially when those standards required witnesses and results endorsed by international observers. But not anymore.
Watching Chief Justice David Maraga’s powerful opening statement during his announcement of the Supreme Court’s historic decision to invalidate the Kenyan presidential elections held on August 8 and his call for fresh elections in 60 days, I could not help but recall the words of one of Africa’s independence icons and Cold War martyrs Patrice Lumumba.
In a letter from his prison cell to his son and by extension to Africa’s future generations, Lumumba said: “The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations. It will be the history which will be taught in the countries which have won freedom from colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.”
Vindicating Lumumba’s prognostic words, Maraga had perceptive words of his own: “The greatness of any nation lies in its fidelity to the constitution and adherence to the rule of law and above all the respect of God.”
This is not a statement by a pompous international observer or a western leader preaching to Africa about the virtues of democracy and the values of the rule of law, but the words of an African judge who changed the course of history in an African democratic process and turned the tables on the priestly role of international observers.
It is the first time in Africa that an African court invalidated the vote won by a sitting president, throwing out a whole election on which the nation spent so much money and sweat, and issuing a verdict purely on the merits of the constitution and election law. It was also the first time that a winning candidate who is also the incumbent president accepted the court’s decision despite knowing the re-run election could turn against his favour. President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the president after the election in August in which he outpolled his opponent 54 per cent to 45 per cent.
Showing a great deal of political maturity following the court’s surprise decision, Kenyatta, son of the country’s independence leader, said: “The court has made its decision. We respect it. We don’t agree with it. And again, I say peace ... peace, peace, peace. That is the nature of democracy.”
But the fact that he marred his initial promising and statesmanlike response with an angry afterthought, saying, “We shall revisit this thing. We clearly have a problem. Who even elected you? Were you? We have a problem and we must fix it,” could be forgiven as words expressed in the heat of the moment.
It was however, the opposition leader Raila Odinga, himself the son of Kenya’s first Vice-President, who underlined the significance of the court’s decision not only to Kenya but to the African continent as a whole.
“For the first time in the history of African democratisation, a ruling has been made by a court nullifying the election of a president. This indeed is a very historic day for the people of Kenya and by extension the people of the continent of Africa,” Odinga said.
Apart from Kenya’s domestic politics, this historic court decision is a slap in the face of the international observers who for so long remained the self-appointed custodians of democracy in Africa without whose verdict and blessings Africa couldn’t conduct a genuine election.
Since Africa’s independence, beginning in the 1960s, the western world dictated to Africa on democracy, human rights and good governance. Yes, admittedly Africans ranked poorly in all three areas and still do on varying levels but Africans also watched with disdainful amusement as western countries violated all these universal norms on their own turfs with impunity. Election irregularities were reported in numerous western elections through the years but these industrial powers consider themselves above reproach and would never relent to listen to their former colonies or third world countries preach their own democratic ideals back at them.
Now, with the court annulment of Kenyan elections, Africa shows the world that its institutions have come of age and while international observers declared the elections as free and fair, it is the Kenyan Supreme Court that showed them that Africa will not tolerate being made a fool of by hypocritical western standards any longer.
This was strongly seconded by a statement of support rushed by 24 foreign Ambassadors in Nairobi just hours after the court’s announcement. International observers were left “egg faced”, according to a Kenyan paper, by the court’s decision also scrambled to rescue their reputation. Africa learned that if the heart of democracy was one man, one vote and the will of the people to determine their fate, then they needed no intermediaries to endorse it for them.
It was Judge Maraga’s wise introductory words, however, that won the day and reverberated through the social media with a bang. And echoing the theme of the famous Egyptian play El Eyal Kibert (The Kids Have Grown Up) in which the children found their father’s little secret of polygamy, Africa has come of age and found out all the secrets. We no more need westerners to hold us by the hand across the road in the age of Google’s navigation maps. We can follow the guidelines by ourselves; we speak English, thanks to years of indoctrination.
Bashir Goth is an African commentator on political, social, and cultural issues.