Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Africa: Kenyan PM Attacks Continent's Leaders
4 June 2008
Posted to the web 4 June 2008
Cape Town
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga launched a slashing attack on Africa's leaders at the World Economic Forum for Africa on Wednesday.

The circumstances which generated Kenya's recent post-election crisis – in which 1,500 people died and 350,000 were displaced – were not unique to Kenya, he told the opening plenary session of the forum.

"It is a continental problem and it is a problem of bad governance that Africa has witnessed since independence," he said. To applause, he added: "The mediocrity with which Africa has been ruled is what is responsible for African underdevelopment."

To more applause, he also attacked Zimbabwe's government: "Still today, it is unfortunate that in an African country elections can be held and no results are announced for more than one month, and African leaders are silent about it. It would not happen in Europe."

Odinga appeared on the panel with Presidents John Kufuor of Ghana, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi.

"Africa, the richest continent in the world in terms of resources, is unfortunately also the poorest," Odinga told the forum. "We keep on blaming colonialism all the time. But Africa was not the only continent that was colonized. So was Asia."

At independence, the economies of Kenya and Ghana were equivalent to that of South Korea when measured by indicators such as gross domestic product and per capita income. Now Korea's economy is many times bigger.

Odinga told the forum that the post-election crisis and ensuing violence in Kenya had shown "the soft underbelly of our society… For over 40 years of our independence we lived the lie that we were a united country. But deep down there were ethnic tensions running very deep, and society was very fragile and fragmented."

Mutharika took up Odinga's theme, identifying power-sharing as one of Africa's challenges.

"Africans have not learned to share power," he said. "When you get it, it's yours. I suppose this stems from the principle 'winner takes all.'

"In a democratic process there will be winners and losers but the end result is how do you share the proceeds of that power? I'm not only talking about political power [but about] economic power, social power, religious power, information power … When you get it, do you simply keep it in your pocket as yours, or do you share?"

Mbeki, however, warned against making generalized statements about a huge continent. Progress was being made in many fields, he said. "This animal called Africa… is in different bits and pieces… We can't treat it as an aggregated whole."

Kufuor used the forum to make a strong pitch for private sector investment. Adopting Odinga's comparison, he said South Korea's economy was "light years ahead" of Ghana. "Why? Because somehow our leadership allowed itself to be tricked into ideologies that we didn't understand. We wouldn't allow the private sector to grow."
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