Sunday, July 06, 2008



Because the African elite did not grow out of any indigenous economic soil -- but is a plastic class artificially made by hand in Europe’s colonial classroom -- it finds it almost impossible to live by the basic postulates of the liberal marketplace.

I speak neither for liberalism nor for globalisation (its latest phenomenal form). But I know that liberalisation of the mind is essential if you want to play a central part in that global process.
Africa’s rulers clamour for a place in that elite club of businessmen, and yet without making any effort to observe its lowest common denominators of governance. Every day -- like bulls in china shop -- our rulers break its minimum “rules of the game” without batting an eyelid.

Although Western capitalism is the mother of all world corruption, the West thrives in stability mainly because its ruling class lives by certain institutions which - although leaking on every side - the vast majority have strong faith in. In the Western superstructure of politics, there are norms which practitioners flout only on the pain of public rejection. Even in the US, where pork-barrel electioneering is common, a politician cannot sink below a certain standard of behaviour and yet survive.

After Watergate, the corporate media and the law combined to hound out of office even a statesman as hard-headed as Richard Nixon (impressing William Rivers to declare that the media had become The Other Government of that country). In Britain, ministers frequently resign on being merely mentioned in something compromising, even extra-marital sex. Such conduct does not get even filler headlines in Kenya’s self-styled “upmarket” newspapers.

No volume of accusations of election theft will embarrass any African leader into even thinking of stepping down. Otherwise, we would have seen a spate of departures in Zimbabwe a few weeks ago and in Kenya following December 27. Otherwise, Amos Kimunya would not have waited till Parliament passed a vote of no confidence in him.

Even after this historic legislative action -- even after Parliament has threatened to “name” him - the Finance minister does not at all feel conscience-stricken into stepping aside. What can explain this inordinate thick skin in the African elite?

The answer, I think, lies in the fact that our so-called “middle class” is the product of two traditions which are both illiberal, namely, pre-colonial tribal authoritarianism and the despotism of the colonial regime. In its capitalist motivation at least, colonialism was an extension of European liberalism. That is why Europe’s attempt, in post-colonial times, to impose its liberalism on the Third World’s “middle classes” has succeeded only in entrenching material corruption minus the alleged foil of liberal “accountability”.

The post-colonial African elite, then, has two apparently contradiction legacies -- pre-colonial illiberalism and colonial greed and callousness. That is why Africa’s ruling elite is endemically corrupt and yet has no time for Europe’s liberal postulates of political behaviour. To be sure, like his European guru, the African elite preaches democracy, good governance, justice, freedom.
But it does not know how to pay lip service with any finesse. It knows no casuistry and has never learned the art of obscurantism and insidiousness.

This ineptitude of the mind applies to members of any newly powerful class in all societies.
The nouveau riche is called so because only the other day he was as poor as a church mouse. His riches were amassed only yesterday and, in most cases, they were ill-gotten. That is why his ilk cling to their wealth like an octopus and seek political power with Nixonian determination.

For they imagine that only with such power can their riches remain safely in their hands. That is why, once they get hold of power, they coil around it like a python. In neo-colonial Africa’s experience, if you put power in the hands of a parvenu, you will never get it out of there except by physical force.
He will employ every stratagem -- including polls rigging -- to remain in power for ever. Hence the spate of coups d’etat that beset independent African countries.

By refusing to resign after his name has been so soiled, our minister is only harming the collective interests of the wealthy class and, in particular, the Cabinet. It does not matter if the accusation is false. The public can regain faith in the system only if ministers step aside for inquiries to appear free from ministerial meddling.

If they don’t, it is their own government that they are undermining. That is why, if Mr Kimunya is too myopic to see the sense of resigning of his own volition, it is in the President’s own interest to show him the door.