Monday, June 24, 2013

Firebrand to Politican to Statesman

Kenyan luminary Raila Odinga addressed a group at the WIlson Center in Washington, D.C. on June 18.  Coming off a lost presidential bid, Odinga took the high road.  Although he stated that he personally thought he won the elections (including the one in 2007), he said he opted not to contest the judicial confirmation of the results. He noted that such an appeal would be futile and only result in renewed violence.  Sometimes in order to foster democracy one has to accept the imperfections and move on. He noted that as AU special envoy to the Cote d’Ivoire, he had encouraged Gbagbo to do the same.

In his main address Odinga said that this century would be Africa’s.  Africa’s time had come. He foresaw better governance, more effective growth, involvement of youth, functioning democracy, some pooled sovereignty via regional associations and the acumen to manage global power shifts.  Food production, land use and health would be priorities.  AIDS and mega cities would be problems.

He then reviewed the goals established by the OAU fifty years ago:  decolonialization, liberation and peace.  Peace, he said, remains to be accomplished - not just peace from conflict, but peace from hunger, ignorance and deprivation.   However, Odinga noted an AU shortcoming as lack of commitment to social inclusiveness.  He criticized the organizations previous stance of embracing despots and non-interference in the internal affairs of states, noting that it was now moving more to a stance of “non-indifference” to internal issues. 

Turning to today’s issues, Odinga saw flickers of hope in Somalia and the Great Lakes, but was less sanguine about problems in Mali, Guinea Bissau and the Central African Republic.    

In response to questions Odinga praised parliamentary systems opining that perhaps they would serve Africa better than political systems with a heavy concentration of power in the presidency.  He stated that Kenya would be able to handle oil revenues in a positive fashion. He explained that Kenya’s success in engendering a middle class grew from its mixed economy, elimination of government marketing boards and efforts via “Kenyanization” to include more people in the modern economy.  He said that current legislation permitting indigenous NGOs to receive government funds would not inhibit their independence because no organization would be required to participate.  Finally, Odinga expressed the hope that the improving situation in Somalia would permit refugees currently in Kenya to return to their homeland, perhaps into IDP camps inside Somalia as a first step.

Comment:  Odinga was in fine form and quite comfortable in his new role as senior statesman for Africa.  Although  aware of Kenyan specific issues, he is also looking more widely at continental concerns.  He has already served the African Union as a special mediator for Cote d’Ivoire and will undoubtedly get other such assignments in the future.     

No comments: