By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
March 28, 2012

As military tanks rolled in the streets of Bamako, Dakar was gearing for a titanic election rerun pitying the aging Abdulahi Wade and his relatively youthful former Prime Minister, Macky Sall.

In Bamako, junior military officers chose to throw out their former Commander in Chief, President Amadou Toumani Toure, just a month before he could have democratically retired from active politics. Ironically, this deposed president was a former army commander who overthrew a Malian military dictator in 1991, restored democracy in a year and left office to disappear from public life for a decade. When he reemerged as a civilian, he contested elections and won. When he did win, he received that important phone call from his worthy opponent to congratulate Toure and concede defeat.

This time round, soldiers used a lame excuse that the Tuareg rebels from the North were gaining ground trying to overthrow the Malian government because soldiers had not been equipped with modern fighter military hardware.

What ordinary Malians could not understand was why soldiers chose to harass and intimidate civilians as they went on a looting spree on the streets of Bamako instead of focusing on fighting rebels in the North.

If indeed soldiers had genuine grievances against President Toure, why did they overthrow him knowing full well that he had just weeks to retire? Or was this a coup against civilians that were gearing up to succeed Toure? Is it the reason all the opposition parties have been vocal in opposing the coup?

Whatever the real reasons the soldiers rolled tanks against a civilian government on the streets of Bamako, the fact still remains that their actions have reversed democratic gains in that country for two decades. Now they have to start all over again where Mali was in 1991.

Looking at a barrage of condemnations from Africa, Europe and North America, one gets the feeling that this coup was ill- timed and occurred when the world, including Africa had moved on. Coups are no longer fashionable.

Next door in Senegal, there was another kind of coup. In this regime change, there were no military tanks barricading the presidential palace. It was a people’s coup through the power of the ballot rather than the bullet. Senegalese came out in their millions to hand the aging Abdulahi Wade a devastating defeat from his younger compatriot who once served as the old man’s prime minister. And when the results were counted in this country of 12 million people, Wade could only manage a paltry 30% of the votes cast. Macky Sall had run away with the prize.

However, despite earlier acrimonious campaign period that forced a rerun, Wade had the presence of mind to know when to quit with a little dignity still left. He saw the results on TV, picked a phone and called his former premier to congratulate Sall and concede defeat in the process. That is the way it should be in civilized and mature democracies. You win some; you lose some. And when you lose, you acknowledge the winner and move on.

Violent as we may be perceived to be in Kenya, we indeed had a similar election in December 2002. In that year, the top contenders were Uhuru Kenyatta of KANU and Mwai Kibaki of NARC. When Uhuru realized he had lost by over 67%, he called a press conference at the Serena Hotel and conceded defeat and phoned Mwai Kibaki to congratulate him. At that moment, we were very proud of Uhuru Kenyatta and congratulated him for being a statesman and a democrat. On that day, many of us were convinced that Uhuru stood a very good chance of leading Kenya at a later date.

Had we repeated the same civility in 2007 rather than going to war with ourselves, we would today be celebrating a decade of democratic governance. However in 2007, our political class refused to concede defeat and chose to steal our votes. It is this theft that was an affront to the citizens of Kenya. Their anger was a display of rage on our streets that reverberated across Africa and the rest of the world.

Had our politicians chosen the path of democracy like Wade did in Senegal early this week, Kenya would today not be having its citizens languishing in refugee camps in Uganda with thousands more still internally displaced in various parts of Kenya. Had Kenya chosen democracy rather than old fashioned political fraud, we would not have lost 1500 Kenyans in senseless killings. More importantly we would today not be sending our citizens to The Hague for trial.

As we analyze the contrasting events in Bamako and Dakar, let us in this region aspire to be like Senegal and shun the rebels in Mali. We must manage our democratic transitions with maturity if we want to be respected by the rest of the world. Our fate and destiny is in our hands. Let us not disrupt our societies with silly coups then blame it on this or that super power; this or that former colonizer.


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