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Africa Needs to Change From Authoritarianism, Says Kenya’s PM

  • Esther Ewart

Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga this last Saturday spoke at the University of Buffalo in New York, where he delivered a lecture on governance and democratic transitions in Africa.

In an exclusive interview with the Voice of America minutes before he delivered the Lecture, Mr. Odinga said Africa has been lagging behind since achieving independence decades ago and that the system has not helped her people to tap the human and other natural potentials of the continent.

"I am going to be talking about democratic transitions that will devolve power, the overconcentration of power into the institution of the presidency."

He said these systems have disempowered and robbed the people of their right to preside and plan their development and this has caused serious problems in Africa. Mr. Odinga said Africa needs to change from authoritarian and imperialistic forms of governance.

"What we are talking about is a transition from authoritarian, imperial presidential systems in Africa to more democratic forms of government that will empower their people."

On the concerns of the international community and in particular the United States on the unending wrangles within Kenya's grand coalition government, Mr. Odinga said some of the problems within the government overshadowed progress that was being made.

In recent weeks the U.S. assistant secretary for African Affairs Johnny Carson visited Kenya and spoke to Prime Minister Odinga. Mr. Carson expressed President Barack Obama's enormous concerns on corruption, political instability and extra judicial killings. Mr. Odinga told VOA he had an open discussion with Mr. Carson in which he outlined progress that the coalition government had made.

"Well we had a very open and frank talk with Johnny Carson, as you know Johnny Carson is not a stranger to Kenya he is a former U.S. ambassador to Kenya and therefore he understand Kenya very well."

Odinga said the government provided Mr. Carson with vital information he did not have prior to visiting Kenya on the progress made since the signing of the accord and subsequent formation of the grand coalition government. He however acknowledged that there are some setbacks in his government.

"We know that there are some weaknesses and we are working and trying to deal with those ones but there's quite a bit of progress that has been achieved within the one year that the government has been in power."

Mr. Odinga spelt out some of the steps his government has taken since the formation of the coalition government, including the appointment of a team to spearhead the constitutional review, the appointment of a new electoral commission and plans that were underway to form a truth and reconciliation commission in an effort to heal the wounds created by the post election violence.

"We've been able to form a team to spearhead the process of constitutional review, we have been able to disband the former electoral commission responsible for rigging of the election and put in place a new electoral commission.

Kenya is currently embroiled in a war of words with Uganda over the ownership of the tiny Migingo Island in Lake Victoria. Mr. Odinga says his government has also appointed a team to review its boundaries.

"We have also created a boundaries review commission. We are in the process of setting up a truth, justice and reconciliation commission."

Raila defended the progress his government has made so far saying the U.S. envoy was well informed about the steps Kenya has made.

"It is not true that nothing has been done or nothing is being done at the moment and I think Johnny Carson was able to appreciate the progress that has been made since the formation of the coalition government."

Kenya's premier's visit to the U.S. came at time when parliamentarians were asking his government to explain why President Barack Obama was skipping his father country of birth (Barack Obama senior) while on a tour of other African countries this June. Last week Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete became the first African head of State to meet with U.S. president Barack Obama at the White House.