Another week, another Africa blog row. This one was set off rather innocently by Shashank Bengali who pointed out a poster for the upcoming disaster movie, 2012.
“An American friend saw this poster in the lobby and said: “Hey, a movie about the next Kenyan election!”
I laughed. Our three Kenyan friends didn’t.
The comments started off supportive but quickly degenerated.
“The problem with Kenya is that everyone’s an expert, and usually not Kenyan.”
Then Kenyachick added:
“I’m so bored with foreign comments about Africa. Give it a rest.”
And finally The Patriot weighed in with a 300 words tirade which ended:
“So please shut up and enjoy the suburbs and multiplex movie theaters and the 4 X 4.”
None of them are trying to argue about the message. They are effectively saying: “Yes, our country may be in trouble but who the hell are you to point it out?”
In a way it’s understandable. Kenya is a former colony, which gained independence only after fighting a war of liberation. For the past 40-odd years a procession of foreigners have been telling Kenyan leaders what to do – sometimes for good reasons, often for bad. While I don’t mind having an argument with a Kenyan about British politics I might feel differently if Kenya had drawn the UK’s borders, repressed and killed our people and still gave its opinion on our budget.
But just because it’s understandable doesn’t mean it’s right.
There is a strain of African populism that seeks to pin blame on the West whenever possible. Mugabe regularly rails against “imperialists” and “bloody whites”. Moussa Dadis Camara, the leader of Guiena’s junta, did it last week after the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, had called for an international intervention following the slaughter of more than 150 pro-democracy protesters in Conakry:
“Guinea is not a district of France. When the French foreign minister says something like that, this is a way of denigrating the people of Africa.”
Here in Kenya the US ambassador, Michael Ranneberger, has faced criticism from some members of the Kenyan government after threatening 15 politicians and businessmen with visa bans. One assistant minister, Kareke Mbiuki, said:
“We are a sovereign State and the US must stop its arrogance and let us govern ourselves without undue pressure.”
Kenya is in a bad shape. It is ranked number 14 in a list of global failed states, there have been no political reforms since the last election, and militias are allegedly rearming in the Rift Valley.
I fail to see what’s wrong about pointing that out whether you are Caroline Mutoko or Kofi Annan, Mwalimu Mati or Shashank Bengali.
What’s most depressing about this debate is that no one has looked at that poster and said “don’t be ridiculous, that could never happen.”