By LUKOYE ATWOLI
Sunday Nation 06 February 2011
Events in North Africa and the Middle East have excited comment from all over the world.
Youthful demonstrators have poured into the streets demanding the resignation of their governments, and especially of their despotic rulers.
The demonstrations have been packaged by most press outlets as being spontaneous uprisings as a result of popular frustration with governments that have failed to translate economic growth into tangible benefits for the common mwananchi.
This characterisation is not strictly true. A WikiLeaks memo from as long ago as December 2008 indicated that the US Government was in contact with a leader of the April 6 Movement in Egypt, and had even arranged for him to attend a meeting dubbed the “Alliance of Youth Movements Summit” in Washington DC.
While there, he had managed to hold meetings with government officials, congressmen and members of various American think-tanks.
Among the sentiments expressed by the April 6 Movement were calls for Hosni Mubarak’s ouster and replacement by an interim government pending elections later this year.
The movement was also noted to favour a parliamentary democracy, and was asking for support from the US Government and others to help Egypt on the path to democracy.
Although the US embassy staff in Cairo considered many of the movement’s demands to be unrealistic, after the April 6 movement’s intimate involvement in organising the demonstrations across Egypt in the past few days, it is clear they may have the capacity to influence Egypt’s political future.
It would also be difficult not to see the hand of the US Government in these protests, given the rather close contact they have maintained with the youth movement over the years.
In Kenya, the US Government continues to fund multiple youth groups with objectives similar to those of the April 6 Movement in Egypt as far as democratisation is concerned.
Our politicians, many of them in the same age-group as Mubarak and other African despots, have raised the alarm and asked the US ambassador to stop funding and organising youth groups in the country.
Many have even suggested that the US Government is attempting a “regime change” through these youth groups. After studying a lot of evidence available in the public domain, one would be left in no doubt that one of the US Government’s goals in our country is to effect a leadership change to a genuine democracy where ideas sell more than individual attributes such as tribe and age.
As to whether these efforts will bear the same fruit as they did in the North is, however, debatable. One could argue that those efforts are doomed to fail in Kenya for a variety of reasons, the most obvious of these being the question of tribe in our politics.
It is virtually impossible to galvanise Kenyans behind an idea, no matter how noble, without taking tribe into consideration.
For instance, if one were to organise a popular uprising against the Kibaki-Raila anarchic coalition, we would start hearing exhortations about protecting “our sons” in government and tribal alliances would quickly emerge to prevent widespread expressions of discontent.
Of course we see this kind of tribal balkanisation every time the government feels threatened, so it would not be anything new.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine www.lukoyeatwoli.com