So, I’m listening to BBC World Service this morning, right? I hear a story about the good people of Togo protesting to reinstate presidential term limits.
I’m fascinated because I’m tired of BBC overly focusing on the English-speaking countries of Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and sometimes Ghana. I’m even more excited because, back in my student journalism days – when my journalistic future looked so bright – I covered a similar protest in San Francisco for my student newspaper.
So, I hear one Mary Harper giving an analysis of Togo. It’s a family dynasty, she says. The family dynasty is supported by the fact that president the Togolese opposition is protesting is Faure Gnassingbé, who was handpicked to succeed his father, Gnassingbé, Eyadema. So far, well and good.
Of course, whenever you’re reporting about something happening in one African country, the foreign correspondent’s rule book stipulates that you MUST make it about the whole continent. Otherwise, on one would believe you. In this case, find elsewhere in Africa where there are family dynasties oppressing people. Harper, who I have since learned is high up on the BBC Africa empire, cites the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Joseph Kabila succeeded his father, Laurent.
I was like, “Okay. Not quite a dynasty in the traditional sense, but okay.”
Then good ol’ Ms. Harper delivers the shock that sent me rushing to write about this. The next example she gives of an African dynasty if “the Kenyattas in Kenya”, my country of birth.
Now, I’m no fan of the Kenyattas, but to compare them to the family that has ruled Togo since 1967 is outright ridiculous. I say so because there was a gap of 35 years between the first president of the Republic on Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, and the current president, his son, Uhuru Kenyatta. And unlike Faure Gnassingbé, the first time Uhuru ran for president and lost miserably. Kenyans rejected him because he’d been handpicked by outgoing President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, who’d been in power for 24 years after taking over upon the elder Kenyatta’s death in office in 1978. Uhuru Kenyanta became president on the second try, and only after the Supreme Court decided that the election that garnered him 50.51 percent of the vote was “free and fair.”
In contrast, there was only an 8-year gap in the United States between President George H.W. Bush, and his son George W. Bush. And in Canada, Justin Trudeau’s election as prime minister was widely celebrated, although like Uhuru Kenyatta, was elected more than 30 years after his father’s last day in office.
Yet, it would be unacceptable to call the Bushes and the Trudeaus political dynasties in the context which Harper refers to the Africans as such.
There is no question that Kenyatta’s family is powerful. No single Kenyan family controls more land and wealth than the president’s. But maintaining political dominance has not come easy. As I mentioned prior, Uhuru became president only because Moi pulled him out of obscurity into politics, and he lost his first contested election. It took the Supreme Court to make him president in 2013. And just a week ago, the same Supreme Court ruled that his re-election on August 8 was unconstitutional because it was marred by major irregularities. Kenyatta said that although he disagreed with the court’s annulment of the presidential vote, he’d respect it.
Family dynasties don’t respect court verdicts, Ms. Harper.