As the Kenyan election draws closer, nerves are getting frayed. The Business Dailyreported that fearing violence, importers in the hinterland (from Uganda, Rwanda and so forth) are shifting business to Dar es Salaam Port – just in case.
On some days, for sure, the election campaign rhetoric makes you think it would be wise to pack a small bag. However, there’s something philosophically satisfying about this Kenyan campaign.
Finally, since 2008, when Barack Obama tore the rule book and swept to the American presidency, for once there is no reference to, in this case, “a Kenyan Obama”.
Recently, as outsider Emmanuel Macron won sensationally in France, those who are interested in international affairs had to endure many days of him being referred to as “France’s Obama”.
Other concepts that have become quite popular since the people of Britain voted last year to leave the European Union, and demagogue Donald Trump’s victory in the United States, are “populism”, “Brexit moment”, and “anti-globalisation” politics.
Of course, since then, there has been an election in Britain and most of the ideas about growing isolationism in the United Kingdom have been turned on their heads.
So as Kenya goes to the vote shortly, on the back of a campaign that has been so parochial, none of the camps has hardly said anything, even on the East African Community, it is worth reflecting on how exactly the world changes.
The importance given to Brexit and Trump’s victory is only partly justified. Otherwise, it is flawed in assuming that what happens in British and American politics has considerable impact on the world today. It doesn’t. It is a product of an Anglo-Saxon–centric worldview that is antiquated.
Which is not to say that Britain and the US aren’t shaping the world in any way. They are. Just that it’s not their politics doing so.
For example, nothing defines world football today and shapes the global sensibility about good and bad sporting behaviour like the English Premier League. Number 10 Downing Street has no equal such influence on any aspect of global life.
Nothing that the US, with its unrivalled military might, has achieved has changed the world in the last 30 years the way just six of its companies – Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Uber – have.
When many rulers wake up today, they don’t worry that Trump has, in a psychotic bout, ordered an overnight nuclear strike on their countries. They check to see what he tweeted at dawn and then spend the rest of the day obsessing about what their citizens are doing on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp and plotting how to block access to the social media platforms.
Politics can still lead to policies that affect these companies, but the important thing is that the main American disruption (and threat) to the rest of the world (or more precisely their Establishments) is not Trump or the federal government.
There is a view that whatever cuts Trump makes to US aid, especially to health, doesn’t matter as much as what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation decides to do in global health.
The Internet has changed the world in ways we are yet to fully come to terms with. The manner in which it has democratised information and opened up the world means the monopoly of knowledge that was the basis of, especially, 20th century “superpowerdom” is simply not possible any more. And, therefore, no single country’s political class can have the power that was possible in the old world.
It is possible for a country such as Kenya to bring to the world the leading mobile payment system and define how that industry develops around the world.
In the 1990s, Uganda set the global standard on how to handle HIV/Aids, demonstrating the remarkable power of openness and public education about the disease.
The future of global energy is probably not in the hands of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the oil cartel, but in those of Tesla chief Elon Musk and what innovations his company will continue around batteries.
If you want to think of the importance of politics in Africa to the continent’s future, though, perhaps it’s what Ismaïl Omar Guelleh decides. Guelleh, as we all know, is the president of Djibouti, the third-smallest country on the African mainland after the Gambia and Swaziland.
Oh, and not to forget, I hope our Muslim brothers and sisters had a happy Idd ul-Fitr!
Charles Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of ‘Africapedia.com’ and ‘Roguechiefs.com’; Twitter: @cobbo3