Kenyan Prime Minister: Africa “a Continent in Transition”

September 28, 2009
by Sarah Abrams

Describing Africa as “a continent in transition” Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga told a packed audience at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum that this period of transition is now giving way to democracy. Odinga, who last year was named Kenya’s first prime minister, spoke Thursday (25 Sept.) night.

The post-independence experience in Africa has not been a pleasant one,” Odinga said. A school of thought developed in Africa that the western model of solving issues — of opposition politics and building consensus — was alien to traditional African societies.

“The founding fathers of African independence believed that the gigantic task of nation building required a concentration of forces. As a result, a series of measures — coercion bribery, intimidation, and blackmail — were employed to drive opposition into extinction,” he said. “With the extinction of the opposition, checks and balances died with it,” and with its demise came the advent of the big man —“the man with the stick.”

A former entrepreneur and son of Kenya’s first vice president, Odinga was imprisoned for six years in the 1980s and early 1990s for political activities. His appointment as prime minister in 2008 came after fraud accusations in the 2007 parliamentary elections forced the creation of a coalition government. The agreement, brokered by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, includes a power-sharing cabinet headed by both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga.

“In my vision a true democratic state in Africa harnesses the harmony among the diverse ethnic and religious communities,” said Odinga. “Democracy will be the driving force to create and sustain economic growth while assuring a fair distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor. Democracy will be the anchor for social and economic stability.”

Prime Minister Odinga’s talk, “Making Democracy Work in Africa: Vision of an African Leader” was sponsored by the Center for International Development and The Institute of Politics.

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Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga spoke to a packed audience at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum 24 Sept., 2009. Photo credit Doug Gavel.

“Democracy will be the driving force to create and sustain economic growth while assuring a fair distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor. Democracy will be the anchor for social and economic stability.” - Raila Amolo Odinga

Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga

Photo credit Doug Gavel.