IN CONVERSATION WITH…
PLO LUMUMBA, Director of The Kenya School of Law, and
Former Director of Anti-Corruption Commission of Kenya
“I want to see an Africa where Africans are respected, and when I make a choice to be in the United States it is understood to be out of choice; not out of desperation. That is an Africa that I think is possible and God-willing I know that it is possible in our lifetime.”
Born Patrick Loch Otieno of Nairobi Kenya on the 17th day of July 1962
Lecturer of Law at United States University
Lawyer of Human Rights
I have served the public as the Director of Anti-Corruption Commission of Kenya. I was the Chief Executive in the process of making the Kenyan Constitution. I continue to practice law, travel the continent of Africa, and urge my fellow Africans to embrace unity so that Africans can regain their dignity.
In 1975 as a young student, 13 years of age, I visited my uncle, who was a medical student at the University of Nairobi, and he was sitting with some young law students who were his contemporaries. I heard them argue about justice and what a lawyer could do about justice. On that day I made the decision to become a lawyer. I focused on that goal and have never regretted my decision because it has given me the opportunity to serve my country, my continent, and I believe humanity in a manner that both energizes and makes me happy.
Immediately upon graduation, I was employed at one of the most prestigious law firms in Nairobi. I was practicing law, but was unhappy with my undergraduate degree so I enrolled in graduate school and started teaching as a Graduate Assistant as I continued to work. I soon got involved with the activities of the Law Society of Kenya. I was involved with the process of revival of the Society’s magazine, The Advocate, and that put me in touch with a number of lawyers who were very active in the human rights arena. I got initiated into the Human Rights Program and in 1994 I was the winner of the young lawyer’s scholarship, which took me to the University of London to study Human Rights for six months. Then, 1998 scholarships brought me to study in Lund, Sweden, and then in 2000 to the Red Cross in Geneva Switzerland. These opportunities equiped me with intellectual know how and confidence so that when the process of making the Kenyan Constitution arose in 2001, I was already quite prominent in the public eye. 141 applicants positioned for the job, and I was the one selected to be the Secretary of the Kenyan Constitution Process.
ILLUSION of ANTI-CORRUPTION
I served in the capacity of the Director of the Anti-Corruption Commission for a year before they showed themselves. Knowing what I know now I can say that I would have not been different in my approach. The only thing that I lacked at that time was political will. What I discovered is that when I was appointed to this position ‘they’ were not interested in true change and correction, but were more interested in ticking the boxes to show the world that they had looked at the matter.
Whenever you have a ruling political class and a population that is invested in the fight against corruption that is the game changer. Everybody who had been involved in the fight against corruption in Africa will never ever go anywhere without this support.
The paradox of poverty is that some people think that it disenfranchises and keeps people from organizing, but sometimes poverty and want is in fact the fuel of change. If you look at the history of the ARAB SPRING, it was a young man, a graduate, who could not find employment opportunity who actually lit the fire that brought it about. In many countries throughout the Muslim world there were these pro-democracy protests born out of a deprivation circumstance. The result was that we saw the fall of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. The only danger, and it is a very real one, is that it can be very chaotic and it can take years to repair. For anyone to doubt this, I say look at the history of Somalia.
Even when one is out there, one knows that he is an Ambassador for a larger community.
There is a sense of national pride and identity that gives one pride and grounding so when I was traveling to London, England or Geneva, Switzerland or Ghent, Belgium there was always the knowledge that the qualifications being acquired were going to be used for the benefit of my country.
That is an important distinction to note with the African-Americans, they are the only African people to have gained their freedom, but still remained in the land of their erstwhile colonizers. My view is that this should never be viewed as a handicap because they are a population endowed with many things. They always have a point of reference in what I call their moral and sentimental true north in the continent of Africa. The tragedy thus far is that Africa has not been enthusiastic or structured in high engagement with African-Americans and some of us are now taking that as a crusade. We can no longer allow sentimentalism per se to be the defining method of engagement. We must have concrete engagements so that African Americans can have a true umbilical connection to Mother Africa.
Unlike any other African groups, outside of the continent, African-Americans have a greater opportunity because of the advantage and exposure they have had to energize the processes and skills here. Yes, one is conscious that Africa is divided into 55 states, or countries as you call them, and that within itself comes many concerns, but that is easily neutralized if the 2063 Agenda of the African Union is adhered to.
AFRICA AGENDA 2063
Conceived and launched by the African Union with the understanding that fifty years after the formation of the union that Africa had continued to punch below her weight in areas of grave importance: agriculture, technology, health, manufacturing. By 2063 all of Africa is to be lifted to a mid-level global economy.
Infrastructure has been improved so that one can drive from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt and from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Dakar, Senegal.
That we have embraced the fourth industrial revolution.
That we have silenced all the guns.
That we have created an environment for young men and women to create and innovate so there is free movement of goods and people.
Use of a single currency.
Dissolve boundaries so that there is no need for visas within the continent of Africa.
This is Pan-Africanism and socio-economic transformation for the continent with each serving as a launch pad for instruction and opportunity to constructively build industry throughout the continent. With the success of this we will be able to sit at the world table from a position of strength while celebrating our diversity, no longer divided.
A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.
An integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance.
An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice, and the rule of law.
A peaceful and secure Africa.
An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, and shared values and ethics.
An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, but especially its women and youth, and caring for children.
Africa as a strong, united, and influential global player and partner.
This structured approach is very important because throughout Africa, like everywhere else in the world, there are those who are short on view and planning. They think that things can be solved with an instant coffee approach, but most of these advancements must be for the long haul. We must wed our words with our deeds.
BREXIT : LEARNING CURVE
The advantage that Africa now has is that she is talking about unity and diversity from having watched and been a student to what is happening with Brexit. The problems that Europe has had to struggle with are clear. Therefore, when we are moving towards a single currency it must be a coalition among the persuaded and the willing so that people are not sucked into an arrangement that they are not completely convinced about or prepared for. The question of sovereignty is one that must be well understood. It is the fault of the political leaders who because of the trapping of office sometimes emphasize this beyond what is relevant and viable for a nation and it people. I have found that people are very clear on what they want. They want services that advance their lives to be rendered, and to have people in office who are capable of midwifing those processes.
The AFRICAN NEW SCHOOL : LEADERS
True Service and true leadership can be very lonely. Africa must work in unison. That must be started in regions to anchor them. `
PAUL KAGAME (Rwanda), has demonstrated that if one has the resolve, one can change the circumstances of his people. Rwanda does not require East Africans to have a visa. Right now Eastern African countries are already working towards a constitution for 2023. It is no wonder that he has been selected to lead the process of reforming the African Union.
DR. ABIY AHMED ALI (Ethiopia), within six months of being in office he has established himself on a matter that had defied solution for the last twenty years: the border conflicts with Eritrea. Also, he has made great effort to address the human rights concerns around Ethiopia.
NOTE: On Oct. 25, 2018, one day prior to the publication Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed appointed Sahle-Work Zewde as the first female president of Ethiopia.
JOHN JOSEPH MAGUFULI (Tanzania) in a very deliberate way, to the irritation of some of his distractors, he has demonstrated that want and focus in one’s country can set about institutionalizing a series of changes that will lead to advancement of one’s people. His is a formula that can be replicated.
CYRIL RAMAPHOSA (South Africa) has a rich history in negotiations. The only handicap he has is that he is facing an election in 2019, which may make him appear a little shaky. I believe, however, that if he crosses that concern he is another leader who can be relied on.
ALASSANE OUATTARA (Côte d’Ivoire), if I am to be generous, can be looked upon from the future as a reliable leader, but he must de-emphasize his relationship with the French.
JOÃO LOURENÇO (Angola) is making moves in the fight against corruption for the betterment of his people.
Out of 55 countries, I struggle to get 10 names. That is clear indication that Africa really needs to reenergize. The mistake is to look only at the leaders. That is not accurate. I think that people’s movement voices must rise over organization so that demands are made on leaders to do the right thing.
The MANTRA (Voice in My Head)
The true essence of one’s being is to be a prisoner of one’s conscience, but that conscience must be one that keeps telling you that those who seek never fail to find; that difficulties will exist and must exist, but in the fullness of time, if you are seeking and honest, you will always get.
This is a constant conversation that I have with myself. In the mornings when I awake and set about for a walk, I ask myself, “am I genuine? Does this come from the inner sanctum of my heart?” That is the question that you must always ask yourself because to not do so you are then in danger to thinking that you are God’s gift to humanity instead of living your purpose, which is to play a distinct part. We must always play our part and not be in danger of paralysis due to constant analysis.
This does not mean that there are no moments of doubt, disappointment or self-examination. No, it means that if you are a prisoner of your conscience, it will always be fear that catapults you in the right direction.
The MEDITATION (when you think Legacy + Heritage)
What would make me happy is if during my lifetime as an African I am able to see the bulk of my people liberated from the chains of poverty to the extent that it is humanly possible. I would like to see an Africa where there are no borders between us. I would love to see an Africa that if I go to Europe or America at the borders the people do not think that I have run away from my country, and I am not asked questions that I ought not to be asked and that are deigned to humiliate me.
I want to see an Africa where Africans are respected and when I make a choice to be in the United States it is understood to be out of choice, not out of desperation. That is an Africa that I think is possible and God willing I know that it is possible in our lifetime.
Several years ago, I was invited to speak in Italy, and I went to the Italian Embassy to get a Visa. The clerk looks at me and asks, “do you intend to return to Kenya?” Without blinking my immediate response was, “even if I wanted to leave Kenya, Italy would be the last place.”
There is a sense that when people see a black man or woman they think that you are running away from trials and tribulations coming to burden us, but that is not always the case. And one day it will not be in any circumstance.
Things Fall Apart by CHINEDU ACHEBE– in my mind remains the greatest book I ever read. Chinudeu was able to depict pre-Colonial Africa, post-Colonial Africa and project it all at the age of twenty-two. He borrowed from the great poem of W.B. YEATS for the title and grounding, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned.”
The Bad Samaritans by HA-JOON CHANG is the book I am currently reading. This book stands out for me right now because it tells you that not everyone who engages you has good intentions. He looks at our institutions under the IMF and the World Bank and all of the other institutions that have been giving money to African countries. He tells us that the very prescriptions they are giving us to solve problems are the very things that they did not do, or in fact caused.