By renouncing ouster of Morsy, Kenya took a stand for democracy

What you need to know:

  • President’s bold stance on Egypt is a stark contrast to that of US and EU which have refused to stick a label on the takeover

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Government has so far made perhaps Africa’s strongest and most direct denunciation of the military coup d’état in Egypt that ousted the country’s first-ever elected president, Mohammed Morsy, following a face-off with the military on July 3.

“What is happening in Egypt is a matter of grave concern not just to us in Africa, but to any true believer of democracy,” the President said in his first reaction to the coup. In a sense, this is a restatement of Kenya’s assertive policy on African affairs.

Since coming to power on April 9, the Jubilee Government has adopted a “principled position” and aggressive policy in defence of democracy in Africa. Mr Kenyatta’s denouncement of the generals in Cairo has signalled a major shift from the “stay-safe-on-the-fence” policy of his predecessors.

The post-Morsy events have convinced Nairobi that the power grab in Cairo is undoubtedly a coup. At around 8pm, on July 3, the powerful Egyptian military told Mohammed Morsy - who came to power on June 30, 2012 as the country’s first ever democratically elected leader - that he was no longer president.

Egypt’s generals suspended the constitution, unveiled a transition roadmap developed in consultation with the opposition and promised to hold early parliamentary and presidential elections. This draconian move has cut short the one-year old Egyptian experiment with elective democracy.

Taming Islamism without Sacrificing Democracy

The ouster of Morsy reveals a military that has failed to secure democracy from the perils of what the Kenya scholar, Ali Mazrui, discerned two decades ago as Africa’s “Triple Heritage” (1987). A violent coup cannot heal or reconcile the badly polarised Egyptians, torn by tensions of its “triple heritage” of militarism, Islamism and secularism.

There are sound reasons why Kenya favours an economically stable Egypt. Kenyan tea is exported in significant quantities to the country and the political disruption there has also affected flights to Cairo.

But Kenya’s trouble with Egypt’s generals and the “technocratic” government they have installed is above all because they have betrayed democracy.

The military has become unabashedly populist, abandoned the constitutional order and the democratic path and kowtowed to the proliferating street politics of Egypt’s largely secular-minded opposition which has no qualms or shame in using public protest as an instrument of regime change – of removing a popularly elected government. The military’s goal was to reduce the influence of the Islamists coalesced around Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sympathisers of the military takeover are toying with the “self-coup” thesis, arguing that Morsy and the brothers invited the coup by their actions. There is a grain of truth in this. The very size of the protests, estimated at 14 million people, indicate a legitimate and countrywide disaffection with the Brothers’ insular politics that excluded the secular-minded, coptic Christian minorities and conservative Muslim stratum and failed to show results in stemming economic meltdown.

But whatever label is affixed to the military takeover in Cairo – coup or revolution – the move by the military to push out a sitting president at gunpoint and put him in custody is inherently anti-democratic. It ignored the cap on presidential term and regular elections adopted across the world to replace the Cold War model of militaries intervening periodically to make “corrections” in politics.

In Jubilee’s view, to secure Egypt’s nascent democracy, the generals in Cairo had only one option: back the country’s legitimate government. Inversely, it could have encouraged the opposition to prepare adequately to remove the Brotherhood from power in the ballot box in 2016 or earlier.

But the military elite chose the path of the bullet rather than the ballot. In its aftermath, the coup has sent a dreadful message to Islamists at home and abroad who may be seeking to pursue their politics through legitimate democratic channels.

Morsy’s ouster has convinced the Egyptian Brotherhood and other Islamists that even if they won fair and square in a democratic process, their opponents will always use non-democratic means to oust them, an approach that risks pushing Africa’s radical movements underground.

During the 2012 election that Morsy won with nearly 52 per cent of the popular vote, the West openly sided with rival secularists who led Egypt’s revolution.

Again, Kenya’s bold stance on Egypt stands in stark contrast to that of the US and the EU which have refused to stick a label on the takeover.

There is a logic to the West’s ambivalent stance on the power grab in Egypt. The coup may be unlawful, but the shift in power in Cairo largely guarantees two of their key interests in the Middle East: that the military will not attack Israel and it will continue to secure the Suez Canal for international trade.

Curiously, Washington-based think tanks and lobbies like the Foreign Policy (FP) Magazine are celebrating the public protests as “a democratic uprising” and the toppling of Morsy as a classic case of a “democratic coup”.

Even more worrying to governments like Kenya not enjoying the best of goodwill from the West, Western wonks are popularising the tag “illiberal democracy” to justify toppling of elected governments in Africa.

At issue are the implications of the hounding from power of Egypt’s president for politics in Africa’s fragile democracies. This threat is aptly captured by the London-based Economist Magazine: “The precedent that Mr Morsi’s ouster sets for other shaky democracies is a terrible one. It will encourage the disaffected to try to eject governments not by voting them out but by disrupting their rule.”

Egypt’s coup has provided an incentive and a model for the opposition to begin pursuing their agendas on the streets rather than in parliaments, courts and other democratic channels.

The African Union has suspended Egypt from participating in AU activities until the restitution of constitutional order, arguing that the “overthrow of the democratically elected president does not conform to the relevant provisions of Egypt’s Constitution, and therefore falls under the definition of an unconstitutional change of government”.

Despite their hardline position, Kenya and the African Union recognise the gravity and complexity of the Egyptian crisis, opening a diplomatic avenue to resolve the impasse.

The AU has also appointed a high-level panel to engage various actors in the Egyptian crisis to work towards a peaceful and inclusive transition and the restoration of constitutional order in Egypt.

Professor Kagwanja is the CEO of the Africa Policy Institute