By Chika Onyeani

I was just wondering how far 'comrade' Okello (1431) was going to go with his torturous analysis before coming to the substance of his expose, the referendum that occurred recently in Kenya and its post-consequences. Nevertheless, I must say that I have learnt a valuable lesson on the practices of war in the different African cultures. I must also say that it would be an insult to tell 'comrade' Okello that he missed the essential point of what happened in Kenya - the exercise of democracy at its best.

For me, what happened in Kenya is a practice of democracy worthy of export and celebration. I was in Cairo attending the African Union's Experts' Meeting on the Establishment of the Pan-African Radio and Television Channel, where I met about four Kenyans. I remember teasing them many times about the referendum and the adoption of oranges and bananas as symbols. At least, they selected something that is quite edible and could be delicious. Before the results came out, there was muted observation that the government might loose the referendum vote, based on the crowds for the government and for the opposition. When the result was announced, we all gave one another high-fives.

I must confess that I was amazed and totally flabbergasted at what happened in Kenya, and have talked about it many times on my radio program "StraightTalk with Chika Onyeani on the AllAfricaRadio," as an exercise that is worthy of emulation and should be exported outside the confines of Kenya. I haven't contained myself with admiration that something like this happened in Africa. It boggled my mind.

Here was a government which proposed a constitutional review, I am not debating the merits or demerits of the constitutional change. It was a government led by a President who had appointed members of his cabinet. But seven of the cabinet ministers serving in the government opposed the President publicly and sided with the opposition, while still members of the cabinet. Just imagine the scenario where cabinet members attend a meeting with a President they are opposed in policy differences. To my entire knowledge, I maybe corrected, I have never seen it happen. In any country, you are serving at the pleasure of the President or Prime Minister who appointed you, whether in Europe or America. If you have differences with the President or Prime Minister, the most honorable thing to do, and the only thing that President or Prime Minister would force you to do is ask for your immediate resignation.

But Kenya is in Africa, and the scenario of letting cabinet members who oppose the President continue to serve in his cabinet, is even more magnified given what obtains in most African countries, where the mere suspicision of opposition to a President could land you in jail, dishonorable firing from your post or contrived allegation of corrupt practices. Or where you are implied to have been sacked rather than your resignation letter accepted

The battle for the vote for either bananas or oranges was quite fierce, and the oranges won, in other words, President Mwai Kibaki and the faction of the cabinet he led, lost the referendum vote with almost 56% of the voters, voting 'oranges' or the 'no' vote. With seven members of the cabinet having opposed the constitutional review as presented by President Kibaki, he was forced after the vote to dissolve the cabinet.

The aftermath of the dissolution, reappointment and appointment of new cabinet ministers is also quite interesting and bewildering. Here again, Kenyans showed independence of mind and principle. In most African countries, appointment to an higher office is seen as an passport to looting of the treasury under your command, especially those of ministers. People see appointment as ministers as the road to self-aggrandizement. But of the new members of the cabinet that President Kibaki nominated, 19 refused to accept the nomination. What is going on here, are we in Africa or not?

Here is the best part. Dr. Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is a junior minister in the cabinet and who had accepted to serve under Kibaki, publicly called on Kibaki to postpone the swearing in of the new cabinet ministers, so that negotiations would be conducted with the ministers who had opposed the referendum. Maathai refused to attend the swearing-in ceremony.

Kenyans have come a long way from the era of the dictatorship of former President Daniel arap Moi, but they seem in a hurry to make up for the freedom they lost in those years. I am filled with great admiration for this openness in governance, that it is an exercise that other African leaders should emulate in its basic tenets, that of recognizing the need for individual expression of freedom of opinion without fear of unwarranted retribution.

To me, Kenya's road around the referendum question is an exercise in democracy worthy of celebration and export to other areas of the world, not just Africa.