Sunday 16 May 2021
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Democracy And Institutions In Africa: The Emerging Dichotomy Of The Old Guard And The Young Turks

Naku Chivuno

Naku Chivuno

Liberation from colonialism is arguably one of the factors that united most Africans regardless from where in the continent they were from or what their ethnic origin was. The establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in the 1960s, was the most visible and tangible manifestation of this unity. Many nascent African nations had the unfortunate experience of being birthed or having to move to a stage of adolescence during the peak of the cold war and invariably, one by one, each nation had to take ‘sides’, either with the ‘Western bloc’ led by the United States and the United Kingdom, and the ‘Eastern bloc’ led by the USSR and its allies, including China and the GDR. The OAU later transformed into the African Union (AU), a move that was aimed at enhancing cooperation between member states and forging a more closely knit alliance modelled [loosely] on the European Union (EU) model, but a far cry from the United States of Africa concept that late Colonel Gadhaffi had long been mooting for.
The word democracy seems to have different meanings, depending on who is using it and to which audience the discussion, or conversation is targeted at. A simple dictionary definition of the word democracy obtained from the South African Oxford school dictionary states that, “democracy is the government of a country by representatives elected by the people”. Another commonly used definition of democracy is, “government of the people, for the people, by the whole people”. In the last decade or so, successive American administrations have been concerned with ‘promoting’ democracy across the globe. Many African countries have been targeted in this drive by the Americans to ‘export’ democracy, chief amongst this was their support to the rebels in the ouster of their arch nemesis, Colonel Gadhaffi, much to the chagrin of many an African leader. It is interesting to note that going by the simple definition of democracy as outlined previously, one would be within their rights to question whether or not America is truly a democracy, given that it has a complex electoral system that succeeds in disenfranchising sections of its population (through processes such as gerrymandering, and via structures such as the Electoral college, at both party, state and federal level) and where the majority vote doesn’t necessarily guarantee a candidate a win.
Despite this, however, one of the key strengths of the American political system is that it places a heavy     reliance on institutions to coordinate, monitor and ratify decision making at every level of government. The two houses of parliament in that system, i.e. the Congress and the Senate have in the last eight years in particular, demonstrated the strength of these institutions in countering executive power to the extreme where they have actually precipitated a government shutdown. In contrast, in many African countries, the systems of government are setup in a manner in which the balance of power lies disproportionately with the Executive. Legislative oversight is usually minimal or non-existent as most political systems are setup in a ‘winner takes all’ manner which ensures that winners of the election are empowered to dictate the national policy agenda and there is little     opportunity for opposition within the legislative frameworks to oppose majority party sponsored legislative actions. In many cases, the Executive is able to control the legislative branch directly or indirectly, with the carrot, i.e. through appointments of ministers (and deputy ministers, who have no real job description for the most part) and with the stick, i.e. through party caucuses and various other mechanisms, including the judiciary and the security apparatus in extreme cases.
In essence, in the African context, whilst the underlying principles of democracy seemingly have been adopted by many nation states, there is a major deficiency with respect to the standards of governance, i.e. the manner in which resources are managed and in which decisions are taken regarding national issues. This is further compounded by a general lack of independence of the legislative and judicial wings from the influence or control of the executive. Following their independence from their colonial rulers, many African countries did not do away with some of the pieces of legislation that the colonial rulers had instituted to oppress the people. Upon assumption of power, many liberation movements began to see the ‘benefits’ of keeping these pieces of legislation in place as they were now proven to be very effective in limiting the reach of the opposition. A prime example of this is Zambia’s Public Order Act which was enacted in the colonial era as a means of preventing political meetings from the then disenfranchised African population. Though unpopular, this piece of legislation has been used effectively to stifle the operations of the opposition in Zambia, in successive administrations. Famously in 2011, prior to assuming office, late President Michael Sata promised to scrap the Public Order Act. However, after a few months in office, he stated that it was necessary for keeping peace in the country and vehemently refused to discard it and that law is still in place to date.
The recent debacle in South Africa over President Zuma’s Nkandla property has cast the spotlight on South Africa and its institutions of government. The Office of the Public Protector has been widely praised for carrying out its investigations and for having the courage to try to hold President Zuma to account. In contrast, due to the ANC majority in the house (at approximately 62%), the Constitutional Court found that President Zuma had breached the constitution and that Parliament had failed the people of South Africa, by failing to uphold its constitutional mandate to hold the Executive to account. In fact, Parliament sanctioned parallel investigations that purportedly absolved the President of any wrongdoing. Members of the public in South Africa and across the continent watched incredulously as a ministerial report of an investigation conducted by the Police Minister stated that the (R5,000,000) Olympic size swimming pool was actually a fire pool and therefore qualified to be classified as a ‘security upgrade’. At that point it was clear that the ANC Members of Parliament had decided to defend the indefensible and stand by President Zuma, regardless of the implications of such action on their integrity as individuals, the integrity of the ANC as Africa’s oldest political party and the integrity of the South African Parliament as a key institution in this fledgling democracy.
To this effect, during the subsequent impeachment motion following the Constitutional Court ruling, Julius Malema, the firebrand President of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), in a masterstroke singled out the ANC and Republican Vice-President, Cyril Ramaphosa, to examine his conscience when voting on the impeachment motion, as he had been one of the architects of South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution, the self-same constitution that President Zuma had been found guilty of breaching. Nevertheless, the motion was roundly defeated and the ANC ‘carried’ the day and President Zuma ‘survived’ impeachment, albeit with his reputation in tatters… Sadly, despite this fleeting moment of glory, Julius Malema has also shown a similar disdain for the institutions of government, and the rule of law, by suggesting on Al Jazeera that it may be necessary to remove the [ANC] government via the barrel of the gun. Those who have followed Mr. Malema’s illustrious but short political career will recall that in his previous role as ANC youth League leader, he once said that he ‘would kill for’ President Zuma. So clearly, despite his pointing out Mr. Ramaphosa’s hypocrisy on the defence of the constitution, Mr. Malema, himself also has no moral standing upon which to comment on governance issues and that if given a chance to run the country, the likelihood of him replicating the current governance style of the ANC, or rather, the antics of President Zuma in particular, is high. After all, as many would say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and Mr. Malema was at one time, one of President Zuma’s most trusted lieutenants.
Had this been an isolated case of poor governance in Africa, then this article would have had no merit whatsoever. A little over a decade ago, President Thabo Mbeki spoke regularly of the wind of change that was blowing across the African continent and that the African Renaissance had     commenced. Commodity prices were relatively high and this meant that many countries were performing well economically. Furthermore, countries such as Zambia had held successive peaceful elections and consequently, the idea that the peaceful transfer of power by the ballot in Africa was becoming a reality. Fast forward to today and much of this optimism has dissipated. Commodity prices are in a slump and many economies, including the South African and Angolan economies are in the doldrums. Similarly, there has been little change in Zimbabwe both politically and economically, and much like Malema, the country’s main opposition leader and former trade unionist, Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai has shown by holding on, tooth and nail to the MDC-T party presidency, that he also has little moral ground to stand on, from which he can criticize President Mugabe and ZANU-PF.
In South Africa, President Zuma’s troubles with the Nkandla issue and the furore over his relationship with the Gupta Family, only served to ‘remind’ South Africans that they are indeed in “Africa’’. Many South Africans (and some Namibians, particularly in boardrooms) use the term ‘’Africa’’, in a derogatory manner to describe countries north of the Limpopo [in Sub-Saharan Africa], with the exclusion of Namibia and sometimes, Botswana. For many of these South Africans, Zuma’s shenanigans are a stark reminder that they are indeed in Africa, and for them that is terrifying… For the optimists however, the Constitutional Court ruling is a reminder that democracy is functioning in South Africa and that despite the setbacks, particularly those that have resulted from the ANC controlled parliament and President Zuma himself, there is some level of independence in the judiciary and this alone is sufficient to hold up democracy in the country. Coincidentally, the ANC have reported Mr. Malema to the Police for his remarks on the Al Jazeera network and he is expected to be investigated as to whether those remarks are tantamount to treason.
For the rest of us armchair critics, we are growing increasingly despondent concerning the issues of poor governance that keep cropping up across the continent. There is also an ever increasing dichotomy between the ‘Old Guard’, mostly comprising liberation movement stalwarts and their successors, and the leaders of the emerging generation of the youth in Africa, i.e. ‘Young Turks’, whose are educated and being exposed to the world at large primarily through social media. This new generation is becoming increasingly impatient with their leaders when it comes to issues of governance and resource management and as a result of exponential population growth in most African countries in sub-Saharan Africa, they are also developing into a political force on their own that will have to be reckoned with. Zuma’s woes have merely shed light on the struggles that liberation movements across Africa have had in transforming themselves into well-oiled political machines.
Unfortunately, the skillset that was required to successfully implement a campaign for independence is vastly different from that which is required to govern a country and manage a bureaucracy. The Old Guard are seriously lacking in that area. Times have changed and the pace at which the world moves is simply too fast for them to keep up. For the example, in the 1980s, Zambia had introduced a floating foreign exchange rate against the US dollar mainly, which was determined from weekly auctions. With information technology where it is, many medium and large companies (especially commercial banks) are constantly monitoring currency rates from minute to minute and hedging their positions almost as frequently to coincide with various currency movements.  One can only hope that the transformation that is desperately needed for the real African renaissance to be manifested will not be impeded. This revolution will have to be spearheaded by the Young Turks in collaboration with the Old Guard, but it should be clear who is in the driving seat. A new way of thinking and a new way of doing things is necessary for Africa to survive, and then thrive, in an increasingly globalized world. The propagation of information and communications technologies means that information is being made available at an exponential rate and as a consequence, decision making at all levels, from national to individual, is increasingly becoming faster and being channelled through leaner and flatter organizational structures, both in the private and public sectors. We are in the age of innovation and one can only hope that in Africa, this will be embraced and not be stamped out by the traditionally heavy handed responses to new ideas and practices that are commonly associated with the militaristic ’Old Guard’. These two groups need each other and without them, Africa will not rise. Time is now…

Naku Chivuno is Lusaka based Business Development Consultant and Investment Advisor.

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