Lessons from Africa

For the past four months I have been granted an opportunity by Duma FM radio station presenter, Costy Moloi, to discuss African politics every Tuesday.

The segment gives me a chance as a guest to discuss the socio-economic and political situations in various African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Cameroon, Western Sahara, Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Equitorial Guinea, and South Sudan etc.

Being a guest at this show on a weekly basis requires that I go through a vast literature of African political and economic history and leadership styles of many African leaders.

From the vast research that I carried out, there are some interesting conclusions that I have made about the African continent that I will highlight in this week’s article.


In many African countries, ethnicity plays a pivotal yet destructive role in politics. In countries such as South Sudan, conflict is defined alone ethnic lines. South Sudan has never known any peace since its independence in 2011. Two belligerent factions led by prominent politicians, Riek Matchar (of the Neur ethnic group) and Salva Kiir (of the Dinka ethnic groups) are embroiled in a horrendous conflict that has claimed the lives of more than hundred thousand people.

The Dinka and the Neur are bitter political enemies that have polarised South Sudan along ethnic lines. In other parts of Africa such as the Central African Republic, privileges are given to an ethnic group that the incumbent president belongs to.  Top Cabinet and key government positions are exclusive to members of the tribe of the president. For example when Andre Tolimgba overthrew Emperor Bokassa in 1972, his Yakoma tribesmen enjoyed all privileges and later when he was removed from power by Felix Patasse, those privileges were stripped from the Yakoma ethnic group and diverted to the Saba- Badra ethnic group which Patasse belonged to.

It is a trend in Africa to politicise ethnicity to such extent that ethnicity has become more powerful than political ideology.

The second observation I made is that constitutions are mostly used by many leaders in Africa not to protect the rights and freedoms of the people, but used by incumbents to tighten their grip on power.  In fact constitutions can be amended or bastardised willy nilly by an incumbent to either keep political opponents at bay, increase his undeserved shelf life in power and to completely oppress the ordinary citizens.

African leaders such as Yuweri Museveni of Uganda, Theodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea and others have recklessly amended constitutions to support their prolonged stay in power. Obiang is currently the longest serving president (non royal) in the world having served for the past 39 years.

Thirdly, even though there are multi –party democratic systems in many African countries, the continent is characterised by lack of strong democratic institutions that can go a long way in creating good governance, accountability, transparency and rule of law.

Even in countries where these institutions exist, they are more often very weak and this has sadly resulted in rampant corruption and abuse of power by political elites. Lack of institutional oversight mechanisms creates a fertile platform for the institutionalisation of corruption in many African countries.

Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola has allowed his daughter to embezzle millions of petro dollars to enrich herself. Teodorin Obiang, the son to Equatorial Guinea president has embezzled oil revenues to acquire property worth $200 million dollars in Europe and the USA. His father is worth $600 million. This ill-gotten wealth became possible due to weak or absence of robust institutions of good governance.

Another observation I have made is the vulnerability of African countries to external influence both within the region and from abroad.  A country like Central African Republic has been weakened not only by internal forces but to a large extent to foreign interference from countries such as Chad, Sudan, DRC and France.

In actual fact France has been involved in almost all the military coups that have rocked Central African Republic since independence. 

Many other countries with internal strives have seen the interference of outside powers (Rwanda assisting in the toppling of Mabuto Se Se Seko).Last but not least the civil-military relations in many African countries are very fragile. There are many cases of militaries intervening in the political affairs of states thus undermining the civilian elected governments and democracy in general.

Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was removed from power by the military in 2017 after being at the helm for close to forty years. In Central African Republic military coups have dominated local politics since the country gained its independence.

In Egypt, the military was very instrumental in the removal of the first ever democratically elected government of Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood to bring in former military strongman Fatah Al Sisi.

The armed forces also played a role in intimidating Sisi’s political opponents, which resulted in almost all of them withdrawing from the 2018 general elections. In short, one can safely say that in many African countries there is no democratic civilian control of the armed forces where the military accounts to a democratically elected civilian government.

Meanwhile the ordinary citizens of many African countries continue to suffer from immense poverty, marginalisation and are vulnerable to effects of instability and conflict in their respective countries.

The continent is very rich in resources but the revenue accrued from these resources end up lining the pockets of a few political elites and their network of cronies. One can further say Africa is characterised by rampant kleptocracy, inept attitude and political rascality.

 

Editor's Comment
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