Confronting the African Political Dilemma

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The challenge concerning moral and productive political leadership in Africa is essentially the age-old conflict between patriotism and personal gain. For a long time in Africa, this conflict has favoured personal gain because of the agendas that drive African Power. Such agendas are external, in the form of various political and financial interests from former colonial masters and global business, as well as internal, in the form of African businesses and success aspirants desperate to escape the scourge of poverty and ready to pursue and acquire wealth and influence at any cost. The case of Malawi and the ongoing plans for nationwide demonstrations later this week is informative on this point.

There is a plan by the consumer rights watchdog in Malawi to hold protests on the 17 January 2013. The organisers of the protests have put together a petition with 7 areas of concern, which they want the Malawian president, Joyce Banda, to address. The list makes an interesting reading. The Malawian president is asked to stop the floatation of Malawi’s currency, observing that the currency floatation that she effected following pressure from the IMF, and the devaluation of the Malawian Kwacha that accompanied it and is now at 107%, is causing severe hardships to the poor. The president is reminded to walk her talk and sell the presidential jet- an act of which boasted greatly and received positive accolades from the international community, but has yet to be accomplished. President Banda is also asked to cut down on her expensive travels, and to declare her assets.  Her sudden increase in wealth is now becoming suspicious and Malawians want to know where it all is coming from. The list contains within it an ultimatum promising further protests if the issues are not addressed by President Banda.

The call for mass protests has caused strong reactions from various interest groups. Government sympathisers are strongly against the demonstrations, claiming that dialogue with government is the better way of having the concerns addressed. Critics of the government have shown strong support for the demonstrations, arguing that the President, assured of the support of powerful “femocrats” from the west, already is demonstrating an arrogance that suggests that dialogue would be an exercise in futility.

At face value, the debate caused by the proposed demonstrations may suggest some maturity in Malawian democracy- an example of the freedom that Malawians are enjoying in being able to bring their leaders into account when they are aggrieved with their policies. On close analysis however, both the list of grievances and the nature of the debate that is unfolding over the matter reveals old flaws in the political leadership question in Africa. The debate that has ensued over the proposed protests has not been based on patriotism and what is good for Malawi, but on personal interest and blind loyalty. Those that are benefiting from the presence in office of the current administration are determined to spend huge amounts of money and do whatever is necessary to silence the masses in their struggle to make their voices heard on President Banda’s financially oppressive policies- with some success too! A lot of those that were strongly in support of the protests have, as days have gone by, inexplicably changed their views and some have even defected to the ruling People’s Party.

This is the dilemma of African political leadership. It is essentially the question of what motivates citizens to either defend an incumbent administration and preserve a prevailing status quo, or to criticise it, call it into account or even remove it.

In order to illustrate this point, I will use two examples.

The first example comes from South Africa. Recently in South Africa, President Jacob Zuma was re-elected as president of the ANC. The path to his re-election was riddled with controversy and was an extremely messy one. Several people died along the way. Meetings were broken up. Bribes were paid to fix the votes. Ghost members proliferated across ANC branches. Jacob Zuma was re-elected despite the fact that he still had allegations that he had received 783 corrupt payments totaling Rand 4.1 million (nearly US$485,000) hanging over his head. There were questions regarding the dropping of the case against him following allegations of political interference in the case by people close to Thabo Mbeki, despite the prosecutor accepting that the case itself had not been tainted. Jacob Zuma’s administration had failed to prosecute anyone for the alleged interference, despite the prosecutor calling for the prosecution more than 3 years ago. There were allegations of endless machinations over the appointments of senior members of the police and security services, with briefing, counter-briefing, dismissals and promotions. Finally, and most tellingly, there was the death of 44 miners – many of them shot at close quarters by police – during the strikes that swept across the country culminating in the confrontation outside the Lonmin mine at Marikana. Somehow, in spite of all these indications of disturbing moral turpitude, Jacob Zuma was re-elected and continues to rule the ANC ans remains President of South Africa.

The second example comes from Malawi. The vice president of Malawi, Khumbo Kachali ascended to the position by default, just like President Joyce Banda. The difference between Kachali and Banda is that while Banda was elected along with the late Bingu wa Mutharika as his running mate in 2009 and therefore has a constitutional mandate, Kachali finds himself in the position of the vice presidency simply by virtue of being vice president of Joyce Banda’s People’s Party (PP) during the time when Banda took over the presidency. Kachali has therefore no electoral mandate for the Vice Presidency.