The principle of Ubuntu (humanity), that we are who we are because of others, has long been chanted by African leaders. But this can be at the expense of putting the principle into practice. We see this in the ethnic conflicts in Sudan, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, and the xenophobia of many South Africans.
The State has to be the “referee” to various communities within a society. People from all walks of life have their preferences for leaders on the basis of the leader’s potential to fulfil their interests. Society is also a system of cooperation, designed to allow people to thrive. It is inevitable that multiple interests must be balanced to prevent prejudice.
However, politicians have shaken the essence of authority towards a cul-de-sac, creating an imbalance of power. The concept of politics has been obscured to represent power mongering, which is quite misleading. It has been divorced from its essence - authoritative action by competent and legitimate authorities to advance the lives of communities, on the basis of equality and in good faith.
According to the National Democratic Institute, thirty-one African states will be having elections in the 2018-2019 period. Let’s consider a few.
1. Zimbabwe (30 July 2018)
It is quite misleading to imagine that incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the protégé of former dictator Mugabe, would do differently than his ally-cum-enemy predecessor. It is positive to argue that there was no revolution in Zimbabwe, during Mugabe’s demise, but just the passing of the baton to the wrong hands- again.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change on the other hand is also casting doubt, after years of confidence under its late leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Its new leader Nelson Chamisa recently said that the name Zimbabwe should be changed because it was “cursed”.
Mnangagwa’s 50.8% victory is being disputed by Chamisa, who lost with 44.3%, alleging electoral fraud. The demonstrations which followed led to six civilian deaths by the military and a crackdown at the opposition’s headquarters in Harare. This shows the lack of maturity in the political landscape, in that the president authorised the military to counter civilians- in a country marred by military rule- while the opposition is crying foul without evidence as yet.
Regardless of the withstanding allegations, Mnangagwa can take the country forward by forming a coalition with Chamisa. Opposition MPs can be given some cabinet posts to foster unity and represent various interests in government. Zimbabwe needs reform and this seems impossible as the ruling ZANU-PF has won a majority in parliament.
2. The Democratic Republic of Congo (23 December 2018)
President Joseph Kabila’s overdue decision to step down since his mandate ended in 2016 was not exactly met with mixed emotions. The recent shake-up of the Constitutional Court- the already weakened judiciary- is seen as a move to maintain influence as two of the three appointees are his allies- Norbert Kilombo and Francois Bokona.
His chosen successor, Emmanuel Shadary, is a loyalist. Shadary is a former interior minister and current secretary-general of the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy. This is an opportunity for Kabila to be the power behind the throne. This does no justice in the PPRD and the country - different face, same ruler.
It is time for opposition parties to amalgamate and support one candidate as a compromise. Opposition parties’ bid to back one candidate between Felix Tshisekedi and Jean-Pierre Bemba can do justice for the DRC, as the previously backed businessman and former governor of Katanga province, Moise Katumbi was barred from filing his candidature.
3. Cameroon (07 October 2018)
The main characteristic of leaders who have dismally failed their governments is to remain in power till an unimaginable time. Paul Biya’s run for the presidency again is driven by greed, not transformation. The old guard have lost context and there is a need for leaders who are not out of political context.
The most recent clashes have been between the predominantly Francophone government forces and Anglophones, who make up to 20% of the total population. The latter claim to have been marginalised by Biya’s administration, which only has two Anglophones in its cabinet.
Tensions in the Southwest and Northwest Anglophone regions escalated in 2017 when the government shut down the internet for almost 100 days. This was a huge blow in towns like Buea and Bamenda where people could not do essential things like transacting money. This was after a crackdown on protesting teachers and lawyers who protested for inclusion and bilingualism.
There needs to be transformation through a compromise coalition which advocates for both Anglophones and Francophones; any leadership contrary to that will be void. Had Biya’s administration promoted an inclusionary dialogue instead of mass civilian crackdowns, these clashes could be prevented.
4. South Africa (2019)
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to regenerate South Africa and his “Thuma Mina” mantra has charmed South Africans of all races. In its Pulse of the People report, conducted from 20 April to 7 June 2018, research firm Ipsos showed a 60% approval rate for the ruling African National Congress.
Sandiswa Sondzaba, of the Africa Matters Initiative, maintains that, "I think the best thing we can do as South Africans is to not rest on our laurels and expect Ramaphosa to save us from ourselves. The rainbow façade has been shattered and, alongside Ramaphosa, we have to work to get ourselves out of our current impasse." Main opposition parties, on the other hand, are also experiencing tremors.
The Democratic Alliance has recently been rocked by some controversies. Trying to remove Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille on questionable charges, the resignation of Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga’s chief of staff, Marietha Aucamp, over allegations of incompetent qualifications, Stefan de Villiers was appointed to coordinate Msimanga’s diary yet he only has a questionable body-building certificate whilst occupying a high office. Also its allegations of racism and a white-male dominated parliamentary caucus are among the reasons why most black South Africans see it as a white (racist) party.
The Economic Freedom Fighters, which was instrumental in turning the alleged corrupt administration of Zuma upside down, is also no longer seen as credible. Its anti-Zuma stance had earned it an ear from South Africans in recent years. Its tendency for racial outbursts is disturbing. It has recently made unpleasant comments regarding Indian South Africans.
In view of these considerations, there is a strong case for coalitions and compromised leadership in African governments. Politicians ought to remember that they are not above society, and that they exist on the basis of society’s needs. In no way should there be one party (interest) at the helm, where other interests are marginalized.
Biya’s Francophone government has proven that bias exists if one party is in power. From his cabinet to his administration as a whole there is neither inclusion nor tolerance for Anglophone Cameroonians. It is a divided State with two nations- they need unification and that can only be through united leaders at the table, united in diversity and striving for common ground such as bilingualism in education. Power must be balanced to overcome greed.