Which Way African? Multi Party Democracy and Violence in Africa


By Citizen Nahas Angula

The Scene

A front-page picture of a young man with an arrowhead in his head in The Namibian of January 29, 2008 invokes the question: which way democracy in Africa? The picture of a young man with an arrow in his head portrays the aftermath of disputed presidential elections in Kenya. The young man is a victim of ethnic clashes in the town of Nakuru in the Rift Valley area of Kenya.

Unfortunately, this picture could have been taken anywhere on the African continent.

Here at home, we still have an unresolved issue of a young man who lost his life in Aminuis a couple of years ago. The Aminuis young man died from a gunshot when two rival Ovaherero based political parties staked their political claim on Aminuis. Aminuis was the settlement where the venerable late Chief Katjikurume Hosea Kutako found a dwelling place for himself and his family.

Whoever controls Aminuis, controls the hearts and minds of the Ovaherero people. The DTA wanted to claim Chief Kutako’s homage. NUDO on its part, as a political party founded by Chief Clemens Kapuuo, felt provoked by DTA moves. A life was lost.

The post-election violence in Kenya calls for political reflection everywhere in Africa. African freedom in Kenya as in Namibia was achieved at a high price.

From 1950 to 1960 the people of Kenya suffered immensely during the Mau-Mau uprising. However, since the attainment of independence political violence was mainly confined to land issues and never at the current level of brutality. What has gone wrong? For Kenya, the Kenyans themselves can only answer this question. The question however has a general applicability to any country in Africa, including Namibia.
Namibia at 18

On March 21, 2008, Namibia shall be free and independent for eighteen years. In terms of the Namibian Constitution, if Namibia was a political citizen, she qualifies to vote. In fact, the post independence baby boom of the 1990 and 1991 shall qualify to vote in the 2009 national elections. This group of “born-frees” has no direct experiences of colonialism, Apartheid, white rule, Bantu Education or the struggle for national liberation. They are reading these things in their history books. However, they share the enthusiasm of their parents about the promise of freedom and independence. They aspire for a better future: access to affordable quality education; good health-care services; peace and security; economic opportunities and employment; better housing; efficient and safe transport services; fair and just social treatment; and many more others.

These are the aspirations of any an African anywhere on the African continent.

Did the African political systems respond efficiently and effectively to those aspirations? Kwame Nkrumah, the venerable founding father of the Republic of Ghana, at independence exhorted his followers: “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else shall be added unto you”. Was political independence a sufficient condition for bringing about African mass empowerment?

Martin Meredith in his seminal book: The State of Africa, A History of Fifty Years of Independence, 2005, critically, but truthfully, wrote:

“In the first elections in the postwar era in Africa, nationalist politicians started out proclaiming nationalist objectives, selecting party candidates regardless of ethnic origin.”

This was a good beginning. However, Meredith further observed rather sadly:

” But as the number of elections grew, as the number of voters expanded, as the stakes grew higher, with the approach of independence, the basis for campaigning changed.

Ambitious politicians found they could win votes by appealing for ethnic support and by promising to improve government services and to organize development projects in their home areas.”

This was the beginning of the fall from innocence of the African liberation hero. Liberation was fought on personal sacrifice, selflessness and commitment to all the people. Once personal material considerations and comfort interfere with the spirit of the liberation struggle, then things will start to fall apart politically. Meredith aptly concluded:

“The political arena became a contest for scarce resources. In a continent where class formation had hardly begun to alter loyalties, ethnicity provided the strongest political base. Politicians and voters alike came to rely on ethnic solidarity. For politicians it was the route to power. They became in effect, ethnic entrepreneurs”.

The interests of the politicians coincided with those of the voters in this regard. Meredith further noted:

“For voters it was their main hope of getting a slice of government bounty.

What they wanted was a local representative at the centre of power – an ethnic patron who could capture a share of the spoils and bring it back to their community.”

Meredith pathetically concluded:

“Primary loyalty remained rooted in tribal identity. Kinship, clan and ethnic considerations largely determined the way people voted. The main component of African politics became, in essence, kinship corporations.”

What Meredith has observed is sad but true in many African contexts. How could one explain the behaviour of African leaders such as Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic; Idi Amin of Uganda and Francisco Macias Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, just to mention a few!

The African political space has been polluted by ethnicity and greed. The conditions of genuine democracy became threatened in such an atmosphere. The politics of arrow and bow; machete and knobkerries are the consequences of such political pollution.

In the next part, I shall reflect on how Namibia is catching up with the contagion of ethnic political entrepreneurship.


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