Former US President Barack Obama was often criticised for not meeting expectations of some Africans who thought the colour of their skin would earn them automatic favours from America’s 44th president.
But while he may not have met some African expectations, some of them fair and genuine, Obama was always spot on when it came to issues of governance in Africa, the continent of his paternal origins.
In his address to the Ghanaian parliament in 2009, Obama said: “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” And boy was he right!
As South Africa’s new President Cyril Ramaphosa visits Namibia today, we must reflect on some lessons from his country, especially with regards to strong institutions.
Say what you may about South Africa, especially the scandals that rocked it during President Jacob Zuma’s reign, that country has been consistently dug out of its troubles by its strong institutions.
Simply put, South Africa is a robust democracy. The fact that the country’s Constitutional Court could find a sitting president guilty of violations – to the extent that he had to personally return to the State money spent on his Nkandla home – is among the strongest indications of what a functioning democracy South Africa is. Elsewhere on the continent, courts and other critical institutions of governance are in the back pockets of political rulers.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one shining example of State institutions failing at an industrial scare. President Joseph Kabila’s term ended ages ago but he remains in power, allegedly due to lack of funds to hold elections. This is the kind of Africa we loathe to see in this time and age. Embarrassing stuff!
South Africa’s Public Protector’s office, which rose to particular fame during Thuli Madonsela’s reign, is another example of an institution impregnable from political pressure, and whose investigations and findings were the catalyst of Zuma’s hard fall from grace.
Also, the South African Human Rights Commission, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, the Commission for Gender Equality, the Auditor-General and the Electoral Commission are also doing an impeccable job in that country.
It is thus true that when institutions are strong, the president does not matter. Differently put, when a country’s institutions are strong and have integrity, it is immaterial who the president is. If Uganda had strong State institutions in the 1970s, Idi Amin would probably have been a less brutal dictator, if at all one.
Namibia’s strongest institutions are probably the courts, who, to their credit, have persevered in terms of integrity and impartiality. The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN), apart from perennial teething technical glitches, is also a credible institution despite what some people – especially those who lose elections – may say.
But many other local State institutions have been turfs for outside influence, manipulations and, for lack of a better word, abuse. This is not why Namibian freedom fighters went to war and perished. Weak institutions weaken democracy too, so there is a lot at stake when institutions are not strengthened.