Are reforms in southern Africa only about modernising the domination of former liberation movements?


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As previously described in ISS Today, that document describes in lurid detail how the main threat to the FLMs is an elaborate regime-change agenda cooked up by Western powers with local opposition parties, civil society and the like. Opposition parties, therefore, are mere cogs in the great conspiracy.

But, leaving aside the paranoia, the report also describes how ‘rampant corruption is seriously damaging the images of FLMs and their Governments. This is causing the electorate to lose faith in their elected representatives and the Party which sponsored them … corruption needs to be uprooted to safeguard the revolutionary parties’. The secretaries-general also warn against the perils of creating personality cults, of hero-worshipping individual leaders instead of ‘sound party ideology and policies’.

It is clear then that all six FLMs have for some time been aware of the threat to their power posed by corruption and had vowed to get rid of it. Whether this fully explains the new breeze blowing through the region is hard to say. But there is certainly no evidence in ‘War with the West’ to suggest a sudden mass conversion to democracy.

Angolan activist Rafael Marques, who heads the NGO Maka Angola, is unimpressed by Lourenço, whom he dismisses as ‘Dos Santos redux’, suggesting the new guard has just jostled the old one out to get its own snout in the trough. ‘What good is it to fire an extremely corrupt official if he or she gets to keep the loot?’ he asks.

He adds that Lourenço knew that in firing Isabel and José dos Santos he need not fear any backlash from their father – even though Dos Santos remains president of the MPLA – as he is ill and extremely unpopular. So much so that the most prominent veterans of MPLA handed Dos Santos a petition, days ago, demanding he resign the party leadership immediately, Marques said.

A senior Western diplomat disagrees, believing, at least in Zimbabwe, that the reforms Mnangagwa has already undertaken are a first step to full political reform. Piers Pigou, Southern African expert at the International Crisis Group, says it’s too soon to say whether a fresh breeze is blowing through the region or the FLMs are just figuring out joint survival strategies for maintaining their ‘Divine Right to Rule’ in more effective ways.

The rhetoric from the likes of Mnangagwa – including a promise of free and fair elections this year – has been encouraging, Pigou says, but accompanied by ‘deep opacity’ on the critical question of whether he really intends greater political pluralism. For the region, ‘the next six months will be absolutely critical’ in answering these questions, he says.

Then we should have a clearer idea of whether one-man states have merely evolved into one-party states, or into real multiparty democracies.

By Peter Fabricius. This article was first published by ISS Today

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The Insider

The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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