There have been positive and negative things going on in some parts of Africa lately, vis-à-vis prospects for democracy in that continent. I suppose like any other part of the world, there are ups and downs, and we’ve just got to live with it. I am thinking about Ghana and the Gambia as examples. Ghana held elections. The incumbent lost fairly and ceded power according to the constitution and rules of conduct that the country had agreed upon. Impressive!!!

So, why am I applauding something that should be as normal and regular as day and night? That’s because in the Gambia, also in West Africa, the President there decided that he would ignore the results of a free and fair election and keep himself in power. And that is after he had actually promised that he would concede defeat when the electoral commission announced the results officially. Hopefully, the heads of government of Gambia’s neighbors (who have been talking to him) will put pressure on him to leave peacefully when his term expires and while he still can. Now we hear that even some of his cabinet ministers are fleeing the country; no doubt having caught wind of approaching trouble, probably violence of some kind. You would think he would know better. He came to power after a coup, and there have been several coup attempts in his 22 year rule. And it looks like Gambia’s neighbors, with Nigeria and Senegal taking the lead, are determined to remove him from office one way or another. A potentially violent but unnecessary period is coming to a country that could have avoided it. But if the example of Ghana, and indeed of Nigeria and Senegal previously, is to become the norm in Africa, then the tanks must roll into the Gambia.

South Africa

I am concerned about South Africa. For those of us closely watching political activities in some of these countries, South Africa’s hard won democracy is being tarnished. Proceedings in parliament are becoming a circus, with some on the left, like the Economic Freedom Front, attempting to disrupt serious discussions by antics close to what I consider anarchic. I recall one such incident in which they carried on about a parliamentarian from the governing African National Congress (ANC) who was fast asleep during official proceedings. They had to be removed from the chamber for this disruptive behavior when everybody should have been seriously involved in the debates on some important issues of state. Perhaps these antics are their way of getting attention but this kind of immaturity is a slippery slope to future undemocratic behavior. Likewise, the opposition parties from the right (the Democratic Alliance for example) have not done themselves a favor by gratuitous insults that are sometimes hurled at the country’s President. The South African parliament is not alone in exhibiting this kind of behavior. It happens everywhere and can be viewed as one more aspect of a healthy democracy, but South Africa’s institutions are young and fragile. Its political practitioners need to tread carefully; the one thing that South Africa has going for it is that in 20+ years of democracy, its leaders have set the tone for the rest of the continent by their maturity in conducting the country’s business. It can be lost just as easily and just as quickly.

And this is not to excuse the ruling ANC in some of my concerns. Corruption, if not endemic, is a major problem. There are entirely too many individuals going through the legal system for bad behavior. And almost all of ( them seem to have ties with the ruling party. Incompetence in administering affairs of state is also raising its ugly head, with the country changing Finance Ministers, for example, three times in three weeks!

Also, South Africa’s economy seems to doing badly. One analysis says that the country’s latest data were worse than economists were expecting, and now analysts are raising questions about South Africa’s long-term outlook. I especially found this statement to be most troubling:

“The key risk in South Africa is not an acute crisis, but a period of stagnation that could strain the country’s political and economic institutions to the breaking point.”  In two words: not good. (

All these are tell-tale signs of the march to the bottom that has been typical of many countries in Africa. Let’s hope that South Africa learned something from the histories of its northern neighbors many of whom squandered the promise of a brighter future by incompetence, corruption and lack of vision.

This is actually painful to say. I spent the 1970s and 80s in the struggle against apartheid, specifically in support of the ANC. And I believe that the ANC did a magnificent job guiding the country from its apartheid past into a functioning democracy. But it is time for a political realignment in the country. The best ideas on how to move the country forward must now take precedent and not the history of an organization, despite its glorious revolutionary past. Changing leaders at the top but doing the same thing over and over again will not save South Africa. As currently constituted, the ANC must be removed from office at the next election.

2 Responses to “A Couple of Thoughts as We Head Into 2017”

  1. Noah says:

    Amazing writing that is eye-opening to a topic I know little about. It really puts our current political situation in perspective…

  2. japhet zwana says:

    I agree all the way. More later.

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