|The Courier N° 153 - Sept - Oct 1995 - Dossier: Southern Africa - Country Reports: Namibia; Djibouti (EC Courier, 1995, 96 p.)|
Southern Africa, a region covering nearly 7 million square kilometres with a population of more than 120 million has had more than its fair share of political, social and economic upheaval. Unlike other parts of Africa, decolonisation was long in coming and, for some, colonialism only finally ended in April 1994 with the first multiracial elections in South Africa. There are few areas of the world where racial criteria have, over time, acquired such significance and where the fight against racial discrimination has left in its wake so much suffering and displacement of peoples. Today, on the threshold of the 21st century, Southern Africa faces the same challenges as the rest of the planet but it appears to be more united and resolute than ever in confronting the problems it must solve. The winds of change-and hope-finally seem to be blowing over this end of the continent.
The 11 member states of the SADC (Southern African Development Community) have, for some years, been undergoing far-reaching socio-economic and political transformations. Countries which, in the wake of independence, had opted for Marxist-Leninist-inspired economic models, referred to by some as 'Afromarxism', have today turned towards economic liberalism and are implementing structural adjustment programmes. In parallel with this economic liberalisation, the world is also witnessing major political reforms. The authoritarian regimes established after independence have, with only a few exceptions, given way to democratically elected regimes. In the 1960s, Botswana was the democratic exception in the region. Today, it is only in Angola and Swaziland that fully-fledged multi-party systems have not taken root. The most important milestone in this wave of democratisation was undoubtedly the ending of apartheid in South Africa. The advent of democracy in that country put an end to several years of destabilisation and warfare orchestrated by the racist Pretoria regime. The arrival as Head of State of Frederick de Klerk, less of a warmonger and more pragmatic than his predecessor, has had a direct influence on the destiny of neighbouring countries. Namibia, which was under South African occupation, finally became independent in 1990. In Mozambique, peace was restored in 1992-an event at least partly due to the withdrawal of financial and military aid previously supplied by Pretoria to the Renamo rebels. Recent political changes in South Africa have obviously left a deep impression on the region, but it should be recognised that the decisive factor affecting the political and economic destiny of the region-and above all, that of South Africa itself-has been the fall of communism and the ending of the Cold War.
In order better to understand the changes which have affected the member countries of SADC, The Courier offers here a review of the political, economic and social situation currently prevailing in seven member states of this organisation. Angola, Mozambique and South Africa are not included because they are dealt with individually in other articles in the Dossier. Namibia, is dealt with in greater depth in a Country Report in this issue.
Zambia: still awaiting economic upturn
Since independence in 1964, Zambia has had only two presidents: Kenneth Kaunda and Frederick Chiluba, and it was not until October 1991, after democratic elections, that the former finally took over the reins from the latter. This somewhat forced handover of powers occurred under the influence of combined pressure from international donors and a population weary of 27 years of 'monopoly' power, which had been disastrous both economically and socially.
At the time of independence, the mood was more one of euphoria. Not only had Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, shaken itself free of British rule, but the country also had enormous mineral resources, particularly copper, which enabled it to look to the future with some confidence. The government of Kenneth Kaunda and the party he led, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) therefore set about an ambitious modernisation programme. The positive effects were rapidly felt and, by the end of the 1960s, the average income of Zambians was one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa.
When, at the beginning of the 1970s, the price of copper began to fall on international markets, a rapid decline set in. The country in fact depended absolutely on this mineral. Even today, over 80% of Zambia's export income comes from copper mining. The government, which was not far-sighted enough to diversify the economy, sought to blame its difficulties on the outside world. At the time, the government of lan Smith in Rhodesia, together with South Africa and the Portuguese authorities still in power in Angola and Mozambique, were overtly hostile to the Lusaka regime. However, this alone is not enough to explain the deterioration of the Zambian economy. In the early 1980s, when two of these destabilising factors had disappeared (Mozambique and Angola had been independent since 1975 and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980), the living conditions of the Zambian people continued to decline and economic crisis followed in its wake.
In 1983, the Zambian government approached the IMF and implemented a series of strict policies. The withdrawal of subsidies for maize flour, the staple foodstuff of the majority of Zambians, together with an increase in the price of fuel unleashed a general outcry from the population. Strikes and demonstrations took place throughout the country. Finally, at the beginning of the 1990s, President Kaunda, having progressively concentrated all power in his hands, was obliged to let go and he authorised the holding of multi-party elections which took place on 31 October 1991. The MMD (Movement for Multi-Party Democracy) took 125 of the 150 seats in the National Assembly. Its leader, Frederick Chiluba, a former trade union leader, became the country's new President, winning 76% of the vote. It is worth noting that the turnout was only 45.4%, a figure explained not only by material and technical deficiencies at the time of the elections but also by the profound lassitude and disillusionment of many Zambians vis-is their political class. The choice offered to the population on the eve of the elections was not one to engender strong loyalties. The outgoing regime may have been almost moribund but the MMD campaign focused relentlessly on criticism of the Kaunda government's record with few solutions or ideas for solving the crisis. In addition, many politicians, seeing how the wind was blowing, left the UNIP to join the MMD. In general, those electors who cast a ballot did so to register a protest against the UNIP. They voted for change but not, it appears, to express any overwhelming enthusiasm for the MMD.
- Today, more than three years after the election, most observers agree that the changes introduced by the new regime have been slow and not particularly radical. The economic and financial situation has barely improved and Zambia still has one of the biggest debts per capita in the African continent (totalling $6.2 billion). Moreover, its dependence on copper is as great as ever and the population has seen no improvement in living conditions. The people have had to bear the brunt of the adjustment policy implemented by the government, at the energetic instigation of the international financial institutions. This policy, combined with an inflation rate of 60% in 1994, has had a damaging effect on Zambian society. The social costs of measures designed to relaunch the economy have seen the tolerance threshold of ordinary Zambians sorely tested. Criminality and delinquency are on the increase in major towns and cities and budget cuts have affected health and education in particular. Rural dwellers, already hit by the 1992 drought, are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Finally, according to at least some observers, favouritism, embezzlement and corruption remain in the system, allegedly to be found at all levels of society.
The current leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the sacrifices they impose on the population in the name of economic revival and a more prosperous future and, although Zambia is today a democracy, the Zambians need to feel the benefits of it very rapidly if the democratic system is to take root in the longer term.
Malawi: the ancien regime finally crumbles
This small state at the centre of Southern Africa has also seen the advent of democracy after several decades of an authoritarian monopoly on power. For nearly 30 years, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, self-proclaimed president-for-life, and his party, the MCP (Malawi Congress Party) governed the country with an iron fist under the benevolent gaze of the West and of South Africa. At the height of the Cold War, President Banda's virulent anticommunism was welcomed and a blind eye was turned to the countless exactions and violations of human rights committed by his regime. However, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the near-disappearance of communism, Malawi became less attractive to Western powers. Suddenly, more circumspect on matters of human rights, they finally suspended the economic aid Malawi depended on for its survival. Faced with international repudiation and an increasingly explosive internal social situation, the regime had little choice. In 1993, President Banda announced a referendum on setting up a multiparty system. With 63% of votes in favour, the regime's opponents won their first victory over the nonagenarian dictator. The breach thus opened could not be resealed and President Banda was compelled to promise early free and democratic elections. They took place on 17 May 1994. The three main parties in then election were the United Democratic Front (UDF) headed by Bakili Muluzi, the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) with Chafukwa Chihana as leader, and the MCP of Kamuzu Banda. in the presidential poll, Muluzi win 47% of the votes against 33% for Banda and 19.5% for Chihana. The outcome was similar in the legislative elections. Of the 177 seats in parliament, the UDF took 85, the MCP took 56 and the AFORD 36. A more detailed analysis of the results reveals a sharp regional and ethnic divide. The North voted overwhelmingly for the AFORD, the centre (President Banda's homeland) not surprisingly stayed mainly with the MCP, while the South, where 50% of the population is concentrated, voted for the UDF.
If President Muluzi is to avoid ethnic conflict and regional imbalances in the future, he will have to implement a more harmonious and egalitarian policy than his predecessor. The latter, when in power, outrageously favoured the centre and, notably, made his mother tongue (Chichewa) Malawi's official language, although it was spoken by only a minority of the people. In order to avoid increased regional fragmentation, the UDF needs to acquire a national dimension. After the elections, Muluzi's party allied itself with the AFORD, enabling them to have an absolute majority in parliament and to be more representative nationally. The two groups, however, have little in common. AFORD is seen by neutral commentators as a party untarnished by links with the ancien regime. The UDF, on the other hand, includes a number who were involved, to a greater or lesser extent, with the government of former President Banda before falling out of favour. These people appear to have been ousted because they were seen as a threat to the dictator rather than on account of their reforming ideas.
President Muluzi himself was a minister and then General Secretary of the MCP until his exclusion in 1982. This has prompted some local journalists to suggest that there has been more of a facelift than a real change. However, the very fact that it is possible overtly to express this kind of criticism reveals that something fundamental has changed in Malawi.
The former dictatorship is now just a bad memory and democracy, with all it implies (freedom of association, freedom of expression, etc.), has become a reality. Moreover, the citizens of Malawi no longer refrain from expressing their criticism and their disappointments, which are many. The promises made on the eve of the elections are taking time to materialise and the people are still waiting for the antipoverty programme, officially launched by the government, to bear fruit.
In economic terms, Malawi is still on a dripfeed. It depends heavily on external aid, a fact which prompts real questions about the extent of its independence vis-is the outside. In this, however, its situation is no different from that of many other developing countries. Like the majority of African states, it is having to implement an austerity plan strongly 'recommended' to it by international donors while, at the same time, striving to meet the needs of its citizens, over 50% of whom live below the poverty line.
To this, one might add rapid population growth, chronic malnutrition, a serious AIDS problem, a barely productive agricultural sector and the challenge of keeping corruption at bay. The depressing legacy of the Banda era is that Malawi is one of the world's poorest countries. On the other hand, the days of the government doing exactly what it wanted, without being answerable to anyone, are well and truly over. The hope must be that now democracy is in place, the dynamic forces of the country and its people will come to the fore allowing them to take proper control of their own destiny and to become genuinely involved in running their own country.
Tanzania: multi-party system in the pipeline
Unlike most African countries which have changed over from a single-party regime to a multi-party system in a rapid and often disorderly fashion, Tanzania is making its transition to democracy both prudently and slowly-too slowly, according to some foreign donors. Once again, it is the latter who are exerting pressure on the Tanzanian regime to become more liberal. Interestingly, one of the earliest and most trenchant critics of the government is former President Julius Nyerere, who led the country from independence in 1961 until 1985, when he voluntarily left office. Nyerere is not slow to denounce what he sees as the faults and failings of the CCM (Chama cha Mapinduzi), the single party currently in power. He has been openly critical of the alleged slowness of the authorities, corruption, apathy and the government's apparent inability to take account of the population's opinions and needs. These unflattering comments, together with a stagnant economy, have helped to influence the government of his successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, in the direction of political and economic liberalisation. Opposition parties have been authorised, an independent press has developed and an electoral commission has been set up to organise and monitor the electoral process which should result in democratic general elections in October 1995. Since the Tanzanian parliament authorised the creation of new political formations in May 1992, 12 opposition parties have sprung up. However, if supporters of these parties wish to avoid what happened in Kenya, where the outgoing party won in the face of a divided opposition, it will have to form alliances and present a more united front. Such a move has already been made by four parties which have rallied round a single candidate (a former CCM minister). There is little doubt that in the run-up to the October election, Tanzanian politics will be dominated by the inevitable jostling for position as parties seek to come up with candidates capable of winning the presidential poll.
With liberalisation, however, a whole series of latent problems has resurfaced. Religious and racial tensions have multiplied, particularly in Zanzibar where claims for autonomy are becoming increasingly vehement. Some are calling into question the 1964 union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar (the current Tanzania) and claim that a form of federation or confederation may be necessary. The new government to be elected in October will have to deal with this thorny problem very quickly. The advent of democracy could also spring a few nasty surprises on the new leaders. The freedom thus created will not, as was possible in the past, allow the 'evils' of Tanzanian society to be covered up. In this multi-denominational and multi-ethnic society, there is a great risk of seeing prejudices and rancour resurfacing, particularly if economic and social problems are exacerbated. In the long term, the territorial integrity of Tanzania may be threatened, particularly if the economic situation deteriorates any further.
Zimbabwe: election result a foregone conclusion
Political life in Zimbabwe holds very few surprises. For 15 years, Robert Mugabe has been Head of State and for 15 years his party, ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) has run the country. The incumbent party's victory in the legislative elections on 8 and 9 April 1995 once again confirmed the President's firm grip on power.
ZANU-PF's victory is not difficult to explain. Of the 150 seats in parliament, 30 are nominated directly by the President. The government also controls the bulk of the media which gives it a distinct advantage in election campaigns. In addition, ZANU-PF is the only political group to receive government financing as the country's constitution states that a party must have at least 15 seats in parliament to receive campaign funds. Finally, there are divisions among the opposition -the parties involved lack credibility at times and their manifestos do not appear to offer a genuine alternative. The result of all this is that of the 120 directly elected MPs, only two are opponents of the ruling party. Democratic debate is accordingly skewed with the field clear for ZANU-PF to have its mandate automatically renewed every five years. This is not to say that the people have had the wool pulled over their eyes as election turnouts (which have never exceeded 60%) would seem to testify. Nevertheless, the stakes are high. Over the last five years, the country has experienced serious economic difficulties, the rate of unemployment having quadrupled since independence in 1980. Today, almost 45% of the population is out of work. The inflation rate is around 25% and the country has to devote more than 20% of its budget to servicing its external debt. Finally, and as one would expect, Zimbabweans too are paying the costs of the adjustment policies advocated by the Bretton Woods institutions.
Although the President still attracts support because of the role he played during the war of independence, he and his party must take care to avoid complacency. Without signs of political and economic recovery, they will have to deal with the growing exasperation felt by Zimbabweans many of whom are still awaiting the concrete outcome of promises made in the wake of independence. This is particularly true of rural smallholders who, for many years, have been tempted by the offer of a redistribution of land in their favour. Currently, 4000 white farmers own 11.2 million hectares compared with 1 million black families eking out a living on barely 16.3 million hectares.
The government is reluctant to expropriate white farmers' land, particularly if they have to be compensated, as promised. Firstly, the government does not have the funds. Secondly, there would be a risk of negative repercussions on agricultural production and foreign investors who would look unfavourably on a government operating in this way.
Zimbabwe, long regarded as an example of stability in the region, must today come to terms with a stagnant economic and financial situation, together with increasingly frequent social upheaval. The ZANU-PF government, unlike its neighbours, can scarcely blame its predecessors. After 15 years in power, Robert Mugabe's government must accept most of the responsibility for the prevailing situation. New solutions have to be found. Some observers argue that a renewal of the political class is needed before anything can change in Zimbabwe. For the time being, however, those within the governing party who recommend a more dynamic democracy have an uphill struggle. As for the opposition, with its current divisions and inconsistencies, it is not in a position to change anything.
Botswana: democracy on trial
Botswana has always been seen as a model of stability and democracy in an Africa dominated until recently by single party and authoritarian regimes. Since independence in 1966, the country has regularly experienced free and democratic elections. Just as regularly, the BDP (Botswana Democratic Party) has won these elections. This regularity and stability can be explained largely by the national consensus which has been established since independence between the political class, the big stock-breeders, the rural population, traditional chiefs and members of the authorities. However, over the last two years, divisions have appeared within the leading team and society as a whole has been disrupted by growing tensions. Several corruption cases have come to light, affecting some members of the BDP. The opposition took advantage of this to gain ground at the most recent legislative elections (October 1994) where the BDP had its worst result since 1966. The electoral decline of the governing party is due principally to the economic recession which has been affecting the country for some time. With growing unemployment and few professional opportunities for the younger generations, many Botswanans are beginning to question the policies of President Ketumile Masire and his party. This mood change is particularly evident in towns and cities, where the population is younger, better educated and more politically aware. The most striking evidence of this is to be found in the capital, Gaborone, which voted decisively for the main opposition party, the Botswanan National Front (BNF) in 1994. If the BNF continues to gain popular support at the same rate, the next election in October 1999 could well spell the end of the BDP's monopoly. In fact, the successive BDP victories of the past 30 years have been based essentially on support from rural voters and traditional chiefs. The latter maintain a patron/client relationship with their 'subjects', enabling them to 'indicate' the way they wish people to vote without too much difficulty. This is particularly the case when rural populations are unaware of or not up-to-date with political decisions taken in Gaborone. There is a tendency to follow the lead of the traditional chiefs who are their 'political intermediaries'. This system, which has helped the BDP to win absolute majorities in the past may not persist, however. Growing numbers of people are migrating to urban centres where they are exposed to more diverse political influences than in the rural environment. This new, more educated generation is also more demanding and is seeking change. There are those who believe that the government must respond to the expectations of this emerging constituency if it is to avoid defeat at the next election.
Of course, if the BDP does lose power next time round, this does not signify the end of democracy. On the contrary, alternation in politics is seen by many as one of the key components of a healthy and long-lasting democratic system. It seems fair to assume that the possibility of defeat at the polls will influence the BDP in a positive way. Far from resting on its laurels, one can assume that it will be actively seeking solutions to the political and economic unrest currently affecting Botswana.
Lesotho: return of the King
A small mountainous state entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa, Lesotho has since its independence in 1966 been prey to chronic political instability. Between 1970 and 1988, the country had a single-party system under the firm rule of the Basutoland National Party (BNP) and its leader Leabua Jonathan. He fell victim to a military coup fomented by General Justin Lekhanya who proceeded to take control of the country. A power struggle between the general and King Moshoeshoe II resulted in the latter being deposed and sent into exile. He was replaced by his son Letsie III in 1990. A year later, it was the turn of General Lekhanya to be stripped of power-this time by disillusioned soldiers. Shortly afterwards, violent riots broke out in Maseru, the capital. More than 30 people died and nearly 100 were injured. By this time, the people had grown weary of the ever-worsening political and economic situation. In May 1991, the government authorised the formation of opposition parties and proposed elections for June 1992. These were delayed and finally took place in March 1993. The victors were the Basuto Congress Party (BCP), which won nearly 75% of votes cast. Nevertheless, political and dynastic upheaval was still to come. In August 1994, King Letsie III dismissed the Prime Minister, Ntsu Mokhehle, and insisted his father be reinstated as monarch. By virtue of the mediating role played by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, this happened in January 1995, Moshoeshoe II became King once again, Letsie III abdicated and Mokhehle came back as Head of Government. For the time being, therefore, the political situation in the kingdom looks distinctly more promising.
Lesotho has become a constitutional monarchy and has revived democracy but, once again, only one party has virtually all power vested in it, albeit through the legitimate expression of the voters. This time, the King and the government will have to work together to restore the confidence of a people left with few illusions or aspirations after successive coups and palaces revolutions.
Swaziland: a kingdom at the crossroads
In Swaziland, the authorities and, in particular King Mswati III, are convinced that the multi-party system is a source of division and trouble. They take the view that the Tinkhundla system (see issue no 147 of The Courier) is best suited to the needs of Swazi society. The complex voting procedure involves three stages. Candidates for each jurisdiction are nominated (only 15 electors are required for each nomination). Primary elections are then held to choose a candidate for each jurisdiction. These are followed by secondary elections at Tinkhundla level, grouping together several jurisdictions, to appoint the representative to the Lower Chamber. Although based on elections, this system does not conform to the concept of democracy as one would normally understand it in the western sense. Opposition parties are not authorised. In addition, the King is responsible for nominating 10 of the 55 members of the lower house and 20 of the 30 Senators.
It is not at all clear whether Swaziland can maintain this form of political system in the longer term. There are signs of an increasingly strident opposition and the country has been affected by a number of strikes and demonstrations in recent years.
There is also the likely impact of democratic changes in the neighbouring countries of South Africa and Mozambique. Swaziland has many assets, including a relatively dynamic economy compared with other developing countries, and a homogenous population, but if it chooses not to introduce political reforms, it will find itself out on a limb in a region where multi-party democracy is now the norm.
Building a fairer and more balanced world
Southern Africa has certainly been experiencing upheavals in the last few years but at least the changes have been more positive than negative overall. Political regimes have been liberalised, democracy is slowly beginning to take root and, with the exception of Angola, the guns are silent. However, if one looks more closely, the advent of multi-party systems and democracy have scarcely changed the day-to-day life of the majority of the region's inhabitants. Indeed, for many of them, the situation has dramatically deteriorated.
In the eyes of the rest of the world, Southern Africa is also suffering from the effects of the world recession and from what some would regard as the 'new world disorder'. However, unlike the developed countries, Southern Africa and the Third World in general no longer seem to have control over their own destiny. Some countries, like Mozambique or Zambia, are literally at the mercy of Western donors. Although living conditions for most of the region's inhabitants need specially adapted social programmes and greater commitment on the part of the state, it is the opposite that is happening. The state is withdrawing on a massive scale and aid and subsidies are being drastically reduced. International financial bodies justify the suffering and sacrifices thereby engendered in terms of macroeconomic equilibrium and a more prosperous future but it is becoming increasingly evident that a rapid improvement in living conditions is urgently required if a generalised social explosion is to be avoided. In some countries, food riots, strikes, peasant revolts, the resurgence of ethnic conflict and rising criminality are already heralding this.
Although political democracy is in itself an important and considerable step forward, it is not enough on its own. It must provoke a positive spillover in the social and economic spheres. The disparities that are growing must be halted and reversed. This requires a genuine will to build a fairer and more balanced society. The lesson is one not just for Southern Africa but for the world as a whole.