TODAY we start serialising an article by Dr Ibbo Mandaza titled The Political Economy of the State in Zimbabwe: The Rise and Fall of the Securocrat State.
His face is on money, his photograph hangs in every office in his realm, his ministers wear gold pins with tiny photographs of him on the lapels of their pinstriped tailored suits. He names streets, football stadiums, hospitals and universities after himself. He carries a silver inlaid ivory rungu or an ornately carved walking stick or a flywhisk or chiefly stool.
Ibbo Mandaza Academic
He insists on being called doctor or being the big elephant or the number one peasant or nice old man or the national miracle or the most popular leader in the world; his every pronouncement is reported on the first page.
He shuffles ministers without warning, paralysing policy decisions as he undercuts pretenders to his throne. He scapegoats minorities to show up popular support. He bans all political parties except the one he controls. He rigs elections. He emasculates the courts and he cows the press, he stifles academia. He gives the church. The Big Man’s off-the-cut remarks have the power of law. He demands thunderous applause from the legislature when ordering far-reaching changes in the constitution.
He blesses his home region with highways, schools, hospitals, housing projects, irrigation schemes and a presidential mansion. He packs the civil service with his tribesmen … His enemies are harassed by youth wingers from the ruling party. His enemies are detained or exiled, humiliated, tortured or killed. — Willy Mutunga, now the Chief Justice of Kenya.
Post colonial state in Africa
Mutunga’s citation above is an apt description of one of the main symptoms of the political pathology that is attendant to the legacy and scourge of the post-colonial state in Africa. Therefore in citing Mutunga, Eric Matinenga argues that the main objective of constitution-making (and constitutionalism) in Africa has been the need to rein in and curtail the excesses of the Executive — the “Big Man” syndrome.
However, here it is necessary to explain why, notwithstanding the best of constitutions, including the Zimbabwean one which was signed into law in 2013 (but remains largely unimplemented by a stubborn executive), the pursuit of (bourgeois) democracy (or the “national democratic revolution”) has so far remained largely illusive. For, always implicit but seldom explicit in the discourse on the political processes and/or transitions in the post-colonial situation has been the subscription to bourgeois democracy; with its origins in the (European) Westphalian State; finding its contemporary expression in the African context in the nationalist struggle for independence and the establishment of the nation-state-in-the-making at independence, with all the requisite trappings for a constitutional democracy, in a community of nations as represented by the United Nations and other international organisations.
Central to the bourgeois democracy model or, to use a term which connotes the same, “national democratic revolution”, are the following; a constitution as the supreme law of the land, with a strong emphasis on the separation of powers — between the executive, legislature and judiciary — as the guarantee for the rule of law, the basic freedoms for all citizens and genuine democratic discourse; the establishment and maintenance of national institutions that are simultaneously non-partisan and conducive to nation building; and an enlightened leadership that, in the absence of the conventional national bourgeoisie that is the anchor class in contemporary (Western) bourgeois societies, can be the driving force for the political and socio-economic development of the post-colonial dispensation.
There are various concepts that have emerged among progressive African scholars in particular, as part of the quest for an unique (African) epistemology, but also reflecting a recent past (1970’s to 1980’s) when the development debate in Africa centred on the (presumed) choice between capitalism and socialism. Hence the less precise concept of the “developmental state” and the more dynamic one, “developmental democracy”; both seek to explain the contemporary African reality as essentially the struggle for bourgeois democracy and economic development in an era dominated by international capital, neo-liberalism and a relentless globalisation that has virtually relegated Sub-Saharan Africa to the status of an extractive industry bowl for primary products, bereft of an industrial capacity and therefore destined for a cycle of unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment now, almost 60 years since the first Sub-Saharan country (Ghana) gained its independence in 1957, Kwame Nkrumah’s clarion call — “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else will be added unto it” — rings so hollow for the majority of Africa’s citizens.
And, as Mutunga and others in this collection have inferred, even the constitutions themselves are not worth the paper they are written on: though a symptom of a more fundamental problem, the burden of an all-powerful executive — the “Big Man” — is a glaring symbol of the failure of constitutional democracy and constitutionalism itself.
Needless to add, the constitutional provision, which has become a virtual necessity in constitution-making in post-colonial Africa, for a two-term limit for presidents/ heads of states, constitutes part of this struggle to restrain and contain the burden of an incorrigible incumbency. But even this has made little or no difference, not least for those heralded in the 1980s as “new generation” of African leaders. Yoweri Museveni, now in power since 1986, asserts arrogantly that, “We do not believe in the term limits … if you don’t want (them) to be there forever, you vote them out.” This is the same man who, on taking office 30 years ago (in 1986) said: “The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular, is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power.”
Recently, Rwanda and Congo Republic both changed their constitutions to allow their leaders to seek third term; while Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has sparked a major political furore in his country by his decision to stay in office beyond the two terms.
In Zimbabwe, the two-term limit provision was introduced only recently, in the 2013 constitution, when President Robert Mugabe was already 33 years in office (seven years of which were as prime minister, from 1980 to 1987). So, nature and the run of politics permitting, this means that Mugabe can stand for the second term in 2018, at the age of 94; to relinquish office in 2023, at the age of 99! But his disdain for this (two-term) provision and the constitution itself is summed up in his retort to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon during the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa in January 2016. The Secretary-General had advised that African leaders should not cling to power. Mugabe responded that he was virtually “Life President”: “I will still be there until God says, come join the other angels. But as long as I’m still alive, I’ll still have the punch.”
Yet, the burden of incumbency in Africa has less to do with the personality make-up of the individuals concerned, the attendant disease of power megalomania that is characteristic of dictatorships, nor exclusively that which Ali Mazrui described, in the early 1970s already, as the “monarchical tendency” in African politics. It has more to do with the nature of this animal called the post-colonial state, the colonial inheritance: the continuity of the key pillars of the colonial state in the transition to independence and after; the (petit bourgeois and emergent comprador bourgeois) class that inherits state power at independence, a class which, unlike the conventional national bourgeoisie (of the bourgeois democracies), is not grounded in the economy and production and is, therefore, parasitically dependent upon the state for access to wealth, primitive accumulation and such predatory activities as are characteristic of this social formation; and how these exesses, in turn, inhere a level of political insecurity, paranoia, and the fear of an uncertain future — for self, family and associates — should one relinquish office.
Elsewhere , we have sought to establish a relationship between (the African nationalist) ideology of the class that inherits power at independence on one hand and, on the other, the failure to transform the economic and social structure of Zimbabwe. This was an ideology founded essentially on two interrelated neo-liberal themes:
An implicit faith in western values, institutional arrangements and related paraphernalia (including cultural, ceremonial and even garb). Therefore, the (bourgeois) state model which the African nationalists inherit with political independence epitomises as much this faith as the exercise of power and priviledge that is on hand for the new class of rulers. Add to this, the extent to which the western value system is taken for granted, as an integral part of any dispensation that the African nationalists would one day wish to see established in their countries; and how the African nationalist leaders, including those who remain in our midst, are so much creatures of a colonial system that has left an indelible mark on their thought processes, their lives and their aspirations
The vision of the democratic society in which the violations and demands of the colonial era would be a thing of the past and a new meritocracy established. As Claude Ake explained: “The language of the nationalist movement was the language of democracy, as is clear; I Speak of Freedom (Nyerere), Without Bitterness (Orizul), Facing Mount Kenya (Kenyatta), Not Yet Uhuru (Odinga), Freedom and Development (Nyerere), African Socialism (Senghor), and The Wretched of the Earth (Fanon). It denounced the violation of dignity of the colonised, racial discrimination, lack of equal opportunity and equal access, and economic exploitation of the colonised. The people were mobilised according to these grievances and expectations of a more democratic dispensation .
As in the case of the post-colonial Africa in general, Zimbabwe has demonstrated a glaring (economic and political) incapacity to fulfil its vision. Unlike the conventional bourgeois state after which model it was in pursuit at independence, the nation-state-in-the-making lacks the economic foundations — and the anchor (or national bourgeoisie) in particular — through which to inhere a commendable level of national confidence, project national interest, and create a national economy. Hence the continued hegemony of parasitic and comprador classes most of whose members have grown pari passu this post-colonial pathology, and are largely dependent upon the state, international capital or an institutionalised aid regime. This the narrative herein; to seek to analyse the foundations of this pathology.
To be continued next week.
Dr Mandaza is an academic, publisher and businessman who is also the director of a local think-tank Sapes Trust.