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Crises of Legitimacy

One of the major features which characterize African politics is the issue of legitimacy crises. Legitimacy simply connotes wide acceptability of the government in power by the entire citizens.  According to S.M. Lipset in his book “Political Man”, legitimacy of a government is determined by three factors: how power is acquired, the performance or efficiency of government, and the level of freedom and welfare enjoyed by the citizens. In Africa, rules governing electoral competition are not followed, elections, are not free and fair, the performance of most governments are poor, while the freedom and welfare of the people are not guaranteed. Legitimacy problems result in governments having problems with its citizens as this severs good relations between the government and the citizens.

With a crisis of legitimacy, government policies are often misinterpreted, there are communication gaps between the government and the governed, and the government may not enjoy the benefits of feedback on its policies that can assist in policy re-evaluation, and re-formulation. In the extreme, an illegitimate government imposes a reign of terror on the citizens to force them into submission or acquiescence.

The evil regime of Idi Amin of Uganda typified this, while in the contemporary times the Robert Mugabe led regime in Zimbabwe has perfected this. Legitimacy crises have been evident in Kenya where in the 2007 general elections the ruling leader of Kenya Mwai Kibaki refused to grant the opposing leader Raila Odinga his victory, which resulted in a deadly post-election violence.  A power sharing deal was later struck, but his legitimacy had already been eroded. The same happened in Zimbabwe when in 2008 Robert Mugabe did not gave Morgan Tsvangirai his victory which resulted in the same Kenya situation. Whatever the pretences by Kibaki and Mugabe, there is no doubt that they no longer enjoy credibility as leaders and their governments have also ceased to possess electoral legitimacy. The Kenya and Zimbabwe’s cases are, by no means, unique; they merely represent the latest, and the frightful dimensions the crisis of legitimacy is assuming in Africa.

Corruption and monetized politics

Another major feature which engulfs the African political terrain is corruption. The vice has been deeply embedded in Africa and has become the bane of African politics. Nigerian professor Awolowo defines corruptions as abuse, misuse and disuse of power. Forms of corruption in African politics include bribery and manipulation of electoral process, nepotism in award of contracts and favouritism in dispensing patronage. While clientilism and patron-client relations are common in all societies, they define, and constitute the essence of African politics.

In Africa, politic is viewed as a self-enriching business, it’s a business venture for some. This aptly suits J.F Bayart’s coinage of the term “politics of the belly.” Before their exit from power, some Africa leaders, notably Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now DRC) were infamously reputed to be richer than their states. The consequence of the pervasiveness of corruption in African politics is not only absence of development but also decline in state capacity; and ultimate state failure. This problem is a major factor in the deepened economic stagnation and under-development of African states, arising from diversion of states resources meant for development to serve the private interests of political leadership. Leaders like Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea have looted the nation’s oil revenues for his personal luxury. You can concur with me that the list of African corrupt leaders is endless. Patronized politics in Africa also entrench dictatorship. Hence, corruption and monetized politics are a tool the African presidents use to further their power and also enrich themselves and those around them.


Personalized leadership

Politics in Africa has been marked by a select few who rule their respective countries. Because of the dominance of a few individuals in the politics of African states, personalized leaderships thus emerged. Ali Al Amin Mazrui identified five leadership styles among African leaders:

– Intimidatory leader, who relies primarily on fear and instrument of coercion to assert his authority, and specialized in the use and/ or threat of use of force to extract compliance from his fellow countrymen;

– The patriarchal leader, basically one who commanded neo-filia reverence, a near father like figure like Jomo Kenyatta and Nelson Mandela;

-The leader of Reconciliation, who relied for his effectiveness on qualities of tactical accommodation and capacity to discover areas of compromise between otherwise antagonistic view points; such leaders like Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria and Milton Obote of Uganda remained in control as long as he was successful in politics of compromise and synthesis;

-Mobilization leader, whose main drive was ideology, with a dose of charismatic qualities, which helped in mobilizing the populace in the direction of a particular social action, as effectively employed by Nyerere in Tanzania, and perhaps, Nkrumah, in Ghana;

– Bureaucratic leader; the low-key type who relied on efficiency rather than evocation, procedure rather than passion.

Hesitant to repress, but anxious to dominate the political scene, African political leadership, especially in the first decade of independence created a personality cult around themselves. Kwame Nkrumah, for instance, preferred to be called Osagefor (The saviour) while Nyerere also admired being called Mwalimu (The Great Teacher). Rather than institutions driving the political process the personal attributes of African leaders, either to hold the state together, or cause crises, are more important than the form of government, or the institution of checks and balances. For Instance, the stability which Ivory Coast enjoyed under Felix Houphouet Boigny, disappeared after his death and exit from office.

The Sit-Tight syndrome

Last but not least is the sit-tight syndrome, which is the desire and consistent refusal of rulers and other African leaders to leave office at the end of the tenure, even if they become unpopular. Whatever way they acceded to power, whether through being democratically elected or through a coup, these leaders begin to scheme and plot how to stay in power indefinitely. This virus in African politics, defined by O. Amolowo as the “tenacity of office” in turn results in opposition parties developing the “pull him down” syndrome. This is the primary reason why in many African countries for example in Zimbabwe the electorate have lost trust in the power of the ballot. Beyond the lust for power, what causes the sit-tight syndrome is corruption. Moreover, other African leaders are afraid to leave office because they fear life wihout power, they know that if they lose the ones who get in control may call for him to be prosecuted on corruption charges and any other charges like crimes against humanity.

The list of sit-tight African leaders is endless and again, I am confident you agree with me on that one. In Gabon there has been Omar-Albert Bernard Bongo, in power since 1967, Libya has had Muammar Gaddafi, in power since 1967, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (1980), Teodoro Obiang (1979), Hosni Mubarak in Egypt (1981), Paul Biya, Cameroon (1982), Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso (1987), Omar al-Bashir of Sudan (1989), Yahya Jammeh of Gambia (1994). Some of these leaders have since been removed from power but others are still holding on tightly. Kaunda, Nyerere, Sese Seko, Boigny; their unduly long tenures in office are attributed to lust for power. South Africa is a singular positive exception where Nelson Mandela graciously bowed out of office after completing a single tenure of four years.

The End Result

The cumulative effect of the main features of African politics highlighted above is that there is recurring political instability in many African states. Being plural societies, African states are divided along segmental cleavages. These cleavages may be religious, ideological, linguistic, regional, cultural, racial or ethnic in nature; which are advanced in their primordial forms, or promoted, at times, extra-territorially. The fundamental assumption of the western model of democracy is that politics arises out of diversity of interests, which can be aggregated, reconciled and resolved, using established rules and mechanisms. But because in Africa there is absence of agreed traditions in politics, rival groups or claimants to political offices employ illegal or unconstitutional means, including enlisting the support of the military, to secure advantage. The consequence is recurring political instability. In every political system, those who are in power face democratic opposition, who would normally replace them, either to change or modify existing policies. But in Africa the ruling party equate opposition with treason, or in the extreme are defined as “separatists” or “secessionists” Desperate to contain what is ideally a legitimate contribution to constructive dialogue, the sitting government often pushes the opposition groups underground, where they remain and continue as potent threats to political stability.

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