Multiparty politics has offered illusory freedom from poverty

Friday August 14 2020

Protestors hold up placards against the government of Zimbabwe's alleged state corruption, suppression of media freedom and the deteriorating economy outside the Zimbabwean Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa on August 7, 2020. PHOTO | AFP


The argument in my column titled Elections are just a ritual of passing on the graft baton published on June 27, 2020, was that change of regimes in Africa does not equate to political and economic reform.

Corruption and rights violations remain the same, if not worse. The one constant — from Nigeria to Malawi — is poverty and underdevelopment.

This observation was highlighted once again by the arrest in Zimbabwe of journalist Hopewell Chinono on July 20. His crime was to expose the growing corruption in the government of Emmerson Mnangagwa. Hopewell’s expose especially focused on coronavirus related contracts awarded by the Health ministry.

Mnangagwa came to power after the army ousted Robert Mugabe who had run an incompetent, corrupt and abusive regime for three decades. Mnangagwa himself had escaped imminent arrest at the height of machinations to have Grace Mugabe succeed her husband — African politicians think countries are trophies to be handed from one family member to the next!

When he assumed power, Mnangagwa promised political and economic reforms. But increasingly, the once right-hand man of Mugabe is showing why he was nicknamed “The Crocodile”.

Over 100 African writers have called on Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to suspend Zimbabwe over what Amnesty International in a statement calls “brutal assault on political activists and human rights defenders ...”


This act of engagement with the reality of Africa and concomitant disengagement from pan-African platitudes by an influential group of African intellectuals is significant. Their voice will focus global attention and action on the grim reality that millions of Africans face, which periodically forces them to the heartbreaking desperation of trying to escape from the continent on rickety boats across the Mediterranean Sea.

It is a tragic cynicism that the AU and SADC are quick to condemn the brutalisation of African-Americans in the US but keep a studious silence when far greater brutality is meted out on Africans by their governments.

As matter of fact, the AU and SADC have actively supported corrupt and repressive member states. For instance, at the height of Mugabe’s crackdown on opposition members, the AU made him their chairman just its predecessor body — the OAU — made Idi Amin chairman at the height of his murderous pogroms against real and imagined enemies.

The statement by African writers marks a beginning of activism that seemed to die after the introduction of multiparty politics in the early 1990s. We have realised that multiparty politics, like independence from colonialism in the 60s, offered illusory freedom from poverty and repression. It’s back to the trenches, holding African governments accountable, demanding they respect human rights, and pressuring them to take merciless action on its officials who continue to plunder billions and cause long-suffering citizens to take rickety boats across deadly seas.