In 1980 the “liberators” chose the easier route of taking over a deeply flawed colonial construct called Rhodesia instead of building a new nation. We went from a war straight to elections, skipping a very necessary consultative process about what kind of nation we needed to build.
We failed to understand that the term “majority rule” itself did not automatically translate to liberty for all, but that by a simple numerical advantage, whoever controlled the levers of power would have their way, even at the expense of everyone else.
It took us 33 years to try to codify our social contract into a constitution whose drafting was informed by the views of all stakeholders. By then, those who had enjoyed over three decades of power led by Robert Mugabe had already figured out how to always protect their numerical advantage.
Voting districts had been gerrymandered to create 60 urban and 150 rural constituencies, the latter in areas controlled by over 270 mostly partisan chiefs and village heads. The majority, meaning whoever won the rural vote, would always rule. The incumbent would always be able to control that outcome through programs like Command Agriculture.
Meanwhile if the opposition won in the cities, their performance would always be undermined by a macropolitical and economic environment they were not in charge of, while non-performers among them could also use the environment as an excuse.
One of the reasons history almost always repeats itself in Africa is because those who win elections see their victories as mandates to rule instead of the opportunity to lead in the redefining of these flawed colonial constructs into places where all can flourish.
The challenge is that doing the latter would mean they can’t rule forever. It would mean making the best decisions that would threaten their partisan interests, including appointing the best people into critical state offices instead of tribesman and relatives who will protect their turf.
It’s almost inevitable that those who “liberate” us whether from colonialism or from post-colonial dictators will become oppressors as long as the practice of our politics does not lead first and foremost to that place of deep, urgent non-partisan consultation and reflection about what is in the best interests not just of the majority, but of all.
But we can’t go there if that is not something we can practice in our own conversations in our small groups and political formations. Our problems are deep but not insurmountable. They need citizens and leaders who have the courage to be honest with themselves. They need us all to understand that dictators rule, but statesmen lead.
Partisanship can only gratify the needs of a few for a short while. It can never secure the future of all. Ultimately, if citizen statesmen never prevail, we shall all sink.
Is There Not a Cause?