Guy Scott's accession to the vice-presidency of Zambia is the most recent, and most visible, example of a mini-trend that's quietly gathering force. In Uganda, Ian Clarke, a dual citizen of the UK and Uganda, was recently elected chairman of a district of Kampala. In Kenya, there has long been white involvement in elective politics: Philip Leakey served Langata as MP for 13 years, and was an assistant minister; his brother Richard is better known for his stints as cabinet secretary and head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, but even he dabbled in politics as a founder member of Safina.
Here we have Helen Zille, leader of the opposition, and Timothy Stamps, Zimbabwe's former minister for health and for a long time Zanu-PF's sole white member of parliament. There are others, but these six are a not wholly unrepresentative sample. It might seem strange to find white Africans in African politics, and especially in elective post-colonial African politics, if only because the conventional story of post-colonial African politics has always been that of African nationalism.
Begin with the main reason for the surprise: the view that African politics is necessarily and uniformly tribal, because Africans identify chiefly by ethnicity, and hence, presumably, wouldn't vote for a white politician because being white would clearly signal ethnic outsiderhood. The view is defective as it stands, for even if African voters were inveterately ethnocentric, it quite often happens that in ethnically partisan elections, candidates who don't identify with either side are acceptable to competing groups precisely because they're ethnically neutral – at least part of the success of candidates of Somali origin in Kenyan electoral politics, for example, is explicable this way
Strength of ethnic identification varies widely across Africa, and most Africans do not identify primarily with their ethnicity. Second, there's quite good evidence that ethnic identification is caused by political activity, rather than preceding it as an independent fact: the view simply gets the line of causation wrong. Third, there's very decent evidence that ethnicity as a determiner of political identification is in decline across the continent.
It's more useful to look directly at the cases. Notice that of the six named in the first paragraph, five are men, four of whom are strongly identified with a particular profession in voters' minds: Scott with farming, Clarke and Stamps with medicine, and Richard Leakey with administration. Both characteristics, gender and profession, matter. African politics remain very difficult for women; even established female politicians, such as Zille, are occasionally subjected to deeply unpleasant abuse and worse.
But professional qualifications probably bear the explanatory burden. Research shows that the most popular form of self-identification across Africa is by occupation and class (40%). Identification by class is particularly salient in Uganda and Zambia: of the countries in the sample, only Tanzania scores higher. Where voters identify by class and occupation, a candidate who can present evidence of solid professional qualifications and professional success is at an advantage; competence is a mighty electoral boost. I'm willing to bet that this substantially accounts for Stamps, Scott and Clarke's successes, especially since they have demonstrated competence in key professions (medicine and agriculture). Additionally, none of the six have any strong connection with the wrong side of the colonial order, and several of them have a well-documented record of opposition to it.
Where that condition is in place, we should not be surprised to find more white male African professionals doing well in African electoral politics.
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