Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Stop blaming the Western bogeyman

2017-06-09 11:00
Zimbabwe's opposition supporters set up a burning barricade as they clash with police during a protest in Harare for electoral reforms. (Zinyange Auntony, AFP)

Zimbabwe's opposition supporters set up a burning barricade as they clash with police during a protest in Harare for electoral reforms. (Zinyange Auntony, AFP)

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When African political leaders run out of ideas to develop their countries they don’t do soul searching. They don’t interrogate their failed strategies. 

Their failures are attributed to someone else. There are some foreign governments, non-governmental organisations or other agencies out there that should be blamed. These foreign agents work in collaboration with domestic saboteurs whose sole mission is to destabilise African governments.

These bogeys, according to the conspiratorial African leaders, are always plotting to undermine African countries. Typically, the West is to blame. 

When democratic processes in their countries kick in with more voters showing signs of impatience with misrule, the African leaders are quick to blame the West for planning to overthrow them. When they fail to provide leadership to improve the living standards of their people, they blame the West. 

The West, according to these African leaders, is always seeking to effect regime change. Democratic change of government is labelled as regime change, a phrase with negative connotations for dictators who want to cling to power. In a democratic system, voters have a right to change government and policies. But democracy is a nightmare for the conspiratorial African leaders.

For historical reasons the West is an easy target. There was a time when the West was responsible for a lot that went wrong in Africa. Slavery, plundering under colonial regimes, destabilisation after independence, Cold War battles fought on African soil and the structural adjustment programmes are the biggest contributors to Africa’s underdevelopment. To a certain extent the legacies of these wrongs continue.

But this terrible history must not be used to mask the plundering that has nothing to do with the West. It is bizarre that representatives of six former liberation movements, including the ANC, reportedly held a meeting which concluded that “Western imperialist” powers were plotting to effect regime change in Africa.

According to a confidential report of the meeting cited by investigative journalists from amaBhungane, the former liberation movements fingered Renamo, the Mozambican rebel-cum-opposition movement, the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance in South Africa as “manifestations of regime change”. 

The report ignores the fact that by their very nature these opposition parties, except for Mozambique’s Renamo, which is struggling to transform to a modern political party, opposition parties in South Africa are challenging for state power through legitimate means. They are contesting elections. They are challenging the ANC-led government for effectively implementing regime change by illegally handing over political power to the Guptas who have never contested elections.

The report went on to suggest that Western imperialists were working through opposition parties, #ZumaMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements to effect regime change. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe is said to have represented his party in the meeting hosted by Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu PF at Victoria Falls in May last year. 

This labelling of opposition and pressure groups as manifestations of regime change is meant to bring legitimate democratic activism into disrepute. It’s a scaremongering tactic. In fact, the fallist movement in South Africa is a manifestation of democratic vibrancy. You don’t necessarily have to agree with their strategies to recognise the colour they have added to our democracy.

Mantashe’s presence in the conspiratorially charged meeting was not surprising. The ANC has been slowly adopting Robert Mugabe’s West-bashing political strategies to deflect attention from its own challenges. In his attempt to ward off the endless scandals around him, President Jacob Zuma has blamed some unnamed Western countries for undermining the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) bloc.

Just how the West should be held responsible for Brazil’s political turmoil caused by rampant corruption involving politicians who milked state-owned enterprises boggles the mind. 

In the United States, the leading Western country, law enforcement authorities are investigating how Russia might have influenced the election of Donald Trump as president. Could it be a case of a member of Brics attempting to effect regime change in the US? 

In South Africa, a Chinese company is said to have agreed to pay large amounts in bribes to win a tender to supply locomotives to the country’s logistics company Transnet. The deal was arranged by foreigners from India who happened to be friends of Jacob Zuma. 

When South Africans call for Zuma to step down, a process that is allowed in a democracy, where does the West feature? Was the removal of Mbeki, who faced no charges of corruption, the consequence of regime change effected by the West? Maybe Zuma and Mantashe have a confession to make.

Western countries do not feature in the leaked Gupta emails which show who actually is running South Africa. The only Western entity is UK public relations firm Bell Pottinger, employed by the Guptas, Zuma’s friends, to cause racial divisions in South Africa and to legitimise state capture. Could it be that regime change effected through state capture via Western entities such as Bell Pottinger in collaboration with friends of a sitting president is the acceptable version?

The preoccupation with the West not only serves to deflect attention from the real problem of bad leadership among African leaders. It also ignores the challenges faced by Western countries and the whole world. The US under Trump is inward looking. Britain is struggling with the consequences of Brexit. Germany and France are trying to hold Europe together. And the whole world is battling an ever-present threat of terrorism.

The West, the East and Africa are interdependent. The world has long moved from Cold War polar opposites between the Capitalist West and Communist East. The Western bogeymen is no longer relevant. Only the intellectually bankrupt among African leaders find it useful. 

- Mpumelelo Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria.

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