Democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Legacy of False Frontiers?

2013-08-12 11:11

With Zimbabwe's election results now in, much is being asked about (admittedly important) day to day issues relating to the election itself - but a far bigger problem is being ignored.

These are the main questions people are asking, along with their common sense or very obvious answers –

Question: Were the elections free and fair?

Answer: By all accounts, no, hardly. Although Zuma saw fit to congratulate Mugabe on it being “peaceful”.

Some – the AU for example - rated it “credible”. (now how’s that for getting a ridged arse from sitting on the fence and not having to make a call?) The Europeans and Americans are still weighing it up, but it should get the thumbs down.

Question: Was there a valid, audited Voters’ Roll?

Answer: Evidently there is no vestige of a credible voters’ roll and astonished European observers asked before the election - “How can you hold an election without one?”

Good question.

Question: What happened to an estimated one million missing voters who should appear on the voters’ roll but don’t?

Answer: No one seems to know.

Question: Where are people on the roll who had – according to widespread allegations by the opposition – already died or lived to over a hundred? One of age 135 was still registered and “serving in the Zimbabwe National Army” - seriously ironic (indeed, verging on black humour!) in a nation with the world’s lowest life expectancy.

So again – no answers.

There were other questions too - like why it was made more difficult for voters to vote in MDC strongholds. But let’s not linger on the nitty gritty, lest we lose sight of the most important question of all, one that should have been asked a very long time ago.

Do all “Zimbabweans” really belong in the same nation state? I suggest that in all probability the answer is no, they do not.

Like much of post colonial Africa, the boundaries of Zim (then Southern Rhodesia) were a compromise of political expediency and colonial ambition with the enrichment of the Crown its main objective and with little regard for local ethnicities. Cecil John Rhodes was obsessed with extending Her Majesty’s influence, not creating viable political entities.

Following withdrawal by colonial powers, what you got in such instances was a state lacking cultural coherence and harbouring internal animosities. That turns elections into a numbers game and rewards the more populous at the expense of those who might prefer self determination. Lines drawn on a map create arbitrary polities, define the rules of the game and reward majorities for just being in place – which creates a playground for despots and tyrants.

As we know Zim is just such a nation with an Ndebele – Shona divide of roughly one to three, and respective geographic areas dominated by each. "Gukurahundi" – the government sponsored suppression and massacre of 20000 Matabele two and a half decades ago – was not a random occurrence out of context. It was a symptom of a divided and contrived nation state.

Since then, in the mayhem that has ensued following economic collapse, many Zimbabweans have fled the country (by some accounts, millions of them) and with an average life expectancy in the mid 30’s its demographics are fluid, with South Africa and other neighbouring countries absorbing many refugees.

The bottom line is that African style democracy in a unitary state bequeathed by colonial masters has not worked. That leads me to wonder whether - if each major ethnic group had had its own geopolitical recognition in the first place - the Zimbabwean diaspora need ever have happened and whether we might not today have prosperous and democratic neighbours on our northern borders.

It is nice to imagine that it could possibly have happened; African success stories are all too rare, aren't they?

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