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Southern Africa Report Archive

REGIONAL ROUNDUP: ELECTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH: No region of the world is as vulnerable to the vagaries of "the new world disorder" as Africa. As one looks across the continent, from Somalia to Rwanda, from Kenya to Nigeria, there is just enough grim truth to the nightmare tale to give cause for alarm. The emphasis of many of SAR's recent articles has been on recent electoral undertakings in the various countries surveyed. Is the very fact that elections are occurring across the region not an important advance in the light of the wide-spread pattern of authoritarian practices that have otherwise characterized both the region and the continent as a whole? (jbv)

vol 10 no 4

Editorial and contents for Vol 10 No 4
the SAR editorial collective


Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 10, No 4, May 1995
Page 1
"Editorial"

EDITORIAL: ELECTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH

No region of the world is as vulnerable to the vagaries of "the new world disorder" as Africa. Some writers, like Robert Kaplan in a widely-cited article in the Atlantic Monthly a few years ago, have even seen contemporary Africa as a metaphor for "the coming anarchy" that he feels is likely to characterize much of the world in the decades ahead.

His presentation is a Disney World of disaster, of course, painted in broad primary colours that are designed to shock, to appal . . . and to sell magazines. Nor does he show any inclination to highlight the broader economic trends - of "globalization," structural adjustment and "recolonization" - that so mercilessly frame the situation he describes. Nonetheless, as one looks across the continent, from Somalia to Rwanda, from Kenya to Nigeria, there is just enough grim truth to his nightmare tale to give cause for alarm.

To some extent, those us preoccupied with developments in southern Africa have been spared the necessity to confront such grim realities so directly. True, the facts we have had to face have been grisly enough in their own terms: war, destabilization, the displacement of populations and, increasingly, signs that the conditions of life for the vast mass of the population in the region are very far from having been altered for the better in terms of material well-being or personal security. And yet such facts have also been redeemed by a sense of high and heroic purpose, a sense of purpose that helped to qualify, in important ways, their negative import for us.

After all, southern Africa was the last redoubt of white minority rule on the continent and one that would not - it became evident - yield without a fight to democratic demands. The "thirty years war of southern African liberation" waged across the region between 1960 and 1990 thus defined an important historical moment: the triumphant culmination of anti- colonial nationalism in Africa, a dramatic step forward in the world-wide struggle against racism, even the promise of challenging the hegemony of global capitalism in a promising and progressive way.

We need not underestimate the great achievement of the peoples of southern Africa in overthrowing the white minority regimes - Portugal's ultra-colonialism in Angola and Mozambique, the UDI regime of Ian Smith in Rhodesia, the apartheid state in Namibia and South Africa - to acknowledge that the honeymoon is now over in the region. Revolutionary governments that once seemed to promise dramatic socio-economic transformations are mere shadows of their former selves, and even the ANC's post-apartheid regime in South Africa begins to seem something of an anti-climax in light of the high hopes that were once invested in it. In short, southern Africa begins to look rather more like the rest of the continent than might have been predicted during the heady days of "liberation movements," "people's war" and "mass democratic struggle."

The sober tone of recent numbers of SAR certainly reflects acknowledgement of this reality, the present issue being no exception. Indeed here, as we survey the political landscape in a wide range of countries in the region beyond South Africa itself, the mood may seem particularly bleak. True, the emphasis of many of our articles is on recent electoral undertakings in the various countries surveyed. Isn't the very fact that elections are occurring across the region not an important advance in the light of the wide-spread pattern of authoritarian practices that have otherwise characterized both the region and the continent as a whole?

Unfortunately, given the broader political realities that tend to frame such electoral undertakings, it is difficult to answer "yes" with any confidence to this last question. Thus, in our present issue, Richard Saunders underscores the hollowing out of formally democratic institutions that Robert Mugabe and his colleagues continue to preside over in Zimbabwe, while a Maputo correspondent reflects on the some of the deep-seated contradictions that now plague a post-elections Mozambique.

Larry Swatuk's "tales of two kingdoms" (Lesotho and Swaziland) - where electoral proceedings have been more or less swallowed up in the negative fall-out from other political realities in these countries - make equally sobering reading. And even Lauren Dobell's rather more up-beat reading of the recent trip to the polls in Namibia suggests some of the crucial question-marks that continue to shadow the future of democracy and development in that country. In short, it is a long step from "merely" having elections to realizing any kind of genuine popular empowerment. It is also a step that the peoples of southern African countries are finding it difficult to make under the grim conditions that currently stalk them.

What price solidarity, then? There are, self-evidently, more than enough grounds for continuing solidarity with southern Africans (including those, discussed in Dan Connell's article in this issue, who seek to sustain a meaningful left presence in South Africa itself) as they regroup to pursue a more meaningful "liberation." However, one other article in the current issue suggests just how urgent it is that those of us in the North who are prepared to work towards grounding this kind of solidarity find ever more imaginative ways to do so.

For in Canada (as our Ottawa bureau chief reports) the recent, business-oriented federal aid budget reveals the government to be even less committed than previously to facilitating the kind of grass-roots development that might actually serve to help ground genuine popular empowerment. Particularly wounded by government cut-backs have been Canadian NGOs who have been working directly with Southern counterparts towards such ends. And this from a Liberal party that, during its last campaign, promised to reverse the rightward thrust of Brian Mulroney's policy package! Here too, it would seem, elections are not enough.

- 30 -

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Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 10 No 4
"Regional Roundup: Elections are not Enough"

Editorial: Elections Are Not Enough - 1

A Hollow Shell: Democracy in Zimbabwe - 3
by Richard Saunders

The SWAPO Sweep - 5
by Lauren Dobell

Troubled Monarchy, Troubled Country:
What Future for Lesotho?
- 10
by Larry Swatuk

Troubled Monarchy, Troubled Country:
Swaziland
- 14
by Larry Swatuk

After the Count is Over: Mozambique Now - 16
by a special correspondent

What's Left of the South African Left - 19
by Dan Connell

Canada and Southern Africa: The Liberal Aid Massacre of 1995 - 26
by our Ottawa Bureau chief

Review: Amnesty not Amnesia:
Dealing with the Past in South Africa
- 30
review by Colin Leys

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