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Institutionalisation of violence in post-colonial Africa

Mon, 30 June 2014 01:57
by Tinashe Jonhera
Columns

Postcolonial Africa is mounted with pseudo-democracy. The continent has faced dictatorship and has produced most of the dictators in the world, very old aged and power hungry leaders who sort if not to but remain in power until the second coming of Jesus.
Violence has been African leaders’ greatest weapon for them to intimidate the masses and perfect their political power. Violence has been institutionalized and to Africa’s greatest surprise, organizations that should avert it are rallying behind the use of violence as they are chaired and led by these authoritarian leaders which most of them drew lessons from the former Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung who believed power comes from the barell of a gun. Elections in post colonial Africa are muddled with violence and conspiracy. Any opposition to regime rule is quelled by violence in Africa today.
Arguments have been made to explain the new patterns of violence in postcolonial Africa. To begin with, this violence is seen as senseless or a return to barbarism. With the emergence of pluralist democracy, this violence has been seen as a ploy by African leaders to undermine democracy and perpetuate their stay in power.
 Trying to make sense of this violence, the new conflicts are not wars in the modernist sense between states or organized political groups for political ends. Rather, they are connected with the resurgence of identity politics after the collapse of the Berlin wall. In this regard, primordial identities have pursued claims to power within the arena of the modern nation-state.
While the holding of regular elections has become relatively well-established in many countries, perhaps most successfully in Ghana, electoral processes have also been deeply flawed in recent instances such as in Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa and recently the Malawian drama.Perhaps Namibia remains the only country were violence and elections never mix because often than not the election process of this country is as smooth as ever.
  As Namibia prepares to hold them later this year, it is unclear how many African states are moving closer to ‘democratic consolidation’, or instead inhabits the ‘grey zone’ between democracy and autocracy as ‘defective democracies’ or ‘electoral authoritarianism’.
The postcolonial state brought some change to the composition of the state managers, but it has also presented itself as an apparatus of violence, with a narrow social base, relying on coercion for compliance rather than authority. With few exceptions, gaining independence was a matter of colonizers’ handing over government to their chosen African successors who could be trusted to share their values and be attentive to their interests. It was a mere racial integration of the political elite. By the time independence was achieved in early 1960s, the centrifugal tendencies had grown strong enough in many countries, African leaders have manipulated ethnic and communal loyalties as a way to deradicalize their followers and contain the emerging class division of political society, which would isolate and destroy them. Increasingly, the dominant faction of the political elite found itself isolated and relied on violence to silence the masses and rival factions among its own ranks. Those who are outside of power are constantly worried about their exposure to every kind of assault by a state that was hardly subject to any constitutional or institutional restraints. Deducing from recent complaints made by opposition parties here in Namibia about the allocation of campaigning funds, it shows that authoritarianism and one party state has become a rhetoric as the SWAPO leadership tend to recycle power among itself.
A state of worry has grown in the country ahead of the November elections as in many instances, violence, rigging and bribery have remained contact features of Africa’s elections. This evidences the fact that democratic gains are not only contradictory but fragile especially in societies that are ethnically fragmented and have a long history of centralized executive power and an electoral system that promotes exclusionary or zero-sum political contests. In many cases, violent conflicts have followed electoral disputes as seen in Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Central African Republic. Even where the nation state remains together, conflicts around elections tend to lead to unending tensions as has been demonstrated in Cote d”voire, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi. In Kenya and Zimbabwe, the descent into electoral-induced violence occurred in the aftermath of failed national constitutional review projects. Institutions essentially retained their one-party legal and operational character, yet they shouldered the burden to oversee the transition process.
The legislature and the judiciary, remained unreformed and subordinated to the executive, which retained its imperial character supported by a slew of retrogressive laws and an unreconstructed patronage system, economic liberalization notwithstanding. This might be same the scenario when elections are to be held in November but power handed over later in the next year as propounded by the Pohamba regime.
In Africa, the ruling elite simply stepped into the shoes of the colonialists, fulfilling Franz Fanon’s prophesies,
“The state, which by its strength and discretion ought to inspire confidence and disarm and lull everybody to sleep, on the contrary seeks to impose itself in spectacular fashion. It makes a display, it jostles people and bullies them, thus intimating to the citizen that he is in continual danger. The single party is the modem form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, unmasked, unpainted, unscrupulous and cynical.”
After independence, leaders who were able to retain power grew extremely rich and retained power more coercively. Signaling the rise of the so-called Big Men, these leaders use their control of state resources to build vast networks of clients across ethnic boundaries. Their control of resources has facilitated the buying of heavy artillery to suppress any political opposition.