The failures of African liberation movements

The failures of African liberation movements post independence

28 February 2019

Dr Somadoda Fikeni, a leading South African political analyst, has spoken at various forums on the failures of liberation movements post independence.

Here are two quotes from Dr Fikeni on South Africa’s SAfm Sunrise (February 2019) and 702 Talk Radio, followed by an interview on SAfm Focus@8 in December 2017, which you can read or listen to:

“The past can be used as a reference. It must not be used [by liberation movements] as a bridge to the future.”

Liberation movements the world over only tend to have 20-25 years’ grace where they can leverage their struggle credentials.”

Discussion of African Liberation Movements post independence

SAfm’s Focus@8 on 4 December 2017

Professor Somadoda Fikeni spoke to presenter Sakina Kamwendo on what accounts for political degeneration of African Liberation Movements post- independence.

Read information from Dr Fikeni’s interview copied below or, click on the link at the end to listen to the discussion.

African liberation movements seem to follow the same political script of being heroic in pursuing struggle against colonialism only to betray their historic role - writes Dr Fikeni:

The adage that history repeat itself is arguably the most perfect description of the trend and trajectory of the African liberation movements as they seem to follow the same political script of being heroic in pursuing their struggle against colonialism and or apartheid as well as imperialism; they start on a promising journey of transformative social policies at the dawn of independence only to betray their historic role in about two or so decades after leading a revolution or struggle. History repeats itself because we often learn nothing from it. 

In Zambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and now South Africa, history rings familiar because liberation movements which were mainly led from exile seem to follow the same trend of an inspiringly promising start before and after the dawn of independence as they are truly movements for emancipation of the people. They become unquestionably embodiment of the aspirations of the people only to evolve into a self-serving, self-preserving political machinery that is self-insulated in its own universe of logic reacting with a violent rhetoric against anyone who may threaten to disturb them while they are committing a political blunder of an epic historical proportion.

The recent fall of the once globally-respected comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe from the proverbial political grace in Zimbabwe, the instances of South African ruling party, the ANC, embarking on a full-insurrection against its veterans and stalwarts and against the South African society are some of the current political tragic comedies that only invoke a Deja vu experience as we had seen it before elsewhere in the continent. The recent or current behaviour of many in the political elite seem to commit mistakes that nullify the very heroic deeds they had some decades ago.

The script is the same as though it is different school drama classes rehearsing and performing the same Shakespearean theatrical drama for a completion on who best reproduce the same experience and lines. During the anti-colonial or anti-apartheid struggles a cohort of leaders demonstrate a level of discipline, sacrifice and clarity of mission or thought on a future of social justice they are leading society to. Some even pay the ultimate price of death in pursuit of this historic mission.

At the dawn of independence they implement a range of policies and social transformation programmes targeting the previously oppressed, and this indeed becomes a season of hope for tangible demonstrable reasons. It is hard to ignore the early gains of a liberated country as South Africa experienced the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), Truth and Reconciliation Commission, dramatically increased representation of women and youth in government, social security, rolling out of social infrastructure as electricity and roads to previously neglected areas, establishment of chapter 9 institutions founded on the basis of a new progressive constitution.

The season of hope lifted the mood of the society in anticipation of more great things to come and the charters and manifestos that had been crafted during the struggle are often understood literary as guiding implementation documents that will be followed religiously. The spirits are so high that the national mood is punctuated by winning sports teams, hosting of global events, improving social, economic and political indicators as change is in the air and liberation movement in power seem to keep the promise until we are soothed into believing that history will not happen to us, we shall bark the trend of history, we are unique and we have learnt from those who committed mistakes before.

In fact liberation movements seem to take a leaf and lessons from the book of their former oppressors with such amazing proficiency.

Something almost like magical political alchemy happens before our disbelieving eyes. The very same political elite that had led the country to independence grow increasingly more autocratic, a corruption based on political patronage becomes the DNA of political practice often aided and interpenetrated by the corporate sector, inequalities sharply increase as money is everywhere except where it is most needed, poverty levels increase, social cohesion and reconciliation project sports teams catch the fever and losing becomes their key performance area.

Divisions and discord within the ruling liberation movement lead to purges, smear campaigns, killings and rewriting of history becomes the hallmark of a once-glorious liberation movement.

Ironically, when a liberation movement falters, it intensifies its invocation of this glorious history and frequency of political rituals to invoke history, even if grossly mis-represented in its reproduced remix. The society is treated to a regular diet of history even though their material conditions deteriorate.

This history often place those who are in full insurrection against liberation history at the apex almost suggesting that they deserve everything they have, including public resources, because of their role in liberation history.

A political aristocracy’s strenuous effort to cling to power produce a political universe with its insulated logic cast against a society numbed into disbelief.

What has happened? History has happened to us as it has happened elsewhere where there was a liberation struggle.

This raise a fundamental question: Could it be that African liberation movement were best suited for pursuing liberation struggle and leading the initial years of independence or democracy, after which they will have fulfilled their historic mission.

Could it be that exile environment is far more complex space for grooming a political leadership that can internalize democratic values and remain true to the promises of a revolution than to instrumentally use this history to justify its historical existence?

Are these liberation able to rejuvenate or revive or self—correct themselves or are they ill-fated to slide on a downward slippery slope of history.

But most of these post-liberation societies are likely in agreement with an observation that it is tiring and dangerous to disturb a liberation political elite when they are busy committing blunders that contradict the very historic mission they once pursued. Indeed, history has and is still happening to us as we have learnt nothing from history.

In his seminal book, The Wretched of the Earth, Franz Fanon warned all liberation movements about the pitfalls of national consciousness, a political pathology that seem to possess the political elite once independence has been attained, but we learnt nothing out of these warnings just like we ignored many such warnings from OR Tambo, Steve Biko, Chris Hani, and Nelson Mandela as they foresaw the potential for liberation elite to take a political detour from the highway of the path towards genuine emancipation of the masses who had been oppressed.

I, again repeat, history repeats itself as history is happening to us as we speak and we have learnt absolutely nothing from history as the neo-colonial condition remain the same. Africa, and South Africa in particular, is at the crossroads and the society has to decide on whether they opt for Back to the future or forward to the past.

LISTEN to the full discussion...