Gregory Gondwe, Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Trying on African Political Shoes

When we were in the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) rule, the general feeling was that Malawians were unhappy with the one party autocratic rule but no one spoke openly against this until 31 years later when the then President late Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was forced to call for a referendum, which he miserably lost.
The rest as they say is history. Banda called for elections which ushered Bakili Muluzi and his yellow United Democratic Front (UDF) into power, how Bingu wa Mutharika was voted into power and how he ditched the UDF, the party that sponsored him into power, thereby administering the UDF the bitter medicine.
We were several times told by Banda that in 1964, by the way I was not around then, the country had multiparty system of government but all the parties died a natural death, leaving the MCP the only party in the country.
However, is it not strange that across Africa it seems all other parties except those in power died a natural death as well?
Our neighbours, Zambia had the all time KK- (super Ken) Dr Kenneth Kaunda who was that country’s only highest political authority until after Fredrick Chiluba wrestled power from him.
These independence time leaders with higher academic papers that designated the higher political knowledge they had garnered which in turn assisted them unseat the colonial rulers decided to go African way and designed an African political shoe which they intended to use to stride into the future.
The African nationalists developed a political ideology called African Socialism in the 1950s, which Cassell Dictionary of Modern Politics describes as lacking clear form or expression or flatly a vague.
It says African socialism, which generally seeks to combine certain features of African traditional societies with ‘socialist’ concept is a nebulous term, which has no theoretical framework.
These characteristics include land ownership, the extended family and kinship relationships and the concept of sharing as well as an emphasis on cooperation rather than competition and on the group rather than the individual.
Attempting to achieve socialism in the African context, African socialist tend to reject calls for class struggle, atheism and dictatorship of the proletariat (the class of workers who own little or no property and have to work for wages especially at unskilled jobs in the city), asserting that socialism can be built on a peasant base.
The ideology is most closely associated with Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, who incorporated it into his philosophy of Ujamaa, and KK whose A.H was greatly influenced by it.
Kaunda went a step further when he expounded what is now known as African Humanism, which is another African version of Socialism.
He designed it to give direction to the newly independent Zambia and was based on KK’s views that “the high valuation of man and respect for human dignity which is a legacy of our tradition should not be lost in the new Africa.”
In Tanzania, up across Nyasaland, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, that country’s first president came up with his own version of African socialism, which he called ‘Ujamaa’ a Swahili word for ‘familyhood’, which he consequently adopted as the name of the brand of African socialism Development.
Nyerere first used the term in a 162 pamphlet in which he argued that socialism was a matter of distribution and an attitude of mind.
“Ujamaa,” he wrote, “describes our socialism. It is opposed to capitalism … and is even opposed to doctrinaire socialism.”
In 1967 Nyerere combined Ujamaa with the concept of villagisation leading to the creation of Ujamaa villages in which small groups of farmers would work together on communal farms and pool their resources.
In Malawi, Kamuzu simply preached hard work in the field and guided the country albeit with an iron dictatorial single party fist under the banner of unity, kukhulupilika and discipline which he said will fight poverty, hunger as well as bringing shelter.
It is not a secret that these systems only seemed to work because the West, which is Africa’s major donor, was engaged in a cold war with the eastern block and upon its fall pressure mounted and revolution that led to plural democratic political dispensation took the centre stage.
Now looking at the Malawi case where the political terrain has been characterised by political killings and persecution, vindictiveness, manipulation, corruption, incessant power struggle that does not make a distinction on time for campaign and time for development, constitution abuse, economic plunder etc do we really need the political shoes we have been putting on since independence?
We have had the MCP political shoes, which fitted the leadership quite okay and left out the masses that were trampled on as a result. The UDF shoes claimed to have taken all of us but most of the people who enjoyed its comfort tell us now that what we had was a raw deal. The problems of the current none descriptive Mutharika shoe which he labelling DPP has what we all know.
Now the question is perhaps it is time for the African Union leaders to develop an African Democratic concept this time round with a proper theoretical and structural framework unlike the African Socialism envisaged by their predecessors; the African Nationalists of the Defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
Conceivably since we are brought up in purely African set up and learn a Western political science late in the years we tend to derail the masses either deliberately to plunder the national wealth or out of incompetence because looking at political tension in African countries it is just very abhorring.
You know about the Zimbabwe crisis. In Zambia you hear what Levi Mwanawasa is doing now that elections are near, in South Africa follow how Jacob Zuma fell out of Thabo Mbeki’s grace and favour. These problems are huge that they dwarf our own Mutharika and his vice Cassim Chilumpha political impasse.
May be it’s time we became our own African cobbler to mend the Democratic shoes we bought from the West which has proven too heavy or too light that we stumble or fly when in them and with some African modifications may they will fit us and enhance a smooth gliding into the future.

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