Lessons for our politicians

Sunday February 25 2018

By Erick Mwakibete

In a week, Africa witnessed resignations, a coronation and a death. At the face of it, these developments are separate but are tied by the same forces and offer some lessons to our politicians especially those in the opposition who accuse the government of being “dictatorial” in the way it handles political opposition.

After a rambling interview in which he refused to resign until he was told why they wanted him to go, Jacob Zuma’s presidency came to an ignominous end when it became clear that his party, the ANC was willing to work with their political nemesis to end his presidency.

Zuma had pretty much followed Robert Mugabe’s playbook who resigned under the cover of darkness after failing to do so in a televised speech.

South Africans were elated, as the presidency that had been described by the media as a long nightmare had come to an end after nearly a decade in a frustrating process. No one could be bothered to remember the few things Zuma got right like the HIV/Aids programme which was a total departure from his predecessor in office.

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane pointed out that South Africa’s problem was not Zuma but the ANC which had protected him through all the motion of no confidence brought against him over the years as his presidency was mired by mismanagement, allegations of corruption and systemic weakening some critical state institutions.

The ANC’s logic in stubbornly refusing to cooperate with opposition parties in ousting Zuma is a familiar one to liberation parties in Africa, and when they do change their minds, the end game is the same.


The voices which pointed out that ousting Zuma was not the end of South Africa’s troubles drowned in the celebrations of his political demise and the legal troubles waiting for him and his allies, some of whom are on the run.

As Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn into office, they pointed out that he too, is part of the problem and that he has flaws of his own as a businessman and as a politician. As in Zimbabwe following the ouster of Robert Mugabe, where there were those who dared to dream the impossible of power being shared in a unity government.

Few cared about the flaws of the messenger. It was not the right time for uncomfortable questions.

In Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, the longtime opposition leader was praised in death by those who had mistreated him, tortured him in life while those he stood with to fight against Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF’s grip on power are falling apart at the seams and their differences played out in the open during his burial in his home village as opposing factions vie to succeed him.

Despite his flaws both as a man and a politician, he inspired a country that there was a credible alternative to Zanu-PF’s rule.

In Ethiopia, following continuous unrest in some parts of the country, the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned in a move that surprised many. However, with tensions rising among allies within the ruling party, and a realization that their grip on the country might be slipping through their fingers, he offered his resignation to allow his party to find a more assertive leader and one who will be seen as addressing the major fault line through which the anger of underrepresentation of some regions, demands for more autonomy and human and political rights have come to the surface and even the recently declared state of emergency for half a year is unlikely to faze protesters.

In all these developments, some things are clear.

There has to be a messenger who can be inspirational enough despite their personal flaws and appeal to a wider, diverge group of people and not what is currently witnessed in our politics where each political side is doing very little to cross over the political divide. Most of those at the forefront of our politics today lack the charisma of the likes of Dr Wilbrod Slaa or Zitto Kabwe’s yesteryear version.

One has to know when it is time for the curtain to come down. There are lifetime serving opposition leaders with their parties lacking properly groomed individuals to take up the mantle of these veteran leaders.

Some completely do not bother with succession plans as most of these political parties are one-man affairs or dominated by a small clique of politicians.

In a continent where power is monopolised even when shared, our politicians can use all the lessons they can get to better themselves in difficult political circumstances.