Few political hunters in Africa get to feast on their kill alone

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) had what is widely considered to have been a disastrous showing in the recent municipal elections, confined to below 50 percent of the vote almost everywhere for the first time, and being trounced in a few places.

Now, it can only form local governments in the places it got the most votes as a coalition. By the 2024 General Election, it is projected to have shrunk further. Yet that might not be a disaster. South Africa is becoming Kenya, where you can only win power at the polls through labyrinthian coalitions and political pacts.

Kenya is where it manifests most dramatically, but it is the reality in all of East Africa. Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM or Party of Revolution) is the longest continuously reigning party in Africa. But even it, especially in Zanzibar, has had to reach an accommodation. When Zanzibar’s First Vice-President Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad died in February, outside Tanzania several people were surprised to learn that he was a member of ACT–Wazalendo, not CCM.

Uganda’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) and Rwanda’s Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) also tend to be presented as poster boys for the dominant ruling party. President Yoweri Museveni’s NRM rebel movement had smaller, though obscure, organisations inside it.

At the January 2021 election, it had an informal electoral alliance with the Uganda People’s Congress. Uganda, though, is very different from the rest of East Africa in that it has the largest cast of independents in the parliamentary system, and the deeper-pocketed NRM has been quite successful in crafting supply agreements with them.

The RPF in Rwanda, in popular media narrative, is presented as a towering monolith. But the government coalition comprises nearly a dozen political parties, with a complex system of which party gets to be appointed to which ministerial or political position.


South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, apart from being in a troubled national unity government with Riek Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) — from which Machar was recently ousted — is itself a befuddling potpourri of warlords and ethnic militias.

After the ouster of the Milton Obote government in Uganda in July 1985, the military junta that seized power brought several rebel groups into the regime. Among them was the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF), which was based in West Nile, led by a goatee-bearded soldier called Amin Onzo.

Museveni’s NRM refused to take up its slot and continued the fight that saw it take power in January 1986. Without any sense of irony, Onzi once held a famous press conference and laid into the NRM. He said they (the junta) had hunted the animal, and Museveni now wanted to come and decide how the carcass should be divided, or take the whole of it for himself.

However, since the collapse of the independence parties to the late 1960s to 1990s military coups, few fellows who have gone on the political hunt have done so alone in Africa. Where they did, they have been unable to govern without at least sharing a leg of the kill. It’s one of the least appreciated facts of African politics.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]

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