Why is African Liberation Movements Losing Relevance and Popularity?

In November 2015, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa spoke to the SABC after the inauguration of Tanzanian President John Magufuli in Dar es Salaam. Having been asked if liberation movements had weakened, he said, “There is a lot of work being done by those who are not happy that liberation movements are in charge and they continue gaining support from the citizens. They are therefore taking very practical steps to participate, they put in a lot of money to NGOs and other people and encourage people to move away from the party with an aim of weakening the parties.” He confirmed that the parties are weakening but the question he then tried to answer was why that has been the case. Are they doing anything wrong or they are simply victims of neo-colonialist manoeuvres in Africa?

Downward trend

Chama Chama Mapinduzi of Tanzania got a 58% compared to the 40% of its main opposition in what was a tightly contested election in 2015. Frelimo in Mozambique lost its two-thirds majority losing 47 seats to get 144 in the 2014 elections. The latest in that downward trend is South Africa’s ANC which though still supported by the majority of South Africans posted its worst election results in the post-apartheid era. An interesting pattern is that ruling parties tend to lose support in urban areas first as evidenced by the ANC’s shock losses in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay metros. However, even with this waning support, it has been said, “The ANC’s enduring grip on rural areas dependent on the party’s deeply rooted patronage networks will most likely ensure its dominance on the national stage for at least another decade…”

While this is true, the losses of a party that once proclaimed it would rule till Jesus comes are sure to attract a bit of attention. The ANC being the oldest party with liberation roots is particularly symbolic.

Internal problems or external interference

One of the major issues that ruling parties most of which have a liberation background have been dealing with is the role of the West on politics of sovereign nations. One particularly interesting example is that of Zimbabwe’s Morgan Tsvangirai who has been accused by the government of the day of being a Western puppet, an instrument for Western inspired regime change. In 2010, diplomatic cables between former US ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell and the Washington office. Dell wrote, “Our policy is working and it’s helping drive changes here. What is required is simply the grit, determination and focus to see this through. Then, when the changes finally come we must be ready to move quickly to help consolidate the new dispensation.”


Such brazen attacks on sovereignty have given the ruling parties a convenient justification for their weaker showings. The West’s history of interference has stolen legitimacy from the people’s demands as they are now dismissed as sponsored attempts at regime change.

When Gwede Mantashe, the ANC spokesperson brought up that argument and the Economic Freedom Fighters spokesman, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi retorted, “The statements by Mantashe must be rejected as a reflection of political paranoia in light of the fact that the ANC is going to lose power. They signify a party that is afraid of losing power, which is now seeking to mobilise support in the continent under the pretext that it is the West, and not the genuine demands of the people that are looking for regime change.”

Though the West has had a say in African politics, is it not true that some parties with liberation credentials have ceased to be inspired by the struggle of the ordinary people? Is it not true that some if not most have become elitist instruments of graft, nepotism and oppression? While it is wise to look out for intrusions, these parties need to sit and introspect. The people should again be the centre of politics and not the leaders. That the people want changes in their constituencies should not be taken to be an insult on the government of the day and neither should these calls for change automatically be dismissed as Western antics. The people are also mentally equipped to want improvements and if they do not get them, the former liberation movements will be punished. In democracies, no party is entitled to anything for any other reason save for delivery. A history of fighting for the people is not a time-proof cheque that can be cashed in at any time. Delivery now or you get voted out! That is the democracy they fought for. The people cannot survive on historical achievements. Times are hard for the old guard, there is now a need to evolve from simply being liberation movements to becoming actual delivery-minded parties. Without that, the extinction of these parties is imminent and the ANC is a great reminder.


Written by How Africa

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