The outcome of ANC party congress and election holds lessons for Nigeria

At a period when the prevalence of ageing leaders hanging on to power by endlessly manipulating electoral processes is becoming a global embarrassment, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa has put some cheering veneer on Africa’s troubled experience with multi-party democracy. This is the effective backdrop to understanding the significance of the just concluded ANC party congress and elections.

Before the contest, President Jacob Zuma’s entrenchment strategy was fed by well-oiled corruption machinery which at the last count has him facing more graft charges than all the other African leaders put together. His government had also begun to wear autocratic gear as he plotted to entrench a virtual self-succession plan led by his ex-wife, Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. More worrisome was the fact that the scale of Zuma’s integrity deficit had become for South Africa a national security issue.

Fortunately, sanity has prevailed. By the ANC constitution, the contest for the leadership of the party is also a contest for the leadership of the country. The contending tendencies and forces in South African politics therefore crystallised around the two major contestants at the ANC party convention. While Ms. Dlamini -Zuma represented a continuation of the status quo, Mr. Cyril Ramphosa was a clear departure, rooted as he is in the liberation struggle.

In the contest for leadership, the ruling ANC was sorely divided between the Zuma led free-wheeling ruling collective and the mass of the party membership who saw the historical and ideological foundations of the liberation party being tragically eroded and ruined. The youth and liberation fighters who formed the bulk of the party membership along with its urban township support base were becoming increasingly alienated. Rival parties and political coalitions waxed stronger by the day, chipping away at the ANC’s long standing pre-eminence. Increasingly, the previously invincible ANC’s hold on power was withering away. The party of Nelson Mandela was fast receding into a vulnerable artifact under the weight of Zuma’s rudderless leadership.

The world has welcomed the outcome of the ANC elections and the prospect of Ramaphosa’s ascendancy to the country’s presidency. That outcome bodes well both for South Africa’s economy and the people. It also lifts the cloud from the prospect of social implosion which would have rendered the country too weak to continue acting as the guarantor of peace and order in Southern and Central Africa.

For us in Nigeria, the success of ANC election ought to hold numerous lessons. First, a ruling party needs internal credibility and adherence to due process to hold power and ensure democratic continuity. Second, truly great parties are made so by their relevance to and connection with the history of the country over which they preside. Such parties become organic entities because they hold certain values to be sacrosanct and therefore judge their leaders and followers by those values. Third, a political party nomination process does not have to be a bazaar where votes are traded or some hollow rituals for the imposition of unpopular candidates.

In a truly organic party like the ANC or the two major parties in either the United States or the United Kingdom, the line of power succession is fairly predictable just as the ideological tendencies are known. The leaders of these parties and the countries in which they hold sway is furnished by the history of adherence to party and nation. A situation such as we have in Nigeria where parties come into existence or die off depending on their electoral advantages can hardly contribute to national development. Nor can such seasonal parties that come alive only on the eve of elections become instruments of national stability let alone tolerable governance.