Dynamics of Development Setbacks in Africa: The Case of Sit-Tight Politics, Xenophobia, and Election Rigging

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Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Vie Internationale with Bola A. Akinterinwa

If the people of Africa were to sit down and reflect more on why they are permanently enslaved, they would quickly discover that they are a priori first responsible for the enslavement. The time Africa’s former colonial masters were frequently held responsible for development setbacks in Africa has come and gone. The time we were told by Walter Rodney in 1973 how Europe underdeveloped Africa should also now belong to the past because Africa’s problems are now essentially African-created. In fact, the contemporary dynamics militating against development in modern-day Africa are not only very visibly evident, but, most unfortunately too, also acquiesced to by the people of Africa.

And perhaps more disturbingly, the people of Africa have unnecessarily become an acquiescent society of anti-civilisation. This should not be. There should not be any good basis for xenophobia in intra-African politics. Sit tight politics must be set aside by all means. Election rigging in all its ramifications, and particularly the issue of ill-defined citizenship, must be resisted by all means. These are three major dynamics of development setbacks that must be removed before a people-driven democracy can be truly established in Africa and before the prevalent democracy of injustice and unfairness, which have come to characterise intra- and inter-African politics, can be stopped.

Sit-Tight Politics

Let us begin with the issue of sit tight politics in Africa, and particularly with the current protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria. President Bouteflika was elected on April 27, 1999, meaning that he has been President of Algeria for twenty years. In other words, he has been President of Algeria consecutively for four terms of five years each. He indicated two months ago about his intention to contest for the fifth time in the April 2019 presidential election which angered the people of Algeria. Why the anger? Are there no other African presidents who have stayed in power for more than two decades and that are still imposing themselves on the people? The answer cannot be far-fetched.

President Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013, and, as a result, has not been able to participate in many public activities. He cannot walk. He is always on wheelchair. He hardly talks. Apart from that, age is telling on him: he was born on March 2, 1937. At 82 years of age, the extent to which he can run around for state matters is, at best, very limited. In spite of this, he still wants to continue to be President of Algeria. But to this, the people of Algeria were vehemently opposed. The opposition was to the extent that the people do not only want him to step aside before the expiration of his tenure on April 28, 2019 but are also asking for a regime of completely new leaders. The youth, in particular, are asking for a complete change of elite.

In reaction to this, President Bouteflika has not only reconstituted his cabinet but has also promised not to contest in the April elections. He even promised to resign before April 28 and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Ahmed Gaid Salah, one of the confidants of President Bouteflika, has asked the Parliament to intervene in the matter and to invoke the argument of ill-health against the President.

And true enough, President Bouteflika is not medically fit to govern Algeria. If he is not physically fit and has not been having public appearances since 2014, why should he still be thinking of imposing another five-year tenure of his burden on the people? If President Bouteflika could not do his best for his people in ten years or two terms of five years each, and for that matter, in twenty years, what really is the proof that he has fresh ideas that can change the lot of the people? Why must he die in office? President Bouteflika, in his intended fifth tenure in office, is said to be planning to ‘reinforce separation of powers, strengthen… the role of the opposition and guarantee rights and liberties.’ Why is he now planning it and not in the past two decades? Why is it that it is only when African leaders are compelled to leave office or have immediately left office that they have more wisdom to do the right thing?

More interestingly, he actually has been in government since 1963 when he was appointed the Foreign Minister. He was in this position until 1979. He presided over the end of the Algerian civil war in 2002 and put an end to the emergency rule in February 2011. In fact, the period he has been in government is indeed long. His intention to remain in power is an abuse and exploitation of democratic freedom. It is an expression of the policy of sit-tight in government. This is a major dynamic of development setback for the people of Algeria.

Xenophobia as a Development Setback
A second issue is that of xenophobia and mistreatment of people of Africa in countries that are not theirs. South Africa, Libya, and Ghana are cases in point. In South Africa, for example, xenophobic attacks are of two types: hatred by Nigerians for one another, killing themselves for business and ethnic, but vain, reasons. The other type is the xenophobic attitudinal disposition of South Africans vis-a-vis foreigners, especially Nigerians.

The hostility vis-a-vis Nigerians has a national character, contrary to the interpretation of the Government of South Africa. First, there is the political rivalry between Nigeria and South Africa for the leadership of Africa. To a great extent, Western European leaders tend to lend support to South Africa in this regard. Besides, South Africa made efforts to intervene in regional conflicts but against which Nigeria stood. The conflict in the Côte D’Ivoire is a good illustration of this observation. Nigeria advanced the African Union’s principle of subsidiarity which requires that a dispute be first settled by the leaders of a region before the intervention of any other country, and particularly by the African Union itself. In other words, Nigeria was against South Africa’s military presence in the West African region.

A second reason is the controversy over Nigeria’s roles in the fight against the obnoxious policies of apartheid. Nigerians generally hold the strong belief that there should not be any good reason for South Africans not to accommodate them in light of the various strenuous efforts made by them to assist in the struggle against apartheid and stop the exploitation of black South Africans by the White supremacists. Scholarships were given to South African students in Nigeria. Nigerian civil and public servants were compelled to contribute certain percentages of their salary under the South African Relief Fund project, formulation of an exception to apartheid as constituting a domestic affair of South Africa, and therefore, an exception to Nigeria’s foreign policy of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other sovereign countries, etc.

The understanding of these contributions in South Africa are not appreciated. Brigadier General Buba Marwa, when he was Nigeria’s High Commissioner in South Africa, drew attention to a radio/television discussion programme during which allusion to Nigeria’s roles was made. It was said during the programme that Nigeria’s roles were essentially driven by economic motivation, rather than by altruism, defence of black dignity, defence of the black South Africans, etc. Nigeria was not believed to have done anything meaningful to the struggle.

In fact, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru once revealed when he was Foreign Minister the understanding of the issue by the Government of South Africa thus: the African National Congress (ANC) had an international and a domestic wing. It was the international wing that related more with Nigeria. The domestic wing had little or no dealings with Nigeria. In contemporary political governance, it is essentially the people of the domestic wing that are in power, and therefore, the domestic wing cannot be said to know much of Nigeria’s contributions, and by implication should not blamed.

Consequently, when Nigerians talk about their country’s contribution, and for that matter, with pride, if not with arrogance, the South Africans are not only unhappy with it, but are always very angered, especially when the same Nigerians are many times found wanting in the country. This brings us to the third rationale.

Nigerians have a mania of behaviour wherever they find themselves. They live big because they strongly believe that good life should be a resultant of their dint of hard work. The Igbo people are the main victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. And without scintilla of doubt, they are very hardworking. They are into retail and big supply businesses, but most unfortunately, South Africans are lazier than most of the foreigners in their country. They cannot do what the Igbo people and other foreigners accept to do. And yet, they are envious of them and people who toil tooth and nail to eke out a good living. This is one major reason for the problem of xenophobia in South Africa.

Many other reasons have been advanced for the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. They include poor and inadequacy of service delivery, stiff competition for resources, failure of early warning and prevention mechanisms in the area of community-based violence, increasing inflow of undocumented migrants, high number of refugee and asylum seekers, as well as the involvement and complicity of the Local Authority members in the award of contracts for economic and political reasons.

What is particularly noteworthy about xenophobia as a development setback is the factor of who is responsible, the brutality of its expression, and the regional objective of the African Union. Regarding the factor of who is involved, most unfortunately, it is on record that most incidents of violent attacks have been carried out, not by White South Africans, but by the black South Africans. The problem is no longer that of ‘white apartheid’ but of ‘black apartheid.’ Who will Nigeria’s anti-‘black apartheid’ policy now target?

As we have noted, the expression of xenophobia in South Africa is very brutal and barbaric, to say the least, since 1994. For instance, on May 11, 2008, Mr. Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, a 35-year-old Mozambican ‘was beaten, stabbed and set alight in Ramaphosa informal settlement on the East Rand. Nobody had been arrested for his horrible murder. Police closed the case on 27 October 2010 after concluding that there were no witnesses and no suspects. In all, 62 people were killed.’ Let us assume that the reasons given by the Police was objective and therefore tenable.

Can this assumption be tenable in light of the incident of 27 February, 2013? On this day, eight South African police officers tied another 27-year-old Mozambican man, ‘Mido Macia, to the back of a police van and dragged him down the road. subsequently, the man died in a police cell from head injuries.’ Whatever the crime Mido Macia might have committed, he did not deserve that type of jungle justice, and if the South African law specifically provided for that type of punishment, the court should have first been allowed to make the required pronouncement. For me, the South African policemen involved were, at best, very brutish, very brutal, very xenophobic in all ramifications, and, of course, very reflective of the thinking of their influential traditional elite.

Was it not in September 1995 that two Senegalese citizens and one Mozambican citizen were thrown down from a moving train in Johannesburg by some South Africans? Why? Allegedly because foreigners were believed to be taking the job opportunities meant for South Africans. Also allegedly because foreigners were responsible for spreading AIDS in the country?

What about the brutality of April 10, 2015? ‘Two Ethiopian brothers were critically injured when their shop, in a shipping container, was set on fire while they were trapped inside. One of the men died while in hospital.’ In fact, on April 12, 2015 the xenophobic attacks on foreigners continued in KwaZulu-Natal when shops in Umlazi and KwaMashu, outside of Durban, were similarly set ablaze. If the policemen were cut unawares, how do we explain the attacks of the following two days? How do we also explain the fact that again two days after, on April 14, 2015 foreign shops were looted in Verulam, north of Durban and that ‘about 300 local people looted foreign-owned shops and only two people have been arrested?’ (vide “Xenophobic Violence in a Democratic South Africa,’ Archives 10, timelines 1, in South African History Online: towards a People’s History).

If South Africans do not want foreigners, they should not be blamed. Even if they prefer to kill foreigners, let it be. However, black South Africans should learn how not to kill other black Africans very brutally. Criminals and civil offenders are still entitled to decent death. Setting ablaze a container in which people were staying or pushing out people from a moving train, and yet the Government will claim not to be able to find the offenders leaves much to be desired. If truth be told, the South Africans who kill foreigners cannot be said to be better than the people they killed not only because of their act of killing but especially because they looted their shops. They are thieves, armed robbers. If people protests, even illegally speaking, but do not adding violent looting into it, an objectivity of purpose can still be established but when stealing is added into public protests and xenophobia, the protesters are nothing more than a special specie of armed robbers and terrorists. Therefore, the international responsibility of the Government of South Africa ought to be called to question.

In other words, even if many South African leaders have always condemned xenophobic violence in their country, the truth remains that such condemnations have only served, more or less, as catalysts for more attacks. It is as if the condemnations have an inciting contents which are only understood by the attackers.

Perhaps some of us might have forgotten. On 21st March, 2015, the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, told all foreigners at the moral regeneration event in Pongola, Kwazulu Natal Province in South Africa, to go back to their countries. Why? This is because ‘they are changing the nature of South African society with their goods and enjoying wealth that should have been for local people. And perhaps most wickedly or unconcernedly, King Goodwill Zwelithini made this remark at a time the Congolese nationals were mourning deaths caused by series of xenophobic attacks. Instead of condoning the Congolese, the king opted for more sadness for them.

Perhaps we should also observe here that foreigners in South Africa are also stubborn. They were advised to quietly leave the country but they have turned deaf ears to the good advice, so to say. And if, in the past one week, they have been challenged by a new series of xenophobic attacks, South Africans should not be blamed. It is the foreigners that should be blamed because they cannot claim not to have been forewarned.

The essence of the foregoing is to underscore the contradiction between the objective of continental integration of the African Union, on the one hand, and the intra-African xenophobic attacks, on the other. Even though the xenophobic attacks have a brutal character, the one in Ghana only has a human face, but it is still bad. Ghana does not want foreigners, especially Nigerians (Igbo businessmen as a special target) to engage in retail business. The ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of People and Goods, as well as the Right of Establishment are being restrictively interpreted and bastardised. Yet, the sermon of good neighbourliness and regional integration is preached on daily basis and Europeans will still be held responsible for contemporary problems in Africa. This is most unfortunate.

Election Rigging in Africa
Election rigging is the third main dynamic of development setback in Africa. It is a direct resultant of dishonest intent and background. Rigging is to steal the voters’ will, and by so doing, seek acquisition of political legitimacy. Any superstructure built on a fraudulent infrastructure can, at best, be only porous and also fantastically corrupt in design, execution and outcome.

As explained by Said Adejumobi, ‘election rigging and brigandage, violence and election annulment are common practices. The trend is towards a reversal to the old order of despotic political rulership under the guise of civil governance. Elections in their current form in most African States appear to be a fading shadow of democracy, endangering the fragile democratic project itself.’ Put differently, election rigging is a major threat to enduring democracy and this partly explains why this threat is also a dynamic of a development setback in Africa.

Election rigging takes a multidimensional form: intimidation of voters through thuggery, intimidation of opposition leaders by making their participation in election contest very difficult, if not completely preventing them, use of manu militari approaches to influence voting, election annulment, ballot box snatching and snuffing, replacement of actual election result with self-written fraudulent results which is nothing more than bastardising the popular will of the people, as well as political manoeuvring of the constitution and the electoral act.
In the specific case of Nigeria, elections are always adversely affected by logistical problems, voter registration challenges, security challenges, violence, and perhaps most disturbingly misrepresentation of the notion of citizenship, and which, most unfortunately, is hardly objectively addressed.

When academic observers say Nigeria is not a nation, but a nation-state, they simply what to differentiate between the concept of ‘Home’ and ‘Nigeria’ as it is. True, there is nothing like ‘citizenship of Nigeria’ beyond paper framework, but a de facto ‘ancestral citizenship’ which is contrary to the pretensions of Section 41(1) and Section 42(2) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as amended. Mwangi S. Kimenyi and John Mukum Mbaku have offered their own explanation that ‘home’ does not mean Nigeria but the individual’s so-called ‘ancestral land’ within the country…’ To justify this differentiation Kimenyi and Mbaku have it that, following the declaration of Mr. Goodluck Jonathan as winner of the 2011 presidential election, homes of his supporters, churches and police stations were set ablaze in Kano and Kaduna, leaving many people dead. This is why there is the urgent need ‘to collectively reject the concept of citizenship based on consanguinity and geography and instead embrace a citizenship based on association’ (vide https:/www.brookings.edu/opinions/elections-and-violence-in-nigeria)

In terms of development setbacks, it is because there is no validly accepted concept of citizenship of Nigeria that there is no politico-economic commitment to evolving a Nigerian nation. This also explains why there are recidivist development setbacks. When all the three factors of sit-tight politics, xenophobic violence and corruption of democracy and particularly election rigging, are considered, the reasons for Africa’s
underdevelopment cannot be far-fetched. African leaders and people are truly more responsible for their setbacks. The development partners only aid and abet the underdevelopment policies when the opportunities are given. The very day foreign assistance is stopped and Africans have to feel the impact, they will be compelled to learn, engage in constructive research and development projects, appreciate the importance of investing in the knowledge industry, and then begin to construct a new path to self-reliance.