EDITORIAL COMMENT: From fighting the system to becoming the system

LET’S face it — virtually all liberation movements have faced a lot of challenges in transforming themselves from fronting the war to running governments. After realising this challenge, leading liberation veterans, policy makers and experts in October 2012, organised a dialogue entitled “From Liberation Movement to Government: Past Legacies and the challenge of transition in Africa.”

This dialogue, which was hosted by the Brenthurst Foundation and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung was quite revealing. One of the presenters at this dialogue was Christopher Clapham, the editor of the Journal of Modern African Studies. His presentation was quite refreshing.

“Fighting a war is an enterprise with a single and readily identifiable goal, victory, to which all other considerations must be subordinated. This in turn calls for unity of purpose, and justifies total dedication on the part of the fighters, and a top-down structure of command and control on the part of the leadership.

“Running a government is not like that at all. There are multiple goals, which are often in some degree at odds with one another, and which call for a difficult process of agenda-setting and priority identification. Different interests will be involved, and will all demand a privileged say in helping to shape government policy, whether these are derived from their historic support for the struggle, or from their power within the political and economic structures that the government has inherited. There is no end point, like the moment at which the former fighters take over the government, when victory is achieved. As the years after liberation extend into decades, and the memory of that magic moment fades into the distance, so a further set of challenges emerge. Though the struggle remains a vivid source of legitimacy in the minds of former fighters, for most of the population whom they govern it becomes a rapidly wasting asset. The first and in many ways most basic challenge that the movement then faces is to retain as much as possible of the popular support that greeted it when it came to power, while coming to terms with the day-to-day demands of running an effective state, and with the need to work within constraints created especially by the global economy which were barely apparent during the struggle,” said Clapham at the dialogue.

Quite a long quote, but it illustrates the dilemma that liberation movements face as they seek to transform themselves from fighting the system to becoming the system. What makes the situation even worse for the liberation movements is that according to Peter Childs and Patrick Williams in their book, “An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory”, “…although colonial armies and bureaucracies might have withdrawn, Western powers were still intent on maintaining maximum indirect control over erstwhile colonies, via political, cultural and above all economic channels, a phenomenon which became known as neo-colonialism.”

Worse still, for some strange reasons, soon after winning political independence, liberation movements behaved as if the war was over. Their comradeship slowly died while on the other hand, the enemies they had defeated were regrouping and re-strategising on how to continue their hold on Africa, without openly provoking Africa.

After shelving true pan-Africanism for many years, liberation movements in Southern Africa a few weeks ago, realised that the enemy was relentless in his neo-colonial project. The liberation movements met in Angola and came up with resolutions that clearly indicate that finally, we seem to be going back to the good old Pan-African days.

The liberation movements came up with resolutions that include the crafting of tough disciplinary measures against errant party members, building ideological schools, coming up with innovative media and information strategies which make use of technological advancement, eliminating the use of money or other enticements in influencing outcomes of internal electoral processes, carrying out focused political orientation, creating mechanisms to share ideas, establish newspapers and radio stations and establishing meaningful presence on the internet. In addition, the liberation movements made resolutions to study weather patterns so as to align the agriculture season, eliminate corruption, hold workshops to share experiences and strategies on sustainable economic growth.

While resolutions are not enough as they are just intentions drafted on paper, at least the liberation movements showed that they were alive to the challenges confronting Southern Africa.

Of course, there is one anomaly among the resolutions because the liberation movements failed to come up with a direct resolution on revamping the education system in Africa which still has retrogressive residues from the colonial era. Zimbabwe, through the new education curricula has taken the lead in addressing this issue and other liberation movements should follow suit. The time has come for Africa to craft an education system that opens the people’s minds because as it stands, it looks like many in the continent don’t realise that Africa is under siege. Harriet Tubman once said: “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Liberation movements should craft education policies that make Africans realise that the enemy is back through the front door preaching democracy, human rights and good governance. That way we may free more slaves.  The current education system is planting neo-colonial ideas in many people such that issues like democracy, human rights and good governance appear more important than the issues that led liberation movements to wage a war against the colonialists.

Amilca Cabral was spot on when he said: “Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.” This is what Africa should plant in the minds of its populace because the liberation struggle was never about fighting “for ideas, for things in anyone’s head.”

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  • Gamba ReManyika

    Thank you once again for this excellent piece. The quotations from the learned minds of Christopher Clapham and Amilca Cabral are very incisive. The liberation movements should never forget their cardinal duty of defending the liberation war victories. I will never respect any political party or ideology that trashes the gatekeepers, yesterday, today or tomorrow. However, I think ZANU PF at home should do more to transition from fighting the system to becoming an effective alternative system that is clearly different from the rogue Smith regime. The few of us who happened to taste both systems are divided: some think Smith was evil but he was justified because he was different from us. They do not easily forgive our system if it does not effectively work for us or deliver of the imagined/promised ‘better world’ that we had in the bush. I shudder to think what will become of this great country when the liberation war (institutional) memory bank runs out, what someone called capital wasting. For indeed, a time will come when citing a 1970s war will not mean anything to anyone. That will be the death of a revolution! The neo-colonial forces are indeed lurking in the eaves: and they have reinvented themselves big time. Please ZANU PF, make sure to fight a system while replacing it with a real system desired by the people. If you continue fighting forever, a time will definitely come for losing the battle; you can’t win perpetually. However, a system does not die easily. Let’s become that system that is free of corruption, cronyism, etc; one that sets high ethical standards, respect for people and property, tolerance of diversity, professionalism in the civil service, securing citizens’ lives and futures. To this there is no substitute!