/ 11 February 2011

Africa is rewriting the ‘end of history’

Francis Fukuyama argues in The End of History and the Last Man that Western liberal democracy may be “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution”, its “final form of government” and, as such, the “end of history”.

But as recent developments in Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia, Egypt, Zimbabwe and elsewhere make clear, Africa has come up with forms of government that Fukuyama didn’t factor into his theories.

The Mail & Guardian would like to suggest the following terms for a working 21st-century dictionary of African politics:

  • One-party democracy. A system of government in which only the incumbent president’s name and his party appear on the ballot paper. Alternatively, the electoral form where opposition parties appear on the ballot paper, but where every form of violent intimidation, blackmail and trickery are used to deter citizens from voting for them.
  • Mubarakism. A form of government in which, to quote President Hosni Mubarak, a president serves “until the last breath in my lungs, and the last beat of my heart” — and then hands over power to his son. Daddy Mubarak left the vice-president’s seat unoccupied for three decades so that son Gamal could take over when a mummified papa joins the pharaohs in the pyramids. But the events of the past three weeks mean that Mubarakism doesn’t necessarily have to take a hereditary form. Former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman looks likely to perpetuate Mubarakism, at least for a while.
  • Pan-Mubarakism. A philosophy espoused by Africa’s life presidents, whose guiding tenets are cronyism, autocracy, corruption and violence. In this select group appear Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Cameroon’s Paul Biya, the late Omar Bongo of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the late Malawian dictator Kamuzu Banda and Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh. Jammeh presents a few theoretical problems. The other club members just want to be presidents for life — this soldier-president wants to be king.
  • Doing a Kibaki. The very notion of liberal democracy is no longer valid in some African countries. Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, by most accounts, lost the elections of December 2007. But by stuffing the ballot boxes and engaging in other election chicanery, he was able to stay on as president.

Victorious yet powerless, the Raila Odinga-led opposition was co-opted into what Zimbabwe calls a “government of national unity”. Mugabe, similarly, lost the elections of March 2008 and then pulverised the opposition Movement for Democratic Change into a rerun and a unity government that has left it powerless.

Other rulers have been studying the Kenyan template closely. Ivorian “president” Laurent Gbagbo, after being trounced in the elections by Alassane Ouattara, has refused to leave office. Now, thanks to former South African president Thabo Mbeki, the unity government concept is back on the agenda. There will be 18 elections this year in Africa. We haven’t seen the last of governments of national unity.

“Always something new out of Africa,” wrote Pliny the Elder. Perhaps it’s time for Fukuyama and others to re-examine where history ends, at least on our continent.