Africa’s Fallen Liberators
by Biniam Bedasso–OXFORD – The leaders of two key African countries resigned their posts within 24 hours of each other last week. South Africa’s Jacob Zuma finally buckled under pressure from his own party to resign the presidency. The following day, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his decision to step down in the face of sustained mass protests and political turmoil.
In both cases, two of the oldest liberation parties in Africa, which have remained in office since first coming to power a quarter-century ago, were forced by deep popular discontent to push their leaders aside. The historical trajectories of both parties are largely similar. Nevertheless, the effects of their leaders’ exit could not be more different.
Yes, both the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) grew complacent and corrupt, and suffered political decay, over the past quarter-century. But whereas South Africa had put in place a robust set of institutional safeguards in the wake of its transition from apartheid, Ethiopia, after the overthrow of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s dictatorship, never managed to build national institutions strong enough to save the country from the ruling party.
Despite obvious differences in the two countries’ histories and economic conditions, the way their dominant parties conduct business, and the economic model they claim to have adopted, are strikingly similar. Both the ANC and the EPRDF espouse the Leninist principle of democratic centralism, according to which party members are expected to abide by the policies established by the central party leadership. Both parties deploy cadres widely to ensure that the civil service carries out political decisions. More recently, party elites in both countries have moved to embrace heterodox economic policies.Read more